Breastfeeding is a touchy subject for a lot of women. As much as we proclaim the benefits of breastfeeding, many women’s publications don’t want to discuss the struggles because they fear it may deter women from choosing to breastfeed altogether.
Now, I'm well aware that not every woman can produce milk. My sister struggled so badly with this that I donated some of mine for her youngest child. Alternatively, sometimes life just doesn’t allow the time for women to breastfeed. In truth, it takes the right circumstances in addition to a lot of time, patience, and effort to fully breastfeed a baby until they’re ready to be weaned. It’s a full-time commitment. It can and will be hard. I’ve had my own issues with it, but there are plenty of women like me who work hard to ensure that we continue on for various reasons.
It was important to me that my children never needed to have formula. I don’t look down on anyone who uses it, I just had a personal goal and vowed that I would stick to it. Even so, there have been plenty of ups and downs that shouldn’t be hidden away. Women who know what they’re facing before and as they start breastfeeding have a better chance of meeting their goals because they develop realistic expectations instead of some perfect image of a suckling cherub.
I Hate Pumping
First off, I want to scream: I hate pumping! I loathe it. Can’t stand it. But it was necessary for a time.
With my first two children, I was a stay-at-home mom with a little side work here and there. Breastfeeding was easier with my eldest since I was usually there. I did use a pump once or twice a week just so my husband could enjoy feeding the baby a bottle and bond with her. It was also handy to have a stock of milk in the freezer for date night. We could leave knowing that there was plenty of milk even if we ran a little late, but I never enjoyed pumping. It was just something I put up with.
Then when my second baby had thrush and colic, she struggled to eat. I pumped so we could try every bottle on the market. She hated all of them. She hated eating. I often felt like she hated me because she wouldn’t drink from my breasts. When my mom suggested we try giving her a sippy cup, I was exhausted and ready to try anything. She loved it, and so I had to pump to put breastmilk in her sippy cup.
Pumping is nothing like breastfeeding. No matter if you’re sitting up cradling your baby, or laying down next to them in a warm snuggle, breastfeeding is often happy and sweet. Pumping, by contrast, is sitting alone while a cold piece of plastic pulls at your nipple. None of my children would let me pump near them. They got jealous of the pump, or I would get so stressed about it that my milk wouldn’t flow.
Then after my divorce and remarriage, I was an established writer with a position working for a local company. When I had my next two children, breastfeeding took on new obstacles. Just leaving the children to go to work was tough enough, but driving home for my lunch breaks to feed the baby and pumping during bathroom breaks added a new meaning to the phrase tight schedule. I had my boobs trained. They knew that at 10am I took a break and pumped, then worked until noon, went home, fed the baby, then went back to work until my bathroom break at 3pm, then came home at 5pm to feed the baby once more. Phew.
Remembering why I was pumping and who it was for helped me to keep going.
Being able to spend my lunch hour with my kids was a precious gift, but the pumping… That took a lot of patience and reminding myself that I was doing it for my baby. At one point, I got so tired of pumping that my milk wouldn’t come. I had to start meditating and imagining my baby to get the milk to flow every day. Thinking of why I was doing it and who it was for always brought the relaxing letdown, that tingling and flow of milk. Thankfully, my schedule has evened out and I no longer need to pump.
Despite my own personal battle and pumping woes, I know lots of women who pump and have no issues with it, so hopefully, knowing that offers a more hopeful and positive perspective. Either way, pumping is not the only issue we women have to power through – especially if you’re working away from home.
Mastitis Is Another Painful Challenge
The next serious problem I experienced concerns breast health. We’ve all heard of sore nipples or nipples drying out and cracking. Some even bleed at the start of breastfeeding. These issues are all normal and can be dealt with by using creams, or my personal favorite, olive oil. It’s frustrating when your breasts don’t work the way you want them to, but given time they can get the hang of it.
Then there are days where you get off schedule. Maybe you get dehydrated, or you catch that bug that’s going around. You sleep funny, or the baby doesn’t eat for a feeding or two, and your body just doesn’t handle it well, and somehow a duct gets clogged. A lump forms, and your breast starts to swell and throb with pain. Worst of all, you get a fever and everything aches.
When this happens, it’s a breast infection called Mastitis. I had one bout of mastitis with each of my first three children, then during the youngest’s busy babyhood I developed five within his first year of life. It’s not fun, but I promise that you can get through it.
Some women stop breastfeeding when they get mastitis, but that only increases the pressure, enlarges the inflamed area, and causes a need to seek medical attention. Most bouts of mastitis can be treated at home. If you gently massage the inflamed area and squeeze out some milk to relieve the build up, it will most likely start to heal. This needs to be repeated often. It also helped me to get extra sleep, drink more water, and take warm baths or put a cool compress on the area.
If it becomes unbearable or the fever doesn’t break, seek medical attention. Some women take a fever reliever and that helps as well. If you’re concerned about meds in your milk, pump and dump. Actually, this scenario is when pumping becomes a friend.
Mastitis is so painful that it makes you want to quit breastfeeding, but it doesn’t last forever.
Mastitis is so painful that it makes you want to quit breastfeeding. Just the thought of a baby suckling when this happens is painful, but you have to keep expressing milk to prevent your breast from swelling further. It feels great to grab a pump and release some milk out to deflate your boob.
The main thing to remember is that mastitis doesn’t last forever. Once it’s passed you can keep feeding without issues. That’s so very comforting to know when you’re dealing with it.
Getting Sleep While Breastfeeding Is Tricky
Now that I got the two most annoying, detrimental breastfeeding issues out of the way, let’s talk sleep. I’m a cuddle bug. I sleep-share. My babies all came into the big bed with mommy and daddy and drank milk as needed throughout the night.
For all the alarm-ringing about babies passing away while in beds with their parents, the risk is very low if parents are not abusing drugs or alcohol. Since I’m always sober with my kids, and my babies were never all that teeny – they were all around 8.6 pounds, except the last, he was 9.6 — the only way I can sleep (especially as a working mother) is by bringing my baby into our bed. Even when I was a stay-at-home mom this method was the most natural way for all of us to rest.
Having a baby once I was needed at the office, there was no question about it. The only way I was ever going to sleep was by cuddling my baby in my bed while he ate. This was true of my eldest son and now my youngest. But here’s the thing, once they near the age of one, they start kicking and squirming in their sleep. At least my boys did.
The only way I was ever going to sleep was by cuddling my baby in my bed while he ate.
My youngest is a sleep-gymnast. He rolls, he tucks, he flips, and sometimes he suckles while simultaneously pushing me as far away as possible. It’s hard. I’m so tired. You get into a pattern when you feel like a zombie walking around in a fog.
Once breastfeeding babies turn into toddlers who can walk and talk and learn boundaries, the power of “no” becomes your best friend. Sometimes at night when he kicks me I have to hold his leg and tell him to stop. There are nights when I have to cut him off, but most often if he’s restless and climbing up daddy’s back, I rub his belly and hum to help him sleep as he finishes eating.
Breastfeeding Is 100% Worth It
The WHO recommends that babies breastfeed until they are 2 years old. My first three kids self-weaned around 1. My youngest is nearing his second birthday and is obsessed with “mama milk.” He’s possessive over my body and aggressive when it comes to feeding. He will push daddy away from me, but then reach into my shirt. I’ve hit a point where I have to put my foot down and tell him “no” if he tries to drink just because he’s bored or wants to display dominance. He still wants to drink all night, and feeding time is all about tenderness, but in between, he’s learning to respect boundaries and see my body as mine.
When I see how healthy and strong my children are I am glad that I stuck to breastfeeding. It hasn’t been a vacation. I’ve definitely struggled through some rough patches, but I’ve also learned a lot along the way.
Every time I thought I couldn’t do it anymore, I focused on all the great benefits of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding has so many great benefits, that, when considering quitting, I just couldn’t. That doesn’t make me better than anyone else, it’s just how I handled it. I knew that my milk was especially made for my babies in a way that no other food is. I also knew that it improves eye health, hearing, bone health, dental health, heart health, and overall health, in addition to preventing childhood allergies and asthma, childhood cancer, and other diseases.
The benefits sat in the back of my mind every time I thought I couldn’t do it anymore. And that’s something I want to emphasize. I hit my breaking point. I wanted to quit... more than once. Many of us do. It’s common, but not often publicized.
There is nothing wrong with questioning your methods. There is no reason to punish yourself if you have to move on to keep your sanity, your health, or prevent resenting motherhood altogether. Yet, when we’re experiencing difficulties it’s also important to remember that the struggles won’t last forever and that the goals we set mattered to us for a reason.
My children are close to me, and we share a special bond. Breastfeeding is a full-time job, but then again, so is parenting. Anyone who has or is raising a child will agree with that. It’s work, it’s tiring, sometimes it can be frustrating, but at the end of the day when the little people you love express their appreciation, sit in your lap for a bedtime story, or ask to hear you sing their favorite lullaby, you can’t help but smile and feel that love wrapping you in a warm blanket of tenderness.
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