Breastfeeding: the agony and the — yeah, just the agony.

Hello! It is I, woman who used to regularly update her blog. My shocking absence can and will, as usual, be blamed on my two adorable children, who are slowly but surely sucking the life-force from my now husk-like terrestrial body. NOT TO BE DRAMATIC!

No, but really, things are good. Ewan is now a whopping 6 months old, and Lucia is 28 months old. They are both very cute. And they are both very exhausting. I love them so much! But man, they’re a lot of work. But they’re so cute. BUT OH MY GOD I AM SO TIRED.

I want to talk today about breastfeeding. Again. I’ve already talked about it here. But breastfeeding continues to occupy a lot of my mental, emotional, and physical bandwidth. I have so many thoughts and feelings about it, it’s hard to know where to begin. But mostly, I want to talk about how breastfeeding is hard (for me), and how it’s only now, with my second child, that I’m starting to hear that it’s hard for other people, too.

Until recently, I always felt rather alone in my struggles with breastfeeding. It seemed like everyone else just effortlessly nursed their babies (or happily went to formula) while I toiled away, cursed with every breastfeeding affliction and pathology in the book. Let me quickly enumerate the issues I’ve had with breastfeeding. With Lucia, it was oversupply, engorgement, plugged ducts, mastitis (two bouts), undersupply, bottle refusal, and a hellacious recovery process after her three frenectomies at four months old. Somehow, despite all my trials and tribulations, I nursed her for a full year (plus two weeks), and I felt an overwhelming sense of relief when I weaned her. I was so glad to be done with it and to have my body back to myself. Two weeks later, I got pregnant with Ewan. Oops.

With Ewan, I was anticipating a repeat of all the issues I had nursing Lucia. But instead, I got a whole host of NEW problems. Starting when he was about a month old, I began to suffer from stabbing, electric pains in my breasts that felt like I was being burnt with cigarettes from the inside. My symptoms led healthcare professionals to assume that I had a bad case of thrush in the milk ducts, but after over two months’ worth of thrush treatments for me and Ewan (heavy duty oral antifungals for me, washing everyone’s clothes in hot water and bleach, wiping my boobs down with vinegar, treating Ewan’s mouth with everything from nystatin to gentian violet, which stained his entire face purple, etc., etc.), with no relief, a midwife I saw figured out that it wasn’t thrush after all, it was breast spasms. I went on a blood pressure medication that successfully got rid of those. Hooray!

But then, I got the stomach flu twice (thanks, pernicious preschool germs) and my milk supply tanked, and poor Ewan fell from the 40th percentile for weight to the 20th. This concerned his pediatrician, so I began a pumping regimen that has increased my supply but has also left me so uncomfortable in the middle of the night that I have to wake up from a dead sleep to pump, usually at three or four in the morning. Also, half a year in, my boobs still hurt occasionally, either while feeding the baby or between feedings. I am still constantly teetering on the brink of getting a plugged duct. I constantly worry about Ewan’s weight (despite his utterly delicious thigh rolls) and my supply. Breastfeeding, for me, has been and continues to be stressful, most of the time.

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And yet, I soldier on. I’ve tried to figure out why I keep doing it, and I can come up with a lot of reasons, none of which are particularly great. I tell myself that I owe it to Ewan to nurse him for at least a year since that’s what I did with Lucia. (He’ll definitely care about this, right? RIGHT?) I tell myself that breastfeeding is more convenient (…debatable) and cheaper than formula (although it drives me insane when people say that breastfeeding is “free,” because it most definitely isn’t). I tell myself that since breastmilk is more varied in flavor than formula, Ewan is going to have a more adventurous palate when it comes to solid food (although Lucia’s refusal to touch a vegetable with a ten-foot pole puts the lie to this theory). I tell myself that burning 500 calories a day without having to exercise is a nice perk (although while breastfeeding, I end up eating an additional, like, 3000 calories a day since I’m so frigging hungry all the time, so I’m not sure that math works out). I tell myself that I’ve come this far, so I might as well keep going. And so I do.

I’m not going to stop breastfeeding yet. But I wish that mothers could talk more about how hard breastfeeding can be and really think deeply about why we choose to do it or not do it. I wonder if, had I not felt weird societal pressure to exclusively breastfeed Lucia, and hadn’t been told from day one that it should be “easy” and “natural” and “pain-free,” if I would have made a different choice. Maybe not. But I probably would have felt less alone in my difficulties.

2 thoughts on “Breastfeeding: the agony and the — yeah, just the agony.

  1. Sarah

    This is such an important post. Breastfeeding was a really traumatic and fraught experience with my first baby and after what I tell myself was a heroic effort, I gave up and pumped exclusively for months, which was horribly stressful but seemed very important to do at the time. I had the same feeling, that everyone was blissfully trucking along, occasionally popping a nipple into their kid’s mouth whenever the need arose. They didn’t need to carry a huge bag of pumping equipment and sneak off to sit in a hot car in the middle of a barbecue to stick to a rigid every 2 hours pumping schedule (the only way my milk supply would stay up) while others got to hold and play with my little guy. When my supply finally tanked despite my best efforts, i cried but within days I was relieved and almost….euphoric?…as I mixed his formula.

    Now baby no. 2 is on the way and I already have a lactation consultant on hand to strategize about The best way to make it work this time around – nipple shield? Earlier tongue-tie evaluation? – and again, I’m not totally sure why I’m doing this. I guess we just honor the blood, sweat, and tears and hope the benefits are real.

    Thank you again for this post.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie Post author

      Hi Sarah – thanks so much for your comment. And congrats on baby number 2! Two kids is a whole new ballgame, but I have found it to be pretty awesome (but maybe that’s the exhaustion making me delirious). I’m sending you good vibes on your breastfeeding journey, whatever it looks like this time around. It’s so hard to make sound decisions about what’s best for your own mental health when you’re still in the hormonal fog of having just given birth, not sleeping, etc., and looking back, I think a lot of my decision-making, this time around, was not coming from a logical place. I was sidelining my own mental and physical well-being because I was convinced it would be “selfish” of me to drop breastfeeding, no matter what. There was a lot of guilt involved, and I’m not sure that guilt served any productive purpose. Now, six months in, I have finally reached a state where breastfeeding is not easy, exactly, but it feels more sustainable… but I still consider quitting, often. It’s so hard to know what the right answer is. Hope you find something that works for you and your family!

      Reply

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