It’s a well known fact that breastfeeding is the best choice of nourishment for your baby. Even the formula manufacturers are quick to point this out on their labels and in their commercials. Most moms do try and an unfortunate few just can’t seem to sort it all out. Milk supplies are too low, the baby won’t latch on properly, or the need to return to the workplace makes it all too overwhelming to even try. Some women simply choose not to breastfeed. Whether it makes them feel uncomfortable, or it is painful, or for no reason at all, breastfeeding is simply not for them.
Over the span of having three children, I have 52 months of breastfeeding experience to my credit and counting. My third child was a preemie and there were times during her first month of life that I wanted to throw in the towel, but the persistence paid off. And thank goodness it did because that kid hates bottles and for a very long time, she was quite put off by solid foods. I’m sure she would have adapted either way, but for now, the boob is her best friend.
Perhaps having over four years of breastfeeding experience makes me an expert on the topic, but even if it doesn’t, I am an expert on the trials of breastfeeding. Every painful, embarrassing, difficult and frustrating thing that could happen, has and sometimes even more than once! There is no story a nursing mom could tell me that I haven’t experienced first hand.
Possibly the most embarrassing aspect of nursing is leaking. For a first-time mom who is still adjusting to breastfeeding, she will find those two familiar objects attached to her chest now have a mind of their own. Once you finally feel confident enough to go out to the supermarket for the first time after giving birth, you find everyone staring suspiciously at your shirt. Looking down to investigate you see two triangular stains descending from the mammary area that are not supposed to be there. Soon you will learn that venturing out with a box of nursing pads is as essential as having your keys and your wallet with you.
Another unwelcome friend of the lactating mom is mastitis. Not every woman develops mastitis, but for those of us who have, it’s excruciating. This infection of the milk ducts comes on suddenly and produces flu-like symptoms. The added bonus is a hard, rock-like lump in the breast where the infection lies that makes you feel like someone whacked you across the chest with a baseball bat. Good times. A quick visit to the doctor for some antibiotics will fix you right up.
Not as sinister as mastitis but equally as painful is a blocked duct. This happens when you allow yourself to become engorged by either delaying baby’s feedings or favoring one breast over the other each time you nurse. Warm compresses and having your baby feed from the afflicted breast should solve the problem.
The biggest hump to get over when you start to nurse your newborn is the sore nipples that accompany it. I always tell my newly nursing friends that breastfeeding a newborn is like breaking in a great pair of new shoes. It hurts like crazy for the first few weeks but it’s all worth it in the end. Keep a thin film of lanolin on your nipples when the baby isn’t eating to ease the pain.
If you are lucky, you can actually get away with not pumping. I hardly ever pumped milk for my babies because I hate to do it. There are so many pump choices out there, most of which are expensive. I prefer a hand-pump over an electric pump because what can I say…I’m a control-freak. The robotic action of an electric pump is very off-putting to me and they can be expensive to boot. Storing the milk you pump is a job in and of itself. Make sure you follow AAP guidelines for doing so. Pumping at work can be terribly difficult as most workplaces have nowhere private besides the bathroom to do so. Ask your supervisor if there is an empty office you can use to pump and bring a picture of your baby to ease your let-down reflex.
Finding a bra that is both comfortable and functional can also be a chore. Don’t expect it to be frilly and attractive, those days are over for now. There are many different nursing bras out there with many different apparatus for unhooking and refastening the cup to the bra. Avoid underwire bras while nursing as they can contribute to mastitis and clogged ducts. Two or three nursing bras in your inventory should be sufficient. Wash them with a fragrance and dye-free detergent on the gentle cycle and allow them’ to air dry.
Nursing in public is something I’ve encountered a lot of issues with in my breastfeeding tenure. In a society that is completely oversexed, somehow nursing a baby in public turns everyone around you into a Puritan. I have reluctantly succumbed to the pressure to never do this and will sadly admit I have brought my babies into restaurant bathrooms to nurse. Gross. I have considered launching a national campaign to have a private nursing room installed in every public place but’ mostly I have just hoped everyone would get over themselves.
Nursing through the night is another fun obstacle many moms face. Of course when your baby is very new and small, around-the-clock nourishment is essential to growth and development. Some babies however make a habit out of this and see you as one giant human pacifier. Of course getting a baby hooked on a pacifier is another story. My husband and I had to tell our first daughter, when she was almost three years old, that we had to box up her binkies to give to Santa so he could deliver them to all the binkie-less babies around the world. After explaining this to my other daughter who now is also almost three and a thumb sucker, she was sure we’d do the same thing with her arms since her thumbs are indirectly attached to them.
Teething is usually an exciting, albeit challenging milestone in your baby’s first year. Not so much for the nursing mom. Nothing feels better for baby than gnawing at that nipple like a dog chews a bone. This can be a real conundrum for a mom who isn’t sure how to communicate her displeasure with this action to her baby. A gentle push on the chin to disengage baby’s new choppers and a firm no’ usually reconditions baby’s behavior for a while…until the next tooth starts to emerge and then the ouch-fest starts anew.
Weaning your baby, whether because you are both mutually ready or out of necessity can be both sad and a relief all at once. You finally have your body back but it’s also the end of an era. Don’t rush this process. Breastfeeding your baby is truly such a sweet, precious time in both of your lives and before you know it, you’ll be dropping that precious babe off at college. Not to mention the fact that the most disappointing part of nursing happens quickly after weaning.
Deflation. If you were plump and perky before you became pregnant, breastfed and weaned your baby, those days are definitely over, for now and forevermore short of some surgical intervention. And if you were like me, a more modestly-sized gal (flat as a board) before embarking on motherhood, you may actually appear concave after weaning your precious baby. Yes, it’s back to the Miracle bra for you but you’ll have a new appreciation for your breasts and the bond they helped to forge between you and your child.