So – it turns out that this week is World Breastfeeding Week. I bet you’re wondering why on earth I would want to write about such an event. Well – it’s for all the moms out there who have been struggling to get that perfect latch from their brand new baby while simultaneously trying to pump on the other side to avoid engorgement. Or to the moms who are up at 2 am, bleary eyed as they google “what does mastitis look like?”. For the moms who are about a minute away from giving up because if that baby puts it’s mouth on her sore nipple ONE MORE TIME, she’s going to jump out of her skin. This subject is one that is near and dear to my heart, and if I’d read up a little more before I started nursing my own baby, I might have been a little more prepared for the battle.
Wait, did you say battle?
Yep…that’s the best word I can use to describe the conflict between wanting to give my baby what I know is best, but also really craving my own personal comfort. I couldn’t breastfeed my first two babies, so when I got pregnant with my third, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to stop at nothing to make sure that I accomplished this task. Now that I was no longer a single mother that had to go back to work immediately, I figured I was set for success this time around. I knew that breast milk was the cheaper and healthier option, so while I prepared for the arrival of my new baby, I checked that box and moved on to preparing myself for my first natural labor. Little did I know, the task of breastfeeding successfully would be far more difficult than the eight hours of natural labor and delivery.
Mary had a great latch right away (or so everyone said – I had no frame of reference for this). The first 24 hours were magical. She slept for six straight hours that first night, woke up and ate like a champ. I’d just lay back and stare at this beautiful creation, marveling at how perfectly God fashioned the whole process. It was just baffling to me how my body was made to sustain this tiny human. I was all she needed to thrive, and I rode that high right on into the next day – and that high turned into a crash when my milk came in. My boobs tripled in size and turned into two giant boulders weighing down my small frame. My breasts felt like they were invading my entire body, were sore if I just looked at them (let alone had a human being attached to them at all times) and were hot enough to actually cook a leaf of cold cabbage! The engorgement on the day my milk came in was pretty painful, but the worst part was yet to come…
Sore doesn’t even begin to describe it!
Y’all. Y’ALL. I didn’t know. No one told me! I don’t think anyone knows HOW to effectively describe what many women feel in regards to nipple soreness in the beginning stages of nursing. For me, I can tell you it felt like I was scrubbing my nipples with a cheese grater. That’s NOT an exaggeration. I began to dread feeding time. I used every ointment under the sun to try and heal my sore, cracked nipples but nothing worked. I spent countless hours on websites trying to figure out if her latch was wrong (it wasn’t) or if she had a tongue or lip tie (she didn’t) in an effort to find a solution to my excruciating pain. Unmedicated labor was a WALK IN THE PARK compared to this.
Every two hours as I sat in my rocking chair, I took several deep breaths in preparation of my tiny child’s vicious mouth that would soon determinedly embrace my tender breast. The moment she would latch on, I’d let out a cry (and often a muffled scream). I rocked and sobbed and rocked and sobbed until she’d finish. My husband would kneel in front of me, painfully aware that there was nothing he could do to help, but offering some up nevertheless. In a moment of desperation and desire to go just one feeding without the pain, we fixed a bottle of formula that had arrived in the mailbox just a few weeks prior. She had one taste and turned her nose up at it. I tried pumping but she wasn’t interested in the cold, fake nipple that came on the end of a bottle. She wanted mama – and who could blame her? It was a blessing in disguise, because it really was the desire of my heart to do this, and now my daughter was helping me push through the pain by denying the very thing that could have derailed us.
My pain lasted an agonizing five weeks, but I finally made it. It was the longest five weeks of my life, but at the end, almost as quickly and ferociously as the pain began, it ended. I stepped over the threshold into the wonderful world of breastfeeding and was actually able to enjoy it. I couldn’t have done it without my incredible support system, my husband especially. He cheered me on and encouraged me every step of the way. My sister, my mother, and many other women in my life who have gone before me on this journey were always quick to come over and help or answer the phone when I thought I was at the end of my rope and ready to quit. My sister said to me one day, “I truly believe that you and Mary will have a long, beautiful nursing relationship…you just have to press on.” And she was right. I nursed exclusively for THIRTEEN months (not entirely my choice – Mary didn’t want to have a thing to do with solid food until then, not for my lack of trying).
Breastfeeding is not easy. It’s painful for many women in the beginning and it’s a serious commitment that requires you to be there 100% of the time and at the beck and call of your baby. But oh…it’s also completely magical. The moments that all is quiet in the house and it’s just her and I connecting while she nurses (mostly for comfort these days) – there’s nothing quite like it in the world of motherhood.
My first goal was six weeks. Once I met that, it was one year. In four days, Mary will be 18-months-old and we are still going strong. Most of the time, I’m ready to wean her. I’m desperate for an overnight date with my husband ALONE and I’d love to get through one meal without Mary trying to eat too – cutting steak with a kid on the boob is no easy feat! I must admit, however, that the convenience of having instant comfort (the reset button, as my friend Vanessa calls it) when she’s tired or cranky or hurt is worth the cost. And there’s a big part of me that just isn’t ready for that next phase of her life just yet.
In the meantime, we do as we did in those first very difficult weeks…we take it one day at a time.