As A Labor And Delivery Nurse, This Is What I Want Moms To Know About Breastfeeding

by Stephanie Hanrahan
Originally Published: 
A mom holding her baby wrapped in a blanket, ready for breastfeeding.
Stephanie Hanrahan

My frustration with breastfeeding started long before I ever had kids. I‘m pretty sure it originated during my labor and delivery days, night shift to be exact, when the lactation consultant was happily sleeping at home and new moms were stuck with me and my sweaty palms—cupping their breasts at 3:00 a.m. for hours on end.

I looked like the hunchback of L&D hovering over that delivery bed, trying to fish an inverted nipple into a tiny pink newborn mouth. I’d watch as the baby clamped shut, or wiggled away, or flat out refused with wails so loud the moms would release their own, realizing their perfect bonding moment wasn’t working out as planned. It was like standing witness to a lesson all of us mothers would eventually learn: it’s never what it looks like in our head. It’s rarely easy. These kids are hard work.

But those poor women, bless them. Now wasn’t the time for a teachable moment. Their peri-pads hadn’t even been changed yet. So I would subtly suggest a bottle and some sleep. Comfort care. After all, they had just brought life into this world, someone needed to cut them a break.

But most, through tired and tearful eyes, would refuse.

Because breastfeeding is supposed to be natural and sacred and bonding, and blah, blah, blah. And if it was for you, great! If you love it, fantastic! I sing your praises. There is nothing better than a newborn who snuggles in and suckles tight. Believe me, my back thanked them for that. But the reality is that even with hours spent teaching your child that your breast is best, some say no thanks anyhow. Or even worse, a woman’s own body gives a polite pardon to the act.

And then there are the mamas I want to address really specifically here. The ones who have an abundance of milk, and an eager little critter with the perfect latch, and they still feel like they’re missing the boat on all of this breastfeeding hype. Because they just plain-all-out-hate it.

You can’t see it, but I’m raising my hand here.

I had two children who took right to it. It was, dare I say, easy for them. But not so much for me. I hated how full my breasts felt. Or how if my baby blessed me with a good night’s sleep, I was still up pumping the pain away. Or how I’d have to hide in a corner at social outings because I didn’t feel comfortable freeing the nipple. Getting out of the house was already a feat with a newborn but now I had to strategize where I went based on privacy and replacing my breast pads. That just wasn’t for me. I lasted five months with my first child and ten days with my second.

But making that choice wasn’t as easy as it should’ve been. I was riddled with guilt. I had no real reason to quit other than I hated it. And let me just pause and say: that is reason enough. Yes, the nutritional benefits are plentiful, but you know what’s even more important than that? A mother’s sanity.

Every day I was waking up and doing something with my children that I didn’t love. That seems a bit backwards to me. I was forcing myself to do what society demanded I do—love my baby with all of my areola or not love them at all. When I talked about quitting so soon with my second child, not a single person told me it was okay. But they did tell me about supplements, and pumping, and some sort of lactation cookie.

But none of those were my issue. I had the milk, I had a willing baby, but I also had a deep desire to just stop. Especially with my second. Gone were the days of hiding in a corner with a cloth pulled over my chest. I had a two-year-old to chase. Plain and simple, it was a lifestyle and mental life-saving choice, and I’m standing today (with two mostly bottle fed babies) to say: I wouldn’t change a thing.

I encourage every woman, and every mother, to follow their gut. Learn to listen to your instinct when it comes to your children—and especially when it comes to yourself. Those extra vitamins and minerals my little ones would’ve gotten for a few more months in no way trump a miserable mother. Sorry. That I am sure of.

I’m also sure one of them just ate a french fry off the floor, so there’s that.

New mamas, don’t worry so much in those first few days, weeks, months, because that worry will spill over into a lifetime of denying your instinct and doing things you hate. You are your own best advocate. Having a baby already changes so much about your body, your mind, your self esteem, job title, and so on. It’s often met with social isolation at first as you find your footing and lose a ton of sleep. Just do you, boo.

And if that means breastfeeding, absolutely.

And if it doesn’t, that’s great too.

Showing your kid what a full and complete life looks like for a woman who makes her own choices is way more beneficial than breastmilk.

Nurses orders.

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