The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful of Breastfeeding…

I have to be honest with you, I started writing this post a LONG time ago. I almost posted several times but each time I got a bit self conscious and sent it back to the drafts section. But since this first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week, AND last month I hit my pie in the sky, didn’t think I could do it in my wildest dreams goal of six months breastfeeding, I thought it was finally the right time to publish these thoughts on my nursing journey.This post is not meant to push or shame anyone about breastfeeding OR formula, it is only a personal reflection. You do you. (Preferably, you do you with all the unbiased information you can- and we live in a world where that can be hard to obtain!) As I’ve mentioned before, nursing my son did not go well. Breastfeeding was a huge struggle and I’d given up nursing by the second week and given up getting him breastmilk at all by the 6 week mark. While I wasn’t sure how this second time around would go, I was determined to do everything I could to be more informed and stick it out with trying everything I could to keep nursing through the one month mark and pumping at least as long as the first time around. (Having a lactation consultant and doing some in depth reading before baby got here was a huge help!) So here’s a few thoughts to celebrate this week and this milestone I hit. I don’t know how much longer we’ll go, but I’m so thankful for how far we got!

The Good:
*An excuse to monopolize that fabulous new baby smell- there have been studies on new baby smell and that sweet newborn stuff is legitimately similar to a drug. And when you’re nursing you’re the only one who can feed them so you get all that goodness to yourself most of the time.
*Nursing forces you to SLOW DOWN. It just doesn’t work as well if you are trying to run around (spoken from experience as I have definitely chased my toddler with a latched baby… not fun), if you aren’t letting yourself relax, if you aren’t hydrating. It’s like nature’s way of making you take some post partum recovery and it is a huge positive difference this time around. I was OBSESSED with “bouncing back” the first time around and I, for the most part, let that go this time around and just tried to accept my new reality and enjoy the newborn days.
*No need to pace feed. With my son, he would gulp a bottle so fast that he’d choke himself and spit it all up and my daughter did this with bottles at first too. The solution to both was pace feeding- having to pull the bottle away every several seconds. This led to a screaming miserable baby every several seconds. That just doesn’t happen when nursing so less screaming and problem solved.
*Not enduring an endless cycle of washing bottles. This may seem shallow but this might be my favorite perk of nursing. We use one bottle a day… less now that we are introducing solids. That’s a whole other world from having an exclusively bottle fed baby whether by formula or expressed milk.
*Saving money- My son had eczema problems and a couple sensitivities so our specific formula needs meant pretty high costs each month. Even after you factor in all the money we spent on supplements and pump parts/storage bags/nursing clothes, it is still so much cheaper than exclusively feeding formula.
* You’re always ready to feed your baby. two examples here: when my little girl was about 3 months old I went to pick my husband up at work and he ended up caught on a business call and was almost 40 minutes late to meet us. Thinking this was going to be a quick, turn around trip, I never would have brought a bottle with me to pick him up, but by the time an extra 25 minutes passed, the baby was hungry and screaming. It was such a relief that I could feed her while we waited and keep her calm and cuddled and quiet and ready to be popped back into her car seat for a much happier ride home. About a month later. I was at a museum that did not allow any food or drink, even water bottles. If you wanted to feed your baby a bottle you had to leave the exhibits and go feed in the lobby. But legally- you can nurse anywhere. So I didn’t have to stress about tearing my little guy away from the fun he was having just to feed the baby. WIN! Both these instances made me so thankful.

The Bad:
*With breastfeeding there is definitely a learning curve. I don’t know anyone who had an easy first week nursing. I think it’s a disservice to women that we sometimes sell it as the most natural thing in the world. I went through a LOT of pain while learning. It subsided and I’m so thankful I had the help of a lactation consultant, but I can tell you there were full on tears from the pain as I nursed through mastitis and other early breastfeeding trials.
*My little girl is tiny. I guess in a way she takes after me because I was not on the charts as a baby either I’m told. I was SO worried at first though that her lack of growth was solely due to supply issues or something wrong with me or my milk. It was an awful feeling.
*I STILL worry sometimes about if she’s getting enough or what is going to hurt my supply. It seems that every time I try to change something about our routine my supply goes haywire so it has been hard to move forward out of the newborn days.
*Pumping. Moms who have done it, even only for a few times, understand. While breastfeeding is a natural beautiful feeling for me, pumping really does make me feel like a cow. My pump is my best frenemy- thankful I can have the milk for my baby and keep up my supply, hate hate hate having to use it. I won’t go into more detail than that. But you can check out this picture of my “pumping station” (Huge shout out to Motherlove and The Baby Guy NYC. I actually won this Moringa supplement from a Baby Guy giveaway- it came at the perfect time when I was feeling discouraged and it helped my supply which gave me the boost to push on. Another shout out to Spectra which is SUCH a better pump for me than the one I tried last time and also has the most amazing customer service. My pump actually died a few weeks before posting this and they took care of me as quickly as possible so as not to disrupt my supply too much. It was a nerve wracking couple of days but their prompt shipping and caring employees helped me get through! Also, a final shout out to Stephen Colbert, whose late show distracted me many nights while pumping…)
*The feeding is basically all on you. While that’s good for what I mentioned above, it’s also EXHAUSTING and means I gave up a lot more “me time” these first six months than I did the first six months with my son. That has led to missing a lot these last six months (on top of missing a lot the nine months before…) from participating in shows to even just seeing them and other things. Plus it has meant a ton of preparation every time I do go out as I have to plan for pumping. (See above for how I feel about that…)
*The stigma around nursing in public is REAL. I had a few times where I felt really uncomfortable and judged for bottle feeding in public but they don’t come anywhere close to the number of times I have felt judged for nursing in public. It was really hard for me at first because my daughter WILL NOT EAT if there’s something touching her head/face so covering was not an option for us. I spent a lot of time trying not to go out at all and hide at home if there was any chance she was going to be hungry, but in the end I realized this was other people’s problem and I cared about feeding my baby more than I cared about getting the side eye from random strangers or even having people I’m with try to cover me up with a napkin. (Yes, that really happened.) I hope we can continue to normalize breastfeeding so it just isn’t that big of a deal how you feed your kid.
*Spilling milk makes me cry. Almost every time. Even if it’s just a few drops but especially when it’s over an ounce… and that’s happened more than a few times…
*I’m not certain it ever actually gets “easy”- people kept saying it does, and while it is INFINITELY easier than it was the first 2-3 months, now we have new challenges like a distracted baby who wants to look around the rooms while still attached, teething, etc. not to mention her new interest in pinching which has left some marks and pain for sure… to be honest, it was kind of nice that the only thing I needed to adjust to when bottle feeding was how much formula I was putting in. I didn’t expect that six months in I would still be re-evaluating almost every week if I still wanted to make the choice to keep nursing, but that’s where I am.
*Nursing clothes- not supportive, not attractive, not economical.

I don’t know the original artist behind this, and I would love to give credit if anyone does know, but I have stared at it on a bad day more times than I can count, and it sums it all up perfectly.

The Beautiful
*The moments when I know. without a doubt. that nursing is the most comforting thing for my baby in the whole world. When it’s just her and me in our little glider and I can whisper, “You are fine. I am here.” and her little hand comes up as if she knows exactly what I just said.
*The sweet little noises and gulps- I can’t explain how, but it’s different than the noises from bottle feeling and I had such low supply the first time around that I never got to hear that gulping reassurance that my body had somehow miraculously produced food.
*The community of people who came together to encourage me in so many different ways. Those who actively helped in some way and those who passively helped through showing understanding when I couldn’t do as much those first months especially. Even those who I’d never met who sent me personal, encouraging messages when I posted in my powersheets group about this being one of my goals.
*While the process of nursing can trigger feelings of anxiety for some women when they have a let down, I luckily escaped that and when we have a good latch and a place to sit and no toddler to chase, nursing triggers this beautiful sleepy sweet peaceful feeling in both my daughter and myself. It’s like magic, especially considering I have a history of being a bit of an insomniac. I may not be getting much sleep, but this has helped me fall asleep quickly to make the most of the little chunks of sleep I get!
*I’m just going to share this little snippet of a journaled memory: It’s so simple right now. You latch and look up at me with these shining eyes and put your fingers to my lips for me to kiss them and I know this is the happiest place you could possibly be. I am your happy place. It’s amazing. And it will change. It’s supposed to change. But I love how simple it is now. It’s a rainy Sunday morning. You are warm and snuggly on my chest, drifting to sleep, and your breathing and warmth are so perfect. I keep meaning to do newborn posed pictures with you but the truth is every time you fall asleep I just want to hold you and kiss you and breathe you in so taking you off me to pose you on blankets just doesn’t ever seem like a priority… and those moments, those sweet perfect moments are why, so far, I keep going…

There are so many more thoughts I have, but this post is already twice as long as I had originally planned. So I’ll stop and close with this: I hope you nursing mamas out there can be proud of your journey whether it was easy or extremely difficult, whether you nursed for one session or are still going strong well after baby’s first year. It’s a brave and difficult thing to keep sharing your body after you have reached the time when you can finally have it back, and it is a brave and difficult thing to realize when it is better for your family to go a different route. I’ve experienced both and through it all I’m thankful for the support I had on both sides, and through that the support my children had as they navigated their way through their first months of life!
I’ll leave you with a little bit of humor- this is a family picture from the beach last month and you can tell my daughter is a nursling because she’s trying to latch through my clothing in this picture. When I first saw it I thought man, if it weren’t for that this would be a perfect family picture. But as I looked more, I realized that it makes me laugh every time, and really showcases what this stage was like in a lovely, funny, perfectly imperfect way:

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