When I was pregnant with my first child, I lay awake at night, worrying about pretty much everything, but especially breastfeeding. Everything I read seemed to point to how breastfeeding was going to be impossible—story after story about the pain, bleeding nipples, low-milk supply, tongue-ties, lip-ties and inevitable bad latch. I binge-watched videos about getting the right latch on YouTube. I looked at my own nipples with suspicion, convinced that this couldn’t possibly work.
Well, I’m here from the other side, four years and two breastfed babies later, with the message that I wish I had read back then: Chill out. It’s not all that bad.
My drug-free birth plan went off the rails when my daughter popped out. My placenta didn’t deliver, and I needed emergency spinal anaesthesia for the doctors to remove it. I bled a lot, and my blood pressure got dangerously low for a short time. I felt light-headed from blood loss and still numb, from my breasts down, when my doula helped me hold my seven-pound baby near my nipple. She immediately opened her mouth and latched, sucking away.
“That’s it?” I asked in disbelief, convinced that it should be harder. “Am I doing it right?”
A nurse came in. I repeated my question, and she assured me that everything was working just fine.
“You have great nipples for this,” the nurse said, giving me one of the strangest compliments I’ve ever received.
In those early days of motherhood, I didn’t believe my doula or the nurse. I wasn’t ready to trust my body or my baby. I kept a vigilant eye on that latch. Was her mouth open enough? Maybe there wasn’t quite enough of my “great nipple” in there? Was she spitting up too much after nursing? Maybe my let down was too strong?
She was back to her birth weight in a week. She gained weight again at the next weigh-in. I started to relax.
I even started to enjoy breastfeeding. A lot of things about having my first baby were hard for me—being sleep deprived, feeling isolated for long days at home and adjusting to my new role as a mom were tough—but breastfeeding wasn’t. I took pride in the fact that I could do this one important thing right.
I spent hour after hour breastfeeding my daughter in the rocking chair in her nursery—and in other places, too. I hated pumping and my daughter didn’t like bottles, so I bared my boobs everywhere: in shopping malls and grocery stores, in the back of a parked car, in parks, on the pool deck, during a meeting at the bank, after running a 10-kilometre race, on an airplane and even in the stands at a rodeo. Despite what I had read about moms being shamed for breastfeeding in public, I never had an unkind word uttered to me. I kept at it until my daughter was 15 months old and we both seemed ready to call it quits.
Of course, the lack of bottles had its downside. My husband and I rarely went out. If we did, it was after nursing my daughter. But we lived in a small town at the time, and there weren’t many places to go. We cooked nice meals at home, had friends over often and made extra mortgage payments with all the money we weren’t spending on extravagant dates. When we did go out, nothing was that far away—I could always sneak home for a nursing session if I needed to.
But even after my successful track record of nursing my daughter, the same breastfeeding fears crept up when I delivered baby number two. My son was a frank breech baby, determined to come into the world bum first. His heart rate was too high when I tried to push, and the doctor called for an emergency C-section. My epidural was topped up until I couldn’t feel a thing and my body shook from all the drugs. When nurses wheeled me out of the operating room and into the recovery room, I was worried. My son had a traumatic birth and, between labour and emergency surgery, I had a lot of drugs in my system. It couldn’t possibly work, could it? But he latched right on like he had being doing it his whole life—which, I suppose, at less than an hour old, he had.
It’s important to acknowledge that my experience isn’t the experience of every person who breastfeeds, and I don’t want to diminish other women’s struggles. There are plenty of people for whom breastfeeding is a challenge or even impossible. There is also help. There are nurses, lactation consultants, doctors, friends and family members who have done it before. There’s also formula. As the hashtag goes, #fedisbest.
Many women, myself included, find that breastfeeding comes naturally and is way easier than sterilizing bottles and preparing formula. But success stories don’t get any attention. Why complain if something is going just fine? I’m here to complain. I wish I had read something like this during all my pre-baby insomnia. I want to yell it as loud as I can: Pregnant women shouldn’t be afraid of breastfeeding!
I nursed my son for the last time a few days ago, at almost 18 months old. I am sad that my last baby isn’t a baby anymore and will miss the close bonding time that breastfeeding gave us, but I’m ready to move on. It’s time to focus more on myself again after dedicating so much time solely to my kids. To start, I’m going back to work part-time and eyeing a romantic kid-free weekend with my husband to celebrate our wedding anniversary. I’ll wear a new bra without those snap closures and enjoy an extra glass of bubbly as I toast to my newfound freedom. While breastfeeding was such an important part of my life for the past four years, I am ready to say “cheers” to the next adventure.