Breastfeeding hasn't always been an easy road for my babies and me.
I remember the feeling of breastfeeding for the first time. It was sort of like an out of body experience. I was thinking: Am I doing this right? Is this how it's supposed to feel? Does this look right to you? What was that other way I can hold her to nurse again? How do I widen her latch?
And the questions kept coming. Wait—do I make sure she eats every two or three hours? Do I wake her up if she's sleeping? Should I keep track of when I'm feeding her? Should I set an alarm to remind myself to offer her milk?
It was a little overwhelming at first.
Which makes sense. Doing something new—something I've never done before—can leave me feeling confused and unsure, until I build up my confidence.
Along with my questions, I experienced Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), which, for me, means getting a heavy, sad feeling right before a letdown. It only lasts a couple of minutes, and I didn't figure out that it was an actual 'thing' with an actual name until I was nursing my second child.
Once I figured out that it was something other women experienced, it was so nice not to feel alone or weird.
With the little bumps along the way (and the successes as well!)—there have been a lot of lessons learned. I'm currently four months into nursing my third baby, and I have realized how much my breastfeeding journey has taught me. It has brought me immense joy, and, a bit of perspective on motherhood.
So, breastfeeding—thanks for teaching me a lot about being a mama.
1. Thanks for teaching me to be confident.
And that confidence might not come right away, but to be patient with the process and with myself, because it will come. (And it did!) Even though I had millions of questions, my baby and I figured it out together.
Breastfeeding ended up working for us, but even if it didn't, we would have figured something else out, and that would have been a lesson learned, too.
And as a mother in general, I had no idea what I was doing at first. Motherhood was a new experience, unchartered territory. Now, four years and three babies in, there are days when I still feel like I don't know what I'm doing! But you figure it out as you go along. It really is a true “learn on the job" job. And there's grace in acknowledging that and learning to be okay with that.
2. Thanks for teaching me how to work as a team.
I needed to follow my babies' lead with breastfeeding. I needed to trust myself and my body. But I quickly realized that that is hard!
We are often taught to read instruction manuals and measure progress and make sure you know what you're doing. Well, with breastfeeding, sure—there are “instruction manuals" to read and lactation counselors to consult, there are even videos online and classes to take (and all of these resources are amazing!). But in the end you have to trust in yourself and your baby—you have to trust in your team.
And that goes for nursing and non-nursing mamas. If you've realized that your breastfeeding journey as a team is not working and your baby is not gaining the weight she should, and you feel like you've tried it all and you're going to supplement or transition to formula or donor milk (or whatever the case may be!) it's time to work as a team to find out what you both need.
More and more I am learning that working together—parent and child—is much more effective than working against one another. Working together builds trust on both sides.
3. Thanks for teaching me the importance of slowing down.
A mother's day is often filled with moving from one task to the next. It's busy, busy, busy. I felt this way as a new mother, and I feel this way times a million now. I am caring for three children, “cleaning" my house (I use the term 'cleaning' lightly here), tending to my marriage, working from home, remembering to do all the things, rushing here, dashing there—the days can be LONG.
But—my baby needs to eat.
And yes, there are times when I nurse her and multitask by answering an email or finishing an essay on my phone, but most of the time I have to sit down and take some time to feed her. She can't wait—her feeding schedule has to come first. I can't just “finish one more thing" before I pick her up. I feed her when she's hungry, so that means I have to sit down and take a breather a few times a day.
It's so wonderful. It's such a nice reason to take a break. Even though my body is working hard when I nurse my daughter, my mind can take a rest. These are beautiful moments throughout my LONG days that remind me how short the seasons are and how fast our babies grow.
4. Thanks for teaching me the importance of doing what works best for us.
With breastfeeding brought lots of outsider opinions and comparing myself to what other moms were doing. I have finally let that stuff go. Now, I am able to do what works best for two people—me and my baby.
Which means I am okay nursing her to sleep because that's what works for us.
I am okay with nursing to comfort her because that's what works for us.
I am okay nursing in public (but, also okay if you're not!) because I just need to feed her when I need to feed her and get overwhelmed at the thought of having to find a specific place to feed her in.
I'm okay nursing her in front of other people at a family party or with guests over because I don't want to spend hours hiding in my room, missing out on the conversation (although, sometimes I do enjoy the quiet break, especially now that she gets distracted easily while nursing!).
My point is—along the way, we're all going to get so many opinions from other people. We're going to have ideas and philosophies shoved in our faces from the world. This will happen at every stage of raising our children. So, we need to listen to ourselves—we need to let our inner voices be the loudest voice we hear because we know what's best for ourselves and our families. A mama's intuition is powerful.
5. Thanks for helping me appreciate my body.
Oh, my postpartum body! I love you, I appreciate you—but boy, do I get frustrated with you.
I feel like I will NEVER fit back into my pre-baby clothes. I feel like my body is completely changed for life after baby number three. I feel like my belly will always be jiggly and my stretch marks will always bother me. I feel like my boobs will always disappoint me when I look at them. They don't even remember what the word 'perky' means.
But, on the other hand, I have such reverence for my body. For this stomach has housed three children. For these arms and legs have, with their strength, allowed me to carry and rock and piggy-back my babies. For these breasts have fed three children.
That's downright amazing.
Motherhood, like breastfeeding, is a challenge.
Motherhood, like breastfeeding, is fulfilling.
Motherhood, like breastfeeding, is intense.
Motherhood, like breastfeeding, is a beautiful rollercoaster of emotions.
And it sure has taught me a thing or two.
So, thank you.