The decision and the beginning (Pregnancy – Week one)
While pregnant you gleefully express to all that will listen that you will be a breastfeeding mama. You attend the class at your hospital, practice with a doll, and joke that you will totally use the football position while watching football. You spend all your time plotting which stroller, car seat, crib, swing, and bathtub you MUST HAVE without thinking twice about breastfeeding because how hard can it be? Then…your baby goes to the NICU at 2 hours old, and when the postpartum nurse wheels a breast pump into your room at 5 am after 26 hours of labor and no sleep, you panic. A lactation consultant swoops in to save the day, and you put all your energy into pumping because it distracts you from the fact that your baby is not in the same hospital room as you. You make it clear in your birth plan (at home somewhere in a pile of papers) that no bottles or pacifiers for baby, thank you very much, because BREASTFEEDING. When baby is promptly given both in the NICU, you are too tired to change out of your hands-free pumping bra and mesh panty outfit to worry or protest.
Highlight: Bumbling and somewhat awkward, that first post-birth nursing session is as heart racing and exhilarating as a first kiss.
Low point: Waiting patiently for your milk to come in and hormonally sobbing that it never will.
The dark days and determination (Week one- 2 months) – You are home with your baby and learn that the “feeding schedule” is basically the same as a Vegas casino buffet. Between the postpartum night sweats and leaking milk, you are basically soggy 24/7. And the pain, oh the pain. Showers, cabbage leaves, nipple cream, ice packs. Your two-hour sleep increments must be taken on your back. You stress about nursing in public or when friends come visit because it still takes you a few full- boob exposure minutes to get the baby in the right position. Desperate texts go out daily to your tribe of breastfeeding mamas begging for assurance that something is “normal.” You keep your phone with you at all times for fear of getting trapped during cluster feedings with no entertainment. You use the same phone to obsessively enter all nursing sessions into an app for reasons that you don’t fully understand because the only pattern seems to be “all the time.”
Highlight: A milk-drunk baby asleep in your arms with milk dribbling down her chin is EVERYTHING.
Low point: Ordering a baby scale from Amazon at 3 am due to an uncontrollable obsession with baby “not gaining weight quickly enough.”
The immersion (2 months-8 months) – You and baby have created a schedule and a routine and your own form of communication. You nurse in public like a pro and no longer care about a cover. You nurse while brushing your teeth and while walking around the house. You delete the app from your phone and it only takes a quick boob grab to know which one’s on deck for the next feeding. You dream and plan all day for a night out with friends or your significant other, then rush home to pump or nurse the baby after 4 hours because you just grew a (painful) cup size. You try 450 different bottles and nipples and your baby rejects anything not attached to your chest, which is both devastating and kind of sweet at the same time. You rub breast milk on any and every ailment and it works every time. You start to plan a ceremonial burning of all nursing bras and tank tops.
Highlight: Your inner introvert appreciates the excuse to take a breather alone in a quiet room during parties or events.
Low point: You get a terrible head cold and your medication options are basically “tough it out.”
The honeymoon and farewell (8 months to ?) – The pressure is off and breastfeeding is finally EASY. You can go out for an afternoon or evening and skip a feeding and neither you nor your baby even notice. You get reacquainted with shirts and dresses in your closet that do not offer easy access and bras that do not click. You start to wonder if you will still be breastfeeding at Kindergarten round up. Teeth enter the picture and the look on your baby’s face when you let out a yelp is a MILLION times worse than the actual bite. Night weaning happens and you finally start to feel sane again. When baby gets her first cold, four teeth at once, or takes a bad tumble learning to walk, you have a secret weapon in your arsenal that takes away the tears in an instant. Baby starts eating more than you at dinner and all the sudden you see a light at the end of the tunnel.
Highlight: You can barely even get through one book with your constantly moving and wiggling toddler, but nursing provides 5 calm minutes of the sweetest snuggles of the day.
Low point: Saying goodbye to the most tender, beautiful moments you could have never imagined you would experience with your baby, to the overwhelming pride that came from nourishing your baby with only your body for over 6 straight months, and to the toughest, most humbling journey you’ve been on since becoming a mom.
Special shout out to my daughter who decided to surprise her mama by self-weaning at 14 ½ months and will always be my favorite little nursling.