I always intended to breastfeed. After all, "breast is best," or at least that's what everyone said. Unfortunately, despite my planning, research, classes, and professional help, my body didn't get the memo. Between exhaustion, undersupply, and postpartum depression, I really struggled to breastfeed and I was shocked. No one I knew admitted to having any problems nursing, so I felt like a failure. That's why I want to set the record straight and share a few things every mom struggling to breastfeed wants pregnant women to know.
If you are looking for a beautiful story of breastfeeding bliss, this is not that story. I don't believe in sugar-coating the difficult task that is breastfeeding, by describing it as some magical, effortless, and natural thing. For lots of people, including me, nursing isn't easy and it doesn't come naturally. After my first baby was born, I had no idea that I would not be able to produce enough breast milk. I thought breastfeeding was an all or nothing, too, and ultimately switched to formula because I thought I didn't have a choice. After my second baby was born I was able to get real, compassionate, evidence-based breastfeeding help, ditch unrealistic advice, discover what did work for me and my baby, and redefine my goals. Hearing the truth about breastfeeding made all that possible.
I definitely don't want to discourage anyone from giving breastfeeding a try. Quite the opposite, actually. If nursing is your goal, I totally support you and will do anything I can to help you reach it. However, if you try to breastfeed and struggle with pain, undersupply, latch, or your baby getting enough to eat, I want you to know you aren't alone. You deserve to know the truth and to receive unbiased support. So with that in mind, here's what every mom struggling to breastfeed wan't pregnant women who are preparing to birth and feed their child, to know:
It Can Be Hard
Breastfeeding is not easy for everyone. I think it's really sexist to lie to women about breastfeeding being some magical experience, as if people assume women won't do hard things (like growing humans, childbirth, or motherhood, for instance). It's also incredibly dangerous to tell women that they must suffer in order to be "good mothers."
In medicine, the concept of informed consent means that you get to have all of the information before making a choice. When it comes to breastfeeding, it's paramount that every woman know as much information as possible, including how difficult nursing could and can be.
Breastfeeding f*cking hurts. It hurts for the first few weeks when you are trying to figure out the best latch and your baby's mouth is tiny; it hurts when your baby latches like an adorable viper; it hurts when your nipples are raw and the cold air of your bedroom hits them or you rub up against your husband's chest hair; it hurts when you have thrush and your nipples bleed; it hurts when your baby sleeps through the night for the first time and your breasts become hard rocks full of lava about to erupt; it hurts when you get blisters; it hurts when you get mastitis; it hurts for a variety of reasons.
Anyone who tells you that breastfeeding doesn't hurt is either lying, blessed, or suffering from breastfeeding pain amnesia.
It Doesn't Always Come Naturally
For me, breastfeeding was decidedly unnatural at first. It was pretty freaking weird to feel my baby latch, feel my uterus contract painfully, and wait for the rush of love hormones or some indication that it was working. I didn't know what I was doing, and it was nothing like the books, websites, or classes described.
It Might Get Easier
For me, breastfeeding got easier with time and practice. It took some work to get there, to be sure, but I actually loved breastfeeding my sons. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. If it doesn't get easier, or you hate it, you don't have to continue. You don't have to be a martyr to be a good mom.
Combo-Feeding Is A Thing
Our society is so focused on exclusive breastfeeding that no one talks about combo-feeding. I, however, want to tell everyone I know, especially pregnant people who might find that it's a good option for them. Did you know that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 80 percent of breastfeeding moms feed their babies formula, too? Me neither. No one told me. Once I figured it out, though, I loved combo-feeding. It's the best of both words. If you want to talk about how I did it or ask me anything, I'm here. Breastfeeding does not have to be an all or nothing game.
Not Everyone Can Breastfeed
It literally never occurred to me that I wouldn't be able to produce enough breast milk to feed my babies. Everything I read about breastfeeding said that undersupply was rare (usually 1 percent or 5 percent), and something new moms will have to worry about. It turns out that this figure is bullsh*t. I'm not joking. Seriously, there's no way to measure how many people will not be able to produce enough breast milk. Some experts estimate that 10 to 15 percent of women suffer from overt lactation failure, and as many as 40 to 60 percent of moms experience undersupply. I don't say this to scare you. I just know you can handle the truth, and deserve to be prepared.
You Don't Have To Breastfeed
The person with breasts gets to decide if they want to breastfeed or try to breastfeed. Period. It's your body and your choice. If you decide to formula-feed, combo-feed, pump, or any combination of the aforementioned, know they are equally awesome ways to feed babies.
I tell every pregnant mom-to-be I know to buy some formula and bottles, just in case. Unfortunately, I get bashed for giving this advice.
Listen, it's not like a breastfeeding mom will be so tempted by having formula in the house that she will convert to formula-feeding against her will. Having formula in the house meant that I was able to supplement with formula when my baby needed it, and without having to go to the store with a newborn. If you don't end up needing it? Great, but if you do, isn't it better to be prepared?
Trust Your Instincts
You won't always feel like you know what you are doing, but it definitely helps to have all of the information you need and to know when it's time to get help. If your baby loses weight, doesn't have many wet diapers, seems sleepy, cries all night, or wants to eat 24/7, it's time to call your doctor. That's literally what they are there for. And if your doctor tells you to supplement with formula, know that supplementing can help people breastfeed longer and save babies' lives. Supplementing is a breastfeeding success, not a breastfeeding failure.
I Support You
If you choose to breastfeed, I support you, whether it's in public, in private, and for as long as it nursing works for you and your child. I also support you if you formula-feed, pump, or combo-feed. If you feed your babies, I support you. Motherhood is freaking hard, and we all deserve support. #FedIsBest #ISupportYou
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