They say hindsight's 20/20? So is hind milk. Of all the pregnant-related maladies one is culturally counseled to beam one's way through, perhaps none is as egregious an offender as breastfeeding. It sounds great in theory: Feeding your baby naturally from thine breast and increase her chance for smarts and immunizing boosts; you lose weight quicker and win the Great Ancestor Award for passing along nature's best with a smile. But, assuming you're able to do it, for every clear advantage in favor of breastfeeding your baby there is an equally significant challenge at every turn. Breast may be unequivocally best, but breastfeeding is the worst.
Really, you say? The worst? Aren't you exaggerating a little? What if you have a flexible job? Then they won't understand why you have to pump so often. What if you have a job that provides a space for you to pump? Oh they do — it's called the bathroom. What if you get one of those industrial pumps that cuts down on time? On this salary?
OK, fine, but what if your job has a private space with a locking door that's not the bathroom where you can pump for as long as you need as often as you need so that you can use your industrial strength breast pump which by some miracle you can afford so you can now fill up bag after bag of fresh healthy milk every three hours at work for six months straight and your supportive husband can drive to work and pick it up for you so you don't even have to store it in the gross community refrigerator so as to avoid the all-too-inevitable jokes about whether you're going to "whip up a milkshake for everyone" or remarks such as, "Guess we'll be just fine when the coffee creamer runs out?" Will it STILL be annoying even then?
Emphatically yes! Because even if you figure out all the logistics of how to keep your job and still nurse exclusively, learning how to breastfeed cannot really be taught. In the end, you must simply stick your boob into your baby's mouth over and over and over like clockwork until it finally clicks, the working world be damned.
But explaining this is about as easy as explaining the difference between functionally correct intercourse and enjoyable sex. Both are technically the same thing on paper, but only one of them gets the job done right.
Every step of the way with nursing, there is something to lug or clean or ponder or plan for. Engorgement is excruciating. Time is not your friend. Your boobs have staged a mutiny and your baby is not in the business of grading on a curve.
Add to this the fact that question –- to breastfeed or not? — has been so politicized by debate and sanitized by political correctness to the point that nowadays, apparently everyone is legally bound by court order to agree that all its advantages are basically negligible, a "given" that merits no special round of applause.
So in the end, you have spent enormous energy, effort, money, and time for an accomplishment which cannot be boasted about. Perhaps it is worth reconsidering whether a sanctimommy is an evil woman incarnate or just someone who has pathologically misdirected an enormous amount of victory dance energy.
So if you're still ready to run the breastfeeding gauntlet, I encouragingly impart a few hard-earned truths:
Breastfeeding is completely natural, if by "natural" you mean that neither of you has any idea what you're doing.
It's likely that for at least a little while you will think your baby is feeding. Nope! She is actually using you as a giant pacifier. This could go on for weeks.
You're going to nurse and bottle-feed?
How quaint! You know, some babies won't take a bottle after they learn to nurse. For others, it confuses the newly acquired nursing skill. So when everyone acts like it's no bigs to just go back and forth from breast to bottle and there's obviously something wrong with you or your baby if you can't, please deposit one poop-filled diaper under the passenger seat of their car post-haste. This inability to bottle-feed also renders you the only nutrient provider. This may create a syndrome in your significant other called "Hello, I'm Not Doing Anything." Plan accordingly.
Are you rich or something? 'Cause you probably have to go back to work eventually.
This is typically when nursing becomes a deal-breaker for most women, and understandably so. Note to America: Get your shit together.
Shit gets shitty.
One bad latch-on and you can earn yourself a nasty case of mastitis. It's the common boob infection in which you will be instructed to keep using the damn thing in spite of its injury. You will also keep nursing even when you are sick, when your husband is sick, when the baby is sick and possibly even after the baby has teeth. Ewwwwww, adult people will think/say/vibe.
You need even more calories than when you were pregnant to support breastfeeding.
Remember what a hosebeast you were about food when you were pregnant? You just morphed into The Beastmaster. Luckily, for some women, this means the baby weight comes off like a prom dress. But for plenty of others, those jewels cling to you as if contractually bound.
You still can't really drink.
What, you thought now that you had the baby you could swig a few brewskies every now and then to take the edge off? Oh sure, have a beer; have two. But remember when to stop (say it with me!): As soon as it feels good.
You gonna whip those out in public?
Not all babies will rest quietly while nursing with their face covered in a shawl while you're getting a mani-pedi. If you're hoping to pull off a public viewing with privacy and grace, one hopes the equipment will not betray you. When these particular cantaloupe boobs were unveiled, even in a parked car some distance away from pedestrians, it was still treated like some kind of international incident.
Eventually, something clicks.
For realz. And one day, all the hassle seems like a distant irritation, and you settle into an easy, at times rewarding routine that justifies all the work. But that could take months. Still, when someone tries to convince you that could have just as easily bottle-fed for the same result and one-tenth the hassle, you'll surely be forgiven for wanting to punch them in the face. But if you must resort to violence, you've got two very handy cantaloupes ripe for the hurling.
Tracy Moore is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is currently weaning a 15-month-old, and is finally no longer ravenously hungry anymore. Well, almost.
Image by Blayne Ward.