Breastfeeding is so much more than “good for baby and mommy,” a way to please your crunchy granola BFF, or the money-saving savior you will need to afford to get your kids to elementary school. While nursing your babes can be a completely beautiful bond, it can also drive mamas to the brink of insanity. It can be painful and emotional, messy and difficult, exhausting and frustrating, terrifying and rewarding. It is all of those descriptions and much more. No experience is the same. This is a dive into the depths of one small part of motherhood that no one bothers explaining to you when they are in the throes of rubbing your belly and talking to your unborn like they are some creepy cartoon character and not the neighbor you barely know and did NOT give permission to touch your midsection.
Even as I searched for images to pair with this post, I toiled. I mean, seriously! Show me one more picture of a sickeningly happy mother nursing her perfectly clean newborn in a picturesque nursery with nary a barf-covered burp cloth or smelly old breast pad in sight and I will lose it. Who are these people? Where are the piles of discarded onesies, overflowing laundry baskets, dirty breast pump parts you were too tired to carry to the sink, and coffee cup you snuck into the nursery because if it weren’t for caffeine you would have actually died by now?!
It should be noted that I nursed both of my children and it was, most of the time, one of my greatest joys in early motherhood. I made my own baby food for both kids and still pay extra for whole food and organic items. We grow a lot of our food and buy farm-raised animals from family. We are very near tree hugging status. But an icy cold Coca-Cola is still my weakness. I sometimes eat Taco Bell in a pinch (oh, that hurt to even type), and I drank coffee while nursing. Let’s just be real: I am not perfect. However, I am of the belief that one should be painfully honest with those coming up behind me. And good news! So is one of my dear friends, Abigail, who approached me with this article idea. She just finished nursing their third and final child and ladies, we are hilariously honest. Seriously, get us together and you will be exposed to things. So, newly married and itching-for-motherhood sisters, brace yo’selves! It’s about to get REAL!
This is The Beautiful, The Smelly, and the Shocking Truths of Breastfeeding:
It Can Hurt
You know that stinging sensation of taking a shower with a fresh sunburn (and by stinging I mean razor blades under the rain of coarse salt made of fire)? Yeah, that’s about what your nipples feel like. The initial latch is one of the most beautiful and powerful experiences after bringing a tiny human into the world, but once that person has sucked you dry and is hungry for more, a mama can experience chaffing, raw skin, and even yeast infections on her nipples. Abigail noted, “I got scabs. Like so bad the milk wouldn’t pull through so I had to use moist heat then pick, yes pick them off, prior to nursing.” There is payoff with the pain, but the pain–should you suffer from it–is raw and real, mamas.
Paci vs Mommy
Abigail, my friend whose idea bore this entire post said, “My third didn’t take a pacifier the first three weeks, so I was her pacifier.” Something mamas who exclusively breastfeed have to consider is the latching factor. Many choose not to introduce a pacifier for several days or longer to ensure a firm latch to mother’s breast. This means when baby needs pacifying, she will rely solely on you, regardless of time of day or what you had previously planned. Gone are the nights of falling asleep to your latest book. You will now likely have a person hanging off of you, but trust us, it is soooooo much better than listening to that adorable screaming these babies are capable of.
Latchin’ Ain’t Easy
Many mamas quit before they start because they cannot get their babies to latch correctly. There are, of course, some medical explanation such as cleft lip or palate, but many moms simply succumb to the unbelievable level of exhaustion and opt for the bottle to pacify their screaming tiny humans. If you haven’t lived through this, don’t hate. These newborns come out with a powerful set of pipes built to yell at decibels only dogs can hear. And they don’t discriminate. “Oh Mom, you work in the morning!? DON’T CARE!”
If you aren’t one of the blessed mamas whose baby latched without trying, this effort can do you in. But once you have stayed the course and remained determined, when your baby latches it can be the most incredible bond you will ever experience. Stick with it!
You Become An Indigenous Tribeswoman
Whether this is with family members, other children, or the general public, you basically feel like you are constantly either covering yourself with draped sheets of fabric in an attempt to not show your goodies, or you embrace the fact that you could, at any given moment, be featured on the cover of National Geographic for how often you have your breasts bared for the world.
Trust me when I say you will go to your first OB/GYN appointment so shy and sheepish, making sure to tuck the gown in around your back so your bare shoulders aren’t even visible. Sister, by the time you are in your ninth hour of contractions, you don’t care if the doctor brings in a single intern or an entire sixth grade class of medical hopefuls, you have one focus. You would happily bring this baby into the world in a third world mud hut if it was your option. Fast forward to breastfeeding and you don’t have much “personal space” left. Many siblings do things like carry around dolls pressed to their own nipples or point to their bellies saying, “Baby.” Just get comfortable in your own skin because there is about to be a lot of it.
Pump, Pump, Pump It Up
Whether you pump and nurse to keep up your flow and production or you choose to exclusively pump like some mamas who have to return to work quickly after birth, pumping is no joke. In order to be successful at breastfeeding, you have to implement next level organization tactics. I went from charting times and which side I had pumped on to having to store, log, and chronologically order hundreds of ounces of freezer milk. “My third baby was seven months old when I ‘dried up.’ I had 4500 ounces in the freezer when I stopped. I was a milk cow,” Abigail added. You might as well has a master’s degree in business administration and organizational prowess because it’s about to get real color coded up in here.
Even if you have no problem producing, upcoming mamas should know it is, as Ab put it, “Semi-degrading to have your nipple sucked through a cone.” Take our word for it, NEVER let your husband walk in on you pumping. It looks like a smashed squid’s eye. I wouldn’t recommend it. I mean, mine saw me countless times, but he also watched me VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) our second child and seemed unphased. He may have been traumatized. I don’t ask because I don’t want to know the answer. The great thing is, for those who are over-producers, you can sell or donate your extra milk to moms who either cannot breastfeed, families adopting newborns, or parents raising children with disabilities who need the vital nutrients found in breastmilk for their children. So girl, go get a great hands-free nursing bra, a good quality double pump, and some snacks because this is about to be weird(ly awesome).
That Bod, Tho
Getting up the first time your child sleeps through the night, thus skipping nursing, you will wake up to breasts that are hard as rocks and big enough to make Dolly Parton blush. This time when you are breastfeeding your infant will give you the best chest you’ve had since you were 16 so eat it up because, honey, it will pass.
Ab said, “I asked the girls if they noticed anything while I was nursing. My oldest said, ‘Yes I notice something now. Your breasts are smaller; a lot smaller!’ Who knew a seven-year-old would notice that.”
This rocking body you have may stop at the top floor for some. Many of us went into this journey with the trusted advice from mothers past that breastfeeding was basically a diet plan. You are so ravenously hungry and thirsty while nursing that, as Abigail put it, “It’s like your body is storing fat for hibernation.” Some mamas are blessed to burn off what they are taking in and then some, but many of us fall victim to the 3 a.m. feeding ourselves. So, girl, rock that curvacious mom bod, just begin to prepare yourself for the deflated balloons and the gravitational pull of the belly flap. It’s coming!
Looky No Touchy
You know that 16-year-old physique we were marveling at in the last point? Your husband will likely take notice as well. This is a treacherous time for many couples as dads have to go through their own adjustment period to parenting. They are (many of them) up late, washing bottle parts, depriving themselves of sleep, and having to figure out how to navigate this new life with their former partner in crime now being needed and pulled in 50 directions by a person no bigger than their hand. Be kind to him and do your best to understand that the body that he fell in love with is still the one he loves and (most) men receive love through physical affection. Do your best to understand this is a physical need of his as much as sleep is to you.
We want to warn you new and upcoming mamas, however, be prepared. Of course your body has shifted, sagged, and changed in many ways since pregnancy. That’s a given. But be aware that the warm up may need a few extra steps this time. Abigail told me with honest hilarity, “One time I didn’t prep because I was trying to make sure the baby was down and quiet and spend sometime with my hubby. Well, I leaked. I LEAKED! How embarrassing. I didn’t pump because I knew it was a long process. Regardless I was mortified but my husband couldn’t have cared less.” Ladies, just embrace it. What we see as a stretched out elastic band of a tummy, our husbands still want to hug and hold.
“I told my husband he would have to remind me to be close with him because it was honestly the last ‘to do’ on my list of priorities. It sounds bad, I know, but three humans, breastfeeding and working is a lot,” Ab added. Prioritizing physical affection can fall to the wayside but it is something so important for keeping your communication open and your self-esteem up, mama.
Bye Bye, Flow
Praise the Lord and hallelujah! One of the finest perks of nursing your wee ones is the absence of your monthly menses. Face it, that is the last thing we need to worry about when we are surviving on a steady diet of coffee and dry shampoo for the first month of adjusting to keeping the tiny human alive. Buying tampons or sending our husbands to the store to aimlessly wander the “family planning” aisle in search of “the one with the pink flowers on it” is just something nobody has time for. Many nursing mamas do not have a menstrual cycle at all until she decides to stop breastfeeding. So take that, Eve!
The Obvious Out
As a closet introvert, I could not tell you the amount of social functions I have shown up late for, left early from, or dodged completely due to the excuse no one can ignore, “Oooohhhh sorry. I have to pump/nurse.” Trust me, it’s like squelching the question of when you are going to have another child with the response, “Well, we’re practicing!” No one wants to continue that conversation. They simply nod and smile, accepting your excuse without further examination.
If you are a real gangster mama, you will use this for relieving yourself of dish duty following dinner, putting away the mountain of laundry still on the couch, or even carting Suzy to the basketball practice where several moms will just judge your spit-up covered yoga pants and you just can’t right now. I tighten my Rosie the Riveter bandanna as I drop that never-failing excuse, “So sorry, I can’t because the baby needs to be fed.”
The Smile That Saved My Sanity
“Hollywood has nursing selfies and make it look so easy but it’s not. I was so close to taking a selfie of me in tears and clenching my teeth with every latch for the first 6-8 weeks. No lie. That long. But people should also know how incredibly rewarding it can be,” Abigail smiled. Guys, she is that friend who has the gift of empathy. If you cry, she cries with you and her smile always makes you feel better somehow. It is the same with our babies.
When you look down at your latching baby, wipe your tears because your hormones are on some kind of unhinged roller coaster, drink cold coffee because it is eleventy o’clock and all this baby wants to do it eat and spit up, and that little pint-sized poop machine grins–sister, that makes it all worth it. I have a picture of my oldest grinning from the glow of light under the nursing cover and it will always be one of my favorites.
Mamas, unite with the woman power that says, “Ooooohhh, honey, you’re going to have to cover dinner tonight–I’ve got to nurse.” and “Sorry, Grandma, I can’t stay for the fourth round of Bingo–I have to breastfeed.” We may be sporting an outfit from three days ago and be making it on a stream of nipple cream, crusty breast pads, and a nursing tank stretched out from our first child, but here we are, killing it! Up-and-coming mamas, find yourself a veteran mom. She will cheer you on, encourage you, and (if she’s a pro) cook you something delicious that will remind you to take a minute to look at your baby, savor that smile, and remember why you chose to do this in the first place.