An Open Letter to the Breastfeeding New Mom
Dear Breastfeeding New Mom,
I'm sorry no one told you that it was going to be so hard. (Not the new mom part -- no, everyone told you that would be hard. I mean the breastfeeding part.) Right now you're probably feeling sore and frustrated and tired and unsure. And no one warned you that it would be so hard to do something so natural.
No one told you about the bloody, chapped nipples, or the leaking milk e.v.e.r.y.w.h.e.r.e., or the intense pain of engorgement/clogged ducts/mastitis. Or the veins or the sagging or that your breasts would grow more than the Grinch's heart on Christmas. Until now, you had never heard the term "bleb,'" you had no idea that nipple shields were an actual thing, and Blanch was just a character on the Golden Girls.
And you are told all of these problems are not normal ... "Pain is a sign that something is wrong." And to you that means YOU are doing it wrong. Except no one told you we ALL do it wrong at first. So doesn't that kind of make all of these not-normal things, well, normal?
I'm sorry that you probably feel more pressure than support. Everyone is so busy screaming "Breast is Best" and "Latch On" and "Whenever, Wherever" that they forget about the most important component to breastfeeding: the breast. And that's probably how you feel right now, like you're nothing more than one big boob. A human pacifier. Because you're nursing every hour on the hour and you are sure you must not be producing enough.
Why didn't they warn you "latching on" would be so lonely? That you'd become a social pariah because everyone's so uncomfortable with a nip slip. (Breast is best -- unless it's in public, right?) So you might think you have to nurse in your car. Or in the bathroom. Or under an afghan blanket in the hot sun. Or anywhere that there is no one to gawk awkwardly at you. You're supposed to be "bonding" with your little one, yet you find you are just growing resentful instead.
And in all your frustration, you know there are resources out there like doctors and lactation consultants and La Leche Leagues ... but you've seen that pic of the breastfeeding yoga mom. If she can do THAT, you're certain it's just something wrong with you. (Except it's not.)
I'm sorry that science has yet to discover a way for your husband to lactate so you can get more than three hours of consecutive sleep. And that he thinks asking, "Want me to make a bottle of formula?" isn't an insult to a breastfeeding mom. And that he tries to "help" by washing out a bottle that still had a perfectly good 1/16th ounce of pumped liquid gold in it. At least he's trying, right?
And after nine long months, all you want is an ice cold beer. Or 14. But unfortunately no one likes a drunk newborn, so you can't indulge more than a little. You had no clue you'd have to be so meticulous about what you put in your mouth, even more so than when you were pregnant. Because your baby has a sensitivity and now you have to cut out dairy or soy or wheat or corn or peanuts. And that shit is is everything.
I'm sorry that your body still isn't your own.
Why didn't anyone tell you it would be so hard?! And that after weeks, you still may not have it perfectly right -- but your maternity leave is nearing its end and you're about to be away from your baby for nine hours a day. So you add the pressure of feverishly trying to pump extra so you have a healthy "freezer stash." But again, no one really mentioned that you'll be hooked up to this machine for the better part of an hour, only to get an ounce or two at a time. What, are you supposed to be hooked up to this damn thing all day?!
I'm sorry no one talks about the normal. That no one told you "natural," in this case, doesn't mean easy. That the one time you reached our for help on that breastfeeding message board, you just got a whole bunch of high-and-mighty snark in return. And that the rest of us hide our struggles because we think there's something wrong with us, or we're embarrassed or ashamed that we're failing, or we just don't think anyone wants to know so many details about our boobs.
And these days, the pressure is so great to breastfeed that these real conversations aren't had. But if we talked about it -- about the hard stuff -- maybe we all would feel less alone. And we wouldn't quit when our nipples hurt so badly that we cry out in pain, because we would know that happens to other moms, too. And we wouldn't quit when we think there's something wrong with our milk because our baby is up crying all night, because we'd know tons of other mothers are up all night right along with us. And we wouldn't quit because we don't want to ask for a special room to nurse or pump in, because we've been assured that it is OKAY to feed our child even when it may be inconvenient for others. And all of these things that we're struggling with, if we talked about them without being judged for them, maybe we could actually fix them instead of just pining to quit every day.
I'm sorry no one told you how much of a sacrifice you'd be making by choosing to breastfeed. And that no one seems to be there cheering you on every day as you power through each feeding, trying to decide if it will be your last. Some women have a magical breastfeeding experience, but not all. Most will agree that it is, hands down, the hardest thing you'll ever do as a new mom.
I'm telling you all this now, so I can also tell you that you are amazing. You are kicking ass and you are doing the best thing you can for your baby. And breastfeeding, for five minutes or five years, is a huge accomplishment. And you're not a failure. And you're not alone. And you are doing great.
You've got this, mama!
A Breastfeeding Second Time Mom Who Still Struggles Too
P.S. (If you formula feed, you still kick ass too.)