I had an incredibly vivid dream a few days ago. I was in a hospital bed holding my baby whose face was crinkled into an angry pout. I was desperately trying, and failing, to nurse my baby.
What made this dream most disturbing was the fact that my brain and body reproduced the sensations. I was feeling the same bodily sensations of pain and the same sense of emotional overwhelm that I experienced when my son was born.
Truth: Breastfeeding can be painful.
I attended the nursing classes at my local hospital when I was pregnant. The lactation consultants enforced the benefits of nursing and how it helps to bond with your baby. Their message was so persuasive that after taking the class I felt prepared to feed an army.
When the time came it was much less of a bonding experience than I had hoped. My milk was slow to come in, so my infant chewed on my nipples to get just tiny amounts of colostrum. The lactation consultants assured me that this was sufficient for his needs, so I pressed on.
By the time I got home I was so sore I was gritting my teeth and moaning in pain each and every time he latched on. The latch, I was told, was a good one. The shower hurt, my nursing bra hurt, my spirit hurt.
In class they tell you that if your latch is good you will not have pain. Breastfeeding will hurt for the first week or so. And possibly intermittently thereafter. You need lots and lots of nipple cream. It does get better, but the beginning is rough.
Truth: Breastfeeding is a full-time job.
When you are a nursing mother you are on call 24/7. Depending on the appetite of your infant you might be nursing every two hours, which doesn't sound that bad except that it sometimes takes 30 minutes or more to complete a feeding. By the time you finish you are down to an hour before you need to start the whole process over again.
When my son went through "cluster feeding" phases I would have to excuse myself from restaurants and family outings. Lets face it, even if you have a nursing apron it is not always convenient to whip out a boob the middle of a crowded restaurant. (For me anyway.)
I recall going to a gathering when my son was about 3 months old. I had nursed him and given him another 4oz of pumped breast milk to top him off. That kid was like a tick ready to pop. Still, within an hour he was rooting around on one of the party guests. I had to go upstairs by myself for 45 minutes. I missed dinner and yes, I felt a bit left out.
I would venture to guess that I am not in the minority when I say that my son rarely gazed up at me sweetly and nuzzled into my breast. He did however pound on my chest and pull my hair. As a nursling my son was like a miniature caveman, grunting and screaming and eating simultaneously.
With nothing but my thoughts and my little Fred Flinstone, no wonder I about lost my mind.
I recently spoke to a friend of mine who has two children and has maintained her corporate position while nursing both. I asked her how she was navigating her return to work and breastfeeding.
My friend told me that she closes her office door and sits under her desk to pump. In 2016, my friend the executive is sitting under her desk pumping. When I asked her why she told me, "it's better than sitting in my car."
Mothering is hard work, I daresay the hardest work you will ever do. It doesn't matter if you stay-at-home, work at home or go to an office, you are still working.
Being a nursing mom is yet another layer of responsibility. Breastfeeding is something that takes over your life. You become not just your child's source of food, but also the source of comfort. You need a break? Too bad, you are the security object.
As a new mom I could not identify why my son was crying about 80% of the time. He cried whether tired, hungry, or bored, and it all sounded the same. I spent every waking minute (and many semi-conscious ones) trying to figure out why he was screaming at me. If I couldn't figure it out, he nursed.
Why doesn't anyone talk about how painful and isolating breastfeeding can be?
Why don't we discuss ways to support working moms who want to breastfeed?
I was recently introduced to a NYC-based coworking space called Alley. As I perused the website I found myself feeling a bit jealous that a) I don't live in NYC, and b) we never had anything like this back in 2010 when I gave birth.
Alley offers luxuriously furnished nursing spaces just for moms. These are not powder rooms, with a wall dividing them from the toilets. These are like guest rooms at the Four Seasons, but without the hefty price tag.
Until now it never entered my mind how many women work and breastfeed their children simultaneously. Most employers do not have a private space where women can comfortably pump or nurse. So you find women in the bathrooms, in their cars, and potentially under their desks. Spaces like Alley are leading the charge to provide moms the flexibility and options to live their dreams and meet their personal goals.
So lets start a conversation. Lets talk about breastfeeding at home, at work and in public. Even better, lets work toward supporting all moms regardless of their childrearing choices.
I invite your comments.
Disclosure: I wish I could claim credit for finding Alley on my own, but the link was sent to me for consideration. I was not compensated for mentioning their facilities, just happy to share how companies can support women/mothers at work.