Breastfeeding Is Not for the Faint of Heart

Disclaimer: I am not a lactation consultant or a doctor. If you are having problems with breastfeeding, please seek help at your local La Leche League or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). Trust me, they are worth it.

Katie breastfeeding PBJ during her newborn photosBefore my husband and I got married, we talked about how we wanted to raise our kids. I come from a mostly breastfeeding family, so he knew that it was important to me that I do everything in my power to nurse our children. I’m also in favor of both of my children nursing until they self wean. I’m a minority. But I have met many breastfeeding moms (and babies) along my journey who have taught me things, inspired me, and cried with me. They have all been amazing.

Breastfeeding is hard work, plain and simple, which is something I’m very glad I knew going in. I sought out information while I was pregnant, talked everything through with my very skilled midwives, and attended LLL when we started having problems. It hurt, and I cried for the first 8 weeks. But I kept nursing, refused the nipple shield, didn’t pump, drank a lot of water, snacked, and tried to relax during every feeding. And things got better. We got better. I’m pointing this all out because even though breastfeeding is the most natural thing I’ve done, in the beginning, it was like learning a whole new language. But instead of consonants and vowels, it was cries and hand sucking. Or leaking in the middle of my many grocery runs that week.

I’ve heard all the reasons of why people decide to quit. I get it, I do. But here’s the thing: once you stick it out through the first, I’d say, 6-8 weeks, you could go on for years. The key for me in the beginning was familial support. And if I didn’t have my mom to cry to or my sister to ask questions, I went to my midwives or my other nursing mommas for their support. My husband was and still is the most supportive member of my team though, since I stay home and don’t see many of the others everyday. He’s the go-to bath guy, the best diaper changer I know, and between the carrier and his body, our children have rested comfortably for years, which has made it all the more easy for me to devote myself to exclusively breastfeeding.

I’ve had 1 clogged duct in 2 1/2 years. No mastitis, no cracked or bleeding nipples–none of the horror stories I’d heard while I was pregnant. I used a hand pump occasionally for dates until I went back to work and lugged my pump in and out every weekend. I hated it. So when I got pregnant again, I quit so that I could have the energy to still nurse our then 15-month-old. The pediatrician told me to stop, but my midwife said it was okay as long as I felt good. And for the most part, I did. I night weaned him but nothing else changed; he still nursed 3-4 times a day. With a newborn in the house, we’ve all made another adjustment. Tandem nursing is no joke–it takes a lot of skill to nurse two kids at once and eat a sandwich.

In today’s media, breastfeeding is often seen as disgusting or described as obscene–something that should only be done in private. I have nursed two kids in stores, malls, parks, a bar (we were there for dinner), and on the go in the carrier, but I’ve never once been negatively approached by a stranger. I have, however, been smiled at, congratulated, and thanked for nursing “such a big beautiful boy…without one of those blanket things over him.” If I ever am approached by someone who feels negatively about breastfeeding, I will not be afraid to tell that person where they can stick their complaints. So, to those who have been put down or ridiculed in public for doing what breasts are made to do, you’re amazing. It doesn’t even matter how it was said, you had to put up with someone else’s ignorance and for that, I’m truly sorry.

Not all breastfeeding journeys are the same, and some are much more difficult than others. For those who are able to do it, trudge through the hard parts, and nurse their babies wherever they see fit, please know how strong you are and how much you are encouraging other breastfeeding mamas along the way. Keep up the good work, mamas!

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