Breastfeeding is one of the few things in life that – like parenting in general – is hard even when it isn’t hard. Even if everything goes according to plan (and that’s a big if), it’s still insanely tough. It involves so many working parts and requires so many things to go smoothly. At a bare minimum, you need to have a decent latch, a good milk supply, cooperative nipples, and an affinity for sitting still for a very, very long time. Despite having all (or most) of these things without issue, my first two months of breastfeeding were, without any exaggeration, the hardest two months of my life.
From the start, we were really lucky with Baby Bee; she was a champion latcher right out of the gate. I remember the lactation consultant coming to see us after she was born and saying “Wow! Did you take breastfeeding courses? You two are doing really well!” Nope, I hadn’t. I mean, there had been a fifteen minute segment at the end of one of the birthing classes we took, which I paid moderate attention to, but this amazing display of newborn nursing was all her. This was the one and only aspect of nursing that came totally effortlessly. Good latch: check.
When we got home, everything was still going smoothly. She was still latching well and nursing regularly. And then something happened that I had read about but, it would turn out, was no where near prepared for: my milk came in. And, when I say came in, I mean it came in. Imagine, if you will, lying down for a nap in the early evening and waking up a little over an hour later to find that your boobs have exploded to the point that you suddenly have stretch mark on your nipples (sorry for the overshare). In the matter of an hour, you have become a porn star with the biggest, hardest boobs in the history of boobs, you’ve spiked a low-grade fever, and you feel like you’re going to be sick to your stomach. Welcome to the world of breastfeeding.
I immediately ran into the living room screaming “Fix it! Fix it! FIIIX IIIT!!” at my husband who, having never had milk come in himself, was at a complete loss about what to do. After a quick google search, he had me sitting on the couch with warm compresses on my breasts (these were amazing), the breast pump hooked up and ready to go (we use a double electric one, which gloriously emptied both breasts in a matter of minutes), a cold cloth on my neck, and a giant glass of ice water in my hand. It was brutal, but after that first pump-and-dump session, everything became manageable again. It took a few more of those pumping sessions – and a lot of cold compresses after nursing – but my milk supply leveled out and, after a day or so, we were back on the path to smooth sailing. Good milk supply: double check.
That was until what I like to refer to as the Great Nipple Destruction of 2016. After my milk came in, we became a nursing powerhouse, with the Baby Bee nursing every hour and a half, often cluster feeding for hours on end in the evenings. Luckily, I didn’t have any issues related to the shape/size of my nipples but I discovered that I did have incredibly wimpy nipples. There was massive chafing, some bleeding, and even scabbing (again, sorry for the overshare). If it hadn’t been for my beloved nipple butter and lanolin, I may not have made it through the week alive. But after a few intense days of nipple boot camp and constantly applying my arsenal of boob creams (and, let’s be honest, downing the pain killers), my nipples toughened up and I was able to breastfeed pain free. Nipples of steel: check.
Finally, the part that I found the hardest about breastfeeding is the long hours of sitting that it initially requires. Growing up, I’d only ever cared for bottle-fed babies, so I had absolutely no exposure to breastfeeding or what it entails during the first few weeks home. What I quickly discovered is that breastfeeding a baby takes a LOT longer than bottle feeding for an average feed. On top of that, breastfed babies often cluster feed, which is when they nurse for extended periods of time. For the first six weeks of her life, Baby Bee LOVED to cluster feed. Every night. For up to four hours in a row. As someone who used to love to get out for long strolls in the evening when I was pregnant, this killed me. It was one of the only aspects of caring for a newborn that brought me to tears on multiple occasions.
With time, however, it became routine and I eventually came to look forward to our evenings in because it meant quality time with my husband, hanging out on the couch and watching a movie together. To be honest, since bringing Baby Bee home, we hadn’t had very much (okay, any) time together and I was finding that really tough. Cluster feeding forced us to take a time out, relax, and enjoy a few hours together every night. So, while I still sometimes found it hard to be stuck inside on a beautiful night, I was also grateful to have that time with my husband back and learned to cherish it. Affinity for long hours on the couch: (reluctantly) check.
Like everything involved in motherhood, the difficulties of breastfeeding eventually passed and it became effortless. I remember all of the the late-night nursing sessions spent googling “when will things get better?” The short answer: after 7-8 weeks. While it still takes longer to nurse than it would to bottle feed and it’s still something that only I can do, the mechanics of it are so, so much easier now and, honestly, it’s so much more convenient than having to remember to pack formula, bottles, bibs, and cloths every time we go out. Was it hard? Hells yes. Was it worth it? Definitely.