I loved the idea of breastfeeding. The reality stressed me out
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I always wanted to breastfeed, even before I actually got pregnant and had a child. So when I did get pregnant with my son, I assumed that I’d breastfeed him despite not being completely aware of all that comes with the task. My plan was to continue the connection we shared in my womb, and I thought breastfeeding would be the best way to accomplish that—I’d watched so many endearing videos of babies nursing on their mothers. It felt like such a noble goal; I had no clue that it would send me into my most stressful period of motherhood so far.
I was fortunate that my son latched immediately, but now, as we approach almost 900 consecutive days of breastfeeding, we haven’t figured out how to unlatch. Initially, my husband and I attempted to give my son a bottle in conjunction with the breasts. We knew that, if he was exclusively breastfed, I would be left without much time for myself. And that’s exactly what happened.
He didn’t take to the bottle as he did to my breasts, and trying to force the bottle on him felt awful. But in the midst of me trying to take a shower, eat, sleep, or use the bathroom, my son would awaken looking for his comfort. Navigating my role as a new mother while simultaneously trying to carve out some sanity and relaxation for myself meant always being on edge. The minute I attempted to leave my son with someone else so I could breathe, they’d just as quickly bring him back to me.
I had loved the idea of partaking in this act, but now it stressed me out of my mind.
“We knew that, if he was exclusively breastfed, I would be left without much time for myself. And that’s exactly what happened.”
I began to question my decision to breastfeed in the first place. To be honest, the process had been extremely painful and time-consuming at the beginning. My breasts were constantly sore as my son and I tried to become accustomed to each other. He slept through the night, but for the first seven months of his life, he left me with no time for self-care during the day.
When I decided to go back to work outside of the home after those first months, the stress of breastfeeding didn’t stay behind. If I wasn’t running to go pump in the bathroom, my breasts were leaking uncontrollably—sometimes with milk even appearing through my clothes. Some days, my breasts would be so full of milk that I would be in pain because I didn’t have enough time to pump it all out. I felt, at that point, like breastfeeding was a never-ending plague that I couldn’t escape.
Despite these struggles, going to work did give me a chance to have time away from my child, and that’s something every mom needs. I began to understand that separation was completely healthy and necessary for my sanity. Still, returning to work wasn’t a beachfront vacation or trip to the spa, which is probably what I needed most. The stress of breastfeeding met me wherever I was, at all times of the day. Even when I made it home, I couldn’t nap because I needed to immediately relieve the fullness of milk that had accumulated throughout the workday.
“I was wrapped in conflicted emotions—wanting the breastfeeding journey to completely cease, yet being so comforted when I held my son and watched him receive nourishment.”
Not only was I stressed—I was extremely lethargic in an almost zombie-like state. I was wrapped in conflicted emotions—wanting the breastfeeding journey to completely cease, yet being so comforted when I held my son and watched him receive nourishment.
In hindsight, my biggest takeaway is that I could’ve been a lot more patient when helping him adjust to the bottle. I would be so concerned by the sound of his cries that I just couldn’t bear it, popping in the boob instead. I truly needed time to myself and my work. I could have used additional help so I could leave my son with another caregiver sooner than seven months.
He’s approaching two and a half years old, and we are down to nursing before bed and when waking up. That’s still more often than I’d like; ideally, I would’ve wrapped up this process after a year. We’re working on it.