I honestly wish there was a way to practice breastfeeding, or at least prepare in some kind of realistic way, so that the first few breastfeeding attempts don't make you feel like a total failure. My partner and I went to birthing class, took an infant CPR class but when it came to breastfeeding? Nothing. So, honestly, when I sat down and attempted to get my kid to latch for the first time, I felt weird. In that moment I wish I would have known there were things to tell yourself if you feel weird about breastfeeding, that can make the entire experience not the odd, kind-of-painful, transitional act that it is and definitely can be, but the super awesome bonding moment that benefits both baby and mom.
Think about how nice it would have been to have at least some of the aspects of breastfeeding figured out beforehand, instead of learning on the fly with a newborn and after you're exhausted from either pushing a human out of you, or having one cut from you. There’s enough going on when you bring a new baby home that, honestly, adding breastfeeding into the mix can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back (as far as your sanity goes, although breastfeeding can definitely hurt your back, too).
And, unfortunately, the collective "we" that forms our society has yet to shed the stigma of breastfeeding (and definitely breastfeeding in public) and de-sexualize a very normal, very natural act. It would be naïve of me to think that, at least somewhere, I haven't internalized the sexualization of women's bodies, so much so that the act of breastfeeding made me feel weird and awkward when it should have made me feel proud and empowered. As women (and definitely as mothers) we all have to push past what society has either said about us, or expected of us and, well, breastfeeding was no different.
So, with that in mind and now that I have been a mother long enough to (kind of, sort of, on my good days?) know better, here a few things you can tell yourself if you, like me, feel kind of weird about breastfeeding:
You’re Allowed To Feel However You Want To Feel About Breastfeeding
I know, I know, this is way easier said than done. When I was getting the hang of breastfeeding, I went through every emotion possible and probably wouldn't have listened to this (very solid) advice, even if it had been offered to me. The good news? As far as I know, there's no governing body out there policing any one woman's feelings about breastfeeding, so while you might feel guilty and you might be judged, you can feel however it is you want to feel. It's valid.
Not Everything You Hear About Breastfeeding Will Apply To You
Not all breastfeeding experiences will be related to what we see in the media or read about online or hear from our friends about their second cousin's uncle's neighbor's girlfriend. Crazy, right? Seriously, it's easy to feel like something's off and you're doing something wrong or missing some breastfeeding-loving gene, when your feelings don't look anything like what you're seeing.
You Don’t Have To Breastfeed Forever, Or Even For That Long (Or, You Know, At All)
It's super easy to feel overwhelmed when you think yo have to breastfeed for a specific length of time. Yes, it's totally normal to want to meet the suggested guidelines and, if you want, even go longer, but it's also totally normal to have serious doubts about it, too and/or decide that you don't want to breastfeed for as long as originally planned.
And, of course, you don't have to breastfeed if you don't want to. You're not a bad mother if you choose formula and if you decide that breastfeeding isn't for you and if you can't shed that "weird" feeling that makes the entire experience just feel, well, like something you don't want to endure. It's your body; it's your baby; it's your choice and it's up to you.
It’s OK To Tell Yourself You're Breastfeeding For Your Kid, And Your Kid Only
Yes, there are benefits to breastfeeding that help mothers and, yes, plenty of mothers love breastfeeding so they're doing it not only for their kid, but for themselves. However, at least for me, sometimes it was just easier to just tell myself, "Yeah, I'm doing this for my kid, and my kid only," than to believe that I would ever actually like breastfeeding (even though, spoiler alert I did eventually come to like it).
You Can Change Your Mind
Perhaps breastfeeding is easy for one week, and then it's not. Or, perhaps you absolutely love breastfeeding, and then you get tired of it and can't wait for it to end. Or, you know, maybe you break your phone and have no way to amuse yourself while you breastfeeding until your new phone arrives or you steal your partner's. Whatever the reason, your feelings can (and probably will) change.
No One Else's Experience Matters As Much As Yours, Especially When It Comes To Your Feelings
Seriously, please don't force yourself to feel a certain way about breastfeeding. If everyone around you is talking about loving it, that doesn't mean that something's wrong or off if you can't relate. Everyone's experience is going to be different, and yours counts just as much as any other.