The grand design of a woman’s body is fantastic. Not only can I grow another human being, but after my baby is born, I can make food for her, too. In fact, I am doing so even as I write. Amazing.
But when you read “breast is best,” there are certain realities about nursing that no one tells you. They are the first in a lifetime of sacrifices a mother must make to do what’s best for her baby.
Each of my three children latched on in the first half hour of life. Every time, I marveled at the perfection of details: the roundness of the breast, the placement of nostrils that allow breathing while suckling, the perfect sustenance my milk provides. Even after the umbilical cord is severed, we remain tethered by my milk. Life is measured in hours and ounces.
For the first few weeks, my sweet baby depends solely on me for nourishment. Every. Two. Hours. By day three, the friction from his suckling chaps both sides of my breasts until they crack and bleed, no matter how many tubes of lanolin I use. It takes two weeks before I heal enough not to wince when he latches on. I know it’s coming when he releases his hungry cry. I prepare myself as I draw him near, and sometimes I tear up, too. Then he makes a tiny fist around my pinky, and the longer he nurses, the less it hurts.
I know I should nap when he does, but then I’d lose precious minutes staring into his angelic face as we lie skin-on-skin. The indescribable sense of that love I feel is scientifically explained by a hormone my body releases, one that increases my milk production.
But it’s not so much the generation of milk that’s exhausting. It’s the sleep deprivation.
The two-hour feeding clock starts when he latches, but unlike bottle-feeding, I can’t see the end in sight, so there’s little else to do but hold him. Yet my body aches for rest. A zombie-like version of myself moves from station to station: the Moses basket, the changing table, my grandmother’s rocking chair. She rocked my daddy in this chair. As I nurse my own son and gently ease back and forth, I am reminded that women have been doing this for thousands of years. And this time in life is temporary.
2 a.m. feedings
Breast milk contains antibodies specific to a baby’s heredity and environment. Because of this, breastfed infants are sick less and have few problems with constipation. As I feed him at 2 a.m. in the dim glow of his nightlight, he grunts out liquid farts that stink up the nursery. I smile, feeling like a dairy cow with well-practiced diaper changing skills.
Considering my wardrobe
Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so my baby weight drops faster. As my post-pregnancy figure returns to normal, everything cute shows my very unflattering nursing bra straps (and Mamma needs that support right now). I find every top must be accessible by button, loose torso, slack neckline, or deep V-neck. My breasts are firm and voluptuous (the only time in life I’ve ever had cleavage), yet I feel strange showing them off; they’re for feeding my child.
In order for someone else to nourish my boy, I must hook my breasts to a suction machine after each feeding, which tricks my body into increasing milk supply. It takes days to get enough ounces for date night. But the more I pump, the more I produce. Then I can leave and seek life as an individual for a few hours. Later, my body knows when it is feeding time, even if I’m miles away. After dinner and a movie, it feels like someone has dropped a bag of marbles on my breasts, kerplunk, and they gradually harden into bricks of fire. When I return home and pump, I hold up two full bottles of liquid gold. I am Superwoman.
Nursing is one of the most natural, selfless acts a mother can do. Breastfed children grow to read earlier, have higher IQs, and eat healthier foods. Yes, it’s taxing and tiresome at times. But when my son loosens his grip on my pinky, his fat cheeks slack and his red lips release in a milk-drunk slumber, I know all the sacrifice is worth it.