I didn’t know much about breastfeeding when I was growing up. When I played with baby dolls, I played with plastic pink bottles. I didn’t know anyone who breastfed, so, to me, it was just this vague, weird thing that hippy women did. Why breastfeed when bottle feeding seemed so much more convenient?
When I was in college, I took a developmental psychology class. I read that breast milk was nutritionally superior to formula. I read that a woman’s body was scientifically wired to support her baby’s needs. I read about this awesome hormone called oxytocin that is released during breastfeeding. But I also thought: “Meh. Not for me.” And that was okay.
When we were trying to get pregnant, I weaned off certain psychiatric medications and stayed on other ones. My psychiatrist told me that the meds I was still on were actually also safe for breastfeeding, which took be me back. I actually wanted her to tell me that they weren’t safe so that I wouldn’t have to consider breastfeeding at all. If I could blame it on the medications, then it was an easy out.
I started listening to a podcast called “The Birth Hour.” In each podcast, a woman tells her birth story and also talks about her postpartum experience. Inevitably, breastfeeding comes up. I was surprised by two things: 1) how much women wanted to breastfeed and 2) how difficult it sounded. What was it about breastfeeding that made these women want it so badly? What was the big deal? The more I listened to the podcast, the more curious I became. I went from not wanting to breastfeed at all to wondering if maybe, just maybe, I would think about it.
In December, I checked out “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” by the La Leche League from the library. I planned to simply thumb through it, but I ended up reading the entire thing from cover to cover. The book made breastfeeding sound wonderful. Amazing. Heavenly. Romantic, even. But it also made it sound complicated. Difficult. Tricky.
As my due date approached, I met with my doula, Jennifer. She asked me if I planned on breastfeeding. “Yeah,” I said, “I’m going to at least try it. If I don’t like it, I’ll stop, but I’ll give it a shot.” She encouraged me to have a support person. That night, I told my husband that he was my designated breastfeeding ally, and that I didn’t want to quit right away if it was hard. I’d give it a week.
Little Auden came right on time, all eight pounds of him. The birth was a beautiful experience, but only a few hours afterwards, it hit me: “Oh, shoot. It’s my job to keep him alive.” It didn’t take me long to understand just how hard breastfeeding was going to be.
Over the next few days, my life revolved around getting Auden to eat. I felt this huge pressure from the nurses and doctor to get him to gain weight. But the little guy didn’t want to eat. He wanted to sleep. And sleep some more. My type A, perfectionistic, never-do-anything-wrong, self kicked in and I became frustrated and overwhelmed. Suddenly that book I’d read seemed worthless.
I relied on the nurses to help me get him to latch and was terrified to leave the hospital and be on my own. I met with three different lactation consultants before leaving. They helped me with positioning, helped me practice getting him on, and gave me tips for all my questions. For anyone wanting to give breastfeeding a try, I would tell you to utilize lactation consultants at the hospital.
One lactation consultant gave me the best advice I would receive, although I didn’t know it at the time. “Breastfeeding will hurt at first,” she said, “and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or trying to sell you something.”
I was relieved that my husband had a week off work to help me at home. Every three hours, we’d rouse Auden out of his jaundiced slumber, struggle for fifteen minutes to get him to latch, breastfeed for forty minutes, and then repeat the process. When the pediatrician told me to add pumping into that routine, it was all I could do not to cry. I only had to pump for a few days, though, and that saved me.
Finally, after about a week and a half, I seemed to *sort of* get the hang of it. I was exhausted from a lack of sleep, covered in leaking milk, but I started to love the time I got to spend with just Auden and me. There was something so precious about the time we spent together. I didn’t know how I would ever leave my house, but I liked the bond that I had with my baby. I liked spending time with him in that way.
…Then I got a breast yeast infection. I’d heard of mastitis. I’d heard of clogged ducts. But I’d never heard of a breast yeast infection, so I had no idea what was going on when I felt lightning shooting through my left breast. It was the most painful thing I could’ve imagined, and it happened over, and over, and over. I’d sit in the bathtub, soaking in hot water, and just cry and pray for the pain to go away. The infection lasted for two weeks.
…Then I had a forceful letdown. My milk came out so fast that Auden would pop off and start crying. He couldn’t handle the forceful letdown. Every time we fed, he’d cry.
…Then my nipples started cracking. And bleeding. I’d cringe every time he ate, biting my lip the whole time.
I met with two freelance lactation consultants. They gave me conflicting advice, but I took what I could from them: that I was doing a good job and that it would get better. Practice makes perfect. Also—nipple butter was a must-have.
After a month and a half, I told my husband that I would give it exactly one more week. If it wasn’t better by then, I’d give it up. I was sick of the pain. Sick of the crying. I had nothing to prove to anyone. I’d given it my best shot and done it longer than expected. “Fed is best.” One. More. Week.
A few days passed and I realized that the pain was lessening. A few more days and it seemed Auden was handling the let down a little better—he was crying less. A week came and went. I decided I’d give it a bit more time, just to see. Over the next couple weeks, the pain went from a nine to a four to a one. Auden stopped crying every time he ate. By two months, I realized the pain was gone altogether. “Okay,” I told myself, “I’m doing this.”
Now that Auden is almost six months old, breastfeeding is second nature. I’ve come to absolutely love it. (Which is a good thing, because I do it seven times a day.) It’s something that I alone can do with my baby, and it’s something special for the two of us. I feel connected to him through it in a way it’s hard to describe. It’s just downright cool that our bodies are synced. It has helped to radically change my body image too, but that’s a post for a different time.
Not that long ago, I was watching a vlog from one of my favorite mommy vloggers I follow. (If you haven’t fallen into that rabbit hole, beware.) She was literally crying into her camera about how hard breastfeeding had been, how she was exhausted, and how she desperately wanted to both keep trying and give up. I felt deeply for her. I knew exactly what she was talking about. So, it made me want to write about breastfeeding, just in case I could possibly help one person out there who is struggling.
Breastfeeding was hard for me, but it did get better. I am so thankful I kept trying, because now it’s one of my favorite things in my life. I love it now! If you are struggling with breastfeeding, I hope you can take comfort in my story.
That being said, if it hadn’t gotten better, (because for some people it doesn’t) I would’ve stopped and the world wouldn’t have ended. Never be ashamed to do what is best for you and your baby. Your worth as a mother does not depend on your ability to breastfeed. You are enough. Let me say that again: You are enough.
So, what advice would I give to someone thinking about breastfeeding?
- Have a support person.
My husband and my mother-in-law were my cheerleaders. They encouraged me to keep trying when I was discouraged. It helped to have people in my life who were rooting for me.
- Have some grit and determination
It’s going to be hard at first. Accept that. It won’t necessarily be that way forever, though, and you can cling to that in the beginning.
- Give yourself a time window.
I gave myself one more week when I was ready to give up. If it’s not better within that time frame, you know you at least gave it a chance.
- Know that your baby has to learn too.
You are learning how to breastfeed, but so is your baby. He’s new at this too! It took Auden time to adjust to the heavy letdown and I had to be patient with him.
- Trust yourself.
You alone know what is best for your body and your baby. Sometimes it’s breastfeeding and sometimes it isn’t. No one gets to make that decision but you.