Yesterday, O and my boobs parted ways. I used to think I’d have a party when breastfeeding was finally over with a big “Welcome Back Boobs” banner, but instead it ended with a “that was nice,” followed by a kiss on his head, and then some serious sads when O yelled “DADA!” and wiggled away.
Breastfeeding O until he was 16 months was totally unexpected, but that’s on par with just about everything I’ve experienced as a parent. If I wrote a book about pregnancy and babies, it would probably be a blank page and called “What to Expect When You’re Expecting: You Can’t So Don’t Even Try.”
It stands to reason that if I said at the beginning I would diiiiieeeee before I was able to breastfeed for a year, I would end up doing it for four months longer than that. But if you believe the Interwebs – which I do to a fault – it has also unexpectedly put me in the category of a hardcore breastfeeder.
Don’t get me wrong – I worship at the altar of boob feeding and its nutrient-giving, cry-stopping, calorie-burning glory. Every mom should do it if she can. But I also think a lot of stuff online about breastfeeding makes moms – or at least made me – feel like you’re either in one camp or the other. You’re hardcore or simply not living up to expectations. Breastfeeding has become like politics – you don’t bring it up with someone unless you know what side they’re on. And that’s just dumb.
And like a lot of things I read online about mothering, it made me feel insecure. So I thought I’d share a couple things I wish I’d known when I started breastfeeding because I think more women would do it if we talked about it more openly and honestly. These things aren’t about the actually process, because that’s why God made the blessed lactation consultants who know so much more than me. This is stuff that would have made it easier on my head and my heart.
1. It takes two to tango. Or do the boob dance. Not like being a stripper though.
Breastfeeding is of course so, so good for babies. But sometimes it felt like it was just O and the boobs, and I was not part of the equation. I wish I knew that my experience mattered too, and that if I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t being the best mom I could be.
For months and months I got blocked ducts because I thought I was supposed to feed on demand forever. (O would have nursed 24/7 if I let him.) While that’s incredibly important at the beginning to establish your supply, I didn’t let myself accept that my boobs needed a schedule or else they got very, very angry. I told myself that the only thing that mattered was what O wanted, and as a result, I got resentful about breastfeeding. If I could go back, I would tell myself that it’s ok to be honest about your own needs, too.
Fortunately, I figured that out eventually. I’m going to be really, really honest here: Part of the reason I breastfed so long was for me, not O. Over the past few months, he lost interest, and he’s been eating adult food like a champ. But I liked the
cuddle time quiet time on my smart phone. I liked thinking I didn’t have to work out because I was already burning the calories. I knew I had to take my time or I’d get blocked ducts and want to shoot my face off. I had to wean me, not O. And that’s ok because I had let myself be an important part of the breastfeeding equation.
2. Boobs are like kids. You should never compare them with your friends.
Every boob is different. Dude, my right boob is like from a whole other body than my left when it comes to breastfeeding. Same goes with other people’s boobs. Reading about breastfeeding online and talking about it with my friends taught me so much, but I spent too much time thinking about what my boobs “should” be doing rather than just letting ‘em do their thing.
Every breastfeeding experience is completely different – and from what I hear, completely different even between siblings. It’s great to go online or to your friends for long discussions on nipple shields, but don’t get caught up on making your experience like anyone else’s. Unless your experience is funny. Then you have to share.
3. I carry a big ass bag, but there is no room in it for guilt.
Despite my hardcore status, I did not breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. O had extreme acid reflux and after trying everything imaginable, his specialist said I might consider formula at night. And you know what? At three months, he finally started sleeping longer than 20 minute stretches and was a much healthier and happier baby because of it. And I actually started enjoying being a mom.
But of course, I felt so guilty about this. Here I was being a hardcore breastfeeder, and I thought it didn’t matter because I’d already ruined it with formula. This was sheer stupidness.
Breastfeeding is not about reaching some level of mothering perfection. It’s not a pass/fail exam. It’s about providing your child with the best nutrition and care possible in light of all the crazy and unexpected variables that will inevitably make perfection impossible.
Obviously it’s best to do it exclusively for six months and continue for at least a year. But even if you don’t, you haven’t failed at breastfeeding. It doesn’t mean you have to stop. And if you stop, you are still a good mom. Well, unless you are mean. Then I will judge you.
Anything I missed?
Also, when I do this again someday, I’m going to be a big ball of hormones again and completely forget all of this, so I’ll expect you to remind me. And then still love me when I cry and tell you I hate you.