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“Lauren,” my husband took a break from forcefully kneading my breast. He placed one hand on my back, and with the other, gently wiped tears off of my exhausted, horrified face. I’d been crying for about an hour, my own sobs mingling with my two-week-old daughter’s. I didn’t know which was worse: the fact that I couldn’t give Olivia’s hungry little body what it needed, or the excruciating pain of my first of three bouts with mastitis. And to top it all off, there was the sight of my patient, exhausted husband trying to milk one of my breasts while the blistered nipple of the other one darted in and out of a clear plastic pump cone just inches away from his face.
“This is the polar opposite of my breastfeeding fantasy,” I said, raising my voice to be heard over the thumping of my new, hospital-grade pump. “This is just gross.”
Nate took my hand in his. “I’m sorry you’re in so much pain, but I want you to know that this isn’t even a little bit gross to me.”
I took a deep breath and gave him a look.
“Honey,” he squeezed my hand the way he always did when he was about to say something romantic. “Don’t forget, I grew up on a farm.”
Everyone’s breastfeeding journey has a low point, and that was mine. Baby daughter screaming bloody murder for milk you don’t have, breasts hijacked by hard, excruciatingly painful mastitis lumps, and loving, handsome husband you’ve been married to for less than a year in one of the most unromantic situations you could dream up, comparing you to a milking cow.
Not to mention the pediatrician appointment earlier that morning, where we’d learned that despite the fact that I’d spent every waking minute with Olivia attached to my boob, she’d started to lose weight. Which is never, ever a good thing for a new baby. “Emergency” appointments were scheduled — lactation consultants for me, and an otolaryngologist for Olivia to see if she needed tongue-tie surgery. Enter the feeding scales, nipple shields, and hospital-grade pumps. Cue the long list of “milk-making” cookies, herbs, teas, and supplements I desperately turned to.
Once my situation leveled out, my new “normal” meant pumping milk up to eight times a day while trying to “naturally” breastfeed here and there to see if it might magically unclog my ducts and keep my hormone and milk supplies healthy. Don’t get me started on all of the hallways, bathrooms, basements, airport floors, cars, libraries, and “pumping closets” I parked myself in when I needed to “take care of business.”
Like many new moms, I joined a mothers group. Thank God, because it became an invaluable source of support and a sounding board for the shocking, painful, and often terrifying things we all seemed to be experiencing between the amazing moments of witnessing the beginning of our little ones’ early days. “Why doesn’t anyone warn you about this stuff?” we asked each other again and again and again.
According to a recent UC Davis Medical study, three days after giving birth, 92 percent of new mothers said they were having problems breastfeeding. Knowledge is power. If I had heard about more of my friends’ breastfeeding challenges before Olivia was born, I may have felt a little less frustrated by my own situation and been a little easier on myself when the road got rough. The positive parts of new motherhood need no introduction; they are magical, incredible, and utterly breathtaking. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, can be a really difficult journey with high physical and emotional stakes.
In honor of International Breastfeeding Awareness Week, if you’ve been through a pregnancy and know a mama-to-be, it may be worth taking a few minutes to give her your real scoop. Tell her about your favorite and least favorite parts. If you had a lactation consultant or nursing support group you loved, give her a name or phone number “just in case.” Make her laugh as you recount the hilarious, wacky, wonderful, and disgusting places where you breastfed or pumped for your little one. In speaking your truth about what can be a very humbling experience for many moms, you may just be able to help one new mama be a little more prepared for the ride.
If you liked this post, check out Lauren’s new book, The Places You’ll Feed! Available now on Amazon for $14.95.
“Hilarious and relatable, this is a great read for all expecting moms and those that have been through it before!” — Amazon reviewer Lindsay BleierMore On