You might want to sit down for this. Take a couple of deep breaths. Relax. You’re going to hear that a lot over the next little while, actually.
“Just try to relax.”
“Drop your shoulders and unclench your jaw.”
“Trust that your body knows what to do…”
I wish I could tell you that it’s going to be that easy. That when you position half a dozen pillows just so, and let go of the tension in your body; take in all of the advice you receive and follow your intuition, breastfeeding comes naturally.
The truth is, for you, there’s nothing relaxing about learning to breastfeed. It’s going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done, and you’re really not expecting that. Despite how much you’ve prepared for this, birth takes more out of you than you can possibly imagine.
In the beginning, you’re going to feel defeated, overwhelmed, exhausted and frustrated. Please be gentle with yourself. No one expects you to have it all figured out. Trust me when I tell you that not only can you do this, but it’s going to be one of the things you love most about being a mom.
Your body does know what to do, but there’s a learning curve. And, in your case, there’s also a little something called thrush – a yeast infection in your baby’s mouth and on your nipples that is going to make breastfeeding awfully painful.
I don’t want to scare you with stories of bleeding nipples and breasts so sensitive you can’t even bear to towel dry them after showering. I do wish I could convince you that it’s ok for you and baby to take prescription meds to help clear the infection, but, as usual, you’re a stubborn Virgo and you won’t budge.
(Finally, after three weeks of toe-curling pain and attempted natural remedies – probiotics galore, no sugar or booze, and an absurd amount of nipple balm – you’ll acquiesce, take the drugs, and things start to get better.)
Some nights you’ll be delirious with sleep deprivation, desperate for relief from your engorged breasts, which now look and feel remarkably like a set of curling stones affixed to your chest. You’ll try pumping, but the DAMN THING JUST WON’T WORK and you throw it across the room in a wearied 4 a.m. rage.
It doesn’t break, but it doesn’t matter, because you’ll never really get the hang of pumping anyhow, and your babies will never really take to bottles. This means it’s going to be mostly you, mama, and sometimes that’s going to feel like a heavy weight.
Give yourself a break. You’re going to need it.
Some mornings you’ll wake up soaked in breast milk and sweat with everything smelling sour. But your sweet girl is there beside you, cooing and puckering her lips. You scoop her up and bring her close and your heart is so impossibly full with love it feels like it might burst right out of your chest. Either that or you’re still getting used to the feeling of your milk letting down.
Just weeks ago, life was so radically different it’s discombobulating. There you were, waddling along, out for a carefree date night eating spicy Thai food to help get that baby out already!
Now you spend most of your time topless, living for hot compresses and long showers where you can knead your boobs and marvel at the fire-hydrant-like display of milk that sprays from your bosom – a bonafide milk machine. (Note: Don’t plan on hosting many visitors.)
You’re going to be thirsty as a mother and hungry all the time, so water and snacks at-the-ready is a must. You’re also going to be hyper-consumed with getting that illusive good latch. Give yourself time. Breastfeeding is natural, but that doesn’t mean it comes easily.
And then, one day, you’ll find yourself sitting on the couch at your friend’s place. Her kids are running around and she’s making you a cup of tea and you glance down at your nursing babe and realize how much easier it’s become.
You’ve got this nursing thing down now, mama. (Ahem, told you so.)
Before you know it, you’re nursing here and there and everywhere: On a bus without much fuss; on a train and in the rain; at the park and in the dark. (You’re also heading into a season of life when you’ll be reading a LOT of Dr. Seuss.)
The second time around, breastfeeding is more or less a cinch. (Thank goodness, because you aren’t here for that shit show again.) It’s still exhausting and not without a few blocked ducts along the way. Some days you feel touched-out A.F. But, ironically, what’s most difficult at the end is letting go.
You’re going to be breastfeeding for nearly six years and as those days wind down you realize just how much it’s become a part of your identity; how very much you cherish those moments of connection with these little humans you’re raising.
Breastfeeding becomes so much more than sustenance. Your breast milk is the balm, elixir, salve and solution; a panacea for all the ouchies and every illness. The nook of your breast is a destination – for comfort, safety, conversation, nesting and warmth. So much of life will happen here.
And while some days will be long and hard, what you remember most is the softness of skin-to-skin snuggles and the deepest feeling of belonging when those little hands reached up to tug at your top. And countless cozy bedtimes, nursing those babies to sleep, the weight of their sleepy bodies against your chest, breathing in unison.
(They both grow up to be good sleepers, by the way, so don’t listen to what the naysayers tell you. You do you.)
Breastfeeding your babies will bring you a sense of accomplishment and gratitude that shapes your experience of motherhood more than anything else. Don’t ever take it for granted. Weaning will be bittersweet and when you finally nurse for the last time it will leave a little mark on your heart to remind you. And even though the milk will go, those two still climb into your arms most days, for a little while longer, at least.