Today I'm writing about a topic that I think many in my circle can relate to in our stage of life. The "B Word", otherwise known as breastfeeding. If you find this to be irrelevant to you right now, bookmark this and come back ;) We've all heard this before: "Breast is best" and with more natural care coming into the forefront, for some of us it's no question we'll attempt to breastfeed from day one. As we become new mothers, we are offered all sorts of classes teaching us how to embark this journey and learn different techniques to feed our little ones this amazing "liquid gold", but what we aren't prepared for is the real trenches.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: breastfeeding is the hardest thing I've ever done. It has taken a toll on me both physically and emotionally. I feel as though my mind, body, and soul has been stretched in ways I could never imagine. This may sound a bit dramatic about something that is so natural, but it is a true feeling. Before I dive any deeper, I want to be very clear that any choice a mother makes for her child is because it is what she feels is best and that is the bottom line. Nobody knows a child better than his mother. Along with that, I think it should be understood every mother and every baby is different, as this is the experience I've had with Liem and the choices I've chosen for our family. I do think the emotional impact of the topics I'm about to discuss somehow relate to us all.
The perseverance that is required
I'll be honest here, when I was pregnant and getting coupons and formula samples, I thought to myself, "Why would I ever need this? In fact no mom should need this if she can produce milk and should work her hardest to breastfeed her baby." Oh how I didn't know! I completely understand why any mother would make the switch and offer an alternative to breast milk. It is incredibly hard to keep going or sometimes even start! If you have chosen this route, do not beat yourself up. You're amazing for feeding and caring for your baby! It is a lot of work. For us specifically, we enlisted the help of many different professionals and therapies to get to the rhythm we have today (chiropractic care, pediatric dentist, myofascial therapy). I've wanted to quit so many times for so many different reasons. I get it now. In one of my many meltdowns throughout these past several months about whether or not I should keep going, I received some advice from a wise mom in my mommy tribe: "What is even better than the mom with the healthiest breast milk or the most nutrient dense, organic formula is a mentally sound, well-rested mother and a healthy, well-nourished marriage. That is what your baby needs most." What a perspective that was for me.
The effect on marriage
Any progress we've made here has been made possible only with help of Adam. Yes, I may be doing the heavy load of producing and feeding, but his support and help is everything. (Special shout out to the single moms who do this on their own. You're heroes!) He gets the pump set up every morning and night, prepares the bottles if we bottle feed, manages the freezing, and sterilizes the parts. Sounds like small tasks, but they are tedious. Teamwork is key! But, of all the things we've gone through together in our marriage, this has probably been the source of our biggest quarrels. When you combine an over exhausted and stressed mom with a dad who feels helpless, it just does not add up to the marital bliss like it was before baby. Moms can be extra sensitive and no matter what he says, it's never the right thing. I say to hang in there and remember that it won't always be this way. Your baby will not demand as much from you both and you will get to love on your relationship once again. I hope to write in a future post how we've managed to weather through this storm :)
The emotional strain
I have a lot of words for this one, but to simply put it- it's emotionally exhausting. You spend all of your days calculating around the clock when to feed and/or when to pump, so on a regular basis that is what your mind is filled with. When you don't produce as well one day, you feel like you've failed at your job that day. Think about this (especially you exclusive breastfeeding mamas): every single ounce your baby has gained and his success in development is because of what your body has made to feed him. Isn't that so amazing, but also a lot of pressure at once? And then there's the peanut gallery. You have been working so hard to eat enough of the right things, making sure you produce plenty and everyone has some kind of commentary on your progress. Some are well meaning yet still judgmental, and some oblivious to how it affects us as moms. These opinions wear down our confidence as a mother and the choices we've made for our family and can be simply deflating. When did being a mother require so much defense and explanation? We are the ones spending all of our time with our babies and we're the ones doing all of the research, discussion, and seeking out resources for information and knowledge. It would just make sense for us to be trusted and supported in our instincts.
The physical strain
The great thing about breastfeeding is that you do burn a lot of calories, but this is not what causes the physical strain. As long as you continue to breastfeed, your body still doesn't look like it did before pregnancy. Things are still fuller than they used to be and because you're trying to eat so much to produce, the baby weight just doesn't "fall off" as easily. Fashion also takes a backseat. Those cute rompers and dresses you used to wear have to wait because if you cannot easily lift it up or pull down for him to access, you'll end up sitting in a bridal suite during one of your weddings pumping in just your panties because you thought you'd wear a cute dress to work. (No, that never happened to me...) Another physical strain is if you're in a social setting, you are closed off to people during feeding or pumping sessions because you don't want to be exposed or make anyone uncomfortable. Unless you're in Europe. It's all free and natural there!
With all of this said (and I know it's a lot), however far you get in your journey, it is worth it. Breastfeeding is such a beautiful bond we as mothers get to have with our babies and truly a blessing God has given to us to be able to provide. Nobody else gets to experience this but us! I write all of these grievances to express the struggles of breastfeeding, but I hope to encourage other mothers who are in the thick of it as well. When you become a mother, your heart and soul undergoes an incredibly large change. You gain this sixth sense for your children that nobody will ever understand but yourself. You are the one that gets to make the decisions and have the power to guide and raise your children into the person you want him to be. Of all of this, the most mind blowing thing is you also get to change your mind on your terms along the way as you are learning and stretching. Try not to let anyone rob you of enjoying motherhood and cloud it with worry or stress you're doing something wrong. Remember that you know your baby best and you're doing an unbelievable job. Hugs!
Photography by The Moody Romantic