Even advocates for breastfeeding have hard days. Days when nursing just seems more pain than it is worth. Today it was one of those days.
Not a full week ago I could barely lift my right arm with the pain from a clogged milk duct, today I am struggling with what appears to be a milk blister- which means I am in pain. Again. I told my husband yesterday that I wanted to be done with nursing. I meant it and not at the same time.
The pain and exhaustion after almost six months of nursing my second child reminds me that breastfeeding is not easy; even for a veteran like me with a combined total of 23 months of nursing and counting.
Like pretty much everything we do as parents, nursing is a sacrifice. It is physically draining. For many, the first weeks are also emotionally draining. It is time-consuming and at times painful. Although pain means there is something wrong, so if you are nursing and feel pain go have it checked.
I have enjoyed breastfeeding my children, sometimes I love and hate it at the same time, though. I love slowing down to nurse my baby and gaze into her eyes, but when I am in a rush I think of how much easier it would be to use a bottle and feed her on the move.
I love the bond that breastfeeding creates between mother and child, although if you are unable to breastfeed you can find Mary’s advice on bonding with a bottle-fed baby helpful.
I am tired of choosing my outfits thinking about how easy or hard it will be to nurse while wearing them, and I am ready to be done with these nursing complications. I also want to drink a coffee in the morning without making my baby spit up all day.
I like the fact that I don’t have to worry about bringing my baby’s food or drink, and that I have lost most of the baby weight with barely a sacrifice, but I also think that it would be helpful if someone else could feed her sometimes- I don’t pump.
More importantly, I like knowing I am adding health points to my baby and myself by breastfeeding.
For all the things I love about breastfeeding I think that if it was easy, everyone who can, would do it, but in the U.S. only 47 percent of babies are breastfed by the time they are 6 months of age, according to the Center for Disease Control. The recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to nurse exclusively for the first 6 months, and then continue for a year or more. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years and beyond.
We’ve all heard women (and men) say various reasons as to why they or their partners didn’t breastfeed or quit after a short time, often with a hint of guilt and sadness. Although I don’t think anyone should feel guilty about the decisions they make, I’ve always thought that many of these women could have continued nursing had they really wanted to. But today I am not surprised so many women stop after a few months, a few weeks or a few days. More than ever before I realize that if you don’t have a strong support system around you, when things turn difficult, quitting can seem like the only option.
I am thankful to have great support. My first resource is my sister, but she has not been available this week so I called the local La Leche League leader even though I haven’t been to a meeting in my new city yet. I have thought about putting out a call on facebook, but I rather wait until I am a bit more desperate before announcing to my social network what I am feeling. My husband has been amazing. Last week he did the research and bought the ingredients for a natural pain reliever for the clogged duct. It worked wonders. Because he knows I am not really ready to give up nursing, and it is the pain and not me talking, when I said I was ready to quit he acknowledged my pain but didn’t validate the notion of quitting. He did tell me I needed to take care of myself.
I like to tell pregnant friends about my experience breastfeeding. I keep things realistic and remind them that my experience nursing a six-month old is very different from what they’ll experience with a newborn. I tell them that for me, breastfeeding is not some kind of fairytale situation, but a committment to something I believe in. I also tell them to take it day by day.
Breastfeeding is natural, but it doesn’t necessarily come naturally. I encourage moms-to-be to seek out a support system and tell them that before them, many women have dealt with the same issues, so they should count on their advice. I also warn them to not let anyone judge them, whether they nurse for one day, one year or five years, as no one has the right to judge your life. (You can find more tips for success in nursing here.)
Since you are reading this, I hope you never experience the pain of mastitis or a clogged duct or a milk blister, but if you do, know that you are not alone. While these complications mean that something is off in your body or with your baby’s latch, it is not uncommon for women to go through them. If you want to continue nursing, get help and move on.
As for me, I’ll go back to warm compresses, striving for a good latch and lanolin. Tomorrow will be better.