For the first time in my life, I have made it past three months of breastfeeding my little baby. It has not come without its struggles – trust me.
With my firstborn, we struggled immensely with colic. No matter what I did with my diet, my breast milk made her sick. My milk supply was not enough and she was constantly hungry and underweight. Eventually, the stress became too much and my milk dried up 3 months in. The second time around, I was determined to make it work – but once again, keeping up my supply was enough to drive any sane woman mad. I power pumped, took all the supplements to boost supply and eventually I ended up with Mastitis. I wish I could tell you that I was brave enough to push through, but I wasn’t. This time around – especially knowing that this was my last baby – I was determined to make it to at least 6 months. I still am… but it has not been a walk in the park.
The age-old judgement and mom guilt of how we feed our babies comes at a time in a woman’s life when she needs more support than ever. Breast-feeding is made out to be a no-exceptions requirement, the ultimate badge of responsible parenting. Being a breastfeeding mother comes with a sense of superiority, and it comes with the price tag of never feeling like you are allowed to complain or voice the struggles. You always hear the rose-tinted version, but there are things women just don’t seem to talk about.
No-one tells you how hard it is.
Our expectations are so high because the downside is not a popular topic of discussion. When we fall short, it automatically comes with a sense of intense failure. But guess what… it is hard. It is a struggle. It does not come naturally for everyone and not everyone even enjoys it. I opened up the discussion on my Instagram stories a few weeks ago, and my inbox was flooded my mothers desperate for an outlet to voice their struggle.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful thing you can do for your baby, it is amazing what our bodies go through and do in order to sustain that little life – but it does not determine your love for your child or your ability to parent. Environment, class, money and parental age are all likely to affect the outcomes for each and every child. So many new moms feel such pressure to breastfeed. While doctors and nurses are pushed to tell you to do it, it’s your decision. Whatever it may be.
So, let’s continue the conversation. Struggling does not mean you care any less, complaining does not make you a bad mom… Talking about it has been the only thing that has kept me going. So let’s talk about the things that no one seems to want to voice…
It doesn’t always come instinctively.
For some, it really just is that damn hard. I am one of those people that just could not get it right. I had a nurse milk me like a cow just to get something into my child. We tried various different positions before we figured out what was comfortable for us and I needed extensive guidance. Maternity ward nurses are saints. Once again, it gets easier. With time and patience, it eventually comes instinctively.
Mention your physical discomfort and you will instantly be bombarded by women telling you it is not normal and that you need to see a lactation consultant to check baby’s latch. Although there is some merit to this, breastfeeding just hurts for some people. Not everyone has nipples made of steel. I found breastfeeding excruciating for the first 2-3 months, and my baby’s latch was perfect. It felt like I had been punched in the boob (repeatedly, with a sledgehammer). The good news? I promise you it gets better.
What helped? Nipple shields, super soft breast pads (the Tommee Tippee nipple shields and breast pads honestly worked best for me) and not using nipple cream. Yeah, let’s talk about that last one… If your little one’s latch is okay and it still feels like you are being tormented with every feed, chances are that you have very sensitive and soft nipples. Using nipple cream to soften them up even more won’t do you any favours. What does help is to put a little bit of breast milk on and air-drying them. It truly is liquid gold.
Some women struggle with a different issue. Their nipples dry out, crack and bleed – lovely, right? That’s where nipple cream becomes your best friend.
Instant bonding is not always the case.
This gets brought up a lot. That beautiful, glorious instant bond that breastfeeding brings – surrounding you and your baby in a warm glow of love and perfection. Well, this is not the case for everyone, and that is okay. It will come. I struggled to bond with my firstborn, she was a complete stranger to me. Breastfeeding did not magically sweep that feeling away, it kind of made it feel even weirder. Not bonding instantly with the little cherub happens to more women than you think – you can read more about that here.
You eon’t always love every second
It is okay if you don’t. Can I tell you a secret? Every time I breastfeed Nova I am hit with a wave of intense nausea, and I don’t always love it. It is exhausting and stressful – but I love him. I have been man-down with the flu this past week, and breastfeeding while sick has been nothing short of terrible.
It will keep your baby safe, but they still get sick.
Yes, breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (by 50% to be exact). It also passes your immunity on to your baby, but that does not mean your little one will never get sick. Nova got RSV when he was only 8 weeks old. He was extremely sick for a total of three weeks, one of those weeks were spent in the hospital. I cannot tell you how angry I was. I thought my body had once again betrayed me, breastfed babies do not get sick! Well, they do. It happens. The good part? Breastfeeding gives them comfort, and if you just give in to it – being able to comfort them instantly makes dealing with it a lot easier.
The weight issue.
I won’t lie that I signed on to breastfeeding with an ulterior motive — that it would help shed those extra kilograms by magically burning upwards of 700 calories every day – and all while eating whatever you want! This is something I heard over, and over and over. I heard it from my doctor, from the nurses, from every article online directed at new moms, from every parenting book I read and from Beyoncé. Whenever I read a list of breastfeeding benefits for the mother, among the reduced risk of breast cancer and diabetes, there was always, always a bullet point about weight loss.
Well, I have gained more weight breastfeeding than I did while pregnant. There are a number of very common reasons for this. Although it’s true that breastfeeding burns calories, in order to make the milk, your body requires energy in the form of, ahem, calories. So, contrary to popular opinion, women need to eat a few hundred extra calories a day to keep up. Helping ensure that that happens is prolactin, a hormone released during nursing that stimulates milk production by also stimulating hunger and, in some cases, suppressing the body’s ability to metabolize. Not only that, but pregnant women’s bodies automatically layer on extra fatty tissue so they will have enough fat stores to begin breastfeeding. And don’t even try go on a diet, your milk supply plummets and with that comes another load of stress factors.
It would have been helpful to know how breastfeeding, as beneficial as it’s proven to be, is not exactly a magic weight-loss solution.
It is stressful.
Unlike with formula, you cannot see how much milk your baby is getting in with each feed. In the beginning this stressed me out so much, but I’ve learned to trust my baby’s cues. It took time, but I don’t stress about it as often as I used to.
Lastly, and this is a big one for me, breastfeeding is incredibly lonely.
Before Nova got RSV, he took to expressed milk in a bottle like a fish to water. I would pump, store & freeze milk in my nifty double zip lock storage bags or bottles and my husband would take responsibility for a feed or two while I lived my life. Unfortunately, that ended during our hospital stay. After the RSV saga Nova refused to take a bottle, he still does. And I have tried them all – he just is not interested.
Day in and day out, it is me who bears the responsibility of my baby’s existence. It is me who feels the sole weight of his entire being in my leaking breasts — it is me who gets blamed if he is too fussy, too gassy, too chubby, too skinny, too poopy, too sleepy, too spoiled, too hungry. It’s a feeling that’s hard to communicate to anyone else who hasn’t lived it, most especially to my husband because I look at him sometimes and I want to scream, “It must be nice to do whatever the hell you want when you want!” I live my life in two- or three-hour increments, which means I can never leave the house without my baby. I don’t get a break or a person to look to when my baby is crying. I am the solution.
I feel so much guilt for failing to find that exact balance of breastfeeding without letting it completely take over my life. I feel so much guilt for the immense loneliness I feel because of it.
Breastfeeding is a little like motherhood. There really is no such thing as a “right” balance — it is just a season of life that will pass all too soon while I’m busy loving and hating it at the same time.
Yet, we #ParentOn. We make it work.
I want to leave you with one last thought. The fact that you are trying already makes you an incredible mother. #FedIsBest – and all that little baby needs is your love.
Although this article is #sponsored by Tommee Tippee, the feelings and opinions come from the bottom of my tired heart. I feel them so deeply, and I am grateful for the Tommee Tippee brand who advocates for the good and the bad side of parenting.