I was never one of those pregnant women who looked forward to breastfeeding. I didn’t see anything magical about the time I’d spend with my new baby girl latched onto one of my boobs-- I would have much preferred our bonding time to come from coos and cuddles. Understanding that it was healthiest for my baby it was always my plan, but simply a means to an end and something to get through, not something I ever expected to like.
There were a lot of reasons for my breastfeeding negativity. For one, after 40 weeks and 2 days of pregnancy, I wanted nothing more than for my body to be my own again. I wanted to wear the clothes that had been shoved under my bed in clear plastic bins. I wanted to go to a nice restaurant and order tuna steak and a glass of red wine. I wanted to be able to go for a run without parts of my body bouncing in pain. I also wanted help. My husband couldn’t carry a baby or give birth to it, but he could give a baby a bottle. I couldn’t give a relative or a babysitter my boobs while I went out and ran errands, but anyone could give her formula. Breastfeeding made my boobs feel more like handcuffs tethering me to my always screaming (but still much loved) little child.
My feelings didn’t stop there. Call me prude, but I didn’t want to whip out my breast in front of other people. Not doctors or nurses, not relatives or friends who come to visit, not random strangers at the mall. It’s not that I felt discriminated against or judged, I just didn’t like it. I’m private.
All that said, since having my daughter almost 6 weeks ago, I’ve had more people see my breasts than a plastic surgery patient. First it was the wonderful nurses at the hospital, who would literally squeeze my breast or drop sugar water onto my nipples to help my daughter learn how to latch. Then it was the pediatrician who was trying to determine whether my daughter might have reflux and told me that she was a “Good little feed-ah” in her British accent, then another pediatrician and nurse who strongly encouraged me to feed my daughter through her Hepatitis B vaccine. (Of course that ended with her screaming and projectile vomiting all over me, herself, and the floor, but that’s a different story...) They were all great and totally professional, but that doesn’t mean it was a fun or comfortable experience.
Breastfeeding has been hard for me. Not because my daughter won’t latch, but because every time she does I have toe-curling pain that makes my eyes water. Not because I don’t have enough supply, but because I have so much that even feeding my daughter from the same breast for two feedings in a row, it never drains. I leak everywhere, my breasts are constantly engorged, and lying on my stomach or side feels like sleeping on a pair of rocks. I worry about getting mastitis and my daughter seems to be suffering from a hindmilk imbalance. She cries whenever she’s awake and not eating, so I’ve had friends and medical professionals recommend that I give up dairy, caffeine, alcohol, vegetables, beans, wheat, fruit, tomatoes, Mexican food, Chinese food, anything spicy, anything with preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and chocolate. I honestly don’t know what is left.
Every online article and resource has suggestions for augmenting your milk supply, but few even acknowledge the possibility that you could make too much. Meanwhile I feel like I could feed all of the babies in Africa and still have milk to spare. Worst of all, after Googling every possible synonym for “breast milk oversupply” I have found that many in the breastfeeding community are extremely judgmental and act like women who quit breastfeeding are evil human beings and more of a danger to humankind than nuclear war, the bird flu, and Paris Hilton combined. One woman on a message board said that a woman quitting because of her oversupply was “a total joke” and “an excuse to be lazy.” That infuriated me. Women wrote about how their babies suffered stomach issues for years because they continued to breastfeed with a hindmilk imbalance and the excess lactose in their foremilk damaged their children's’ stomach linings, and yet, no one ever mentioned switching to formula.
Don’t get me wrong, I think breast feeding is great, but I don’t think it’s for everyone, and I don’t think whether you choose to breastfeed or not is anyone’s business but you, your child, and your pediatrician.
I’m confident that eventually things will get better, but I’m writing this in case there are other moms out there who feel the same way and want to know they’re not alone. I think some of the hardest things about pregnancy, labor, and being a mother are the things we don’t talk about--or if we do it’s in hushed tones in the corner of a restaurant like we’re admitting to a heinous crime.
I’m sure for some people breastfeeding is a beautiful, natural process that makes a mom feel more connected to her baby and to herself. For others it might feel like being repeatedly attacked by a nurse shark. Some people might love the changes that come with pregnancy, others might feel like their bodies have been taken over by an evil and very busy alien. Being a new mom may be the very best thing you’ve ever done in your whole life, but it also might be hard, isolating, and a little bit scary. No matter what your feelings are, any experience will be easier if you have people to talk about it with. Hopefully we can all get through the highs and the lows together.