If you’re looking for it, there is A LOT of information out there about breastfeeding- what to expect, what not to expect, how to prepare for it, gear to make it easier- and I found that a lot of it made breastfeeding sound like a piece of cake. For a lucky few, it is a piece of cake. For us normal folk, however, it’s a bit more complicated…
(Don’t you just love that little milk drunk look they get? I do, too…)
When I was pregnant with my son I was like many others out there and tried to get my hands on as much information as was humanly possible- more than I probably should have. I was fascinated with what was happening inside me and I wanted to know everything I could, so I read countless articles and blog posts about pregnancy week by week, about all of the possible symptoms of labor, about what gear I absolutely couldn’t possibly raise a child without, and if course about breastfeeding. I read countless pieces driving home the point that breastfeeding was the only acceptable way that any loving parent would feed their child. Of course, these pieces always said explicitly that breastfeeding is best if you can, but we all know what is implied in this argument.
While I was lucky enough to breastfeed both of my babies successfully for a substantial amount of time (my son until 8 months, and my daughter and I are currently calling to quits at 7 months), I know that many women are not so lucky and struggle with breastfeeding their babies. It is supposed to be this natural and beautiful thing- just think of the peaceful image of a mother nursing her sweet innocent baby, gazing down on it with the most powerful love there is- and for many it is.
This is where I think I may have over-informed myself, though. I think I front-loaded a bit too much information that I should have just waited until after labor and delivery to delve into… As I read page after page about different holds to ensure a latch and how to know if the baby is getting enough milk and various burping techniques, I couldn’t help but be stricken with just how foreign and unnatural all of this was sounding.
First, you have a human being GROWING INSIDE OF YOU (its super weird if you really let yourself think about it… beautiful, yet so strange) and then you expel that tiny human from your body through any number of ways, and finally that tiny (sweet, adorable) human proceeds to suck on your body until you finally provide him or her with sustenance. If you really let yourself sit back and reflect on the whole process… It’s. So. Strange.
Before I had my first baby, much of the information I found and was given by my doctor was hard for me to connect with because I just hadn’t experienced it yet. I nodded and smiled and thought I got it, but I really didn’t get much… The second time around it was all much more real because I knew what to expect and could prepare myself for how I wanted to deal with it all. (My second pregnancy brought us a few pretty big surprises, to say the least. I wrote about that experience in this series…)
Like i said before, I feel lucky that I was able to nurse both of my babies for a pretty good chunk of each of their first years. This leads me to the actual point of this post- I can sum up my entire motherly experience of breastfeeding two babies into three categories…
Breastfeeding: The Good, The Bad, & The Milky
Once I got myself past how strange it was that a tiny little human who I really didn’t know but felt like I had known since before I could remember was sucking human milk out of my nipple, I quickly came to love nursing him. I’ll never forget the exhaustion- the kind of tired you feel deep into your bones- that accompanied nursing a baby every two hours around the clock, but knowing that I was the only person in the world who would ever be able to do this for and with my babies made it special to me. Oh, there were many nights when I would quietly cry in the rocker holding my baby because I was so tired that tears just came streaming out, but I tried to remind myself that this phase of my life was fleeting and that, crazy as it sounded at the time, I would miss it one day. There is nothing like the sweet little sound of a baby slurping down milk and then drifting off to sleep with a tiny sigh and heavy breath.
Breastfeeding can suck. Even when it goes relatively well, it can seriously suck. With both babies, when my milk supply came in, it was abundant to say the least. While this sounds like a great problem to have, it meant that my let-down reflex felt like a cement truck was unloading forcefully in my bra and it meant that my poor kids choked and got sprayed in the face pretty much every time they ate for the first, like, 4 months. I honestly thought this was just normal until I started getting plugged ducts that would almost always turn into mastitis.
Mastitis is an infection in your milk ducts caused by a blockage that won’t allow milk to properly drain, and it’s a doozy! I have never been so sick in my life as I was with a couple of my bouts of mastitis (I have had it 5 times total- twice with my son and 3 times with my daughter). High fever, chills, wicked body aches, a swollen spot like a rock in your boob, and a red road map of veins leading to the infection.
Aaaaaaand you have to nurse through it. I’ve never had a kidney stone, but I imagine that the feeling of passing a stone through your urethra is similar to the burning feeling of your infant sucking a blockage of milky through your swollen and sore nipple. Super fun times. (If you do get a plugged duct or think you may have mastitis, here, here, and here are all great sources for info. Don’t mess around with that stuff- call your doctor asap, trust me…)
At risk of sounding uber negative, pumping sucks, too. I mean, it’s worth it to provide your baby with breastmilk while you’re away and to keep up your supply, but it suuuuuuuuuckssssss. (More on the joys of pumping to come…)
Holy moly. I could not believe how many times I changed my clothes when both of my babies were small. Seriously, though, you wouldn’t think breastfeeding is as messy as it is in the first weeks.
You leak through your bra and shirt and you have to change your clothes.
The baby pulls away while nursing, milk sprays everywhere, and you have to change your clothes.
Babies have a propensity for spitting up and you constantly have to change your clothes, even if you are really good about using burp cloths (Wyatt was a puker and he used to just soak through burp cloths and blankets). Luckily, fresh breast milk smells sweet and like your baby, so that part isn’t so bad- it’s when it gets old and dry that you get pretty stinky and a change of clothing is necessary… The second time around, I wised up and got a Costco size jug of laundry detergent in a nice scent that made me happy to do the many loads of laundry. While it is a bit pricey, Dreft is particularly nice. 🙂
If you are just beginning your foray into the realm of breastfeeding, good luck to you! I have one piece of sage advice that got me through the thick of it – it does end, eventually, and you will look back at this time as the chapter of your life when your babies were little and needed you like they never will again.
(And if you find yourself shaking violently with mastitis-ridden boob and a fever in the middle of the night, you are most certainly welcome to tell me where to shove my sage advice.)
If you are right in the middle of it all, enjoy what you can. Believe it or not, you will miss it.
If you are like me and looking at your time as the Dairy Queen in your rearview, and have found some decent bras to perk up the ski slopes that now reside on the front of your body, leave me a comment below. Mama needs some support.