That Parenting Life: The Truth About Breastfeeding
Things no one tells you about keeping your baby alive with your boobs. Here are 10 to start.
People say breastfeeding can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. And I’m here to tell you that, sure, it’s rewarding, but it’s more than that because it is, quite possibly, one of the hardest things you’ll ever do and when it’s done, you’ll look back at yourself in disbelief realizing you were able to sustain something so inconvenient and soul-sucking for so long. Where giving birth is a sprint to the finish, breastfeeding is like a moderate run for 6 or more months straight on very little sleep with one sneaker untied.
Wait. Before you jump down my throat or drop kick me, I want to also add that when all the stars align, it is one of the most beautiful and blissful activities you and your baby will be able to enjoy together. It’s rewarding because you are able to keep a tiny, innocent, goobing baby alive with your body and nothing else. In short, it’s an incredible feat of motherhood.
As I prepared for delivery, I found that I was way more hung up and anxious about packing the right socks (with slip-resistant dots on the bottom) and extension cords (because you won’t know where the outlets in the room will be and you want to keep your electronics charged if anything so you can keep updating your Facebook status over the course of 3 days of laboring so people don’t think you died) and having a delivery plan (which is very often completely useless at the end of the day) instead of thinking about sustaining the tiny human that is coming out of my body with my bodily fluids.
I think I read one article thanks to a fellow mama (and a really important one as it turns out because my lactation counselor didn’t show up until 3 days after my baby was born. Don’t worry. I already complained to Cedars about that.) Aside from that, I figured once the kid latched, I would be golden and we would spend the next 12 months lovingly cozying up together several times a day releasing lots of good vibe hormones and being this awesome unit of mother-baby bliss….becoming, essentially, the happiest happiness that ever happied.
Cut to my first day back home after 3 days of labor and something like 5 days of c-section recovery. My husband and I are on our own at this point and this is where I get to share my list of 10 things they don’t tell you about breastfeeding until you go digging for it:
- Your nipples will very quickly feel like they are being sliced, salted, dipped in lava and then set on fire for good measure. The tiny human that you just delivered will now be attaching itself to one of the most sensitive parts of your body…MANY, MANY times a day. If your baby lost more than 10% of its body weight in the first few days (this was my baby), you will be instructed to nurse every 2–3 hours AROUND THE CLOCK. There will be rawness, bleeding, lots of lanolin cream, and the need to walk around topless because if something so much as even thinks about being near your nipples, you’ll experience that magical feeling I just described above in bold letters. I happened to have a newborn with a very strong suck too, so that was great. ← Sarcasm.
- You will want to give up. I’m hard on myself as a general rule — maybe it was my Asian upbringing — but I’ve never been so consumed with the feelings of failure as I was at the beginning of my breastfeeding journey. I cried A LOT. The time my husband made me stop nursing because I was in so much pain (see #1 + holding my baby on top of my fresh c-section incision + uterus contracting during the feeding) and picked up newborn formula to give to the baby so I could get an hour or two of sleep…when that happened, I had a complete mental breakdown. Sobbed my eyes out and felt like an inadequate mother who was failing her child. Considered giving up…ended up being too stubborn to do so, but really did think about throwing in the towel.
- After a few days, your boobs become gigantic, hot, heavy, rock hard boulders attached to your chest. I will never forget the first day my boobs decided to get engorged. It was bad enough that my belly was still big and every time I walked, the swaying of my skin and organs would pain my freshly stitched together uterus…but on top of that, my milk supply came in and my boobs became these crazy hard masses. Any movement made me feel like they were going to rip off my chest, the skin felt so stretched. The only way to cure this? Latch that baby on or pump…even if your nipples feel like Hades. Also, spouses, don’t get any ideas. There is nothing sexy about this experience. I’ll never forget telling my husband to poke the top of my gigantic boobs after taking a 30 minute nap and waking up to boulders. Pretty sure he recoiled in horror because they were solid…not fist bump solid. Literally solid.
- Building a freezer stash is no easy feat. Ok, there are some women out there who have an awesome supply forever and no issues and they end up with thousands of extra ounces of milk. So much milk they need to buy a separate freezer. Now, to be fair, my supply was bumpin’ in the beginning and when I wasn’t feeding the babe, I was pumping…but it got to the point where that was all I did day in, day out and if I went a few hours without either, I would go back to medicine-balls-on-the-chest. I had to slow down, so I started feeding the baby on demand (and it turns out my baby wasn’t all that demanding…she would sleep for 4–5 hours, empty out my boobs, goob around and then fall back to sleep) and pumping here and there, but not between every feeding. Suddenly, my stash building slowed down a ton and I wasn’t even thinking about the implications. Stupid me.
- The hormones will basically make you narcoleptic. Breastfeeding is designed to send you and your baby into a state of absolute bliss and relaxation. This is awesome, except be careful because it’s really easy to fall asleep. Depending on what position, it might be kinda scary. Don’t wanna drop the baby or have it roll off a breastfeeding pillow. Just be aware of how your baby’s set up. I ended up using the side-lying position the majority of the time which makes it easy to fall asleep, but also not so dangerous. My husband woke us up alot. We would just end up cuddling and napping together a bunch. No complaints there.
- You might get clogs. This doesn’t happen to everyone, but this was eventually what made me throw in the towel at a little over 6 months. I’ll never forget the first time I got a clogged milk duct. By the end, I was getting several of them a week. They started to wreak havoc on every part of my life. Just think about that phrase for a second. “Clogged Milk Duct.” Your boobs are producing all this milk and then one of your ducts (which are tiny openings to begin with) decides to get clogged…but you’re still producing milk. So, things start backing up. You get a painful, rock hard mass of backed up milk that won’t release until that duct clears. Hot compresses, baths, throwing the baby on that boob as much as possible, massaging the area (which hurts like hell), pumping, and praying that it unclogs before you end up with mastitis…
- You might get mastitis. So, your clog might have gone on too long and suddenly your boob has some red patches, feels warm and you feel feverish or have flu-like symptoms. Get thee to an urgent care or your doc if they can see you asap. You’ve got an infection and need to get on antibiotics stat. Inconvenient when you’ve got a babe to feed. I had two big bouts of mastitis during my time as baby host…put a real damper on life.
- Your boobs will regulate…Don’t freak out. At a certain point in your breastfeeding journey, your boobs will decide to regulate themselves. What does that mean? It means they stop overproducing and start producing enough to provide for the feeding and pumping you’ve been doing. In short, the more you breastfeed, the more you’ll continue to produce. Usually, everyone freaks out, thinking their supply is completely gone. “My boobs aren’t engorged anymore!” “I’m not feeling letdown!” (That’s the wave of mild pain that comes when your boobs produce milk — freakily, it often happens when you just think about breastfeeding or your baby in general.) You’ll suddenly miss those rock hard boulders on your chest and may start to think you’re starving your baby. I feel like when I started to regulate, my baby stopped getting as milk drunk (that’s when baby’s basically pass out because they’re so full and content), though it could be my imagination.
- Working mom? Welcome to your life as a cow. Listen, I really appreciate a good mama’s room at an office. I was lucky enough to have one, but it still doesn’t make up for the sad fact that when mat leave ends and you and your little one are apart from each other, you have to strap yourself to a breast pump several times a day while sitting on your laptop, answering work emails and declining video conferencing requests. The upside is if you happen to have breastfeeding co-workers, the mother’s room is a great place to pump, vent, and have meetings together. For me, the majority of my work-life is from home, but I still work an 8+ hour day full of skyping and collaborating on google decks. I spent many a meeting hooked up to my pump and I gotta say that I don’t miss being a corporate cow.
- You are not just your breastfeeding abilities. Whenever hardship in the breastfeeding department hits, it’s easy to start doubting your abilities to provide for your child; questioning yourself as a mother. You’ll find yourself on your various Facebook mom group pages, enviously staring at the photos of other moms bragging about how much milk they pumped this morning. You’ll tumble down the rabbit hole that is La Leche League and endless articles about the benefits of breastfeeding. You’ll start feeling inadequate. DO NOT DO THIS TO YOURSELF. You have to remember that you are more than just boobs that produce milk for your beloved child. You love this child and engage with this child. You do so much more than just give it milk. And if you have to supplement or have to stop breastfeeding altogether, it doesn’t make you any less of a mother. Always remember that “fed is best”…no matter how you have to do it. You do the best you can and that’s exactly what your baby needs.
I know I said 10, but there’s one more thing I need to tell you.
Despite all the crap you’ll deal with, you will love it.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to breastfeed, when you’re not clogged, mastitis-y (new word), having latching issues or being consumed with anxiety about your supply, you will be able to experience one of the most magical bonding experiences between two humans. (Usually before they grow teeth or start noticing the world around them and begin swiveling their heads around with your nipple in their mouth: NOT COOL.)
Looking back, I do miss cradling my baby while she fed and gazed into my eyes before we both floated off to sleep from the happy hormones coursing through our bodies. I recall being quietly woken up by my husband and the two of us lovingly admiring our little bean as she snoozed, nuzzled up against me.
At the end of the day, as much of a pain in the ass as it is to breastfeed if your body isn’t 100% on board, it’s still totally worth it and something you should try. If you don’t stick with it though, I totally get it.