By Lyz Lenz
When my daughter was born, I was excited to start breastfeeding. Everything I had heard from the lactation consultant, nurses and the hospital-sponsored class made it sound wonderful—I would lose weight, my baby would be healthy, it was natural and instinctive. And while breastfeeding was a rewarding journey, it wasn’t quite the instinctual experience it had been marketed as for me. In fact, one day when I pulled my daughter off the breast and saw that my cracked nipples had bled on her face, I began sobbing. When I called my friend, she told me, “Oh yeah, we all have those blood moments.” She continued to explain how she once pumped a bottle full of blood.” Why wasn’t that in the breastfeeding class?
We all know that breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for your baby. The AAP recommends breastfeeding your child for up to one year. While I in no way want to discourage anyone from breastfeeding, I want to share a few misconceptions I found while on my breastfeeding journey.
1. It doesn’t hurt
After one week of breastfeeding, I was in so much pain that I cried when my baby latched and cried when I even thought about feeding time. For those first six weeks and sometimes more, your baby is eating every 1.5-2 hours, and that takes a toll. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise isn’t giving you the whole story. Breastfeeding just takes a while to get used to and yeah, that pain is normal. Notes mom Hilary Faverman, “For the first few weeks, even if everything is going swimmingly, your nipples will hurt! It doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong, your baby is starving, you’re a terrible mother, you’re holding the baby wrong, his latch is weak, etc. It just hurts.” The good news is for me, after 12 weeks it stopped hurting (for the most part).
2. You will lose the weight
My lactation consultant constantly told me how great breastfeeding was for losing weight. But after I had the baby and began breastfeeding, I actually gained weight. Breastfeeding isn’t some weight loss panacea. Although, some women swear by it, just as many other women have had breastfeeding hamper their weight loss goals. For mom of two girls, Stefanie Huffington the weight didn’t come off until she stopped breastfeeding. “My doctor explained that my body was holding onto fat reserves to protect my milk supply. Any time I tried to diet or work out too hard my supply dropped. So, the weight didn’t really come off until after I weaned [my daughter].”
3. It feels good
I breastfed (almost) exclusively for 12 weeks and continued to use the bottle and nurse for four more weels, it never felt good. Despite what all the handouts and literature told me, I never experienced the rush of hormones that are supposed to make breastfeeding a truly pleasurable experience. When I asked my lactation consultant why this was, she said it was because I didn’t stick with breastfeeding long enough. However, when I asked other moms, it turns out I wasn’t the only one. Lancy James, mom of four, breastfed three of her four children and she said she never experienced that “feels good” sensation. But I sincerely hope you do.
4. You’re doing it wrong
When I asked my lactation consultant why my baby was taking so long to nurse or why it hurt, her answer was that I was holding my baby improperly. But when I talked to my friends (and my doctor) they reassured me there was nothing wrong with the hold or the latch or anything. And my daughter and I eventually worked out the kinks in our approach. Sometimes babies take a long time to nurse. Sometimes it hurts. Give yourself some grace.
5. You didn’t breastfeed long enough
When my daughter was 16 weeks old, I switched from breastfeeding to pumping exclusively. I was told by friends and family members that I was giving up too soon. And sometimes I feel like I did. And that makes me feel like a failure as a mom. But at the time, I had no choice. We started giving my daughter a bottle to train her to go to a sitter when maternity leave ended and when I went back to work, she decided she like the bottle better. “Long enough” is what you decide. Don’t let other people make you feel like you failed.
6. You breastfed too long
A friend of mine just weaned her 18 month old daughter. And while she complained that people criticized her for breastfeeding too long, I told her how people criticized me for not feeding long enough. If you love breastfeeding and it is working for you and your baby, continue on. People love to side-eye the mom nursing the 2 year old, but guess what? We should all be so lucky to have boobs that productive and the stamina. Be careful not to judge. There is too much of that going around in mommyland anyway.
7. No more caffeine
I mainline coffee. If I could get it intravenously, I would. And yes, my baby still drinks the boob juice and not once has it affected her. On the other hand, I know a woman whose baby gets gas even when she eats chocolate. But before you start giving up foods willy nilly and assuming that your baby doesn’t like it when you eat dairy, soy or caffeine, talk to a doctor. When my daughter got diarrhea after I started eating more dairy, I assumed she was allergic. But after talking to my doctor, I held off on going dairy free. Sure enough, the diarrhea worked itself out and my daughter is happy and I’m still chugging the coffee and eating cheese like a champ.
8. Breastfeeding is the best way to bond with your baby
Sure, there is a special feeling that you get when you feed your baby. It’s an almost primal feeling that says, “I created you and fed you with nothing but my body.” And women who have had successful breastfeeding experiences talk about that connection and bond that they feel with their child when they are feeding. But as a woman who has done both bottle and breastfeed, trust me, there are other special ways to connect and bond with your baby and if breastfeeding doesn’t work for you, it won’t jeopardize your relationship. You are still a good mom no matter how you feed your baby.
9. Don’t introduce the bottle too soon
During a home visit from the lactation consultant, I was told to get some rest at “whatever cost.” “Even if it means giving the baby a bottle?” I asked. “No,” she said and explained how introducing the bottle too soon could negatively impact my daughter’s nursing. But one late night, when my daughter was a week old and my boobs were cracked and bleeding, I gave in and used some formula. The next day, my baby was still happy, still ready to latch. The world didn’t end. In fact, having what I called my “emergency bottle” of formula was instrumental to saving my sanity in those first six weeks. Essentially, every baby is different and if you need to use the bottle to get some sleep, don’t stress it. That won’t be the reason your kid ends up needing therapy. There will be other reasons for that.
10. Breastfeeding is easy
Alaina Tonelli, creator of the therapeutic breast compress Shower Hug, knows firsthand that breastfeeding isn’t quite the intuitive, instinctual feeding mechanism it’s billed as. “Supposedly, since all women have breasts meant to feed infants, all a mom needs to do is place her baby at her breast and the child will do the rest. It’s a natural instinct. Truth be told, I am a pretty smart woman and I struggled.
Breastfeeding isn’t a cake walk. I actually don’t know anything about parenting that is a cake walk, nor do I know what exactly a cake walk is. Just remember that the more you know, the more you can be better prepared for the ups (and challenging downs) of an ultimately rewarding experience.
About the Author:
Lyz Lenz is a writer, a mom and a midwesterner. Although, not in that order. She lives in Iowa and on the web at LyzLenz.com
A first-time mom’s observations on breastfeeding and its struggles.