What they don’t tell you about breastfeeding (or at least, they didn’t tell me)

I prefer to call it “nursing”, actually, because the whole concept of breastfeeding has always made me a bit squeamish.  After all, if we can buy odorless and plastic-wrapped meat in the supermarket and flush our waste away with 1.6 gallons of clean water (in low-flow toilets) why oh why do we still feed our babies like all of the other animals out there?  The first time I ever watched a sow feeding her piglets at the petting farm when I was a young girl I recoiled in complete disgust and decided to never have children.  Roughly 20 years later, after I recovered from the shock of learning that I was pregnant, the second thing that I thought was “Oh God…does this mean that I have to feed the baby…with my body?”  I started researching different brands of formula immediately.

Months later Søren was born, too small and too early, and I suddenly had an urge to nurse.  He was so tiny and fragile and I knew that he needed the best nutrition possible and steeled my mind towards my task, swallowing my bile in the same way that I did when I had to eat something terrifying during my travels through rural Asia.  Only, he would not eat.  Soren was so tiny that he couldn’t feed himself, and so I got my selfish way – I didn’t have to breastfeed…except now I wanted to because I knew that he needed me.  So I rented an industrial breast pump, hooked myself up like a heifer chewing her cud 6 to 8 times a day, and secretly started referring to our bedroom as “the milking barn”.  Now, almost 5 months later, here are a few reflections:

It hurts
In the hospital, because Søren couldn’t muster the strength and energy to suck, a nurse had to come into the room and squeeze my boobies several times a day like a drunk Hooters patron.  This hurt a lot.  But nothing hurt as bad as when Søren finally figured out how to eat and suddenly he wanted to do it every two hours.  Think chapped lips, but on your boobies.  Not fun.

Eventually, the pain goes away
It’s true, you become tough.  The pain will leave after 4 to 6 weeks.  The waking up every two hours will remain.

And then the pain comes back
Er, yes, the pain comes back when your period returns, but that is for a later bolded header…

Not all babies know how to eat, and not all mothers know how to teach them
Seems like the human race should have died out because of this.  Not all babies can figure this out, and new mothers generally can’t either.  Thank God for nurses and grandmothers…

Not all women can nurse
This one is tough.  I never really wanted to nurse, but when it was time, I had no issues with “supply”, despite the fact that demand was low.  At the same time, I knew two other women who had just delivered and desperately wanted to nurse, but couldn’t.  This always seemed incredibly unfair to me.  Although preachy moms are quick to judge women who can’t nurse and point out what they should be doing differently (drink more water!  stress less! eat more!) I don’t think that there is a good explanation for the inability to nurse, and it is no one’s business to speculate on why they can’t.  These women need compassion and understanding.  It may see like a small thing, but new mom’s who can’t nurse go through heartbreak and guilt.

It is not always a beautiful, bonding experience
I never actually imagined it being anything other than painful and upsetting, and so I wasn’t really disappointed.  However, a lot of new moms have high expectations that their nursing experience will be some sort of transcendent bonding experience…and what they often find is that both they and the baby end up exhausted, angry and in tears.  Keep your expectations low, ladies…

It really is not effective birth control
You can ovulate before your period returns, while you are nursing.  This is not commonly known, but I know it because  I knew several sets of siblings who are less than 18 months apart.  Best solution to this problem?  your doctor may tell you “no sex for 6 weeks after the baby is born” but your can turn around and tell your husband/partner “no sex for a year after the baby is born”!

Your period will not stay away for a year while you are nursing
The thought of no period for a year after delivery was certainly enticing.  I have one of those periods that is so painful I have fainted, vomited, and lost my job (not all at once).  At 22-years old I asked my gynecologist if I could have a hysterectomy because absolutely nothing, not opiates, red wine, birth control pills, or yoga would quell the staggering pain that I experienced every month (laughter from the GYN).  So, 4 and a half months after Søren was born I had finally managed to forget Aunt Flo when I felt a familiar cramping, boating, dread.  Matrons, life is not fair.

Yes, you have a drink a lot of water
How many older, more experienced mothers told me this, and how many times did I ignore them?  If only I could be like my mother and carry around a rinsed-out plastic gallon milk jug full of water with me and still hold my head high.

Stress really does affect how well you nurse
When I started working again I immediately noticed that I no longer produced enough food for my baby.  This fact alone cause me to be more stressed.  Drinking of fluids and eating of fenugreek ensued, but I’ve never been able to get my supply back to where it was before I started working.

New moms get nursing envy
That’s silly, new moms!  Everyone is different, and that is the most important thing to keep in mind.


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