I’ve been thinking about writing this post for almost eight months now. And since its still on my mind, and I have a friend who just had a baby I figure now is as good a time as any to finally sit down to write it.
Ever since Harrison was born breastfeeding has been hard.
I think I was as prepared as any first-time mom could be about the reality of breastfeeding. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that it would probably hurt for a while. But I knew that I really wanted to give it a chance. I listened to all those who told me that the pain goes away and feeding gets better but you just have to be committed for a few weeks to get through the tough parts. I thought I could handle that. I really didn’t expect butterflies, unicorns and choirs of angels to appear in the nursery when it was feeding time, but I did think I’d feel more capable than I did in the first few weeks.
In those first few weeks there were many times that I’d feed him and cry, or feed him and then cry.
It really hurt.
I had white-hot-tense-your-shoulders-curl-your-toes pain when he would latch. And I would feel guilty about not wanting to feed him because I was so sore and that would make me cry too. I felt like I couldn’t win.
Around the four week mark when I was hoping things would be starting to get better, I got a big tear on my left side. I wasn’t really sure what to do. I resorted to pumping and bottle feeding when it was time to feed on that side and eventually when I was almost healed (two weeks later) I used nipple shields to try to get back to nursing on that side. I worried that I’d end up being a one-boob-wonder (and that’s not the worst thing in the world) and cried some more about feeling like a failure.
I tried calling my local La Leche League for help and support and they never returned my call. Thankfully I did get help from my aunt, a retired nurse, who gave me some tips on how to help the healing and how to cope in the meantime. The left side eventually healed but it was never the same.
As the weeks passed we’d hit our stride and then miss it again. I was constantly worried that he wasn’t getting enough, or he’d go through a fit where he didn’t want to latch, or he was easily distracted and would pull away (hard) and leave me sore once again.
As prepared as I thought I was for the task of breastfeeding, I wasn’t prepared for the ups and downs that come after getting through the first few weeks. No one told me that the tough part can be sticking with it. I’m sure not everyone encounters these problems, but I did and no one warned me. I thought that getting through the painful part would be the end of breastfeeding woes. I was definitely unprepared for other bumps in the road. Through those months I both wanted to keep nursing and quit at the same time. Honestly I didn’t really want the work and fuss of formula feeding so I wanted to stick with nursing to keep from having to deal with all that goes along with preparing formula and washing bottles. Not to mention I wanted him to get all the benefits that breastfeeding can offer. I’m glad I stuck with it for more reasons than just convenience, but even choosing to breastfeed and foregoing formula made me feel guilty. Was my own desire for convenience keeping him from all the nutrition he needed?
Just after he turned six-months old he pulled away so hard that he left me with blisters and once again I was left to rely on pumping and bottle-feeding for a couple of days. I was so discouraged and ready to quit again. I was prepared for breastfeeding to hurt, but I didn’t think I’d be still feeling the pain when my baby was six months old.
Lately he has seemed less and less interested in nursing during the day. Amazingly after all the grief it’s given me I now find myself sad at the thought of losing this ritual as he naturally needs me less. Yet another surprise turn in my adventure in breastfeeding. It brings with it a new flood of emotion that I didn’t expect.
I know everyone’s experience is different on the whole, but I think we all have moments or days when our doubts creep in and our mole hills seem like mountains. And I know it would’ve helped me immensely to feel like I wasn’t the first to go through white-hot-tense-your-shoulders-curl-your-toes pain, or soreness, or guilt, or worry. So if you’re breastfeeding your baby and today is hard, don’t worry. You’re not alone. It’s okay to feed ’em and weep.