While pregnant with my first child, I had this fantasy of what our breastfeeding journey would be like. I figured I'd give birth, she would latch on without issue, and we would be all set. I envisioned everything going perfectly — after all, breastfeeding is supposed to be natural.
Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and better prepare myself for the reality of nursing. When my daughter was born at only 36 weeks, she came out wanting absolutely nothing to do with breastfeeding. I remember bawling my eyes out, begging and pleading with her to just latch on. All of my hopes were dashed as I began feeding her with a bottle that very first day.
The lactation consultant suggested I begin pumping while in the hospital. It took me two months of pumping and daily breastfeeding attempts before she began to finally nurse. I felt so accomplished, but at the same time, I questioned what I had put myself through.
I put so much pressure on myself to breastfeed. My nipples were in so much pain, and every time I would try to pump, I would end up in tears. I hated pumping. But once she latched on and never looked back, I realised it was all worth it. I would wake up in the middle of the night, nurse her, snuggle her, and get her back to sleep. No running around half-awake and mixing formula or warming breast milk.
Breastfeeding may be the natural way to feed a baby, but that doesn't mean it's easy. I struggled. I cried. I swore at least a dozen times that I would try for one more day and be done. I pushed through those hard months and nursed my daughter until she was a toddler. I don't regret any of it, although sometimes I think the pressure I put on myself to nurse was too much of a burden on my postpartum, hormonal self.
When I had my second child, he came out ready to take on the world. He was born at 41 weeks and nearly nine pounds. He latched on moments after his birth and never took a bottle. Our breastfeeding journey got off to a wonderful start. But, unfortunately for my nipples, he liked to comfort nurse a little too much. It was so painful that by the end of our hospital stay, I was in tears and wanting to rip off my nipples.
The stinging, the blisters, the inflammation . . . it was horrible. But every time he would nurse and stare up at me with his big brown eyes, I was reminded of how wonderful my daughter's nursing relationship ended up being. So I stuck with it, despite the pain. I knew the pain would end eventually, as my nipples got used to the constant suckling. Sure enough, it did. I nursed him until he was a toddler, too.
Breastfeeding relationships change throughout the different stages of your baby's life. During growth spurts, you will feel like all you do is nurse. But when you're out and about, you have everything you need to feed your baby. You can ease their tantrums, comfort a skinned-knee, soothe a sad face — all with latching them on.
It may seem like the pain and nursing around the clock will never end, but it does. One day your nipples will feel normal again. You won't leak through every shirt you own. I will never forget when I had to ask my male masseuse for a towel, because I had let-down all over his table. Yes, that was as embarrassing as it sounds. You'll get the hang of nursing, let-downs, latches, positioning. It all comes in time.
Breastfeeding isn't easy, especially in those early days. But boy, for mums who decide it's what they want to do, it's so worth it to see that milk-drunk baby drift off to sleep in your arms. It's like having a comfort item available 24/7, whenever your child needs it. It's being able to feed your baby at a moment's notice. It's being a human pacifier. It's hard, messy, but oh so beautiful.