The Pressures of NursingErin Loechner
Last week I caught a stomach bug and Bee and I were one big poo factory. Bee would poo her pants, then I’d poo my pants and we’d poo our pants in tandem and then Bernie would ask if he could have those same pants for dinner and I’d vomit on him. It was all a mess. But the worst part? The dehydration that forced my milk supply to plummet into nonexistence.
I’ve only been dehydrated a handful of times in my life because I am a crazy water-drinking fool. I’m one of those weird people that believes water makes the world go ’round. Water cures all things: bad moods, upset stomachs, writer’s block (true!). Yet no amount of water I drank last week could have re-hydrated me from the crazy loss of absolutely-everything-I’ve-ever-eaten-in-my-life. And suddenly, there went my milk supply.
Here’s a bit of background on my relationship with nursing: I don’t love it. It’s free, which is rad. But other than that and the whole “breast is best!” chant that keeps repeating in my head (and the occasional session where breastfeeding just works), I kind of hate nursing. And admitting that fact has given me some of the dirtiest looks I’ve ever seen, because nursing should be a beautiful bonding experience where the sweet baby falls asleep at the bosom of her mother and doesn’t at all scream and thrash and cry and refuse the nipple repeatedly. And if that has never happened to you, then you are the luckiest woman I know.
But back to last week when I became so dehydrated that I was convinced my milk supply had run dry and Bee would never be able to eat again. I drank 23 glasses of water between each nursing session and pumped like a mad cow (minus the disease), and still – nothing. And suddenly, I thought Bee was weaning and I was weaning and that was the end of our long breastfeeding saga that I so very much loved to nag to my husband about.
But it wasn’t, because the next day, I woke up feeling better and my C cups runneth over, once again. It was a miracle. And I realized that I was so profoundly happy to have dairy in my bosom that I must not hate it as much as I thought. But I do. Because nursing is the most pressure I have ever experienced (and I’m not talking about engorgement here, ladies!). The idea that if you do not perfect the art and science of breastfeeding, you will not be able to feed your baby the “natural” way. That at any given moment, your supply could fly out the window and you’ll have to, God forbid, supplement. (And yes, supplement is italicized because that’s the way your cousin pronounces it when you mention your husband is bottle-feeding your baby so you can sleep for 4 hours a night.) That when you finally get a quiet moment to yourself to relax, you suddenly feel guilty because YOU SHOULD BE PUMPING.
And I realize why so many women might choose to quit breastfeeding. It’s not the sore nipples, or the around-the-clock pumping, or even the convenience of formula when maternity leave is over. It just might be the pressure. The anxiety surrounding the “right way to breastfeed” and the all-too-often judgmental cousins who cringe when you pull out your nipple shield for an afternoon nursing session. The well-meaning friend that panics, rather than cheers, when you say your two-week-old is sleeping through the night, because OMG your milk supply will die out if you don’t set your alarm to pump! (It won’t, btw.) And it might be the breastfeeding forums that are created to support nursing mothers but instead make you feel as if your boobs aren’t working hard enough. That you’re not working hard enough. And if that pressure isn’t enough to make a new mother crack, it’s certainly enough to diminish a milk supply so she doesn’t even have the option.
I hope that by talking about nursing in a less-panicky (and certainly less judgmental) way, we can all help each other out. Because here are the real truths surrounding nursing:
It works for some women. It doesn’t for others. Everyone feeds their baby. And those babies grow up to become happy children who don’t understand why everyone’s stressed out about weaning, Lansinoh and plastic nipples.
So, ladies. Your thoughts on nursing? GO.
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