Breastfeeding is Hard
Breastfeeding is hard. Momming is hard, too, but breastfeeding is a huge endeavor on its own. Breastfeeding could easily be considered a full-time job in itself, with all of the time and energy it consumes from us, but most breastfeeding mothers are also taking care of a baby and maybe even other children, a whole household, and/or also working a full or part time job.
I feel like it is one of the lesser talked about facets of “real motherhood.” No one really talks about the challenges, the hardest days, the reality of how difficult it can be for many moms. But I think it is important to recognize that whether you choose to breastfeed your baby for one hour, one day, one year, longer than a year, or not at all — the amount of time you spend breastfeeding is not important — what is important is that you make the best choice for you and your family.
I made a choice to leave my career behind (or at least on hold) to stay home to take care of my kids. Because of that, my baby is with me all the time and therefore his food is with him all the time, too. So that part is easy. Breastfeeding him is also easier for me (I want to note that I realize others have different things that are best for them) than pumping, giving him bottles, or preparing formula or even thawing out breastmilk for him. Both of my babies have taken full feedings and responded well to me guiding them into a feeding and nap schedule that worked for all of us, and for that I am thankful. I’ve had limited milk supply issues, only one brush with a clogged duct/mastitis, and when my babies started biting, I was able to quickly teach them not to bite me. So, there have definitely been many things to be thankful for throughout my breastfeeding journey.
But then there are the hard parts… The early days of cluster feedings, frequent night feeds, uncertainty over if I as a mother am eating the best foods to produce the best milk. Nursing in public or not nursing in public. For moms of more than one (so me when I had my second baby), trying to balance other children’s needs while also meeting the baby’s. And for me, knowing that I need and want to be close to my baby at all times. And while I made the choice to nurse instead of pump and ultimately I am happy with it, I in turn have sacrificed a year of my life to limiting my activities to those that can be fit into my baby’s need to breastfeed at certain times.
I dream of spending a quiet day alone in a coffee shop or really just anywhere quiet for longer than one naptime… But I am needed to feed my baby when he needs to eat, to let him sleep in his crib when he wants to, and to hold him when he has trouble sleeping. He needs me, and I need him too.
What I usually hear people say is to just pump and let someone else give him a bottle. It sounds so easy! And while I do give him bottles as needed, when I have a choice, I prefer to feed him myself. Contrary to popular belief, I also don’t have an unlimited supply of milk that just flows out into a machine whenever I want it to. I do have just enough to feed my baby when he is hungry. I’d also rather not sit and be milked by a machine if it is unnecessary. I’d rather be with my baby and I want him close to me. He wants me to stay close too so for now this is what is best for us. It may not be what is best for everyone, but it is what is best for us.
It is well-known that babies have separation anxiety when they are separated from their mothers, but it is not as well-known that mothers can have this same anxiety. I definitely do and the need to breastfeed him causes me anxiety, so when I do leave him I am always in a rush to get back to him.
And all this is without even mentioning the milk supply issues, which fortunately for me have been limited… I never had issues with my first baby, but when my second was about 6 months old, he was all of a sudden very fussy after feedings. I had a feeling he wasn’t getting enough milk so I pumped after every feeding and gave him any milk I was able to pump. I also supplemented him with some milk I had frozen in the freezer, and we were close to ordering some formula to have on hand just in case. I was able to get my supply back to normal in a couple of days, but it was incredibly stressful. It just happened again this weekend at 8 months, and again I was able to get it back to normal, but it is so stressful.
In times like these, I start regretting not pumping more and building up a “stash” (and claps for anyone who has a stash because it sure isn’t easy to pump for your baby and it isn’t easy to make extra, either) when he was a younger baby. But then I remember why I didn’t… I spent those newborn days enjoying my little bundle of joy, trying to chase a toddler around, and keep our life somewhat together (all of us fed, clothed, clean, and happy) as best I could. So yes, adding extra pumping to that list, for me, would have made a hard time even harder.
I’m currently counting down the days until this little guy turns 1 (while at the same time cherishing every moment he nurses since as hard as it is, I know that I will miss it when it is over) so that my second breastfeeding journey can come to an end. I’m so excited for the next chapter of his life and for things to get a little easier… What has your breastfeeding experience been like?