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 the very least, 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, my first two weeks of breastfeeding were, without any exaggeration, the hardest two weeks 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, once we had settled into our hospital room, and saying “Oh, wow! Did you take breastfeeding courses while pregnant? You guys 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 pain-free. 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 endless 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 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! FIIIX IIIT!!” at my husband who, having never had milk come in himself, was at a complete loss. 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 no time), 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 lots 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: check, check, 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 did discover that I have insanely wimpy nipples. There was massive chafing, some bleeding, and even scabbing. 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, pain killers), my nipples toughened up and I was finally able to breastfeed pain free. Nipples of steel: check.
The part that I found – and still find – the hardest about breastfeeding is the long hours of sitting that are required. Growing up, I’d only ever looked after formula and bottle-fed babies, so I had absolutely no exposure to breastfeeding or what it entailed during the first few weeks home. What I quickly discovered is that breastfeeding a baby takes a LOT longer than bottle feeding. Breastfed babies often cluster feed, which is when they nurse for extended periods of time without pause or nurse many times back-to-back. 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 every evening when I was pregnant, this killed me. It was the one of the only aspects of caring for a newborn that brought me to tears on multiple occasions.
Over time, however, it became routine and I started 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: check.