“You’re going to love nursing your baby,” my mom told me as we folded tiny blue onesies and waited for my first child to decide it was time to emerge from the cozy womb. “There’s nothing like it. It’s so special. You bond so much as you breastfeed and it’s wonderful to watch your baby fall asleep so happy and content. When you nurse your body creates hormones that make you feel so relaxed and blissful. It’s the best!” Boy, was she wrong! Relaxed? Blissful? My nursing experience was anything but! Here’s why:
It hurts! Why didn’t anybody warn me? Lo and behold, I discovered from day one breastfeeding hurts! Good grief, it hurts! For the first two weeks post-partum, tears would spring into my eyes each time my baby latched and I would have to grip the arm of the rocking chair until halfway through the feeding when the pain eased up.
My baby hated it. In addition to the excruciating physical discomfort, I didn’t get the consolation of watching my baby happily drift off to contented dreamland with milk drunk joy. No sir! My colicky baby never slept and he figured out right away that nursing meant pain for him as well. When it was time to nurse, I would pick up my little one and I could feel us both tense up knowing that one minute into the feeding he would unlatch screaming because of his miserable reflux.
What bonding hormones? Those feeling of bliss that were supposed to accompany each nursing session? I never experienced them. This was no tranquil bonding time. It was painful, stressful, and emotionally traumatic. We would both end up in tears at the end of each feeding.
He nursed constantly. This sounds strange knowing how much my baby and I both hated breastfeeding. But due to his reflux, he desperately wanted to soothe his little throat with some milk every minute of the day (only to unlatch in a wailing frenzy of pain, of course!) The physical exhaustion of nursing 24/7 was just impossible to handle on top of the zero hours of sleep I was getting because my poor baby just couldn’t fall asleep.
Pumping is the worst. I had to return to work at five weeks post-partum, but I was committed to making this breastfeeding thing work, so pumping it was! I soon discovered that pumping is awful. Of course, it was less traumatic than nursing because no one was screaming at me (a plus). But I did feel like a cow attached to a milking machine. Also, my little one decided right when the bottle was introduced that there would be no more nursing at the breast for him. Bottles only, please! So I was pumping exclusively, at least 3-4 hours a day (which was FAR more than I was sleeping).
When my son was 4 months old, I did what I never thought I would do: give up on nursing all together. It wasn’t anything like my mother told me it would be. Now, my mom is a sweetie pie. She didn’t mean to mislead me. She just had a wonderful experience and expected it would be the same for me. It wasn’t. It was awful and I mourned the loss of what I hoped and expected it to be.
When I was pregnant with Baby #2, I was determined to try again with breastfeeding, but I was scared that I would feel like a failure again and that I would hate every second of it. But everything was different! Sure there were typical challenges: cluster feedings, clogged ducts, discomfort, over-active letdown, milk dripping down to my toes and making a puddle on the floor (how is that even possible!), but on the other hand it was just like my mom said it would be. It was the best. My baby loved to nurse, and because she loved it, I loved it, too. We snuggled, we bonded, she fell asleep with milk drunk joy and I nodded off next to her with the help of all those amazing relaxing nursing hormones I finally got to enjoy.
So if you’ve had one bad experience, don’t give up! A bad breastfeeding experience with one child doesn’t mean there’s no hope in the future. The second time around, nursing just clicked. Why? I honestly can’t be sure. I had made some changes in my life to prevent the same bad experience from recurring: I cut back to working only a few hours a week so I wouldn’t have to pump and embraced the principles of ecological breastfeeding. I was intentional about limiting stress in my own life so that I wouldn’t pass it on to my baby. But truly, I think our breastfeeding relationship just clicked because of Baby #2’s laid back personality and because she didn’t have the challenges with colic and reflux that our firstborn had. And I prayed many a Rosary that I would get the special experience I had dreamed of. Now we’ll just have to wait and see how things go with Baby #3! Wish me luck!
Oh and if you are currently having breastfeeding struggles be sure to check out the M+BL breastfeeding archives, Stephanie also had extreme breastfeeding difficulties and was finally able to get her daughter, Penelope to latch at 5 months but had to continue pumping around the clock for 18 months because she could never suck hard enough to get a lot of milk out.
Did you struggle with breastfeeding? Was it everything you hoped it would be or more challenging than you imagined it would be? Some of the stories might be featured in Stephanie’s next book!
Image credit Jade Pierce Photography
Haley is a Catholic wife and mama of two (and one on the way!), ballet teacher, and lover of all things Jane Austen, Evelyn Waugh, and Wendell Berry. Find her at her blog Carrots for Michaelmas where she writes about urban homesteading, motherhood, literature, faith, homeschooling, and her undying love for bacon.