Breastfeeding is hard. Yep. I said it. I have nursed all my children, and I am committed to nursing any future children, but it is hard. Sometimes it seems that those of us that are able to nurse our babies either forget to mention this, or don’t like to tell new moms it is hard. Maybe we don’t want to scare them off from trying. Maybe the bonding minimizes this fact. Maybe we are so tired that we forget how hard it can be.
I feel fortunate in a way that I was largely unaware of the breast feeding issues that many mothers deal with when I was preparing to give birth to my oldest son. I was just committed to breastfeeding. I had no idea that PCOS potentially increases the chance of difficulties. I did not know that a c-section could delay my milk coming in. I did not know it could be painful, or that my supply might not be strong enough. I knew nothing about latch or positions. I certainly did not know anything about engorgement or clogged ducts.
Our first nursing attempt set the course for the rest of our time nursing. The nurse handed him to me and he was already sucking on his fist! I found it incredibly difficult to hold him with my left hand because of the way the IV was inserted, so the nurse (a lactation consultant) helped me figure out the football position. He nursed in that position through road trips, family gatherings, and six months of coming into work with me. Aside from the initial pain that made me feel as though I was a lanolin addict, we had an uneventful time nursing, I thought. I pumped most of the time at work (with a single Medela hand pump) for multiple reasons: I could pump faster than he could eat, I couldn’t afford nursing wear, and the thought of nursing in my cubicle freaked me out. I also never once nursed him in public unless it was in the back seat of our vehicle. I thought our experience was pretty normal.
I was expecting the same results with my daughter. Not so much. I found myself mumbling to myself, “Are you new?!” on an hourly basis. I had a slower recovery with her, and it felt as though everything was awful. The first few weeks with her my nipples were on fire. While I was no longer working outside the home at this point, we had a latch issue. I could not feed her in the only position I knew (in part because of another crazily placed IV) and I found it near impossible to express any milk with a hand pump because I was so completely stressed out. At this point I had read that I used lanolin too often with my first child (so I was obviously the devil), and I just felt as though I could get no relief!
She would latch only to stop to look around, rinse, repeat. She never once fell asleep while nursing and she was always at her most alert while eating. Feeding her took 90 minutes at each session and I was exhausted. When I asked her pediatrician about the issues, she told me to use two pillows. I felt silly calling or asking for help after that, so I just buckled down and decided that she and I would just have to figure it out together. So we did. I threw the football hold out the window, and reminded myself that this too shall pass. As she grew and wasn’t so new, I kept trying. Within a few weeks we had a rhythm. (So much of a rhythm, that I forgot about introducing solids, but that is a story for another time!)
Despite my commitment to nursing, I still have yet to nurse past five and a half months. No one told me that nursing bras were evil incarnate. Each time, I stuck out a few months in those awful things before returning to my normal bras for a few months. Once they were sufficiently destroyed, I would give up, switch to formula, and start feeding them baby food.
I am now nursing my three month old son. (Has it really been that long?) I feel more nursing savvy, in part because of research and experience, but I am also prepared. I am at home with three children now. Avoiding nursing in public is just not possible. I knew this would be the case, and since we have saved virtually every baby item from the older kids, I decided to invest in some nursing tops, quality nursing bras, and a few baby wearing items for kicks. I cannot stress enough that this has made all the difference. Sure, I went through a period of feeling “touched out” (I was blessed this time though to not go through even the shortest period of fiery nipples.) but nursing doesn’t feel like a burden and it certainly is not the frustrating debacle it has been for me in the past. I am more confident in my ability to nurse my child, and I am working towards extending the time I spend exclusively breast feeding.
I am still a little hesitant when nursing in public, but there is more breast exposed in a Victoria’s Secret ad than there is when I am trying to whip it out while holding a frenzied baby. (This is also why nursing wear is my new favorite thing ever and I can’t believe I nursed two children without a single nursing top.)
To all new moms reading this: Do what works! I write this as a nursing mom wanting to be honest. Yes, nursing can suck. (Pun intended!) It is not all sweetness and light. There are days that the mere brush of a cotton t-shirt makes me want to scream in pain, and there are days were I could nurse all day long and doze in and out of sleep contently. It also gets better. And if it doesn’t? Do not be afraid to ask for help or change your plans to find what works for you and your babe. I have had three very different experiences with nursing, and I still feel as though I am getting the hang of it. It takes time, but that time means I am “forced” to focus on the newest member of my family, and that is pretty awesome.
By Jess Fayette
Jess is a writer, wife to Matt, and mom to six children living in the Omaha area. Before choosing to stay at home with her family, she spent several years working with low income women that had experienced sexual or domestic violence. She also writes at (www.jessfayette.com) and is passionate about domestic and sexual violence survivor advocacy, books, and her DVR.