Did you know that breastfeeding, like grief, is not just a feeding choice? Its actually a lifestyle change made up of mini-stages. Believe it or not, the whole journey is actually like one big comedy, and you will be the main star!
Most women who choose this lifestyle can laugh together about the mishaps and successes. Others may cruise through with no problems, and some will decide its not for them. Whether you go all the way or not, at some point during breastfeeding, you should be able to relate to at least one of these stages:
Stage 1 – Breastfeeding Naive Enthusiasm! (I’m Going to Do This!)
This stage of breastfeeding begins before the baby is even born. Your body goes through some amazing changes. You make the decision to breastfeed, and read all the literature.
You announce your plans to family and friends, and recite everything about the benefits, how easy it is going to be, and how you will have SO much extra time because you won’t be making bottles.
As you near the end of pregnancy you start stockpiling breastfeeding accessories such as pillows, bras, pads, and two or three pumps (you couldn’t decide which one looked more chic). The enthusiasm stage ends officially when they hand you the baby to nurse for the first time.
Stage 2 – Surprise! (Wow! That Kinda Hurts!)
By the time this stage begins, everyone from your doctor to your postal carrier knows that you will be breastfeeding. You are so optimistic that you pack your cutest nursing tops and covers to take to the hospital.
After your baby is born, he or she will want to feed. When this happens, you begin your adventure in breastfeeding, either alone, or with the help of a nurse or lactation consultant.
You probably expected this moment to be an almost magical union, complete with angels singing and beams of fairy lights surrounding you.
In reality, you will begin the SURPRISE stage when baby latches on. You will probably yelp like a wounded dog, and immediately wonder if this was a good idea.
Stage 3 – Doubt (This Is Impossible)
The surprise and doubt stage overlap slightly. You will continue to be surprised that breastfeeding is:
- Not as easy as everyone said
- Not as comfortable as you expected
- Not as mess free as you imagined
There may be some pain, even if baby has a good latch. You will be told to keep practicing with various positions and holds. As you struggle to hold a wriggly, demanding baby and triangulate the best position of your nursing pillows, breast and baby’s lips to allow for perfect latch, you will begin to doubt yourself.
You will eventually find yourself semi-reclining on one side, half-undressed, and propped on various pillows, your leg on a table, your elbow smooshed under your breast; with your baby wrapped tightly in a swaddle, upside down and laying at a complicated angle.
You have found the “least painful” nursing position. But you wonder how on earth you will duplicate this exact posture multiple times a day. Wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to be something you could do on the go?
Stage 4 – Self-Reassurance
Over the next few weeks or months, doubt overlaps with self-reassurance. You still wonder if this whole breastfeeding idea is going to work. You actually want to stop, but you are determined. And besides, you already told everyone how easy it was. So…
You read even more information. Now you can look up specific problems, like “how the heck will baby ever get good at nursing if he keeps falling asleep after 20 seconds?”
You will develop a crazy routine, which pretty much exists of you;
- gritting your teeth through ten or twenty nursing sessions a day.
- you choosing to NOT breastfeed for just a few minutes.
- you crying because your baby is crying and you would rather do anything in the world besides let her near your sore breasts.
- gritting your teeth through another nursing session and remembering that you haven’t had a chance to pee all day.
But its okay. Because you have read the advice in all the books and online articles, and everything you are experiencing is actually normal. No one is really sure how to fix it, but you feel better knowing that you are not alone.
They say it will get better, so you tell yourself you will give it just two more weeks to see how things are going. But you really want to quit.
Stage 5 – Exhaustion (Time To Consider That Chic Pump)
Gradually, it does get better! You figure out some tricks, your body gets used to the constant mangling, and you learn to read your baby’s cues.
You decide it is time now to learn how to use that breast pump. Maybe you want to go back to work, or maybe you just want someone else to feed the baby while you take a shower. You could really just use a break.
If you haven’t pumped until now, then you will probably revisit the surprise stage. Rather than filling up a few bottles like you expect from looking at the picture on the box, you will work for hours and come up with a few measly drops.
You start to feel apprehensive.
“Do I have milk? Do I have enough? Have I been starving your baby?”
You quickly do more research and learn that you are STILL normal. And that you need to somehow fit in several pumping sessions per day. Your life will now pretty much revolve around milk production.
Stage 6 – Panic! (I’m Trapped!)
The good news is you have finally reached the point where breastfeeding is pretty easy. It doesn’t hurt anymore, and you can even manage to half-fill a bottle too. Your supply is good, but you worry about losing it if you don’t keep a consistent schedule.
But what about going out? Suddenly, you realize that you are spending 90% of your time either nursing or pumping. You want to do other things. How is that possible?
You still haven’t figured out how to undo the elaborate nursing bra hooks with one hand, your baby can’t nurse without two Boppy pillows, and he certainly won’t stay behind a nursing cover.
Maybe a bottle?
You remember that you are only able to get two or three ounces a day. And your baby seems to drink four or five gallons. And what if feeding baby that one bottle of precious breast milk makes your supply start to shrink?
What if you don’t take the bottle, and then baby starves because you couldn’t find a place to spread all the pillows?
You panic as you wonder whether or not you will ever be able to go out without a major hassle.
Stage 7 – Flexibility (This Is Easy!)
If you survived the panic stage, then you probably began practicing different ways to breastfeed. Maybe you are even getting baby used to eating while in a baby carrier. In fact, baby seems to be a lot more willing to cooperate these days. He is even nursing less and looking around more.
You congratulate yourself. You stuck out the hardest parts of breastfeeding, and now you are a pro. How could anyone think of quitting. This is easy! As this stage progresses you learn how to nurse one-handed, lying down, sitting anywhere and even standing up.
Baby can probably nurse sideways, right ways, and upside down now. Your breasts develop some sort of elasticity that allows them to stretch in unbelievable directions, and you can calmly read your emails while your nursing baby twists, turns and does a flip or two.
Stage 8 – Teething (I Am Done.)
You were absolutely sure that you would nurse until your baby was one or two years old. Maybe even through their college years. You suddenly felt that glowing, magical bond you were promised.
Then your baby decided to test your dedication by chomping down with her still submerged first tooth.
Right then, you were done with breastfeeding.
You do two things. You research a little more, and you check the price of baby formula. You decide to keep nursing, using the advice of seasoned moms online. But only until you can decide on which formula to use.
After a day or so with no more biting, you decide that its still too early to wean. You promise to keep going until the next tooth comes in, even though now if feels like your baby has sandpaper in her mouth every time she nurses.
But remember, you told everyone it was easy. So you are committed, right?
Stage 9 – The Active Months (Aren’t You Hungry?)
Just when you thought you had everything figured out, from bad latches to those sharp little fangs, your baby surprises you again. Now he or she becomes more mobile and loses most of his interest in nursing.
As he rolls, crawls and explores, he may also go on a nursing strike. Now you follow him around begging him to nurse. You spend lots of time with your pump. You again think about weaning because engorgement is no fun at all.
Stage 10 – The Letting Go (No! I Don’t Want to Quit)
Your baby grows, begins to eat solid food, and nurses less and less. He or she becomes a toddler. Eventually the day comes when you decide it really is 100% time to wean.
Then you cry.
You are still heavily drugged with nursing hormones, and they are fogging your memory. You only barely recall how much you looked forward to this day. You can’t remember what those painful first days felt like.
You know that you sometimes get absolutely tired of being touched all the time…but it doesn’t seem so bad now that you are truly facing the bittersweet end.
You may continue to cry off and on as you pack up your pumping supplies. You reassure yourself by looking at your non-nursing bras, which have been waiting in your drawer for months.
Stage 11 – Withdrawal And Enthusiasm (This Is Not Easy!)
You dream of the freedom of not having to pump or nurse. You can go whole days without unbuttoning your shirt. But the hormones are still there, and they can wreak havoc with your emotions.
Weirdly, your baby will not seem as bothered. He or she will occasionally demand to nurse, only to be easily distracted. This will make you cry. You wish you had your little baby who needed you back.
Your independent toddler is fairly satisfied with crackers and cartoons. Why not? Who wants to hang out with the sniffling, disheveled woman who took away your milk supply?
You comfort yourself with the thoughts of finally getting your pre-baby body back, wearing cute clothes again, and not smelling like spoiled milk all the time.
Stage 12 – Breastfeeding Surprise! (Is That ME?)
Now that you aren’t attached (literally) to your baby so much, you expect everything to go back in place. You get to take a long, hard look at yourself in the mirror, and you are…surprised.
Every part of your body is in place, but not the place it started out. You look like a balloon desperately in need of some air.
You can handle this. You created a life. You expelled a human torpedo from your body. You breastfed a piranha for months. What’s a little decreased body image?
Your neatly fold your breasts up like old socks and tuck them into a push-up bra. You start to toss your stretched out, milk-stained nursing bra towards the trash can, but you surprise yourself with this crazy thought:
“When I have my next baby, I will need that.”
You will totally do this whole thing again. Next time really will be easy right?