You know 2012's Les Misérables, when Anne Hathaway's Fantine sings "I Dreamed A Dream"? It's powerful and painful and beautiful and heartbreaking. Tears fill her eyes as she frantically, yet with dejected resignation, sings of all the things she dreamed she would do one day but knows "can never be." In the worst moments of exclusive breastfeeding (EBF), I feel like moms can totally relate to poor Fantine. Because holy hell, what did we get ourselves into and how did it happen? Just like Fantine, the things every exclusively breastfeeding mom dreams of doing are probably in the cards, at least not until weaning (which is whole other drama worthy of an Oscar-winning musical).
In a way, EBF moms are probably used to this whole "revolving the use of your body around another person" on account of having been pregnant for so many weeks. Then again, do you remember how done you were to be pregnant? EBF is like nature's way of saying, "Ha! You're not through yet!"
That said, many moms find deep satisfaction from being able to exclusively breastfeed, especially when coupled with the health benefits for both mother and child associated with nursing. (This is where I say that choosing not to exclusively breastfeed is completely acceptable, healthy, and can be just as satisfying, too. My daughter was EBF, but my first-born was happily fed on a combo of breast milk and formula and I have precisely zero regrets about either. I did what was best for all of us and what was best was different depending on the situation and the people involved.)
Whatever one's choices for choosing to exclusively breastfeed, there's no denying that it comes along with some degree of sacrifice and can leave many moms with unfulfilled dreams burning holes in our hearts. Dreams like the following:
Sleeping On Their Stomachs
Remember when you were pregnant, and you were like, "I can't wait until I can sleep on my stomach again? As soon as this little one comes out it's going to be all tummy sleeping all the time for this mama!"
And then you decided to breastfeed and you tried it and you were like "Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!" Yeah, so it's not going to happen for a while. Not only does it hurt but even sleeping on your side means waking up to a small puddle of milk next to you a lot of the time. Milk-laden breasts require just as much consideration and accommodation as a pregnant belly. As your baby gets older you might be able to swing it, but there's a pretty good chance you won't be sleeping on your stomach until your kid is weaned.
Going Through A Day Without Leaking Through A Shirt
One minute you're just sitting there, minding your own business, doing your new mom thing. The next minute you think you feel something a little warm on your shirt. You look down and there it is: the telltale wet blooms that cannot possibly be mistaken for anything other than a "spill in the dairy aisle." It's even worse when someone else brings it to your attention. So totally not at all awkward, you guys!
This is bad enough when you're home with your family and/or loved ones, but it's even worse when and/or if you go back to work and it happens in the middle of a meeting with your boss or something. In short, breast pads are your friends, and it's important that you always keep an extra stash of those friends in your desk drawer.
Be Able To Go Out For A Few Hours Without Worrying About Engorgement Or Pumping
For someone like me, a social butterfly, this was probably the most irritating aspect of EBF. Because even if you have a partner or a sitter who can feed your baby pumped milk or formula while you're away, your lactating breasts are a total buzzkill. Like, "Hey, isn't it time you fed something?"
So, sure, you can totally go out and have fun as an EBF mom. (One time, I actually went on a vacation for four days!) But you're never going to have a completely carefree time, because you're still going to have to either take the time to pump or see how long your tatas can handle the stress of being swollen with milk. It's kind of hard to enjoy busting a move in the club when the slightest brush against your chest makes you wince in pain.
A Magical Storage Freezer With A Never-Ending Stash
I am someone who was never, ever able to build a freezer stash beyond, like, maybe 50 ounces (and those 50 ounces took work). I am in awe of those who are like, "We had to buy a deep freezer so that we would have space for all my milk. I'm looking into places where I can donate some because there's just no way we can use it all before it goes bad." To me, who never responded well to a pump, that's some damn witchcraft. I dream of having such a stash, but also having such a stash that I didn't actually have to work for and that constantly replenishes itself.
Not Having To Worry About What They Eat
You'd think that once a baby stopped living inside of you their days of dictating what foods you could and couldn't eat would be over. Oh no. Because now, spicy food may not give you heartburn, but it makes your baby unbearably gassy. The ice cream you couldn't eat because you had gestational diabetes? It's going to have to wait because it gives your baby mucus-y poops. Everything you put in your body is going to end up (in trace amounts) in your breast milk, and it turns out even trace amounts can make your baby unhappy. That makes you very unhappy, my friend. And so the saga of eating around someone else's needs and preferences is going to have to continue for a bit longer.
No Pins & Needles Feeling During Letdown
There are lots of ways to experience letdown, but many a breastfeeding mom will tell you that not too many of them are especially pleasant. It's not (always) painful, but it's just so unsettling and weird.
Pretty Nursing Bras That Don't Cost The Same As A Month Of Daycare
Do pretty nursing bras exist? Yes they do. But can you get them on the cheap? Usually not. When you have to pay for things like diapers, clothes, and pediatrician appointments, adorable nursing gear just might not be in the budget.
I hope you like the color "grungy beige," because you're going to be wearing a ton of it.
A Quiet Goddamn Breast Pump
Because, for goodness sake, we've put a man on the moon! Moreover, the space ship that brought him there had a fraction of the computer power we have in our cell phones. So, in some ways, our Lyft ride is more technologically advanced than the first moon landing.
My point is, we're talking about using nanotechnology to deliver lifesaving medical treatments before we've got a handle on getting breast pump doesn't sound like the engine of the 1987 Toyota Tercel I was driving in high school. Come on, dudes.
I'm not saying everyone does or should want breasts that look or feel a certain way because, well, the swathe of normal is massive. But I'm sure many an EBF mom would agree that it would be nice if their boobs didn't grow or shrink several sizes a day depending on whether their baby has eaten. When you're used to both breasts being roughly the same size, it's unsettling to look down and see a B cup and a DD right next to each other. It's even more annoying when your baby is like, "Oh! I'm stuffed! I couldn't possibly have another sip!" and you have to walk around with said B and DD for another few hours.
I'm just saying it'd be nice if everything would just kind of stay relatively even throughout this process.
A Lactating Partner
Honestly, I remained convinced that this usually falls entirely on us is some sort of cosmic prank and all of the EBF moms out there are being punk'd.