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That could be the mantra for so many new-mom phases: diaper changes, bath time, solid food feedings and, yes, even breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can feel like an overwhelming production at first (I have to do this every day and every night?!), until suddenly … it's easier. Normal, even.
I wasn't prepared for just how hard those early weeks of breastfeeding would suck. "It's natural," they tell us. "It's more convenient," they promise. And here's my favorite: "If breastfeeding hurts, you're doing it wrong."
So when a new mom struggles with her baby's latch and ends up with raw and scabbing nipples, with thoughts that are anything but "natural," she just might chalk it up to failure and quit. Maybe she's doing it all wrong. Maybe it's not supposed to be that hard.
Well let me be the one to tell you: For something that's biologically natural, it sure as heck doesn't feel that way in the beginning. And I was prepared! I took a prenatal breastfeeding class and studied the different breastfeeding positions, from the football hold to the cradle hold. I practiced on an ugly plastic doll in a room full of pregnant women. I watched documentaries. I even had a lactation consultant on hand to help.
In the beginning, there is a baby attached to your body around the clock. Can we please be honest about this?
And STILL it was hard in the beginning.
Sure, breastfeeding might be convenient in the long run—meaning there's no bottles to wash, formula to buy or late-night bottle warming. But let's get something straight: In the beginning, there is a baby attached to your body around the clock. Can we please be honest about this? You have to work to make sure your baby latches correctly, is positioned correctly and it takes around an hour for a complete feeding. Just you, the baby and a ticking clock. And then an hour later: Oh yeah, you again.
I remember leaving my newborn with doting visitors and sneaking upstairs for a nap (knowing I'd wake up in a wet pool of milk, soaking right to the sheets, because my body was still figuring out how much milk to produce—and I produced a lot). And as I'd be drifting off the sleep (glorious, sacred sleep), I'd hear this sing-song: I think someone's huuuuuungry.
I wanted to throw puppies at the wall. The mere thought of this lasting for a month, six months—A YEAR—was utterly overwhelming. Good thing it doesn't.
And while we're at it, let's talk about the pain. "If it hurts you're doing it wrong"? What a crock of crap. Getting a baby to latch is a learned process, and if your baby misjudges the latch or improperly pulls away or sucks just a bit too viciously—OH THE PAIN. Raw, cracked, scabbing nipples. But that doesn't mean you're doing it wrong; it means you're learning and adjusting.
(To be fair, our postpartum bodies are run through the mill as it is—cramping, bleeding, engorgement, perineum tears. Sore nipples? Why not. Add it to the pile.)
I understand why some moms are hesitant to admit to the pain, the struggle, for fear of deterring women from breastfeeding. After all, the pain is so brief and insignificant in the long run. It isn't hard forever. But knowing about the turbulent beginning—knowing it will end sooner rather than later—just might prevent ill-prepared, sleep-deprived, insecure and overwhelmed mamas from throwing in the towel. (And for all the pregnant women hoping to nurse their babes: find support; insist on meeting with a lactation consultant; check out your local La Leche League; do your research. It might be natural for your body, but your brain will need some help learning. And the help is out there!)
It took about six to eight weeks for my milk supply to stabilize. I know that sounds impossibly long when you're in week one or two. But before I knew it, the breastfeeding positions were second nature, the pain completely gone. By six months I could lift up my shirt and he'd perfectly latch, even in the dark. He'd nurse for maybe five minutes, three or four hours apart. Easy.
Yes, the first two months were hard, but then … it wasn't.
Then it was a natural, convenient, pain-free experience that I wouldn't trade for all the formula in the world.