When I was pregnant with my first child, I didn't think much about breastfeeding, beyond knowing it was something that I wanted to try. At one point, I bought a book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, but a few pages in, I decided it was just too much information for my already overloaded mind to process. Overwhelmed by third-trimester exhaustion, the unknowns of childbirth, and pelvic floor pain so intense that it made it hard to walk from one end of my apartment to the other, I decided worrying about breastfeeding was going to wait until after my baby arrived.
Despite going in blind to the ways of the boob, I was one of the lucky ones. My newborn daughter latched on immediately after delivery (16 hours of labor followed by a C-section). I was numb from the chest down, but the nurses assured me she was a pro and everything was working as it should be.
Of course, despite that first success, breastfeeding didn't come completely hurdle-free. Because of low blood sugars and my own congenital heart defect that the doctors wanted to be sure she hadn't inherited, my daughter ended up in the NICU for the first five days of her life. Feeling helpless, I decided to pump in between every feeding session, not realizing that I was signaling my body to produce twice as much milk as my baby actually needed. Some pretty gnarly and painful engorgement issues ensued once she came home. I think I walked around topless with hot towels on my boobs for almost two weeks.
But after surviving that ordeal, I breastfed her for 14 months without much incident and with an unexpected sense of joy and accomplishment. I lasted for 12 with her little brother, eventually forcing him to wean because he never broke the habit of biting down while feeding, making the whole process way less enjoyable, but no less gratifying. Two-plus years of nursing have left my breasts deflated and sad, but they are my badges of honor. I feel proud of how long I breastfed, though I'm sure my success was more due to a combination of luck and genetics than anything else.
I am a "no judgment" kind of mom — and if breastfeeding hadn't been so easy for me, I definitely wouldn't have lasted as long — but I do believe that the experience added to the bond I have with my kids and gave them some superstar immune systems. However, there's one part of breastfeeding I wish someone had prepared me for before I started: while you're nursing your baby, you'll never really get back to your prepregnancy self, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
While you're nursing your baby, you'll never really get back to your prepregnancy self, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
In fact, you might as well consider yourself pregnant until you stop breastfeeding because that's how connected you'll be to your baby, how many hormones you'll still have running through your system, and how not in charge of your own body you'll feel. Even if your prepregnancy clothes fit, you won't be able to wear them unless they have easy boob access. All that chatter you heard while pregnant about how breastfeeding is the ultimate baby weight-melting plan? It might not be true for you. In fact, your body might be like mine and decide to hold on to those last 10 pounds until you're done nursing for good, a fact you'll attribute to genetics and the fact that nursing makes you hungrier than you ever were while you were pregnant.
If you're lucky, your baby will seamlessly go from boob to bottled breast milk or supplemented formula, but they might also be like my son and decide to never take a bottle during their entire first year. Then you will have to choose whether to attend that wedding overnight, knowing your child will put himself on a hunger strike, or not to have the celebratory four glasses of wine you want before heading home to feed him.
Your boobs will be a constant reminder of your motherly duties, getting heavy and painful when it's time to feed your infant again. They will be like an alarm clock, letting you know that your much-needed baby break has gone on too long. Maybe you will be a mom who decides pumping is totally easy, or maybe you'll be like me and hate it, knowing you'll have to wear that crazy contraption for twice as long as you'd have to nurse your child to collect half the amount of milk. After you pump, your boobs will still feel full, and you'll feel frustrated.
Would I do it all over again, knowing what I didn't know the first time the nurse helped my newborn latch on? Of course.
Overall, breastfeeding was a positive experience for my babies and me. But maybe if I'd better known what I was signing up for — another year of feeling and sort of looking pregnant while being physically attached to my babies almost as much on the outside of my body as I was while they grew inside of me — I would have been kinder to myself and less frustrated by not snapping back like I expected to after childbirth.
Breastfeeding can be beautiful, but it can also take over your life.