So, my breastfeeding time with Bobby is starting to wind down. I plan on keeping a few nursing feeds a day for a while (mostly because it is a SUPER handy backup plan for if the shit really hits the fan and nothing else will soothe him).
But I got to the point where I just felt super ready to introduce formula and have that as an option for 1-2 feeds a day. Now that he’s taking bottles easily, there’s been a huge mental burden lifted. And I can actually enjoy and savor breastfeeding a little more without feeling the strain of it being his sole source of sustenance, if that makes sense.
With the end of breastfeeding in sight, I did want to stop and take a moment to reflect. I’ve done this whole song and dance twice now, and while I absolutely recommend it for those who can and/or want to (and it’s SUCH a personal choice, so really the only person who gets any say is the person whose boobs are in the equation), there’s also a lot about breastfeeding that they don’t tell you at the hospital.
In the general spirit of honesty that informs much of this blog, I thought I’d let y’all in on some of the things I’ve learned, that even as a nurse, have taken me a bit by surprise:
1). You will have the appetite of a 16-year-old linebacker.
So you hear a lot about pregnancy hunger/cravings, but in my experience, pregnancy hunger is NOTHING compared to breastfeeding hunger. Pregnancy hunger is like a cute, dainty little bird, where you’re hungry a lot but also get full a lot or randomly feel nauseated or repulsed by the food you literally just started eating. It’s adorable and the kind of thing people smile at when they see a pregnant lady out in public eating an ice cream cone. Breastfeeding hunger, on the other hand, is neither cute or dainty. It is an unhinging your jaw, eating stale popcorn you found at the bottom of your pantry because you literally ate your way through every other non-stale food item, devouring everything in sight kind of hungry. It is knocking small children out of the way to get to the last sample of spinach and artichoke dip at Costco. It is people staring in open horror as you shove six food truck tacos in your mouth at a public event. It is like you are constantly participating in an eating contest, only you are the only contestant. It is a bottomless, neverending, animal hunger, punctuated by these intense, irrational cravings that literally take over your life until you satisfy them (currently I want a Nutella crepe so bad that I may drive 45 minutes through flooded streets just to get one). I would turn my CAR INTO A BOAT and PADDLE THROUGH A FLOODED ROAD to get to a Nutella crepe. That is what a breastfeeding craving looks like.
2. Your breastfeeding hormones will turn you into an irrational rage monster one moment.
3. And an emotional dumpster fire of a human being the next.
Once again, in my experience (and this does differ for everyone) pregnancy hormones are kind of weak sauce compared to breastfeeding/postpartum hormones. When I’m pregnant I’m kind of blah and flat, like a dull penny. When I am breastfeeding I am like an exposed electrical wire. Everything just feels charged. It’s sort of like those scenes in Spider-Man movies after Peter Parker gets bit by that mutant spider, and all of his nerves and senses are just crazy heightened and weird and all over the place. The first 6 months after both of my babies when I’ve exclusively breastfed, I’ve absolutely just felt out of control of my own emotions. You feel super happy and pumped and excited one minute, over something totally insignificant, and the next you are weeping because your Amazon package was delayed by a day. And your poor family (mostly husband) has to take the brunt of this. R could seriously load the dishwasher the “wrong” way (and yes there is a wrong way but that’s a whole other topic for another time), and my breastfeeding hormone-fueled self will legit go into a rage blackout. I’ve gotten pretty good at quietly leaving a room when I feel my inner Hulk threaten to take over, but it is a non-stop roller coaster of emotions. Which makes it even CRAZIER that women get SO much support and care during pregnancy, and like zero support postpartum when they literally turn into roided’ up anger beasts that will burn a Sephora to the ground if it runs out of their foundation shade.
4. Your boobs will make you feel incredibly awkward.
Whether it’s because they’re lopsided (this can become ridiculously pronounced if you only feed one side per time, like I have done), leaking, or just WAY bigger than normal (which will be the case pretty much the entire time you breastfeed), breastfeeding will do a lot of damage to your dignity. There’s only so much elegance you can retain when your porn-star lopsided boobs stain your favorite shirt out in public. I’ve found it’s easier with the second child, because you just don’t have as much energy or mental capacity to care what other people think.
5. You’re going to need some new tops.
If you breastfeed, there’s no getting around the fact that you’re going to need to buy some new tops. Breastfeeding boobs are strange and unwieldy, and a lot of what you owned pre-pregnancy is just not going to work. It will make you feel like you’re auditioning to work at Hooters, unless you are literally auditioning to be a waitress at Hooters, that’s not generally considered to be a good thing. You also are going to have to start planning outfits based on what is easiest to nurse in, which means you will pick tops based off of how easy it is to free your boob (which most women have probably never done before unless they went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in college). It’s weird.
6. You may not want to nurse in public. And that’s okay.
Let me make this clear. Women should be able to feed their babies wherever they damn well please. If anyone judges a woman for feeding a baby in public they can just go fly a kite, especially because you just know those judgy Susans would also criticize the mother whose baby is wailing because they’re hungry. Oh, and for those who say “well why doesn’t she put a blanket over it!”, I’d just like them to try to eat their next meal with a blanket over their face, especially when it’s hot o ut, and then report back. K bye.
But, and this took me a while to realize, it doesn’t make you a bad mom or anti-breastfeeding or anti-woman, if you are personally not super comfortable with nursing in public. With Bobby, I have been more comfortable with nursing him in some public places, like kid play spaces or parks. But I am just never going to be comfortable nursing somewhere super crowded and public. And it’s not because I care what other people think. It’s also not because I think women shouldn’t nurse in these places. It’s because I am a shy and introverted person and it makes me more comfortable to be somewhere more secluded and quiet. And that’s okay! I used to feel really bad that I didn’t like to breastfeed in public and would go hide in my car to do it. But finally, I realized that the only thing that mattered was me feeling comfortable and safe in that situation, and for me, the backseat of my car with the radio on is where I felt comfortable and safe. If you are totally comfortable breastfeeding in public, go ahead and do it. And if you’re not, that’s okay too! We all should support each other regardless of our choices. The end 🙂
7. Pumping is the WORST.
It just is. I’m sorry. There’s no getting around it. If you exclusively breastfeed you will likely have to pump at some point (even if you don’t work outside the home, just if you want to leave your baby for more than 2 hours the first few months). If you work outside the home you will have to pump a lot. And it just sucks. I hate it. You will feel like a cow. It’s loud and embarrassing. Most workplaces have minimal accommodation for it. Some women (like me) don’t pump a lot (even if they produce just fine for their actual babies). Sometimes you pump and freeze a whole bunch of breastmilk and then your baby refuses it because apparently freezing can alter the taste….Anyways, my point is, not to sound like a big old negative Nancy, but pumping may be one of the worst things ever, and sadly, a necessary evil in the life of any breastfeeding mom.
8. Nursing naps are EVERYTHING.
So even if you are adamantly opposed to co-sleeping (which is fine! again my philosophy for mothering is pretty much you do freaking you), chances are if you breastfeed at some point you may experience the beauty of a nursing nap. Basically, when you have a baby you = tired. All the time. For a long time. Also, new babies eat A LOT. When you combine a very tired mama with a very hungry hippo baby, there’s a good chance at some point you’ll just lie down in bed with your baby while you feed him or her. Now it goes without saying that you shouldn’t do this with any pillows or bedding near the baby, or with the baby positioned where he or she could roll off the bed, or if you are a heavy sleeper/drinker yada yada. Please be safe. But, if you are completely safe, and you nurse laying down with the baby and maybe drift off a little while the baby also feeds and sleeps, well, it’s just, it’s like sleeping on a cloud, or on a soft patch of grass in the warm sun. Any heavenly, perfect nap you can think of, that’s what a nursing nap feels like, when you’re so content and sleepy from all the breastfeeding hormones, and your sweet baby is curled up beside you and you can feel the warmth of their little body and see their tiny chest rise and fall beside yours. It’s perfect.
9. You will sweat like a whore in church.
For whatever reason, breastfeeding/postpartum hormones make your body totally go haywire, and one of the many ways it does this is to produce copious amounts of sweat, mostly at night. You will wake up drenched in cold, clammy sweat for months after having a baby. Oh, and with the sweat comes the THIRST. Like chugging a gallon of water every night kind of thirst. It’s neat. And super attractive.
10. You will never simultaneously love and hate something so much.
So here’s what I really didn’t expect about breastfeeding, that sometimes, a lot of times, I’ve really loved it. I chose to breastfeed for kind of the same general reason I choose to floss, because I knew it was the “right” thing to do, a lot of expert people told me I should, and I didn’t want my teeth to fall out (okay shoot, that last one doesn’t really apply to breastfeeding). But the choice felt more out of obligation than a burning desire to experience the female wonder of nursing. But the thing is, despite the challenges and plugged ducts and thrush and engorgement, despite all of it, I have loved a lot of breastfeeding, more than I ever thought I would. I’ve loved the closeness of it, the warmth and snuggles, the way my babies have associated mama with milk and comfort from their earliest hours. I’ve loved being able to comfort their cries so easily, the lazy, goopy post-breastfeeding smiles, the tiny hands that reach up to brush my hair as I feed. I love the excuse to sit for a few minutes and be totally still, to let life play out around me but know that I have a rock solid reason to be immobile. I think the calorie burning benefit and zero cost is pretty darn awesome. There’s a lot of good.
But, and this is important, there are parts I have hated, and I think as women it’s okay to admit that. Breastfeeding is not some mythical, magical “journey” for all of us, or most of us. The reality of breastfeeding can be much more mundane and difficult and messy. And we can say that. That’s okay.
There’s a kind of breastfeeding evangelism that has taken over lately, with SUCH emphasis placed on the importance of breastfeeding at all costs. But one of the issues I have with that is that I think it’s made women feel like they’re not allowed to say this is hard or maybe it isn’t right for everyone, or maybe it might work for you for a few weeks or months, but certainly not the “recommended” year for everyone. Breastfeeding is beautiful and natural yes, but it’s also difficult and embarrassing and often super weird.
I miss my normal bras. I miss my “normal” boobs. I miss the freedom. I miss oral decongestants. I miss getting dressed without wondering how easily I can feed in an outfit.
But, I also know I’ll also miss breastfeeding when we’re done. I certainly missed it with Ryland.
There’s a lot they don’t tell you about breastfeeding, a lot we have to learn. I guess if there’s one thing I’d want all women to know, it’s that breastfeeding is like everything else that involves children, beautiful and hard, challenging and rewarding, sometimes funny, somtimes sad, sometimes gross, a crazy contradiction that will be different every single day.