Jayme is an artist and freelance writer who trained in the medical field, and has worked as caregiver, farmer, mom and DIY'er.
Now that my breastfeeding adventure is nearing the end of the weaning phase, I look back in amazement at the fact that I successfully breastfed for this long.
If you had asked me in the first few weeks postpartum how long I would nurse, the answer would have been, "I'm trying for three months." At three months, I would have solemnly sworn that I would never go a full year, much less fifteen months.
I thought I would celebrate this achievement by writing advice to first-time moms planning to breastfeed, but a glance around the internet reminded me that there is already plenty of advice written on the technicalities and benefits of breastfeeding, including basic troubleshooting guides. All of those sites seemed so interesting back in the day when all I could think about was imperfect latch and delayed infant weight gain.
In retrospect, all the information offered is rather repetitive, and though necessary and uplifting to those in need, it barely scratches the surface of what really happens when you breastfeed your baby. Therefore, I thought it might be more fun to do a little tongue-in-cheek tribute to all the mothers who have survived the not-so-text-book breastfeeding phase of child-rearing.
The Image Of the Nursing Mother
Picture it in your mind:
- The covers of handbooks on breastfeeding
- Scenes from movies
- Magazine ads
- Classical watercolor paintings...
All depicting glowing women (don't you love Photoshop?), dressed in a beautiful, flowing pastel gown with their shiny hair spilling down over their creamy shoulders.
A rosy pink infant is clasped in their well-manicured hands is either latched beautifully to the breast or hidden in such a way that you can only imagine he is latched perfectly, as the Most Beautiful and Serene Mother Ever smiles down at him.
Notice that the house around her is clean, that she has no dark circles under her eyes, and that even though she is sitting in a rocking chair while holding her bundle at chest height her arms show no sign of wearying.
Yep. That's what I imagined it would be like as well. From the minute she was born my daughter would be embraced by a serene, beautiful smiling mother in a flowy gown. After she was born I would no longer need to sleep and would gracefully float to her side in the night and hold her in my arms while she nursed.
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That illusion disappeared so quickly it actually made a sound like a bag of flour hitting a concrete driveway. Poof. Beginning with the fact that pastel clothing is highly inadvisable for the next 18 years after baby is born, here is a look at the truths about breastfeeding.
1. Breastfeeding Feels Weird
You may read that it hurts at first, then gets better. They may say eventually you don't feel anything but "gentle tugging".
Keep in mind these are the same experts who still try to convince women that certain exams only feel "uncomfortable" and that labor feels like "pressure."
Regardless of whether it hurts or not, breastfeeding feels weird. It can be just a slight annoyance, or it can escalate to the point where you want to bribe the baby with a lollipop if he will just let go of you for a minute.
Just about the time you and baby become comfortable with the positions and methods of nursing, and you realize you can sleep while baby eats because that weird feeling is easily ignored, baby will sprout a few teeth. Just because they don't bite doesn't mean that it feels great.
Even with a good latch, there is going to be a certain amount of scraping until they learn how to eat around those pearly whites. The sensation is probably close to what it would feel like to have your toe licked by a cat for several hours without a break.
Breastfeeding Survival Kit
What you will need to make life easier:
- Ice packs
- Electric pump
- Milk storage bags
- Nursing pads (washable pads are best)
- Breast feeding pillow
- Support from others
- Snacks and water
- Sense of humor
2. Breastfeeding Changes Your Body
Breastfeeding can do strange things to your body. It starts with the cramping it causes in the postpartum weeks and spreads out to wreak havoc with other parts shortly after.
It can make your legs tingle, your head ache, and your mouth go dry. You might have only eaten for one and a half during pregnancy, but once baby learns how to nurse like a pro, you find you have the appetite of a sumo wrestler.
If you are lucky, all that extra food will go straight to production, and you will lose pounds in the process. That might not seem like such a great thing though, when your pre-pregnancy clothes no longer fit and your post-pregnancy budget doesn't include a new wardrobe.
Not only are you doomed to months of frumpy nursing bras and damp blouses, but now your pants fall off whenever you stand up. What's worse than that? You could be in a permanent state of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) if you can't eat enough to keep up with all the milk production.
3. To Pump or Not to Pump
There are many reasons why some mothers choose to pump. A few examples might be:
- To improve milk supply
- To provide breast milk for bottle feedings
- For health reasons
- To ease engorgement when facing a separation with baby
- For over-supply
When mentioned in breastfeeding books, "pumping" or "expressing" milk sounds very clean and easy. Simply a matter of a "whisper-quiet machine" expressing milk into cute storage bottles. They hardly prepare you for the reality of pumping.
If you are a horror movie fan, the pump may remind you of the film " The Mangler." The combination of hissing and chugging doesn't do much to help you relax so your milk will letdown.
Make sure you read the manual first and adjust the dials accordingly. Otherwise, you might find your entire body sucked into one of the tubes and you will be stuck there until someone thinks to come looking for you. Breastfeeding feels weird. Pumping feels downright wrong.
You Can Make Breastmilk Butter!
Yes you can! It is as easy as pie too. Just dump a bottle of breastmilk into a jar and shake until butter forms. What a neat idea for a baby starting solid foods. Their very own butter! What they don't say is that it takes at least three days of vigorous non-stop shaking to create a thin coat of butter on the side of the jar.
4. What Happens If You Produce Too Much Milk?
You might be asking, "What could possibly be wrong with having too much milk?"
My heart goes out to women struggling with low supply, because it is a serious issue. That is why I won't laugh at them. I will laugh however at those of us on the other side of the spectrum.
An over-supply of breastmilk makes for some unusual issues. It can be very uncomfortable to carry around those extra gallons, the weight of which no nursing bra was designed to handle.
If you pump to save milk for whatever reason, those two cute little bottles included in the pump kit probably won't do the trick. Luckily the 12 oz standard size bottles screw onto the kit, but don't even think you will look glamorous while pumping quarts of milk into bottles covered with dancing elephants.
Storage is an issue too. If you have gone through all the hassle to fill up 5 or 6 bags a day, you probably want to freeze them for future use. It doesn't take long for those bags to add up and take over the freezer.
Six freezers later, you might be wondering why you are hanging on to all that extra milk. Are you kidding? What if there is an emergency...such as a national milk shortage because all the dairy cows went on strike? You are prepared!
5. Sympathy Milk Can Be Embarrassing
Babies might show a preference for Mom's breasts, but Mom's breasts might not be so choosy. You might discover that any crying baby will trigger a letdown at the most inconvenient time.
Usually in the middle of the grocery store. It might not even take a real baby. Some women can respond to babies on television, thoughts about babies, or even baby animals.
Sometimes this begins before your baby is even born. Suddenly, the world is full of crying babies that you never noticed before. Luckily, this usually goes away after your baby is born and he or she becomes an established nurser.
However, if you have to be separated from your baby for a long period of time, ( to your baby and your body that is about thirty minutes), you may discover that thoughts about your child will trigger that sympathy milk just the same.
This can be very awkward if you are shopping. Or at work. Or in class...
- Never wear dangling earrings unless you want to know pain.
- Use baby Orajel to soothe nipple pain
- Go to the bathroom before you start nursing
- Nurse in the bathtub
- Don't feel guilty if you supplement or switch to formula
6. Babies Have No Shame
To be perfectly honest, babies can be perverts. Once they are old enough to know where the milk is stored you might find that they feel you up every so often just to see if things are still where they are supposed to be.
They may or may not be satisfied with a grope. Some like to take a quick peek. Even if this is in front of a hundred other people.
Most babies will be happy enough to keep their hands on Mom, but a few won't mind checking out the competition, peeping or pinching anyone who holds them to see what they might be hiding under their shirts. Including Dad and Grampa! Good news! This is when covetous relatives and friends stop asking to hold the baby quite so often.
It's not just your baby, either. You may notice other breastfed babies giving you the eye when you walk by, or reach for you at family gatherings. They might prefer mom, but if she's busy her baby might be looking for a snack bar.
7. Breastmilk Grosses Some People Out
Sure, we know that breast milk is the preferred food for infants. We, like all mammals, produce it specifically for feeding our babies. Yet it is surprising how many humans actually get grossed about by the actual milk.
Maybe that is a good thing in this age of strange diseases. Or maybe sad. After all, people will kiss someone they met only minutes ago, and sleep with an acquaintance they met yesterday, but recoil in horror at the sight of a bottle of breastmilk in the fridge.
When babies eat at Mom's Diner and then regurgitate, it can cause a panic attack among friends and relatives.
"Quick! Get something!" they yell. From thirty feet away.
8. Pets Are Attracted to Breastmilk
Think babies have no shame? Wait until you get around dogs and cats! The smell of that warm milk will suddenly make your chest a focal point for pets. This can be rather embarrassing if they aren't your own pets.
If you think it is difficult expressing milk when you are relaxed, try doing so under the watchful stare of a cat. They swish their tail, lick their lips, and make you wonder whether or not they are going to attack if you look away for a moment.
It's a Journey: Challenging but Rewarding
Yes. Those are but a few of the seldom told truths about breastfeeding. Here are a few more:
- Your body will no longer be your own.
- Your baby will kick you in the throat and almost kill you at least once.
- You will smell like sour butter.
- You will accidentally taste breast milk.
- You will spend the majority of the day with your breasts exposed.
- You will soon be able to break down, clean, and reassemble your pump with the same proficiency a marine uses on a gun.
- Learning to breastfeed is easier than weaning.
Still, at the end of it all, you will realize you wouldn't have traded those experiences for anything in the world.
If you are like me, you will plan to do it again, because we have graduated from newbies to experienced mothers. Even though all babies are different, there is no problem that we can't tackle and solve. Right?
So to all the breastfeeders and breastfeeders to be,
Happy Nursing. It really can get better.
Breast Feeding Poll
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
FigureCompetition from Northern Ireland on May 17, 2019:
Currently feeding baby number 3 and I laughed out loud at some of your comments - brilliant read
Tori on November 08, 2018:
Thank you so much for this. I've actually been very stressed out feeling this exact same way thinking I was probably almost the only one. But this makes me feel a world of alot better!
Georgia Estes from Arkansas on May 24, 2017:
Oh Gosh! I laughed so much and you brought back memories to me. Especially the one about a cat licking in one spot for a long time, and the one about sympathy milk. You have a gift for description! Loved the article!
Mary Hyatt from Florida on June 01, 2015:
As a mother of four, I really enjoyed this Hub! I tried to breast feed my first. She cried all the time; the Dr. said my milk was not good enough, so I had to put her on formula. I really did try. I admire mothers who breast feed their babies very much.
I have a new granddaughter due just any day, and the mother is definitely planning on breastfeeding. I am sharing this Hub on my FB page just for her.
Voted this UP, etc.
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 22, 2012:
Haha! Knives and elephants! That is a pretty accurate analogy!
Aloe Kim on September 13, 2012:
Oh I know what you mean! I went drug free with my second. For me though I'd say the pain was a little worse with L/D. lol, you didn't want to live with the feeling of knives being stuck in your breasts while they're being sat on by an elephant? ^_^ oh what well do for our little babies!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 13, 2012:
Thanks Mama Kim! Yeah...I had a drug free birth, and no painkiller for the stitches, but by day three I gladly took pain killers for the engorgement pain! It was so weird to go through L/D and then want pain meds for sore breasts! They sure don't tell you it can hurt more than birth!
Aloe Kim on September 12, 2012:
Well said! ^_^ I would have like to know ahead of time about the pain/relief of engorgement and clogged milk ducts! Babies sleeping through the night isn't always a good thing when it come to breastfeeding. Also... to always have a rag handy to stop the squirt gun effect of milk in case the baby decides to de-latch just as your letting down. ahh... but I like it a whole lot better than having to prepare formula and wash bottles. Voted a bunch and shared!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on September 07, 2012:
Haha! That is so cute and funny! My daughter has started eyeing her daddy when I won't give her milk. Freaks him out.
Good luck with the weaning! They don't tell you how difficult it is to get them to stop nursing once they learn how!
lainelongfellow from Oklahoma on September 07, 2012:
Funny! I'm trying to wean my baby right now, and he definitely doesn't like it. I have flowers tattoos on my arm and he tries to suck on them like they're nipples!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on August 30, 2012:
Thank you Innerspin! I don't like being licked by cats either, so I never really got used to the sensation of breastfeeding. What I did like was the snuggly part. There was so much going on after my daughter was born, and I was the handle-it person. Breastfeeding gave me a good reason to drop everything and just hold my baby. Thanks for the comment!
Kim Kennedy from uk on August 30, 2012:
An enjoyable and informative read. I'm not sure why I read it as I'm past that stage, and didn't relish the experience at the time. (Never did like having my toes licked by a cat.) It was full of humour and good observations, thank you.
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on August 29, 2012:
@B-Leekley-Your moms sounds like my aunt. She perplexed a lot of more buxom women as well. Sadly, the breast-size myth is still one of the most frequently seen concerns on help forums and information sites.
I thought about including a section about public breastfeeding here as well. It turned out to be too long though. I support women's rights to nurse in public, and my state has a law that allows it anywhere. However, if you have any modesty, it is NOT as easy as it sounds, and can lead to some very awkward situations.
Thanks for your great comment!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on August 29, 2012:
@B.Leekly-Thank you for the insightful comment. I thought about putting in a section dealing with public breastfeeding, but it turned out to be too long. I believe women should be able to nurse in public, but if you have any modesty, it isn't as easy as it sounds.
It is also amazing that the breast-size myth is still floating around. It was one of the most frequently asked questions I saw when I did my research. Your mother sounds like my aunt. She perplexed a lot of more buxom women as well.
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on August 29, 2012:
@April-I'm sorry you didn't have a good experience with breastfeeding. I believe that the best way to feed baby is whichever way is least stressful for mom and baby. If formula feeding works better for you then kudos for doing the best thing for your family. Congratulations on number three! And thanks for the comment!
Jayme Kinsey (author) from Oklahoma on August 29, 2012:
Thanks Francesca! You summed it up wonderfully, joys and horrors!
@Brainy Bunny-Thank for the comment. I could probably write two or three more hubs all the unusual sensations and situations. Especially how just when I got used to something, things would change again!
Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on August 29, 2012:
Thank you, Sharkye11, for the informative article, well and humorously told. Up, Useful, Funny, Interesting, and shared.
One time back in the 80s when she was in her 70s, my mother was talking about times past with my siblings and me, and she remembered nursing in the hospital after giving birth to one of us. At the time Mother still weighed under a hundred pounds. Another woman in the hospital with a newborn had large breasts and thought it very unfair and perplexing that my mother's breasts produced ample milk while hers produced hardly any.
A related topic is where to breastfeed. A few years ago my wife and I were living in a small town and attending a Unitarian Universalist church with circa 50 members, and there was contention over whether a mother breast-feeding her baby during the sermon should be welcome to sit in the midst of the congregation or should sit in back.
april holland on August 29, 2012:
Ugh. Let me just say Breastfeeding sucks!!! I will never, never, never do it again. I breastfed my firstborn because they said: "Oh he will be healthier!" Not!! He was sick from the time he was born til now!! My second child I refused to breastfeed and she is healthy as a horse! We have a third child coming and I am NOT breastfeeding!!!! Great article though...
Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on August 29, 2012:
Oh my gosh, I have had all those experiences and more! I couldn't believe that no one told me that nursing hurts in the beginning, even if you are doing it right, either! And weird is certainly a good way to describe it after that -- the pulling, and gulping, and gasping -- I thought I was going to drown my daughter! Unfortunately, my milk was not as plentiful with my son, so he used to nurse for what seemed like 40 minutes out of every hour if the day (and most of the night, too). Voted up, useful, funny, and awesome!
Francescad from London on August 29, 2012:
Oh yes, resonates with me: the joys and the horrors! Made me chuckle and i'm sure will reassure many who are trying to breast feed for the first time.