There is no one universal experience with breastfeeding. Some love it, some hate it (and most feel some mix of both of those sentiments); some are saddened they were unable to breastfeed, others wind up nursing for longer than they'd expected. Personally, I love it. I don't think it has made me a more fulfilled human being or anything, but on the whole, I've really enjoyed the time I've spent feeding my two children. One word I could use to describe the whole business is "grateful."
I'm grateful that I'm one of the lucky ones to have fallen into it pretty easily, through no real heroic effort of my own. So much of whether or not a woman will be successful in her attempts to breastfeed comes down to resources and luck — I had both. I had maternity leave, spousal support, access to a lactation consultant and angelically wonderful nurses at the hospital, and babies who latched on to the idea pretty quickly (pun intended). There were hard moments, of course, but they came and went relatively easily thanks to resources and luck. I'm grateful I not only had the ability to breastfeed but the opportunity to continue it until I was ready to stop. I also appreciate the warm, fuzzy feelings nursing stirred (and still stirs) inside of me. I try not to take any of these things for granted.
But aside from the Big And Important Things, there are myriad little, ultimately fluffy things to appreciate when you're breastfeeding. Like I said, there is no one experience, but there are some aspects of breastfeeding that pretty much all of the other nursing moms I've talked to can relate to in some way...
Well-Made, Easy-Access Tops
About 3/4 of my shirts are basically ruined because my daughter has pulled at them so intensely for so long that they are stretched out to the point that the collars now hang down to my bellybutton. If I wear those shirts, whoever I'm with will be looking at my bra all day. The other quarter of my wardrobe is treasured because those shirts not only provide easy access to nursing, but have withstood her ravenous advances. Everyone has their favorite tops, but those who breastfeed depend on theirs more than most, because their clothing has to fulfill so many requirements.
The Relief You Feel When Your Baby Nurses After Sleeping For 8 Straight Hours
Until you have experienced breast engorgement, you cannot understand what it feels like. I know that a lot of smug moms throw the whole "Until you [parenting related thing], you can't understand" at the drop of a hat when it's completely uncalled for, but I will stand by it in this instance. Engorgement is sort of impossible to describe because I've never felt anything like it before. It's super uncomfortable and surreal — your tatas can get huge. Have you ever seen pictures of women with breast implants that in no way attempt to look realistic? Your boobs can look like that when you're engorged. Now, for those who get very large, exaggerated breast implants, that's a personal, aesthetic choice and that's fine. But when you're not making that cosmetic choice and it just sort of happens to you, it's weird. But. Just as you cannot know what engorgement feels like until you've felt it, you also can't truly understand the elation you feel after you have nursed your child from your engorged breasts. It's seriously like your entire body deflates in the best way.
Clipped Baby Nails
I'm convinced that, next to diamonds, there is no substance known to science that is harder than baby nails. Those things can get sharp, and a baby's favorite thing to do, it seems, is to grab onto their mother's tender, swollen breasts and just claw the sh*t out of them. It's the worst. So when you get to nurse a baby with freshly clipped nails, it's like
Don't rest too easy, though. Because baby nails are hard as diamonds and as quick-growing as bamboo. They'll probably have regrouped by your next scheduled feeding.
Any day you can get through without leaking through your shirt? That's a good day. Especially in the early days of breastfeeding. When your body is getting used to its new superpower, it's sort of like having a runny nose in your shirt that you can't blow. In more extreme cases, it's a bit like having Niagra Falls on your chest, both the American and Canadian sides. After a while, things tend to settle down. But sometimes, even after months and months of nursing, you'll randomly notice a little (or big) wet spot (or spots) on your shirt. Of course, that will be a day shortly after you've decided it's OK for you to forgo breast pads. Because of course.
Finding Someplace To Sit When You're Running Errands
Babies, very young babies in particular, need to nurse pretty frequently. Unless you hole yourself up in your home for the first few months of your child's life (or plan your outings with superhuman precision), you're probably going to have to nurse in public. When you go somewhere without someplace to sit? Oy. It's super inconvenient and could potentially trigger a shriekfest if you can't find a solution to this problem in time. So when it's time for a feeding and you find yourself somewhere with big, comfortable chairs or conveniently-placed benches? That's a little slice of heaven right there.
When I had my first son in 2011, I did not have a smart phone (I tend to be late to these kind of things, mostly out of laziness). The first, say, 6 weeks of nursing, when he was on the boob every hour on the hour, was a slow decent into madness. I couldn't read a book because I could never quite position it properly, I couldn't always watch TV because the noise would distract him, and I had no one to talk to. Just about half my life was spent staring out into space. When my daughter was born last year I had an iPhone. Night and day, people! I'd loved and appreciated having a mini computer in my pocket since the moment I got it, but it wasn't until I had to breastfeed an infant again that I realized just how much.
There's something really lovely, magically, and soulfully satisfying to look down at your little one, make eye-contact, and see them smile at you as they eat. It's even cuter when they giggle, as demonstrated by Rugrats (in a truly progressive moment of television)
It's like "Oh. OK, all the annoying stuff is sort of worth it right now. You're welcome, baby."