During my first pregnancy, I was SUPER anxious about breastfeeding.
The internet was jam-packed with horror stories: poor latches, poor supplies, weak sucks, infections, blocked ducts, cracked nipples, and so, so much pain—both physical and emotional.
Every mom I talked to had her own angle on the topic, her own unique challenges and warnings, but the underlying theme was always the same: breastfeeding is HARD.
Still, I was determined to be a successful breastfeeder. My biggest inspiration: my mom, who happens to be a lactation consultant (and lactation consultant’s daughters are supposed to be successful breastfeeders, right??). In addition to teaching countless women to feed their babies, my mom also breastfed 6 children of her own, including my adopted brother (yep, it’s possible—she stimulated lactation, from nothing to something, through pumping).
So I bought books on breastfeeding. I bought nursing tank tops, a nursing pillow, and some nursing covers. And I steeled myself for the horrors that were coming my way.
Sure enough, the beginning was rocky.
The day my son was born, he seemed to latch on ok, and I thought phew, one hurdle cleared. But then he stayed clamped down for hours and hours straight, while I suffered through every excruciating second of it. I agonized about whether he was getting “enough” and ended up supplementing the first night, desperate for a break. I made every nurse check our latch to make sure it looked right, but it still felt awkward every time. We gave him a pacifier, and he temporarily forgot how to nurse (oops). By the time we left the hospital, I was already flustered.
Then, at home, my supply came in like a freight train. My son didn’t stand a chance against the oversupply and heavy let-down, so I had to pump a little off before feeding him (which I only knew to do with advice from my mom the lactation consultant). That’s how I learned that, for me, pumping often leads to clogged ducts…
And so on and so on. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. Basically, each feeding was a huge, time-consuming, agonizingly painful ordeal, and I dreaded every single one.
Fortunately (after plenty of hormonal tears and frantic text messages to my mom), we were able to work out the kinks, and within a couple weeks, we’d settled into a comfortable routine. I was able to drop the pre-feeding pumping sessions, we figured out that latching business, feedings started going much faster, and most importantly, the pain disappeared. I breastfed my son for a year, and it became as mindless an activity as brushing my teeth.
Was I lucky? Of course. I’m well aware that many, many women have way more complicated breastfeeding issues. In fact, I wouldn’t even call anything I experienced an “issue”—just part of the learning process, for both of us. (It was easy to forget that the baby was learning, too!) Plus, I was extremely (EXTREMELY) fortunate to have my mom’s help.
But here’s my point: these days, there’s such a spotlight on the challenges of breastfeeding that I worry it’s tampering with new moms’ confidence. That we’re so busy bracing ourselves for negative possibilities that we forget about the positive ones. That a challenging breastfeeding relationship with one child instills so much fear and doubt that it carries over into experiences with future children.
When I was pregnant with my first, I don’t remember ever hearing, “breastfeeding might go just fine.” Or even, “It will be hard at first, but then it might get much, much easier.” And definitely not, “It might just be awesome.” I needed to hear those things.
Moms have plenty of reasons to not breastfeed. Sometimes, things don’t work out the way we intend them to. Sometimes, women just don’t want to breastfeed. I understand all of that.
What makes me sad is all the fear that’s linked to breastfeeding. The anxiety. The doubt. And most alarmingly, the fact that a lot of it is already there before the baby is.
Fast forward three years from my first son’s birth. I’m currently six months into breastfeeding baby #2, and for me, the second time felt about a thousand times easier. Was it luck? Experience? Confidence? Easy baby? Muscle memory? (Duct memory??)
I don’t know. But I do know that I went into round 2 with a much more open mind, about the breastfeeding learning curve and about those tumultuous first weeks. I can’t say how much that helped with the physical process, but it definitely helped me emotionally.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter how babies are fed. I mean, really. And there’s no point in looking backward and rehashing a previous breastfeeding experience, any more than there’s a point in stressing about a future one.
My message is exclusively for moms-to-be, who want to breastfeed but have read and heard all the scary things I once read and heard. To these women, I’d just like to say:
Breastfeeding might go just fine.
It will be hard at first, but then it might get much, much easier.
It might just be awesome.
…And if it’s not awesome: oh well! You still are.
Rock on, mama.