By now, it's safe to say that the majority of mothers are aware of the many amazing benefits of breastfeeding. Mothers and pediatricians across the world are quick to sing its many praises (and rightfully so), and offer their relentless support for women who choose and are able to breastfeed (as they should). While, yes, breastfeeding is an incredible thing, there are things no one will tell you about breastfeeding; Things that you, maybe, weren't expecting; Realities that you're going to want to be aware of if you're choosing to breastfeed.
Breastfeeding is good for both mother and baby in some truly remarkable ways. Breastfeeding can lowers a woman's risk of breast cancer; Breastfeeding can provide a baby with incredible antibodies; Breastfeeding can facilitate a wonderful bond between mom and baby. However, there are some painful things breastfeeding mothers have to deal with, both physically and emotionally, that most people don't ever think twice about or necessarily consider before they choose or attempt to breastfeed. Just ask any mother who has tried to breastfeed in public, or has tried extended breastfeeding. Sadly, chances are she's experienced that "special" kind of judgment that only a breastfeeding mother faces on a daily basis and, unless you've been there yourself, you can't begin to understand what that feels like.
It's not an easy job, and if more women were prepared for some of the following realities ahead of time, they might be less discouraged when they encounter them, and more prepared to work through them.
Breastfeeding is hard sometimes. It's totally worth it, but it is a huge commitment. It requires your baby to have access to your boobs every hour of every day, whether you need a nap or not or you're at home or not or you're in the middle of work or not, and it can be difficult to keep up with that kind of constant demand. Your schedule revolves around feeding your child, and they're going to be hungry a lot. When your life revolves around caring for an all-consuming baby, your own needs become secondary. However, in order to take care of your baby, you've got to take care of yourself, too. Be sure to make time to nurture your own needs.
Breastfeeding is sometimes a giant pain in the boob. At first, your breasts might be sore from your supply coming in, and your nipples will become tender as your baby learns how to latch. You might experience some bleeding while your breasts adjust to feeding your baby frequently, and your back is definitely going to hurt from being slouched while you breastfeed. The good news is that there are several different positions you can try to ease your neck and back pain, and your nipples will eventually adapt to nursing.
Unless you're comfortable breastfeeding in front of others (which is great if you are), you might find yourself in a quiet room with your baby, secluded from everyone else, on a pretty regular basis. The peace is nice, for the most part, but if you spend enough time away from everyone else while your baby nurses, you might start to feel somewhat isolated.
If you're comfortable breastfeeding in public, or uncovered, that's great, but don't be surprised if it makes other people uncomfortable. We are, unfortunately, living in a society where breasts are still over-sexualized, rather than appreciate for their function. Not everyone is on board with a woman breastfeeding their baby in a public place, but that's their problem, not yours, so do whatever you feel comfortable with.
If you feel more hungry after breastfeeding, there's a good reason. When you breastfeed you burn extra calories which, in turn, makes you extra hungry. It is recommended that breastfeeding moms consume and extra 500 calories a day to keep up with the demand.
When you are the sole source of nutrition for your child, you quickly become exhausted. Breastfeeding is a full time job, but without the vacation or sick time. It requires you to be readily available to your baby 24/7. Babies don't understand that their moms need rest, they just know that they're hungry and they don't care what if that means waking the entire house up at all hours of the night in order to curb that hunger.
There's a good chance that you will wake up (usually in the middle of the night) soaked. You'll likely be covered in a mixture of sweat and breast milk, which is not super fun, but it's also a sign that your body is working hard to take care of you and your baby. If you're producing a large amount of milk, but your baby isn't completely emptying your breasts when they feed, the milk might make its way out on its own as a means to prevent you from becoming engorged. Leaking boobs are good for nursing, but not for your sheets.
Nursing tanks are your best friend when you're a breastfeeding mom. As for all the other cute shirts and dress that you want to wear, well, um, you're going to have to hold off for a while (usually). Your boobs need to be easily accessible when you're breastfeeding, and you probably don't want to risk leaking onto your favorite shirt. It's pretty normal to have a postpartum wardrobe that consists mainly of clothes that are easily removed, at least for a little while.
So many women who breastfeed talk about "the bond." They tell stories of deep and meaningful connections, and talk about how they felt like they and their baby were "one" when they would breastfeed. This is great, and truly incredible for the women who feel that way, but honestly, when you're running on little or no sleep and you're up feeding your baby by yourself in the dark, you might feel more resentful than connected. That's OK, and it's totally normal. Just know that if you feel this way from time to time, there's nothing wrong with your emotions or with you.
Like I said, breastfeeding is hard. So many sacrifices come with choosing to breastfeed your baby, and at some point, you might begin to feel overwhelmed. When you do, try not to be too hard on yourself. If breastfeeding is something that you feel very strongly about, don't decide to throw in the towel in one fleeting moment of doubt, because you can get through it. At the same time, if breastfeeding is legitimately causing you too much stress, and if it's just not working for you and your family, don't beat yourself up if you're at the end of your rope. Breastfeeding just isn't practical for everyone, and it's a very personal choice. One that you get to decide based on what you feel is best, so don't let anyone tell you what is best for you. Only you know that.