When Breastfeeding Sucks. Pun Intended.

I SPY a cabbage leaf! Looks like Paul Cezanne's wife also found it tough to breastfeed.
I SPY a cabbage leaf! Looks like Paul Cezanne’s wife also found it tough to breastfeed.

DISCLAIMER: This might scare you if you’ve never breastfed before. It might make you rethink it. Please skip directly to last paragraph.

I was 27 years old when I had my first son. I had made the decision to breastfeed while pregnant. It all seemed very straightforward and rather simple. I didn’t know what to expect and I stayed open to the possibility of bottle feeding but really I thought: how hard could it be?! We were literally made to nurse our babies. I had no idea how much of a commitment breastfeeding would be and the ups and downs of the wild ride I was about to embark upon.

Two weeks in and I was miserable. Cracked, bleeding nipples and pain like I had never experienced made for one miserable mom. He couldn’t get the hang of latching on properly and I had to constantly pull his lip out. I also made a ton of milk….like I could have nursed ALL the babies on the block. I was constantly engorged and the girls were hard as rocks. I did everything I could think of: read all the books, met with lactation consultants, etc. I got all kinds of advice and much of it was contradictory. It was an incredibly confusing and overwhelming time as if caring for a little human wasn’t intense enough.

I hung on…unbelievably I hung on even though my cheeks were laced with tears of pain every time he latched on. I was bewildered that this didn’t come “naturally” and I felt like a failure as a new mother. I had mistakenly thought being a “good mom” meant I had to breastfeed my baby. By the time we hit the 2 month mark, we were hitting our stride and I came to enjoy it…for the most part.

There was a lot about nursing my baby that I loved: quick availability being one of them – just click open that bra…and voilà! It’s cheap too: the cost of formula is no joke. The bonding and closeness is so special and I hear there are some health benefits for both baby and mama.

The stuff I found tough: I am the only one who can feed the baby. I tried pumping by the way. I hated it! Am I the only one?! Breastfeeding is all about ease and simplicity and pumping just felt like more work. I also felt tied to my baby – literally on a leash and for the first 3 or 4 months I couldn’t or wouldn’t go anywhere without him or I’d nurse him and dash out of the house for exactly 2.75 hours when I would rush home to nurse him again. I weaned him, surprisingly quite easily at 13 months old. I had done it!

With baby #2, I was scared that my poor nipples would suffer the wrath of another ravenous little mouth. Miracle of all miracles he latched on perfectly and it didn’t hurt one iota. However, he and I kept getting thrush and were on a seemingly never-ending prescription of antifungal meds. So, some things improved but I also got my share of new agony the second time around like my first bout of mastitis.

Then, one morning, when he was 9 months old, I picked him up from his crib and went to nurse him and he….refused. After three weeks of pumping around the clock, trying to get through what everyone told me was a “nursing strike”, I thew in the towel. He had self-weaned. I didn’t even know that was a thing. I was devastated. Hormones were all over the place and I wept and wept because I didn’t have the proper “farewell” to breastfeeding, this being my last baby and all.

Except that I had a baby girl about 5 years later. Nursing her went very well at the beginning until I developed a raging, I-WANT-TO-DIE case of mastitis when she was just 1 month old. I didn’t know how bad it could get. You have to keep nursing through this horrible infection and I actually bit down on a towel to muffle the agony as the feeling of sharp blades were being sucked out of my nipples. I battled mastitis on and off for the first 4 months with her. I took all kinds of supplements, ate all the healthy breastfeeding foods and stuffed cabbage leaves in my bra around the clock to fight the never-ending engorgement. I would constantly ask myself if it was worth it, weighing the pros and cons but deep down inside I knew I didn’t want to stop. She’s 20 months old and I still nurse. She IS my last baby and neither of us can quit each other.

What’s the take away? Every woman is different and every baby is different so my nursing experiences varied greatly from child to child. My firstborn savored every sip, easily taking 20 or more minutes to nurse (on one side!). My second was the world’s most efficient nurser and would empty both breasts in record time. My baby girl falls somewhere in between. I don’t regret nursing one bit and when I think back, my memories are all good and warm. Just like many things, it’s not for everyone and I had some rocky moments. I’m not exactly sure why I stuck with it. I’d like to think it’s because I am selfless with a level of persistence that is unmatched, but really it probably has more to do with the fact that I’m stubborn as a mule. I am so so glad I toughed it out. I recommend it to every new mom I know and when the phone rings, I’m ready to dole out some encouragement and comfort…you can do this!

And, if you decide you can’t do this or don’t want to do this, then that’s just fine too. Being a good mother doesn’t have much to do with breastfeeding anyway.


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