A couple weeks ago, our family reached a very special milestone: my son’s half birthday. Little Man is now six months old, no longer a bitty baby that needs to be handled with kid gloves, but a little ball of energy that rolls around the living room after big sister and the dog. It marks a personal milestone for me as well: six months of successful breastfeeding.
Due to several different circumstances, I was unable to brestfeed my daughter. Medical issues related to my c-section led to a lack of supply for me and a difficult time latching for her. At the time, I lacked the education and support I needed to get through those early difficulties and make breastfeeding work for us. I don’t feel guilty for that but eight years later when I found I was pregnant with my son, I knew I wanted to try again.
This time I armed myself with research and proactively sought a support system but I still had my insecurities. What if my milk never came in? What if breastfeeding just felt too weird for me? I told myself that I could only try. If I could just breastfeed for a couple of months I’d be happy. Six months seemed like a lofty goal at the time. But now here we are and I have no doubt that we’ll make it through a year.
It’s been an interesting journey to be sure with lots of ups and downs, and I’ve definitely learned a lot that no book ever taught me. Here are some of the things I learned:
1. It’s The Least Sexual Thing in The World
Working in childcare, a place that you would expect to be supportive of breastfeeding mothers, I have heard some nasty comments over the years from women who have never breastfed. I’ve heard them say that the mother was spoiling the baby, that they must think they’re better than everyone else since formula isn’t “good enough” for their baby, and most disturbing and damaging of all was the suggestion that the mother breastfeeds because she “gets something” (sexual) out of it. Coming from a somewhat conservative upbringing here in the south and never seeing anyone in my family nurse growing up, the only frame of reference I had for looking at breast was a sexual one. It seems silly now but even though I knew the benefits of breastfeeding, it was one of my deepest unspoken fears that I would feel gross or awkward about it if it felt sexual in some way. But it definitely doesn’t! What it does feel like is painful sometimes, when my teething baby gums my sore nipples, exhausting and even annoying sometimes when my little one goes through a growth spurt and wants to cluster feed, but it always feels like the most natural way to me for me to feed and nurture my son, to strengthen our bond as parent and child, and if you think that’s sick and incestuous, then you’re the pervert, not me.
2. Breastfeeding Doesn’t Have to Cost You Megabucks
Like many pregnant women these days, my baby registry was filled with breastfeeding related products: nursing tops, nursing coverups, nursing pads, boppy, bobby covers, freezer bags….the list of products on the market for nursing mothers is huge! It’s become its own industry. I think it’s great if a woman finds something that helps make breastfeeding work for her but I found that I needed very little of it. WIC provided the pump I needed to continue breastfeeding when I returned to work. A secondhand boppy helped me through the early days. A regular lunch bag worked just as well as the special bottle coolers for storing my milk. The bottles I already had attached to my pump. That has been literally all I’ve needed for these six months of breastfeeding. While some moms may enjoy the gadgetry, it’s nice to know that I can keep things simple and cheap.
3. The Experts’ Suggestions are Just That
Pediatricians, lactation consultants, and peer counselors can be great resources when you need tips on how to hold your baby while nursing, how to promote a good latch, or how to increase production. But your nursing experience may differ from the dvice they give. I never could manage to do any of the holds like in the pictures. They told me football hold hold should be easiest for me since my baby was big, but it wasn’t. His latch never looked as deep as they told me a proper latch was suposed to-but here’s the thing. He fed comfortably, I wasn’t in pain (once we got in our groove,) he was having plenty of dirty diapers and he was gaining weight. Clearly he was fine and what we had going on worked for us, and that’s what mattered.
And Most Importantly…
4. You’re Human. That’s Okay.
If you struggle with breastfeeding, that’s okay. If you feel tired, overwhelmed, annoyed, that’s alright. If your supply is low despite your best effort, if you don’t reach your nursing goal, that is okay. You still did a great thing for your child and that’s what counts the most.
As my son and I continue our breastfeeding journey, I marvel at how far we’ve come and when this short phase passes far too quickly, I will be able to look back on it all more assured as a parent and more in touch with myself as a woman and mother, and if I have any more children in my future, I will be confident and ready to do it again.