Before my son was even born there was so much emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding. My husband and I even went to a class and practiced with a dummy baby. I had heard all the cautionary tales about breastfeeding (“it’ll hurt,” “it takes awhile for a first time mom’s milk to come in,” “it’s all about a good latch!”) and even felt prepared at the sheer amount that I would be nursing my babe (every 2 hours for those that don’t know), but here’s the things I didn’t know and wish I had.
“Babies Don’t Know Shit about Shit, But They Know the Tit”
This was a peril of wisdom from my husband in one of our early sleep-deprived days. He wasn’t wrong, and he was explaining to friends of ours how quickly the baby begins to nurse. We had been told they’ll do skin-to-skin within the first few minutes of my son’s life. What I didn’t realize is that meant they were going to try and have my baby nurse within the first few minutes… and even crazier, my son did. As soon as they put this little nugget on my chest, he started to inch his way to my breast and suck. He could barely open his eyes and yet he was able to find my boob! Of course there wasn’t any milk besides colostrum (the initial milk that is rich in antioxidants, but not full-on milk yet), but that didn’t stop the little guy from trying. And trying. And trying. I also didn’t realize I was going to have to continue to try and nurse him every 2 hours while in the hospital. So, that newborn rest you were banking on? Non-existent. Every two hours I would put him on my boob and he would suck for up to thirty minutes on each breast, and then we would start the cycle all over again a short time later. Which brings me to…
Feedings are Every 2 hours… From the Time the Feeding Starts
That means if your baby nurses for an hour, you only have an hour before you have to nurse him again. And guess what? Those first few weeks, babies aren’t getting much milk and they’re not strong suckers yet, so they will be nursing for an hour… at least. And as a new mom who doesn’t want her baby to lose weight, you’re going to want him to nurse as much as possible. So get ready to be anchored to your baby for a few weeks and not do much else besides nurse, unless you’re really efficient at doing everything in a fifteen minute window. And also? This is 24-hours a day, seven days a week. No breaks, mamas. Sorry.
Pumping Ain’t as Easy as it Seems
Okay, you finally got the go-ahead from your pediatrician to give bottles a shot… yay! This means you can pump a bottle of milk and give the milk duty to your husband who has not been chained to a baby’s lips for the past few weeks. Except here’s the thing… pumping isn’t that great. To start, you sort of feel like a cow being hooked up to a machine that literally pumps your boobs. Also, sitting with your boobs hooked up to said machine with no shirt on is not the sexiest look in the world, especially when you’re still adjusting to your postpartum body. And the hands-free bras aren’t as hands-free or easy as you might think. And not to mention, you then have to clean up all the numerous parts that go into pumping (seriously, there’s like 10 little pieces). And not just a simple scrubbing. Oh no. You need to soak everything in warm, soapy water and then sanitize it. And you have all the time in the world now, so that part’s REALLY fun. Plus, those extra hours of sleep you’ll get while your partner gives the baby his bottle? Just joking! You still have to get up to pump because otherwise your breasts will be so engorged in the morning that it’ll look like you murdered a milk carton in your sleep, or it’ll mess up your supply. And then your husband has to heat up the breastmilk, which could take some time and you know who doesn’t understand the concept of getting food ready? A breastfed baby who is crying for his bottle at 3am. That’s who. It’s a necessity for those of us going back to work, or wanting to take advantage of our night-owl husbands (of whom I’m very grateful to because he does get up most nights without complaint, even when he’s working the next day), but it’s not like a magic pass that will give you a ton of free time or extra hours of sleep. Just saying.
Another aspect of breastfeeding I was not aware of until I became a mom was the literal hazards. Every single mom I’ve talked to has experienced a clogged duct at some point. THIS IS COMMON AND NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT OR WHAT TO DO. So, here’s what it is: a milk duct gets clogged for various reasons and it feels like a stabbing pain in your chest. I told my best friend that it felt like my son was trying to suck a marble out of my nipple, which we both thought was the perfect description. Heating pads, pain relievers (like tylenol or motrin), hot showers, and constant nursing (yup, back to every 2 hours or even more) will all help get rid of it. But, in extreme cases you can develop an infection and this is called Mastitis and it SUCKS. How do I know? Because I was lucky enough to get it. Not only did it hurt like a bitch (my already painful clogged duct was now infected), but it affects nursing because you have to go on antibiotics and there’s not as much milk coming out of that boob BECAUSE IT’S CLOGGED. And you know who doesn’t get the concept that mommy’s boob is clogged and even though she’s trying, she can’t produce enough milk? A breastfed baby, that’s who. And yet, the number one remedy is to nurse on the infected boob to clear the clog. Let me tell you, I was gritting my teeth during those feedings. They hurt so bad. And clogged ducts and Mastitis are only two of the infections you can get. There’s also thrush, milk blisters, and nipple vasospasm just to name a few. Breastfeeding is definitely not for the weak.
Latching Can be a Bitch
Part of the reason breastfeeding can be a terrible process is it takes equal work from both the mom and the baby. Mom has to be able to produce enough milk and have the right kind of nipples (as in not flat, overly large, or inverted), and baby has to be able to latch properly and suck properly. And latching can be a real bitch. Their latches also change as they get older and your milk changes (oh yeah, your milk changes over time… another side fact I wasn’t aware of!), or if let’s say you develop Mastitis and the baby has to re-learn to latch because he’s getting frustrated that not enough milk is coming out, so he pecks at your breast like he’s a woodpecker or something (clearly speaking from experience). And what happens if there’s a bad latch? In addition to baby not getting enough milk, which can cause weight issues, it could also lead to stomach issues, and for mom it could lead to misshapen nipples and/or nipple cracking and bleeding. In other words, it’s not something you can just “power through.” Fortunately, there’s a ton of great resources for breastfeeding moms, including La Leche League and your hospital’s lactation department. When I was dealing with Mastitis, Cedars Sinai’s lactation consultants responded to every email and call quickly and with a ton of non-judgmental advice and guidance.
You Might Resent Your Husband
This has nothing to do with the physical act of breastfeeding, and maybe it’s just me since I haven’t heard any of my breastfeeding friends talk about it, but breastfeeding has led to some resentment of my dear, sweet husband. Why? Because instead of having to feed our son every 2-3 hours, which can be painful and draining at times, he can live his life. At 3am when I’m barely awake and nursing my son, it’s frustrating to look over and see my husband sound to sleep (and even more frustrating when I’m trying to get back to sleep at 3.30am and can’t because of my husband’s snoring). Or when a few hours later at 7am, I wake up and immediately have to nurse my son again and my husband is still sleeping. Or when a couple hours later at 9am when I’m nursing yet again, and my husband is just waking up for the day bright-eyed and busy-tailed happily asking me if I need anything, and I have to tell him, “no,” because what I really want is another few hours of sleep and a giant cup of coffee and I can’t have either of those things because I have to nurse my son again in another hour and I already had my one cup of coffee for the day. Or when my husband goes to get a haircut, unencumbered, and I’ve been trying to schedule a haircut for the past few weeks, but it’s impossible because I have to schedule it around my husband’s work schedule and my son’s nursing schedule, and he’s at said haircut for several hours and during that time span I’ve nursed twice, been spit up on, shit on, and had to hold a screaming, crying baby. Well… you can see what I’m trying to explain. And I LOVE my husband. Having a baby with him and watching him become a dad has made me fall deeper in love with him than I could ever explain. But, he’s not the one responsible for nourishing our son and that can start to wear on a gal. And for that reason alone, breastfeeding can start to take its’ toll, not only on mama, but on a marriage. Fortunately, I’m able to discuss these things with my husband, and much like the bout of Mastitis, we were able to power through.
All that being said, I’m extremely grateful to be able to nurse my son. There’s no greater feeling than watching him grow and knowing I’m responsible for that. And when my son unlatches and looks at me with pure love and a giant, milk-drunk smile, it makes it all worth it.