From my own little experience of giving birth and breastfeeding one baby, thinking back, I was rather well informed about the whole pregnancy and even the giving birth part. Books, mobile apps, our moms, my BFFs… Plenty of resources out there!
But what about nursing? From discussing with other moms, I realised that during our 40 weeks or so of pregnancy, we tend to focus a lot on the foetal developments, the changes in our body, getting baby’s room ready as we get closer to the due date (aka nesting), leaving less headspace for anticipating what comes next. I mean, what comes immediately after birth: breastfeeding.
So, I am writing this article mostly thinking about moms-to-be in the near or farther future, because there are a couple of things I wished I knew before embarking on my breastfeeding journey with my little one.
Choosing to breastfeed
Before thinking of motherhood for myself, I had a very blurry conception of what breastfeeding would be. And first of all, if it would be at all for me.
I used to think: “If I have a baby one day, will I breastfeed? Maybe not… I mean, my boobs are part of my femininity, how weird would that be to have a baby sucking on them, right?” Oh dear, how far these days are!
Since I am into living a healthy lifestyle, I got encouraged by the idea of feeding my baby with live food, covering his nutritional needs in the way Nature has intended me to do it, contributing to building his immune system, gut flora, and so on. And if nursing is such a natural thing (well, that is how mammals feed their cubs after all), how complicated could that be…?
For me, very complicated in fact
I felt so lonely during my first months post-partum. No matter how involved baby’s daddy was, it was pretty much me and my newborn the whole day and night, in a relationship consisting in “simply” keeping him alive. I don’t remember doing anything else than pumping or getting baby to latch, and keep him awake while so. And on my free time? Washing, sterilising, baking lactation cookies (and eat the whole batch), all often around 3 am.
I didn’t foresee that feeding my baby will take almost all my time, plus my energy fighting all the obstacles that came with it.
I wondered how come I did not get the memo about how intense breastfeeding would be? Next question was how long could I hang in there without going crazy or without my nipples falling off?
Sharing my experience
I am not exaggerating about the falling off part. I had nightmares it would happen. Or maybe I wished it would, so it would take away the pain too.
The physical pain that clogged milk duct, thrush and engorgement have given me, sometimes all at once, was unbearable. Yet, today, my baby is 9 month-old and I am still partially breastfeeding. How come?
If there is one word I learnt since I am a mom, it is persistence. I sometimes blame myself for starting something and not finishing it. But with nursing, there is like a magical force pushing me to carry on, no matter how many times I wanted to quit.
My whole point in sharing this, is not to freak future moms out nor upset La Leche League supporters but warn that possibly, nursing can be painful if not done right, no matter how natural it seems to be. But that there is also the possibility of doing it right.
You are not alone
Good news is that resources are plenty too when it comes to nursing challenges. I just didn’t have an interest looking for them until I needed them badly.
If the role of Lactation Consultant exists, I can speak from experience that there are good reasons. I never thought I would be ok showing my (inflamed) tits to another woman until I met Isabel! If it wasn’t for her, I think I would have given up nursing. For my fellow nursing moms, if there is one contact you need on speed dial for the days breastfeeding is too hard, I believe it is hers.
Besides professional support, for partners who want to be involved, although they can’t do much about the actual breastfeeding, it is time they know that a nursing mom is always thirsty. Always. So, a big glass of water and a little shoulder & back rub while we are nursing will never be turned down!
“Breastfeeding is magical”… Is it?
I have something to confess. The moment they placed my baby on my chest right after birth, my reaction was not exactly like in the movies. I think I was too overwhelmed to even cry or explode with joy. A few minutes later though, seeing my baby’s instinct of survival, so tiny yet so strong, crawling on my chest to find colostrum, then yes, it was even more intense and beautiful than how they make it look in the movies! It was Life happening right on me. And I remember breastfeeding being the first way of concrete interaction I had with my baby.
I don’t think I will forget how challenging I found it in the first months, but I won’t forget either how nursing is almost a magical response to my baby’s needs, feeding him but also calming him and me down when no other response seem as natural as this one.