Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breastfeeding is hard. We need to know that.

When I think back to my breastfeeding intentions, I think about all of the good advice I received: moms gushed about how beautiful the bond between mom and breastfed baby grew.  They told me that breast is best, and I was inundated with facts about antibodies and allergens.  I heard about the convenience of breast - no bottles to cart around, no formula to mix.  What's not to love?  I was so devastated when I didn't experience these things.  I blamed myself: what was wrong with me?  Only now do I know that there wasn't anything wrong.  The truth is: breastfeeding is a gruelling, emotionally taxing endeavor.  It is hard.

I wish I was told the bad stuff right away.  I wish I was told about the rough spots, the tough times.  I wish I knew more about both the physical and the emotional struggles that every breastfeeding mom confronts in those tough early weeks. I wish I knew that I'd have to endure those hard times in order to reach the beautiful, blissful experiences I had come to expect.  I would have been better prepared to confront my own emotions.  I would have realized that it isn't just me, that I'm not defective or incapable.

Imagine if you went into your birth not knowing that contractions are painful, or not knowing that sometimes vaginal delivery isn't possible.  How shocking would our birth experience be if you learned the "dirty details" only when you were in the thick of your labor?  We educate ourselves as best we can on birth, but on breastfeeding first time moms remain largely in the dark.

Moms who intend to breastfeed should know:
1.  Breastfeeding is hard, physically:  Engorgement, sore, cracked nipples, latch issues, thrush and clogged ducts.  Put all of that pain on top of the general recovery from birth and the exhaustion of being a new mom.
2.  Breastfeeding is hard, emotionally.  When all you want to do is capture a few moments of precious sleep, it is hard, so hard, to be the only source of comfort and nourishment for your new baby.  It is hard to feel like your body, the body that has been a shared vessel for so many months, still isn't truly yours yet, not fully.   
3.  Breastfeeding can be isolating.  As a new mom, I wasn't comfortable breastfeeding in public.  Jack didn't latch well and getting him to eat often required a certain amount of juggling and a lot of crying.  I may as well have stood up and shouted "hey world, I'm trying and failing at breastfeeding over here!"  I found myself retreating to an isolated room of the house, away from stares and questions.  And I felt so, so alone.

Moms who intend to breastfeed should also know:
1.  It can get better.  No promises, but it can.  And if it does, all of those wonderful things: the bond, the convenience, they all come together.
2.  Your body can do it.  Even if your friends, your family, even your physician makes you feel like you need to second-guess your decision, trust your body.  With few exceptions, our bodies really do this well.
3.  When it seems too hard, when you feel too alone, when you are ready to give up, step back a moment, and reach out to others, to those who have been there and who can be your mentor.  If you have no one, call your hospital to talk to a lactation consultant.  Look for a local La Leche League.  Ask the Internet.  I've seen beautiful calls out on Twitter asking moms to offer encouragement and advice to a mom struggling with breastfeeding.  Help is out there.

So mommas:  share your stories, even the bad ones.  Show off your war wounds.  Let us see.  Help us prepare for what lies ahead by using your experiences, the good and the bad.

Good luck, mommas.  If you need encouraging words, I'm here.  And there's lots of me out there.



Anonymous said...

thank you so much for posting this! I could have written this myself! everyone always told me how easy it was, how magical it was.....
I didn't get any help in the hospital, instead was handed a nipple shield. No one told me that once I used it I had to keep using it.
My baby wouldn't latch.
I was exhausted and had no idea why.
He was hungry
My milk supply dropped.
I struggled the whole time I nursed to keep my milk up
Would I do it all over again?? HECK YEAH!
Would I do things differently? Yes.

I think women should be honest and open with one another... that's how we learn..

Thanks again for posting this!

JeeanFoxy said...

I asked for help because I was really having a hard time, but Iaine just hated to be breasted now matter how hard I tried... and as a result... so did I.

WonderWhyGal said...

There were hard parts about it but 7 years later all I remember is how wonderful the experience was with both of my children. I had a tough time with my second child but still...the good always outweighed the "bad".

Even now, as I see other mother's nurse their child there is a longing for the bond I had with my baby. I never looked at nursing as a chore and I didn't mind the lack of sleep because I was giving that baby of mine something no formula can ever duplicate.

My son had RSV at 4 months. I would nurse every 2 1/2 - 3 hrs and give nebuilizer treatments every three hours. It's the treatments that drove me crazy, not the nursing. Quite often, that was my nap time. I always nursed in the recliner and we were both happy.

I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience. Both of mine will be ones to always treasure.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this! And to the last commenter, there were obviously bad moments in your breastfeeding but the fact that you won't even tlak about them is the problem. Sure, the good outweighed the bad, but when you downplay the bad, you are telling women who might have more bad moments that there's something wrong with them. This is exactly the problem. I also have women tell me oh don't worry about the childbirth, once you see your baby, it'll be worth it. Sur,e it will. But I'd like to be prepared for the pain, discomfort, possible tearing too. I don't want to be in pain there thinking WTF is wrong with me? Everyone said this was a effing magical experience! Same thing with breastfeeding. I'd like to hear what problems moms had, even if there was just 1 and the rainbow shining gumdrops falling from the sky moments were many.