Upon deciding to nurse your baby, you are signing your body up to become an all-you-can-eat, fast food drive-thru for your baby, who eats more often than any college freshman. It is perhaps the most demanding part of motherhood, at least for the first year or so, as you can’t hand over the job to anyone else in your support circle.
It is a taxing assignment in so many ways: the midnight, early morning, and late-night feeds, the incessant crying when your breast doesn’t produce as much as he wants, the sore, cracked or blistered nipples (at least in the beginning, and when they’re teething), engorgement when you miss a feed, clogged milk ducts and BLEPs (milk blisters), the fact that you always smell like spoiled breast milk, and just being constantly on-call by their demand, your body being sucked and chewed upon like a large piece of irresistible salt-water taffy.
But you wouldn’t have it any other way, would you? Or would you?
Click here to read 12 Breastfeeding Tips to Know Before Giving Birth.
Some women are, in fact, exclusively nursing— hats off to you ladies! The rest of us have created a balancing act of breastfeeding by bottle (providing mother’s milk as a result of pumping), sometimes mixing both breast milk and formula to supplement what our bodies create. Its simply not true that nursing works for everyone— and women have all sorts of valid reasons why breastfeeding doesn’t work for them. And that’s ok! Formula today is crafted to be as close to mother’s milk as possible, fortified with all the nutrients necessary to keep our babies developing into healthy little humans.
But for many of us, if we can— we do, and this simple act unites mothers everywhere, forming a bond between mothers and their babies. No one else could comprehend the physical toll and emotional reward that breastfeeding creates except for another nursing mama!
I write this while nursing my 7 week old son: typing with my left hand while my dominant right coddles my child to my chest. A recent trend of his is to refuse to sleep unless his mouth is suctioned to my breast, even though he is very, very tired. If he wakes to find that he’s been put down in his crib, he throws the most heart-breaking tantrum! And he’s been waking easily, and early-on in his nap. He must get his light-sleeping tendencies from me— his father can nap any time, any where.
Meanwhile, I’m desperate for a nap! This recent behavior of his means that my chances for an afternoon nap are slimmer than ever, and he isn’t going down at night as easy as before, and that daytime routine I keep aiming for is the faintest of dreams, since he won’t detach from my breast long enough for me to do much of anything, like eat or shower, let alone sleep.
Let’s make it clear— this has little to do with food. He may finish off four ounces from the bottle but still want my nipple to sleep by. Truth be told, at 7 weeks, he is no doubt going through a second growth spurt, as his hunger is increasing day by day. When he used to take 40 minutes to drink 1ounce by bottle, he now takes only 20 minutes to demolish 3 oz… and he’ll still want to nurse following that!
Before giving birth, I had no idea how all of my time would revolve around milk. With child on one teet, and a hand-express pump on the other, I feel like a sow, a mother pig, fat and plump, lying helplessly while her little ones gorge on her tits. I could compare myself to any animal, but for whatever reason, a sow continues to come to mind. Maybe because he grunts and snorts like a little piglet while he’s feasting away at my chest.
Once he’s eaten enough to fall into a food coma, I can put him down to sleep while I… pump, usually. 20 minutes of pumping might provide enough for his next bottle feed. At this point, 95% of my child’s waking hours involve feeding him, and maybe half of his sleeping hours involve preparing to feed him: pumping, cleaning the pump parts, taking supplements to encourage milk (oat milk, milk thistle, and fenugreek), eating a plethora of fresh vegetables, fruits, plant proteins, whole grains and organic dairy & meats to fill my body with enough calories to sustain both myself and my child.
Then there’s caring for my breasts and nipples themselves: sore and cracked nipples get slathered in nipple butter, engorged breasts get a heat pad, and of course there’s the concern of thrush, a yeast infection that can occur from your breasts being saturated in milk all the time. Thrush can cause red, itchy bumps (looks like eczema, another common ailment), and white fungus on both your nipples and in your child’s mouth.
After all of that, then there’s washing your breast pads and nursing bras, the burp cloths, and all of your child’s soiled clothing and blankets. Spilt milk will cause more laundry than any diaper mishap!
If he continues to sleep past all that, well— lucky me! I get time to take care of myself for the day, maybe even write a little.
No wonder why so many of today’s modern women prefer to head back to work as soon as possible, passing along a bottle to a caretaker as they skip out the door. While most will say that they’d prefer to stay home with their babies, plenty of others will fess up to the fact that they’re just not fulfilled by feeling like a human milk machine. And there’s nothing wrong with that!
Though all of this sounds god-awful, truth be told for me, I really wouldn’t have it any other way. I tap into my mother-goddess archetype, channeling her powers of unconditional love as I prepare my body for my child’s nourishment. I cherish this time period when my little one will cry and beg for the embrace of his mama, and receive everything he needs from me.
I am fascinated by the changes of my physical body, by the signals I receive that my milk is tapped, the spouts are open, whether or not my baby is ready to receive. It involves a hyper-awareness of my body that I have full appreciation for. Nursing gives me time to read, to meditate, to watch the Netflix shows my husband won’t, to sing or hum to my nursing child, to read him a story, to breathe, and to listen to his sounds as he begins to babble and coo.
Plus its just really funny when he detaches from my nipple in the middle of a let-down, and my nipple sprays breastmilk all over his face, my clothes, the furniture… ah, delirious, sleep-deprived laughter! Embrace it while you can!