When I became a mom, breastfeeding — and all its related challenges — took the struggle of parenting to the next level. I was warned breastfeeding could be tough, but I remained optimistic. It had to work for some people, right? I mean, women all over the world and throughout history have figured it out, and without the same resources mothers have today. Still, it pulled the rug out from under me, and I faced a number of unexpectedly intense things about breastfeeding I wasn't even remotely prepared for. By "intense," of course, I mean "extremely stressful situations that made me want to quit on more than one occasion."
I'm gearing up to do it all over again with the birth of my second baby, and I'm trying, once again, to remain optimistic when it comes to breastfeeding and the impending (probable) challenges ahead. While I feel slightly less naive than I did before, since I have been through it all already (my son and I ultimately ended up breastfeeding for over two years), I want to be realistic about the realities of nursing.
Still, in my first months as a mother to my firstborn I learned way more details about my own anatomy, various ways to hold my baby so that his mouth connects to my breasts, and the basics of plumping —yes, plumbing — than I ever cared to know. That knowledge has to carry me into my second round of breastfeeding a newborn, right? Sure, not all lessons are created equally, but I hope I'm ready for the unknown a little more than I was back then. So, in the name of necessary preparation, here's a peek at the most intense parts of breastfeeding that gave me the steepest learning curve imaginable.
The Intense Schedule
I can’t think of anything I’d really be down to do every two or three hours, around the clock, for weeks on end. It’s not an ideal schedule for anything, really, so doing it for breastfeeding is hardly pleasant. I was not really ready for how overwhelming and time-consuming it is.
The Super-High Stakes
I mean, in the back of my mind I had a vague awareness that, yes, breastfeeding is a big deal and figuring it out is important. However, I was not prepared for how it feels to be unable to meet my baby’s most basic needs. It’s not like we’re talking about a pacifier that needs to be rinsed when there’s no sink around, or a couple drops of spit-up on his pajamas. We were talking about hunger, and nutrition, and his ability to thrive. I’m practically sweating just thinking about.
The Desperation Of Trying To Latch
It took my son and I weeks to work through some latch issues. During the struggle, I distinctly remember very emotional moments in which I spent pleading with him. I also remember willing my body to find a way to make it work.
Spoiler alert: this didn’t help much, but I was desperate so, really, what else was I supposed to do?
The Baby's Tears...
I think that his hungry, breastfeeding tears were especially tough on me as a new mom since I knew it was my responsibility to take care of the problem. As much as my partner helped (and he helped a lot), he couldn’t actually do any of the breastfeeding himself, which left it totally on me. More often than not it felt like I couldn't open my shirt fast enough.
...And My Tears
One of my clearest memories of the new-mom struggle was a meltdown I had in my kitchen as I warmed up a bottle of breast milk. Yes, breast milk, the exact same thing I would have fed my son had he been able to latch. For some reason, though, this destroyed me. It took longer to prepare than it would have taken to get him to latch (in theory), and the fact that I had to go with a backup plan made me feel like the worst mom ever.
I did my best, I really did. However, I found breast pads to be horribly inadequate in this area. I survived with layers, dark patterned shirts that camouflaged splotches, and by sleeping on towels. None of these were ideal, but all of them at least helped a little.
The Robot/Cow Feeling Of Pumping
I’m not sure about everyone else, but I don’t spend a lot of time hooked up to a machine designed to expel and preserve my bodily fluids (knock on wood). So, pumping took some getting used to, at least for me. I felt like I was part cyborg (or cylon, for any of my fellow Battlestar Galactica fans), and part cow. Thankfully, I usually (OK, always) kept my phone within reach to distract myself.
The Horrible Feeling When You Have To Dispose Of Breast Milk
Whether it expired, the baby didn’t finish the bottle after it’s already been heated once, or whether you’re pumping and dumping for various reasons, it’s painful to watch that liquid gold literally go down the drain.
The Addiction To Whatever Shows You’re Streaming To Stay Awake
I now understand why one of my best friends included an iTunes gift card in the baby shower gift she got me. On a related note, in approximately three to four months, I’m going to be super knowledgable about every single Netflix show that has been released in the last three years, so feel free to find me online if you want to chat about super-dated pop culture topics.
The Panic That Occurs When The Breastfeeding Pillow You Need Is In The Other Room
It sounds kind of silly, I know. However, I promise, in the moments when a hungry infant is crying for you, the extra 20 seconds it takes to retrieve said nursing pillow can feel like an eternity.