When I say that I hate breastfeeding, I mean that I loathe it. I hate feeling uncomfortable on the off-chance I ever feel engorged, I hate dealing with a low supply every day of my life, I hate being constantly covered in milk. I hate wondering whether my kids are getting enough to eat, I hate the pain and chapped feeling, and the contractions POST delivery are the worst. I hate having to be at home, even though that’s where I usually want to be anyways, I hate not being able to go on a date if I want. I hate that my husband can’t be more involved on occasion, I hate that I can’t take a nap on occasion, and I especially hate the stupid breast pump.
When I was pregnant with my son, I was avid about breastfeeding. With all of the studies on the benefits of breastfeeding, I knew there was no way I could pass up the opportunity do make the first decision I ever made as a new mom, one that I could look back on to have been the right decision for my family and me, even if I was constantly worried I’d make all the wrong ones down the road. Little did I know, that mentality and dedication from the beginning would be the only thing that would keep me holding on. When I first held my little guy, I had that overwhelming, fairy-tale connection that all the experts acknowledge might not be a reality at first, when considering the pain, hormones, and fear that accompany the pregnancy and child birth process. If only that passion translated to a love of nursing, my decision would have been that much easier.
Unfortunately, that’s not always how the story went. From the moment my hormone-induce baby euphoria became just a big part of my life instead of the only thing important in my life, I knew I was in for a rough couple of years, doing something that I found to be significantly less than a desirable ongoing task. Breastfeeding was not for me. From constant pain those first couple weeks, to being anxious about whether or not baby was getting enough to eat, to a little-known condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex, (more information on that here), I dreaded every time I had to sit down for a feeding. It was just not my cup of tea.
I spent a lot of time wondering when it was going to get better. I scoured the internet and everything I could lay my hands on about time frames. When was I going to start enjoying, what should have been that beautiful bonding time spent with my son? I assumed that when it became a part of my routine instead of a painful, irritating experience, I’d finally have something to cling to. Spoiler alert: the euphoria never came. Come to find out, breastfeeding isn’t always the perfect bonding experience people make it out to be. That’s not to say that it’s always like that. Some folks actually enjoy it for more than just a feeding method.
It did, actually, get a little better. The pain stopped with a little bit of lanolin cream, and ibuprofen, the ridiculous contractions stopped by the time I left the hospital, and latching improved a lot. While it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and I still hated it, It just became one of my least favorite chores, like dishes for example, instead of being the dreadful experience that my life revolved around. I suffered from really low supply, which was one of the reasons it was so bad. Instead of nursing every 3-ish hours, give or take, we nursed about every hour. Baby was still thriving, but it seemed like he was constantly hungry. I’ve never let down to my breast pump well, despite all of the expensive Medela supplies and equipment on the market, so I was constantly at home. That little trip alone to the store that moms are suppose to take after a little while post-baby, didn’t happen for months. I’m a stay-at-home mom because I love being with my kids and watching them grow, but a trip to Target or a long run would have been welcome. I was tethered to my house in time where everything was going a million miles an hour, having just left the active duty Army, to get us ready to settle down in our new place on the mainland. I considered supplementing, but life wasn’t going to get the better of me that easily. In some situations, supplementation might really be for the best, but I knew it wasn’t for us.
Month after month went by, and I felt like every moment was a countdown to the next dreaded feeding. We broke all of the rules when we started solids at 5 months. It worked well for us. Baby was an early learner and adapted well to everything we threw at him. My tiny, helpless kid, unknowingly showed patience way beyond his age. It was 5 months of supplemental vitamins, phone calls, research, and lactation consultants up until that point. By that time I was just being stubborn. We were going to make it until that 18 month goal I had in mind whether the world wanted us to or not. Spoiler alert: we didn’t make it 18 months. It’s what I like to call a bitter-sweet divine intervention.
Around the time my son turned 6 months, doctors found a deadly parasite in my stomach. Just kidding, we found out that ready or not, we were going to have another addition to our little family. Though it was a surprise, we were thrilled. Four months later, however, my son wasn’t having the breastfeeding thing anymore. His pediatrician warned us that it might happen. After a month-long nursing strike, we called it quits. Some women nurse through the entire pregnancy and then go onto a wonderful tandem nursing relationship with both babies, I wasn’t one of them. After almost a year of irritation, it was that little bit of strength I needed through the last few months preparing to start the process all over again. My son was eating almost every meal of solid foods, so my qualms about not nursing the entire first year were a little more limited.
The break that I got those last few months opened up a lot of opportunities to reflect and research some ideas more objectively that I was able to do throughout my nursing relationship with my son. The number one epiphany I had was that I had to increase my water intake. Not just for a better nursing experience, but for better health. I began drinking a two-liter minimum. When I mastered that, I started drinking a gallon minimum. Before I started that project, I drank so little water, I literally got nauseous when I would have some. Within days, I felt better. I slept better, I woke up better, and I was less tired throughout the day. When my little girl came around, I felt a difference too.
With my daughter, post delivery contractions were significantly worse. I didn’t do ibuprofen, but I’m sure that would have helped. They almost seemed as bad as labor itself, I didn’t remember ever having that with my son. My colostrum was about the same, but she didn’t seem hungry like my son. She was a dream of a latch-er. She was born to breastfeed – thank goodness. I still hated doing it, but she sure made it a lot easier on me than my son. Though my milk came in a lot less quickly with her, it was in abundance. It maybe wasn’t at the level that some people struggle with, but it was enough. I still didn’t respond to the pump, but I was making enough, eventually, to be able to feed from one side and pump from the other. Just before I became pregnant, I joined the Army reserves, thinking I would put all of my research into effect on drill weekends. Lo and behold, it was the biggest pain. The pump was still no friend of mine. Weeks of pumping and feeding at the same time was my only hope of stashing away a supply large enough to last an entire day. As we enter our sixth month, I still dread those weekends.
What’s different now, though, is by combining my dedication with education, I’m no longer counting down to dreaded feeding time. Nothing has changed, except for the idea that I need to fuel my body by eating enough calories of the right foods, and drinking a ridiculous amount of water. It took me almost 2 years to decide what works for me, but when I found it, I found a sense of relief. What worked for me won’t work for everyone. It’s about finding what works and disciplining yourself to stick to it, no matter how big of a pain it is. If it’s something you want, in most situations, you can have it. Though there are certain exceptions to the rule, having a nursing relationship is usually attainable. Breastfeeding is still not for me. It’s still not a good experience, per se, and I will still be listening for that hallelujah chorus at the end of the road. Just know, if you see the benefits, and know that it’s absolutely something you want to do for yourself and your kids, there is hope, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. For people who hate breastfeeding, with no other medical reasons involved, it’s their mentality that will bring them to success. If you absolutely want to do it, you will. If you’re on the edge, you’ll be a lot more easily persuaded to choose other methods. There’s nothing wrong with the way you feed your child no matter what, as long as they’re happy and well-fed. Not that their aren’t women who physically can’t breastfeed, but many excuses derive from knowing that there is another option out there, easily accessible to them. Just know that if you’re dedicated to what you want to do, you’ll pull through in the end.