I loved breastfeeding. Well... I mostly loved breastfeeding. Some aspects of feeding my children with my chest I loathed. I don't care how crunchy a hippie earth-goddess you are: no one lives waking up at 4:00 a.m. to feed another human. No one loves having their baby accidentally bite down on their nipple. No one loves engorgement. I know this because I've experienced that sh*tshow first hand and I asked breastfeeding and formerly breastfeeding moms to describe what engorgement actually feels like. Guess what? Not one of them liked it. That's just science, my friends.
Engorgement is weird. It's simultaneously otherwordly and about as in and preoccupied with your body as you can get. Many of us will go through dramatic physical changes over the course of our lives, but those changes tend to be gradual — changes we only notice once they've settled onto us for a while, like a few extra pounds, longer hair, wrinkles. Engorgement, on the other hand, is a dramatic physical change that happens in the blink of an eye. It's also uncomfortable, and that's your best possible option. At worst it hurts like a sonmabitch.
Trust me on this one: I once spent five days away from my 13-month-old baby while nursing. Despite regular pumping sessions, I basically spent the whole trip looking like the kind of cartoon woman a 13-year-old doodles in his notebook during a particularly boring biology class and feeling like I was going to break something. (Or, more accurately, burst something... and by "something" I mean "one or both of my breasts.")
But don't take this as gospel on my word alone. I've got 14 other mamas to back me up on this:
"I have a picture I sent to my bestie."
Me: May I see it?
"Third baby and still shocking. With my first baby I had a c-section and it ended up taking five days for my milk to come in. The pediatrician at the hospital asked if my milk came in yet... I said, 'I don't know? He's nursing and sleeping fine.' She smiled and said, 'Then it hasn't yet. You would know.' I remember waking up on day five in the middle of the night because I thought I fell asleep on something... it woke me up. I thought it was a book or a remote... nope. Just my boobs. I went to look at them in awe, they were perky like they hadn't been in 10 years. I showed my husband, like 'Look! Porn star boobs!' And he was like 'Um, they're really vein-y.'"
"Engorgement feels like my already weighted chest is now hauling lumpy, over-inflated lead balloons ... even air blowing on them causes insanity. Engorgement is wanting to destroy anyone that even looks at your boobs because they will explode painfully into oblivion. ... Engorgement also feels like desperation...like 'HEY ANYONE NEED A DRINK?!' Desperation to relive the pressure."
"Like a splitting headache in your breast(s)."
"Engorgement is so uncomfortable. In my experience, it happened pretty quickly if a feeding or pumping session was skipped, especially before I had regulated. It was like painful rocks on my chest. My breasts felt super heavy and stretched and like rocks. Once, I was so engorged my son could not latch on my nipple and I had to get on all fours and hand express enough milk so that my son was able to latch back on."
"It's like having rocks on your chest. Heavy, hard, aching rocks."
[Writer's note: The above is a gif of Giles Corey from The Crucible, who was pressed to death by heavy rocks. It is one classy, literary-ass reference. This list is making you smarter in so many ways.]
"It feels like my once pliable breasts have been turned into rock solid masses surrounding a tiny man who keeps chipping out a bigger hole for himself in the middle so that any minute I'm afraid he'll go too far and cause the rock to break apart in an explosion. Also, you look like a porn star, cause those babies ain't moving until the milk is out."
"Atomic fireballs stapled to my frontside."
"It looks like every straight man's dream and feels like every woman's nightmare. Honestly, I remember just feeling like someone had inflated some invisible water balloon in my tatas overnight and I just wanted to poke 'em with a needle to relieve the pressure and tingling, aching sensation. And I do mean 'overnight.' When my milk 'came in' (what a happy little expression for something that makes you feel like an alien life form), that sh*t happened fast and I honestly thought I was making too much. It wasn't until I started needing to pump that I learned there's no such thing as too much milk."
"I assume it's like getting a bad boob job and just wondering, what the hell is happening?"
"Kind of like when they use that automatic blood pressure machine on your arm. And as it's inflating you're thinking, 'Ok, that's probably good,' but then it keeps going another 10-15 seconds and your arm starts getting tingly and feels like something may pop. Like that, but instead it's your boob."
"This gif is the most accurate representation of engorgement I have ever seen. I have nothing else to add."
"Rock. Hard. Boobs."
"The opposite of these sad floppy pancakes I have now."
[Writer's note: There is no such thing as sad pancakes, Liz. Pancakes are delicious.]
"Oh do you mean that feeling when two cinder blocks are hanging off your chest?"
[Writer's note: Exactly, Zimra. Yes. Exactly that feeling.]
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