Every time I see an article about breastfeeding, I see the following statement (or something similar), “Breastfeeding is hard.” Every article seems to bemoan all the challenges of breastfeeding and make it seem like all women struggle.
I feel strangely guilty and confused when I read these articles. Why? Because I found breastfeeding natural and fairly easy.
Before I started breastfeeding, I read all these articles. I knew it was going to be hard. I knew it would be a struggle because my mom and sister struggled. Neither one of them were able to breastfeed longer than three months. Their experience mirrored many of the problems described in articles I had read.
To make sure I had all the information available, and, therefore, had the best shot at being successful, I read everything I could find. I attended a breastfeeding class held at my local hospital and asked lots of questions. By the time Ginny was born, I knew what to expect.
The moment that Ginny first latched on to me, I realized it wasn’t what I expected. I thought it would feel odd. Instead, it felt like the most natural thing in the world. I was amazed!
Even more amazing, I didn’t struggle with nursing like my mom did or my sister. I didn’t struggle with it like every article I read suggested I would. In some ways, it was the easiest thing I had ever done.
Breastfeeding did not go perfectly, at first. Ginny lost a lot of weight. All babies lose weight, but she lost more than doctors and nurses consider acceptable. There were concerns about my milk production. I was confident though. My milk took a bit longer to come in than expected. All that preparation ahead of time let me know she would be okay. Naturally, I worried as the nurse would arrived at our home the day after we did to check her weight and again the next day. However, Ginny had plenty of wet and dirty diapers.
At the two-week check, Ginny hadn’t reached her birth weight yet, although she was close. My doctor encouraged me to supplement with formula. I felt torn and confused. I didn’t want to sabotage our attempts at nursing by giving my baby a bottle. My instincts told me that my milk was enough. After all, she still had plenty of wet and dirty diapers. We tried the bottle once, but it felt wrong so I refused to try it again. Instead, I made sure to nurse my daughter at least every two hours.
It didn’t help that I went to a breastfeeding group at the hospital only a week later. I had never been and didn’t know what to expect, so I nursed Ginny before we left. When we got there, I discovered I could weigh Ginny. The expectation was to nurse the baby while you were there then weigh her afterward to make sure she was getting enough milk. I knew it wouldn’t go well because I had recently nursed her. I tried though. Then after the second weigh-in, I got a lecture from the lactation-consultant nurse encouraging me to supplement. That suggestion made me angry, and I never returned.
My instincts proved me right. Ginny gained weight and thrived. The doctor never knew that I ignored his suggestion. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that our baby was healthy and growing.
When it came to nursing, I didn’t really have sore nipples beyond a week. If they got dry, I would express a little milk and rub that on the nipple. It worked. The only time nursing became painful and a challenge was during my pregnancy with my youngest, Grace. Pregnancy will make your breasts hurt. Nursing with sore breasts is not fun. Okay, it sucked! I tried to power through, but couldn’t do it and planned to wean Ginny. Ginny ended up weaning herself once I made that decision. My milk changed. She didn’t like it and was no longer interested. She was 12 months old.
When I had Grace, I was more prepared and more determined than ever that she wouldn’t lose as much weight as her sister did. Luckily, my milk came in faster so I thought I would do well. The problem was that Grace was more interested in sleep than nursing. It turned out that she had jaundice. The jaundice wasn’t caused by lack of milk. Grace and I simply have different blood types. It would take a while for her body to adapt to the milk I was giving her.
It took about 6 weeks for the jaundice to go away, but during that time she gained weight and grew. She thrived. We worried about the jaundice. We hated taking her to have her blood tested every week, but it was necessary. Eventually, her body did adjust to my antibodies and the yellow appearance of my daughter disappeared.
I was able to breastfeed Grace longer than Ginny. We stopped nursing three months ago when she was 18 months old. I didn’t want to stop, but I was pregnant and the pain was too much for me to handle. So, I forced her to wean. She still misses it, and honestly, I do too. In some ways I miss it more because we miscarried. Not only did I lose a baby, I lost the ability to nurse my youngest.
I feel bad for the women who do struggle with breastfeeding. I think some struggle because they don’t know what to expect. I believe others struggle due to legitimate milk supply issues and others because their doctors and nurses encourage them to supplement. And, I’m sure there are even more reasons beyond those.