I’m not here to extol the benefits of breastfeeding. The health benefits are well-documented. I’d just like to tell you about my journey from reluctant breastfeeding mom to enthusiastic breastfeeding mom to frustrated breastfeeding mom.
It all started nine years ago. Nine months of pregnancy and many hours of labor produced a beautiful baby boy. We had decorated the nursery, bought a stroller, and washed and sorted all the baby clothes, but I hadn’t given much thought to actually parenting the child. The doctor laid a gooey baby on my stomach and I went from thinking “My body is amazing! I just pushed out this little creature!” to “Oh no. What do I do NOW?”
The nurses asked if I wanted to breastfeed. Sure, I said. I had heard “breast is best” and figured that the female body is designed to do it. How hard could it be? Little did I know …
For the first few weeks, it hurt. The pamphlets told me it shouldn’t hurt if I was doing it right … and they were filthy liars. As far as I could tell, we were doing it right – we had a good latch, I was producing enough milk, my baby was gaining weight. Frankly, my breasts had never received that much attention before. Thirty minutes per nursing session, 10-12 times a day – that’s a lot of pulling and tugging on a sensitive part of my anatomy. I asked my mom friends about it. One friend said that she used to pray for nipples of steel. I even remember trying to position myself in the shower so that the water wouldn’t fall directly on my breasts. And thanking God for each part of my body that didn’t hurt.
After seeing a lactation consultant and getting confirmation that we were on the right track, I set a deadline. I committed to try for six weeks, and then gave myself the freedom to stop, if I wanted. By six weeks in, the baby and I were getting into a good groove, and I opted in until three months. At three months, I re-upped for six months. And so on, until finally, reluctantly, my toddler weaned at 18 months.
It turns out that I love nursing. I loved that time with my baby to snuggle, to sing, to be still together. I loved being able to provide essential nourishment for a young life. When my daughter was born, I was delighted to nurse her, and we kept it up until around 20 months. There was less pain the second time, and I knew that we would figure it out together.
Things changed when baby number three arrived. Breastfeeding just didn’t work. We tried and tried and tried. And he stopped peeing because he was getting dehydrated. I panicked, rented a hospital grade pump and called every La Leche person that I could find.
My youngest had some health concerns that made it harder to nurse. He had a good latch, but tired easily, so it was difficult to get a full feeding. I started pumping with the hope that we would eventually transition to full-time nursing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
Pumping was a big commitment. And that’s the understatement of the month. I hadn’t appreciated how simple breastfeeding had been or how challenging it would be to manage my older two children and spend time nursing, then pumping, then cleaning all the supplies. The part of breastfeeding that I loved most – the close, intimate time with my baby – was replaced with impersonal, noisy time with a pump.
Pumping was emotionally complicated. On the one hand, my baby received the best milk available. And it helped me feel like I was *doing* something to help my child (I couldn’t fix his heart defect, but I could provide him breast milk, by golly). On the other hand, the whole family sacrificed. For six months, I was on a strict pumping schedule: 7 a.m., 10 a.m., 1 p.m., 4 p.m., 7 p.m., 10 p.m. I could only run one or two errands at a time before I felt the need to get back home to the pump. I was also surprised by the shame that I felt when I was out and about and had to bottle feed. Stories of women who had successfully transitioned from the pump to nursing originally encouraged me, but later just made me feel like a failure. After a year of pumping, I was glad to let it go.
As I look back over my journey to feed my babies, I realize that everyone has a unique experience. I loved breastfeeding. Some women breastfeed, but it feels like a duty or a chore, an inconvenience, not a pleasure. For others, work, health or family commitments require that mom use a pump or formula feed. Some moms are not able to breastfeed at all. Regardless of how a mom feeds her baby, the love is still the same.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, let’s celebrate that our children are fed! For moms who have committed to breastfeeding for any length of time – 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, 2 years – I salute you. And for every mom who has tried – and hasn’t succeeded – for whatever reason – I honor and recognize your efforts – and your great love for your baby.