Dear Breastfeeding, I Love/Hate You

Cody is now almost 11 weeks old, and we’ve established a comfortable routine together. We know when and how to feed, change, sleep, and play, and most of our days go very peacefully. In the beginning, though, breastfeeding was a big problem. Considering that Cody spends a huge amount of his time nursing, our issues with breastfeeding were a daunting challenge.

I wanted to write this post because when I was pregnant, very little was said about the true nature of breastfeeding. Yes, I heard all about the wonderful, magical qualities of breastmilk and the beautiful bonding experience of breastfeeding. I heard about all of the benefits, for example, how it can reduce the risk of certain cancers for mom and how it’s the perfect, natural way to feed a baby. I even took it upon myself to study further, and read books about how to get a good start with breastfeeding. I knew what a good latch looked like and I truly believed that as Dr. Sears and La Leche League assured me, “breastfeeding shouldn’t hurt.”

Well, that’s just plain B.S.

The truth is, breastfeeding almost always hurts in the beginning, and often continues to hurt for months. For all I know, it can continue to hurt for as long as I do it. In my case, I experienced severe pain in the beginning as a result of cracked and bleeding nipples, caused by a “shallow latch” supposedly. I saw a total of three lactation consultants, who helped me marginally, but in the end the only real help was time. By about 6 weeks I was able to nurse without severe pain, although to this day I still wouldn’t call it painless or completely comfortable. It’s more like I’ve developed the ability to ignore the discomfort. Fortunately, I go numb after the first minute of him sucking and then it doesn’t hurt at all. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it? 😉

In the beginning I hated breastfeeding. I felt that I’d been misled into believing that it was easy and wonderful, when in reality, it’s kind of terrible at first. Even after the pain in the beginning wasn’t as big of an issue, I struggled with new problems. Cody is an avid nurser, and for the first month or so he wanted to eat pretty much every hour. That was obviously exhausting! Even now he tends to eat every 2 hours, except at night when he thankfully can go up to 5 hours in between nursing sessions. It can be difficult being the only one who can feed him. Then we went through the writhing and yanking stage, where Cody started to wiggle around wildly during nursing sessions for no apparent reason. I eventually discovered that he tends to do this when he’s gassy or when he runs out of milk.

I’ve struggled with other breastfeeding problems not related to Cody’s behavior as well. I experienced engorgement, which is when the breasts fill with milk to the point of being hard and uncomfortable. I still become engorged at night when Cody sleeps longer. I also have had to deal with severe leaking and overactive letdown—in other words, my milk really wants out! For a few weeks, I literally had to wear a prefold diaper in my shirt to soak up all of the milk. Now I’ve discovered disposable pads which are much more comfortable and magically absorbent. Still, it’s annoying to have to wear them all the time, and I have no idea if or when I will ever stop needing them as long as I’m breastfeeding.

So basically, breastfeeding has not been the magical, beautiful experience that I expected it would be. It’s been hard, and I’ve wanted to give up. The truth is, I probably would have given up or at least switched to pumping and bottle feeding if only Cody would take a bottle. He really doesn’t like anything but the boob, though, and that has been a blessing in disguise. Because now, even though it’s still not perfect, I kind of love breastfeeding.

Yes, all of what I’ve said is true and I would never lie and say that breastfeeding is easy or painless. But despite all of that, it’s still pretty awesome.

It’s true that nursing is a wonderful bonding experience. Sometimes when Cody’s nursing, I literally feel the warm loving bonding hormones coursing through me. It’s like a wave of love that I suddenly feel for him, even stronger than usual. It’s also super convenient to always have his food ready to go. I can literally feed him any time, any place. I nurse him in bed every night without having to fully wake up; I can nurse him in the car when we’re out (when we’re parked, of course); I’ve nursed him in a restaurant, at family parties, even on a Disneyland ride. Sure, a bottle could be used in any of those situations with just a little bit more preparation, but there’s something really cool about being able to feed him without any special supplies. All he needs is me!

When I have my next baby (which in case you were wondering, we are not planning to happen for another 3 years or so), I will definitely breastfeed. I will most likely experience all of the pain and new challenges all over again, and I will most likely hate breastfeeding again. But at least now I know that eventually, it does get better. No, it doesn’t happen after the first few days, or even the first few weeks like they say it will. And no, it doesn’t become painless and easy and perfect. But it is worth it!

For now, I plan to continue to breastfeed Cody until he weans himself, which may not be until he’s two years old or even later. I plan to restrict it to only at home once he’s over a year old, and then only at night once he’s over two years old, if it comes to that. I’ll offer him a bottle with breastmilk for as long as he wants. Although some people find it strange or even creepy to breastfeed for that long, I believe that my baby will wean when he’s ready to, and there’s nothing wrong with giving him what he needs to feel secure and to be healthy. If I start to feel uncomfortable with it, then we’ll stop. It’s important that I have boundaries for my own well-being.

Which brings me to another point I wanted to make: breastfeeding is optimal, but it is not the only option. Bottlefeeding breastmilk is not a bad alternative, and even formula feeding is not going to destroy your baby. Formula is not poison. I feel that many breastfeeding advocates have become insensitive to mothers who cannot or choose not to breastfeed, for whatever reason. Yes, breastfeeding is God’s design and it has many benefits, but you know what? God also enabled the invention of the bottle and formula. When you can’t or don’t want to breastfeed, it’s a blessing to have these available. It doesn’t make you a bad mother if you don’t breastfeed.

Knowing that there are mothers out there who are uncomfortable or unhappy with breastfeeding or who have struggles that they cannot overcome makes me feel thankful that I have the privilege of feeding Cody this way. It’s not for everybody, and not everybody can do it, which is why even though it’s challenging in many ways, I am grateful for it. Breastfeeding is hard, but it’s also one of the best things I’ve ever done.