I was so excited about the idea of breastfeeding my baby. Soon after we found out that we were expecting, I began doing something I discovered a love for in college—research. So, so much research. I was really good at studying and getting good grades in college. What was the secret to my success? I’m a nerd and loved research. Surely, I could just apply the same principles that brought me college success to parenting, and soon enough, I’d be an expert mom.
It didn’t take long for me to discover the many benefits of breastfeeding—benefits which compounded by the month, and benefits that I definitely wanted in my baby’s life. Certainly I wanted a happy, healthy, intelligent child who was less likely to require braces and less likely to struggle with maintaining a healthy weight. I was going to save my child from childhood illnesses and awkward teen years. I’d be closer to my baby through the magic of the nursing-bond. My hubby and I were going to save hundreds of dollars from not buying that super-expensive formula. We’d prevent hundreds of pounds of formula-can waste. It was going to be awesome. And effortless! All I had to do was breastfeed—and that would come naturally!
Reality Sets In
And then K was born—and reality set in.
I remember being totally shocked when she couldn’t quite get a latch, and when I realized that I couldn’t even tell whether or not she was getting any milk. What was happening here? Shouldn’t I instinctively know how to do this? Shouldn’t she instinctively know how to eat?
My midwife managed to help me get her latched on for her very first feeding, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Okay, so it just took a little tweaking the first time, but now that we got that first awkward feeding out of the way, it would all go smoothly.
Poor, deluded, silly me.
The very next feeding had me in tears. We tried to get her latched on for 45 minutes. She was screaming in hunger and frustration, and I was utterly horrified. What was wrong with my body? This wasn’t supposed to be so hard!
The Allure of Formula
After so many months of turning up my pregnant-but-not-aware-of-the-
Sure, I finally was able to provide my baby with nutrition, and she was eating contentedly. But it hurt. Badly. The actual pressure of her tiny gums was so painful that I was wincing through the entire feeding. Again, was something wrong with me? I was told that if I was doing this right, it wasn’t supposed to hurt!
Supportive friends encouraged me to call a lactation specialist, or La Leche League. I would quietly agree, but I never did—not because I didn’t want the help, but because we couldn’t afford anything like that. It was embarrassing to admit it even to myself, but I didn’t have the money to get help, and the only reason I was hanging in there and still trying to breastfeed was because I knew we couldn’t afford the cost of formula in our budget.
Breastfeeding: Try for 2 Weeks
Finally, one friend gave me some advice that I clung to: “Just try to make it to two weeks.” That was all she asked of me. There was no guilt trip if I decided I just couldn’t do it anymore after that, even though this friend practiced extended breastfeeding for her own child. She didn’t promise me that I’d all of a sudden love breastfeeding if I hit the two-week mark; she simply said to try to hang in there, and to make two weeks my goal.
Two weeks. I just gave birth to this baby without any pain-killers, I thought. If I could live through natural childbirth, I could live through two weeks of horrible breastfeeding.
The two weeks seemed to fly whenever I was cuddling my sweet little newborn girl, but suddenly dragged whenever I had to nurse her. I was tracking the feedings, counting them and crossing them off a mental list, breathing a sigh of relief whenever one ended.
There was no vast paradigm shift. I don’t even remember when things started to improve—I only know that by the time two weeks rolled around, I thought, “I’ll bet I could make it to a month. That would be a little more healthy for her, and would give her another two weeks of antibodies and all that. I’ll just shoot for a month.”
One month turned into two, then three, then I aimed for six, and by the time six months rolled around, I knew I wanted to go for a year. And suddenly, everyone who’d told me that breastfeeding didn’t hurt, and was less stressful than formula in the long run, and was a special time of bonding between mother and child, was right.
Enjoying the Moments
Like I said, I’m not sure when it happened, because the shift happened so slowly. K was able to get a latch just a few seconds faster each time. My nipples were just a little less sore every day. My supply evened out and was eventually exactly the right amount. Somehow, somewhere over the course of all that time, breastfeeding had turned from a horrible experience into a time for me to simply quietly relax and cuddle my baby—a time that I looked forward to, not only because it meant a break from the drudgery of housework or whatever, but because it was time that I could just stare down at her, cherish her, pray for her. It was a time for me to consider motherhood and talk to God about this little person who relied on me to meet all of her needs.
If someone had told me when K was a newborn that I would go through that “ordeal” of nursing for 15 months, I would have burst into tears. What I didn’t know then was that the hard part of nursing was really very fleeting, and that by the time K weaned, I would be sad that that period of my life was over.
Encouragement for the First Time Mom
I’ve talked to so many enthusiastic, young moms since then who feel as if something is wrong with them when they discover that nursing can be challenging and painful. I always tell them the same thing: It doesn’t hurt forever, and eventually, you’ll be glad you did it—for many, many reasons.
One in particular, for me at least, was that when K and I knew what we were doing, I could feed her in a matter of minutes, and I didn’t have to remember to pack any feeding supplies when I went out shopping or for visits. There was no fumbling with measurements or cursing the fact that I forgot the water or the formula or had the wrong lid for the wrong bottle. I never had to consider whether or not I’d have access to hot water or a microwave to heat up my baby’s food. I could just leave the house with K, knowing that I already had the right amount of food, perfectly mixed and heated to the correct temperature, no matter when she decided she was hungry. It was awesome and freeing.
The other thing I always tell discouraged moms is the very thing I wish someone had told me: Breastfeeding may be natural, but it does not come naturally. Just like speaking, walking, or any other skill, you have to learn how to do it—and so does your baby.
Don’t expect it to come easily; be prepared to fight for it if you’re determined to do it. Be prepared to eat lots of oatmeal and drink nasty teas to get your supply up. Be prepared to watch Youtube videos at 3 a.m. about how to properly squeeze your breast so that baby can get a good latch.
Be prepared, also, to realize that some of the people around you expect you to fail and might not be overly supportive of your efforts. But be prepared also for a busy, hectic day to suddenly become peaceful as you look down at the amazing littleness of your sweet baby.
Be prepared to have your heart moved as hungry, fussy sounds turn into a sigh of contentment when Mama’s meeting that tummy’s need.
Be prepared for your baby to suddenly release the latch for a moment, and to turn and look up at you with a rapt expression, as if you are the beginning of every good thing in the world.
Be prepared for nursing to start out as something that’s hard—but be prepared, if you just hang in there, for it to become something that’s really, really hard to let go.
What do you find is the hardest thing about breastfeeding?
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Jaime is a Christian, a wife, a mom, a writer, an illustrator, and an aspiring homesteader. She enjoys trying to find new ways to save money and resources—but also save time, so she can spend as much time as possible with her family! Jaime blogs at Slightly Steady. You can also find Jaime on Facebook and Twitter.