Breastfeeding: It’s Complicated
by Sharon Tjaden-Glass
That’s how I would summarize my previous experience with breastfeeding.
Before having my first child, I envisioned myself being one of those women who breastfed throughout maternity leave, dutifully pumped at work, and kept up the routine as long as I could. That’s how I always pictured that first year with my daughter. Nursing and pumping. As long as possible.
But my body had other ideas.
Although I’ve always been a strong believer in the power and wisdom of my own body, breastfeeding was truly not in the cards for me. We could talk about what it felt like to have postpartum thyroiditis. We could talk about my boobs, my nipples, how often we nursed, how her latch was, and the interventions that we tried.
But I’m kind of over that.
I’m kind of done explaining and justifying my experiences, anticipating all the nay-sayers who would just write off my truth as “one more woman who didn’t try hard enough.”
Yeah. Done with that.
Let me just say that, to me, breastfeeding was like trying to pull a dry, fraying end of a piece of thread through the tiniest of needles. Over and over again.
I could only nurse in Just This Way. And even then, I missed the needle over and over again. Only a tiny amount ever making it through the needle.
And then finding out that, hey, I didn’t even have a full spool of thread to work with.
So here we are, just weeks away from the reality of breastfeeding another child. Wondering if this time will be just as awful as the last time. Hoping that this time, I’ll at least be spared the insomnia (courtesy of postpartum thyroiditis) that came with nursing our first child.
Maybe this time, I’ll be able to sleep between feedings.
Maybe this time, I’ll make at least 50% of what the baby needs, rather than 20%.
Maybe this time, I’ll be able to make it three weeks instead of twelve days.
Maybe these seem like low standards, but they are monumental to me. I don’t have high expectations for what nursing will be like this time. I don’t plan on committing to a die-hard schedule that will increase my milk production at the cost of my own physical and mental health.
The truth is, for me, breastfeeding was much, much harder than childbirth.
And I gave birth with no drugs.
With childbirth, my body seemed to know the procedure. My hips cooperated. My uterus contracted and my baby responded well. I pushed like a pro. My blood loss was typical. And my body succeeded in making the slow journey back to its pre-pregnancy condition.
But with breastfeeding, my body couldn’t get the procedure right. It kept trying to drop into the process, only to be stopped by barrier after barrier after barrier.
Finally, I was forced to accept the fact that–despite everyone who assured me that I could breastfeed if I worked hard enough–I simply could not.
So this time, the internal dialogue will focus more on my own self-care.
I’ll do this as long as I’m healthy.
I need to sleep at least 5 hours a day. At the very least.
If the baby is still hungry, I’ll consider formula.
If I’m not producing more than 1/2 ounce in a pumping session, I should consider whether or not I want to stick with breastfeeding.
If I stop breastfeeding, the baby will be fine. I will be fine. And if people judge me for it, I know they have no idea what I’ve been through.
There was a time in my life when I would have thought that even thinking these thoughts would ultimately lead to me exclusively formula feeding, which–according to strong breastfeeding advocates–was the unhealthiest decision I could make for my newborn.
I thought that.
And I was all about the healthiest decision for my newborn.
But I did not factor my own health into my decision-making.
I thought that what I needed was not as important as what my baby needed. And while new mothers definitely experience a certain amount of humbling and re-prioritizing, it should never be at the detriment of her own health.
Yeah, you feel shitty in the newborn period. You’re sore and exhausted and overwhelmed. But there’s a difference between feeling shitty and feeling like you’re clinging to the edge of life.
Sleeping 1-3 hours per day because you’re nursing or pumping will do that to you.
So if you’re reading this and you’re feeling like a failure for not breastfeeding your child, let me be the first to tell you a simple truth: You are a good mom because of who you are. Not because of anything that you do.
These decisions about feeding, diapering, and sleeping don’t have “winning” sides.
Just love your child. And your child will love you.
It’s that simple.