15 Things Non-Parents Just Don't Understand About Breastfeeding (And The Women Who Do It)
There are so many parenting moments that are impossible to truly comprehend, until you've experienced them yourself. Sure, plenty of people understand exhaustion and I'd argue that more than few non-parents understand the downsides of toddlerhood (especially if they attended college and had to take care of a drunk roommate a time or two). But, for the most part, unless you're in the thick of parenthood yourself, you just don't have a clue. Breastfeeding is, without a doubt, one of those parenting experiences, and there are things non-parents don't understand about breastfeeding by no fault of their own. You just don't know, until you know.
I did my research and asked the necessary questions prior to breastfeeding. I thought I knew what I was in for and what I was doing. However, when I tried breastfeeding my son a few minutes after he was born, and essentially leaned on the wisdom and kindness of one of my nurses, I realized that I didn't know anything at all. Nope. Nothing. Breastfeeding was going to be a lesson I wasn't prepared for, and the learning curve was going to be pretty unforgiving. Throughout the seven months that I exclusively breastfed my son, I learned first hand all the things that non-parents just can't understand. I learned about the juxtaposing feelings that go along with breastfeeding; the insanely frustrating reality that, while breastfeeding can be difficult, it's not something you're (for some women) willing to give up.
Because our society is rarely, if ever, offered accurate representations of breastfeeding via the media, there are a lot of misconceptions, false information, and shame associated with a very normal, natural act. For the women who choose (and are able) to breastfeed, our life would sure as hell be a lot easier if non-parents knew the following, but we don't blame you for being out-of-the-loop. Some things, well, you just have to learn yourself.
It's About More Than Just Feeding Your Baby...
It's difficult to adequately describe what happens when you breastfeed your kid, especially that very first time. You're so in awe of what you can do and what your baby just instinctively knows how to do, and you feel this surge of emotion and this natural pull to the tiny human you created. You also feel immense fear; even the thought of something happening to this baby of yours is terrifying, so you're instantly protective in a way you've never been before.
You're not just feeding your baby, you're creating this overwhelming connection that will never, ever, cease to exist.
...But Know That We're Feeding Our Baby Vital Nutrients And Antibodies Is, You Know, Important
However, knowing that your baby is getting essential nutrients and important antibodies so that they can fight off disease and infection is, you know, nice.
It's (Sometimes) Worth The Pain...
When I was breastfeeding through mastitis, so many of my non-mom friends (and even my partner) couldn't necessarily understand why I would want to continue through the pain. While every woman is different and, of course, if a breastfeeding woman decides she's done because it's too painful that is entirely her call and she should never be shamed for it, I knew what I could handle and what I couldn't. I wanted to continue, and questioning our sanity when we decide to breastfeed through the pain, isn't helpful.
...And Any Struggle We Might Face...
Honestly, this goes for any kind of struggle a breastfeeding mother might face. If she has undersupply and becomes obsessed with cookies and smoothies and any other way she can up her milk supply, don't tell her it isn't worth it. If she has oversupply and has issues breastfeeding in public or wakes up covered in breast milk every morning, don't tell her it isn't worth it. If she's a sexual assault survivor (like myself) and breastfeeding is a trigger for her (like it was for me), but she decides to breastfeed anyway, don't tell her it isn't worth it.
The only one who decide what is and isn't right when it comes to breastfeeding, is the woman doing the breastfeeding.
...And The Exhaustion That Comes Along With It
I spent so may nights silently resenting my partner and his inability to breastfeed, just because I was so exhausted and tired of getting up every two hours to feed our son. However, it was beyond worth it, and while it can be difficult to understand that something so taxing would be a "no-brainer" decision for some women, it just is.
Sometimes, We Don't Want To Do It...
I won't lie, sometimes I didn't want to breastfeed at all. Sometimes I wanted to "give up" and I wanted feeding my son to be someone else's responsibility. I wanted complete body autonomy. Those moments when I just didn't want to breastfeed anymore, didn't mean I didn't want to actually breastfeed anymore. Just like anything worthwhile, you have your moments of complete doubt and exhaustion.
...But That Doesn't Mean We Won't Be Sad When We Finally Do Stop Breastfeeding
Even though I had moments when I just hated breastfeed, and I didn't want to do it anymore, when I was done breastfeeding I was heartbroken. The "thing" my son and I had together (the thing we shared that no one else could share with him) was over, and that was difficult to really accept. You can not entirely enjoy a thing, and still be sad when that thing is over.
Telling Us That "Formula Is Always An Option" Isn't Helpful
Nope. Just, nope. I know that when someone tells a breastfeeding mother that she could just go buy and use formula, it's said with the best of intentions, but it just isn't helpful. Look, we all know that formula exists. We see the commercials. We've been down that aisle of the grocery store. We know. Telling us that formula is an option is really telling us to quit breastfeeding, and we don't need to hear that we have an "easy out" when things are rough. We just need understanding and encouragement and support.
We Don't Like Having To "Prove A Point" When (Or If) We Breastfeed In Public...
Sadly, since the #NormalizeBreastfeeding movement really gained momentum, some people see women breastfeeding in public as attention-seeking; only breastfeeding to "prove a point" and gain recognition. Nope. We don't like being stared at, people. We don't like having to explain that breastfeeding is normal and not a sexualized act. We don't like having to post breastfeeding selfies and pictures of our babies breastfeeding in public, so that people see breastfeeding as normal and not something that should be hidden. We really, really wish this wasn't a "big deal." Trust me.
...But We're Not About To Let Society's Stigma Get In The Way Of Our Kid's Eating Time
However, for the women who decide and are comfortable with breastfeeding in public, we aren't going to hide the fact that our kid is eating a meal just because someone has a problem with it. We're not going to alter feeding schedules to accommodate narrow-mindedness.
Just Because We Feel Scared Or Anxious About Breastfeeding, Doesn't Mean We Don't Want To Try
I was pretty laid back when it came to breastfeeding, so I didn't feel any anxiety or nervousness at the very beginning. I can't say the same for many of my other mom-friends though, and I can tell you that while they did feel nervous and anxious about breastfeeding, they also wanted to breastfeed just as bad (if not more so) than I did.
Sometimes We Do Need Help, But Usually We Just Need Space To Figure Out Breastfeeding On Our Own
It's perfectly "normal" to need help breastfeeding, especially in the beginning. I can tell you that while my son latched right away, it wouldn't have happened without the nurse by my side, essentially teaching me how to breastfeed. Seeking help from a nurse or lactation consultant or midwife or doula or a fellow mom (or your own mom) is not some sign that you're a "bad mom" or you're incapable of taking care of your baby.
However, sometimes what a breastfeeding mom needs the most, is space. Let her essentially "figure it out" herself. Let her listen to her body and her baby. Just because some breastfeeding moms are "new at this," doesn't mean they won't know how to get the job done.
We Can Hate It And Love It Simultaneously, And All Of Those Feelings Are Valid
I have very mixed emotions when it comes to breastfeeding. Essentially, I loved it and I hated it, simultaneously. Sometimes, breastfeeding was the last thing I wanted to do. Other times, I was more than happy to breastfeed my son and have that bonding time with him. Sometimes, it didn't seem worth it. Other times, it was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had as a mother. Feeling two (or many, many more) feelings about breastfeeding is a lot like being a mom in general; it doesn't make any sense that so many juxtaposing emotions can co-exist, but they do.
Just Because We Breastfeed Doesn't Mean We Can't Do Literally Anything Else
Please, don't stop asking us out or asking us to do things or asking to spend time with us, just because we're breastfeeding. Please don't assume that we're "out of commission" until we're no longer a food source for our baby. Breast pumps exist for a reason. Some women supplement with formula, for a reason. We still have lives of our own, I promise.
Honestly, It's Not A Big Deal
Oh, how I wish breastfeeding just wasn't a big deal. I really wish it didn't evolve into the political statement so many people see it as, now. I wish that women didn't have to fight for their right to breastfeed in public. I wish it wasn't a topic of debate. It's just a kid eating a meal, you guys. It's no big deal.