Whoever said don’t cry over spilled milk apparently never breastfed. Or used a breast pump.
This was supposed to be a blog post providing clever advice on troubleshooting your breastfeeding woes, but tonight, I’m not feeling like I have all the answers (just tonight; I usually do have all the answers, of course).
I’d really like to know the name and address of the person who painted this picture of a Gisele look-a-like—her hair perfectly coiffed and makeup flawless, no bags under her eyes and all her baby weight vanished, no pooch in her tummy—caressing a perfectly calm newborn in a cradle hold, nursing contentedly, both smiling as a cool breeze gently floats through the open window in the spotless nursery that’s frosted in lace and pastels and stuffed zoo animals.
Pffffff. On what planet does that actually happen? Here’s the real picture: I’m completely topless (and not in a good way) because I’m too tired to figure out this contraption of a nursing bra, spraying milk in every direction, soaking not only the brand new off-white glider we’re sitting in but my baby boy‘s face as well. Of course, he doesn’t notice because he’s out cold, even though we’ve tried everything (except those things that would earn us a visit from Child Services), from patting his back with a cold washcloth to tickling his toes to my husband slamming a book shut and ringing our MSU cowbell several feet away, to try to keep him awake so he’ll take in a full feeding. He sleeps through it all. My hair’s a mess, I have no idea where my makeup bag even is, my suitcase from the hospital still isn’t unpacked. I have a bath towel in my lap, and a burp cloth covering each breast, all three getting soaked as I plead with my son to wake up and nurse. And when he actually latches on, he does so with such force that I’m afraid I’m going to lose a nipple.
That was just the newborn phase.
To be fair, we had a couple of pretty easy months. I figured out the nursing bra and my milk supply stabilized. My son learned how to latch on after a couple of days and grew alert enough to be an efficient eater, taking in a full feeding each time.
Now he’s almost four months old, and he’s obsessed with his curtains. Seriously. They are right behind the glider, and he will, in mid-suck, pull away to stare at his curtains. I will shift him around so his back is to the window, but then he throws his head back to stare at them upside down. So I wait. On his way back to the breast, he’ll stop to stare at his ceiling fan. Then back at the curtains. Then back to the ceiling fan.
Two sucks and he’ll look up at me and grin, mllk dribbling down his neck, past his bib, and onto his brand new Baby Gap onesie. Or, he’ll take in too much at once and break away, panicking, until I burp him. Sometimes he’ll smile and talk baby gibberish to me with his mouth full, which will spray milk all over my nursing bra.
To top it off, he’s starting to need more than I have been able to provide by exclusively nursing. So I’ve had to supplement with stored, bottled breast milk until I can increase my milk supply. Only, he won’t take a bottle after he’s nursed, so I have to give it to him first. Then he doesn’t nurse as long, which perpetuates the problem of keeping my supply up.
So I pump. Which let me tell you is SEXY. There is nothing more attractive to a man than to witness his wife getting milked like a heifer (this is, of course, after he’s witnessed her pushing out a human being through her lady parts). And then there’s the washing all the attachments and bottles. And doing it all over again in two to three hours.
No wonder so many women give it up! It’s exhausting. And frustrating. And it hardly seems worth it when I’m constantly worrying if my baby’s getting enough to eat. Breast milk is arguably the most ideal food for our babies, but they don’t tell us how close to the edge of our sanity we’ll tiptoe should we choose to breastfeed.
My goal that I set while I was pregnant was to breastfeed for a year. Then that goal became nine months. I shortly revised it to six months. Now I’m almost to four months, and my goal is to make it to New Year’s. Which is in a week and a half.
Ok, so I’m being a little dramatic. I don’t know how long I’ll breastfeed, and a friend wisely warned me not to quit on a bad day. But that’s not really the point.
The point is, you’re not alone if you’re torturing yourself with mind games and guilt trips over whether you do or don’t breastfeed. We all have that one friend that exclusively nursed all of her five children until their second birthdays with no hiccups or bumps along the way, never pumped, ate only the freshest organic foods and took extra vitamins, drank gallons of water a day and proudly wears a World’s Best Mom tattoo on her forehead. And that is the standard to which we constantly compare ourselves. And at least for me personally, I don’t quite measure up.
I’m not saying we should give up because it’s hard. That’s not my style anyway. Parenthood is hard, period. Having it easy is not in the forecast. If it’s not breastfeeding, it’s sleep training. If it’s not sleep training, it will be potty training. Solid-food training. Discipline. Math homework. First dates with upperclassmen. We shouldn’t quit just because it’s challenging.
But we can develop the right perspective. This won’t last forever. Our babies will soon, right before our eyes, start eating solid foods and eventually have no need for breast milk. Breastfeeding is a fleeting opportunity to provide our babies a great start to a healthy life. And it will get easier.
Or, it won’t, and you’ll have to stop breastfeeding. That’s okay, too. Formula is not the devil’s spit, and feeding your baby formula is certainly not the unpardonable sin. However long you are able to breastfeed is time well spent, even if it’s a few short weeks.
If breastfeeding is a priority for you, then stick to your beliefs and make it work to the extent you’re willing to sacrifice for it. But let’s give ourselves a break and keep it in context. Breastfeeding is not the only way to produce a healthy child. It’s not the only way to bond with our babies or prove our love for them. There will be countless other opportunities for that. And we won’t screw them up for life with this one decision.
There will be countless opportunities for that, too. :)