As a first time mom who aimed to breastfeed exclusively, I’m proud to say I’ve made it ten months so far, and I intend to keep going. While I might not say I’m going strong, I’m still going, and my daughter is healthy. In the grand scheme of things, that is all that matters.
For anyone considering breastfeeding, chances are you’ve heard some variation of, “for something so natural, breastfeeding is not easy.” I’m here to report that this statement is true. But if I’m honest, the same could be said of parenthood in general. Being a mom is simultaneously the most amazing and amazingly difficult experience I’ve ever had. In fact, I think there are several lessons I’ve learned from breastfeeding that translate to parenthood as a whole:
Sacrifice: Breastfeeding is a full-time job. To keep your baby properly fed and maintain your supply, you always have to have your little one or your pump nearby. It is a physical and emotional tether- a symbol that your life will never be the same. As someone who was rather independent pre-maternity, I struggle with this aspect at times. No matter how helpful my partner is, this is something he simply cannot do; the responsibility falls squarely on my shoulders. But, I know how beneficial breastfeeding is for my daughter’s health, and that is far more important than anything else. I will gladly pump and wash and sanitize and repeat. While breastfeeding can be very difficult, especially in the beginning, I know that it is the first of many sacrifices I will happily make for my daughter.
Trust: I am a very detail-oriented person, I plan meticulously whenever possible, and being unprepared makes me anxious. On one hand, these characteristics aid in the multitude of tasks that a parent must accomplish every day but on the other hand, it can get in the way. Before I had my daughter, I read everything I could about breastfeeding, and we took the six-week course offered through our hospital. I thought I was more than prepared. Yet, when my daughter arrived, I had very specific questions that were met with vague answers. I wanted to know how often, how long, and how much to feed her and how those things would change over time but I wasn’t given any concrete answers. I was told that there was a wide range of what was considered “healthy” and “normal” and that every baby was different. The control freak in me was not satisfied with these responses. In the end, I had to learn to relax and trust that my body knew what to do, that my daughter would alert me if something were wrong, and that an entire species had survived with less information and technology before me. As I think of the many milestones my daughter will have in the future, I know that little by little I will have to learn to let go and trust.
Humility: Throughout my pregnancy, I had many preconceived notions of what I would be like as a parent. While I had the best intentions, there was certainly an air of superiority in my ignorance. There was a lot of “I’ll always do this” and “I’ll never do that,” as if my experience in witnessing parenthood from afar gave me any sort of clue as to what it was really like. Well, that attitude didn’t even make it through labor when I accepted (read: begged for) the epidural I had sworn I could do without. Luckily, breastfeeding is one of the few ideals that survived the humbling experience of becoming a mom. However, I would never judge another parent for going another route, whether by choice or not. Raising happy, healthy children is what is most important. Breastfeeding has a lot of benefits, and it has been a wonderful bonding experience with my daughter, but I understand that it is sometimes not possible or practical for everyone, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
While breastfeeding my daughter has been a challenge, I believe it has played a major role in her health. She is ten months old and has only had one minor cold; something I understand is relatively uncommon in babies. Even though I’ve had supply issues and multiple bouts of mastitis, I will always encourage my fellow mothers to breastfeed if possible.
But, I think we need to be more open about the struggles we face with breastfeeding and motherhood. I heard a lot of sugar coated versions of what it would all be like. Maybe my friends were worried that they’d scare me or maybe they were covering their own insecurities as parents, or maybe they’re bona fide super-moms who find it to be one glorious walk in the park.
Whatever the case, it certainly didn’t do much to prepare me for the realities of parenthood. In fact, I was having such a hard time at the beginning that I thought I must be doing something wrong. It was only after some honest conversation with veteran mothers that I realized most of us go through similar experiences as new mothers- experiences that are sometimes very different than those pictured in the social media spotlight we’re exposed to every day.
Sacrifice, trust, and humility were part of my experiences as a new breastfeeding mom. Whatever path you choose, let’s remember, to be honest, and support each other as we navigate the road of parenthood.