When you’re breastfeeding, you’re rife with hormones. Just overflowing. Your body is not your own, your personal space is not your own, your schedule is not your own, your wardrobe choices are not entirely your own, your bed may not even be your own. Heaven knows your toilet stall is not your own! This and so many scenarios can make a breastfeeding mom a tad… cantankerous.
You know you are doing the best thing you can for your child. You may be struggling and pumping and supplementing and rubbing tinctures and sipping lactation teas and stirring voodoo milk-making magic, all to feed your child. You may have blebs and bleeding nipples; you may talk to your lactation consultant more than your own mother. You may suffer vasospasms but cry through it because you know it’s worth it. You may be overrun with milk and suffer clogs and mastitis. You may face unsupportive counterparts who dismiss your breastfeeding endeavor. You may be happily in the middle with just the right supply, perfect latch, and cheering support system. You may desperately want to nurse, but through no choice of your own, are forced to wean, supplement, or exclusively pump. No matter your nursing situation, you get crabby. You do. And that’s ok.
When a non-breastfeeding adult is sick, he or she gets extra rest, long showers, and can request extra personal space due to skin aches. When a breastfeeding mom gets sick, she gets none of this. Instead, her nursling may suckle for longer and more often due to supply dips. Of course this is partially priceless because: hellooooo antibodies! You are, in that sickly moment, your child’s best medicine and tailor-made defense against whatever bug plagues you. You are also exhausted, possibly nauseated, and every touch feels like a pummeling, so nourishing a human with your own ill body is a task only a fellow breastfeeder could truly understand. It is a true act of love and self-sacrifice. You shoot death-glares at your non-lactating spouse because… well, because.
It’s hot and humid and all you want is air-conditioning and a cool drink, but guess what your nursling wants? Boob. He wants to press his sweaty, chubby body up against your sweltering self and nurse. You cringe, anticipating the discomfort, but still pull your babe close, offer your breast, and feel the co-mingling sweat pool on your under-boob. You once were hot but now you are a furnace drenched in sweat that is not entirely your own. Visions of sixth grade bacteria slideshows dance in your heat-exhausted head. Still, you know your breastmilk is not just nourishing your little one but it provides better hydration than any sports drink. You are a saturated powerhouse! You’re still irritated though.
It’s quiet and genteel . You are in a conservative setting and your breastfeeding toddler — who will not wean — wants milkies NOW. There’s no time to run to the car or duck into some secluded corner. Your have two choices: nurse your toddler right there in public or face the milk-craving wrath of a boob-addicted tot. Either way you’re facing ridicule. So, might as well feed your child. You grab a seat and breastfeed, bolstering yourself with all of the courage-boosting mantras you can muster. If you are unflappable, if you are confident, haters will be silenced. You are a breastfeeding badass, a lactation warrior. You are standing up to ridiculous social mores for the benefit of your child. It still sucks and inner you feels vulnerable and wishes this wasn’t happening, but screw it! It is what it is. This is motherhood. Milk on milky mama! It’s ok to feel on edge.
You’re at work and need to pump. Someone — who has no children or is unfamiliar with breastfeeding body requirements — requests that you skip your pumping session to meet his or her business needs. If you push this session you know that, 1) you won’t have another pumping opportunity that day or at least not for hours, 2) you will leak and will be painfully engorged which could not just lead to milk duct clogs but mastitis, 3) you may not produce enough milk today to feed your child at daycare the next day, 4) you set a dangerous precedent that your medically necessary pumping sessions are negotiable. Explain that you have a legally-protected medical need to pump but, after you pump to feed your child, you would be happy to meet with him or her. You cringe having your colleague think about your breasts, shudder worrying about career fall-out, and loathe having to stand up for yourself, but you embolden yourself knowing no one would ask a diabetic to delay his or her insulin shot for a meeting, and your medical need should be equally honored. You’re anxious and frustrated, knowing full well that men don’t face such dilemmas.
You want to have adult time. You want to go away with friends, have freedom, feel momentarily human. But you’re breastfeeding. If your little one accepts a bottle, you can navigate this with careful planning. You can pack your pump, a cover, and a cooler. You can enjoy the fun then dip out to pump and rejoin the festivities. It’s not ideal or entirely relaxing, but it’s feasible. If your little one does not accept a bottle and/or your body doesn’t respond to the pump, you either delay such activities until the babe has been weaned, or bring your nursling with you. One option is depressing and one is exhausting. You know breastfeeding is more than worth this temporary inconvenience. You know this is but a blink of a moment in the journey of your life. You know you won’t breastfeed forever and may even miss it one day. But you’re still miffed.
You go shopping and find a few clothing options that wonderfully work with your postpartum physique. But there’s no boob access. You can either buy the items and hold onto them until after you wean — but will they fit you then? And you really wanted the morale boost of a new cute outfit. — or you keep looking. Either option is frustrating. It’s so minute in the grande scheme, and you know it, but it still irks you. It’s a little gut punch to your postpartum paunch.
You want to sleep in after a rough night’s sleep, but your little one just wants to nurse. And nurse and nurse and nurse. You just want to flop down on your stomach and sleep-drool on your pillow. Then you see your spouse, snoring away. Blissfully sleeping with nipples unencumbered. You fill with irrational frustration that seeps out of you in unglamorous, unflattering aggravation throughout the day. You know you’re in the wrong for being grumpy. You know your spouse cannot nurse your child for you. But you just wanted to sleep! It’s not fair. You’re feeling envious and burdened.
All of this is ok. It’s ok to love breastfeeding but hate it sometimes. It’s ok to love your spouse but envy his/her nipple freedom sometimes. It’s ok to feel burdened or frustrated or touched-out. It’s ok to feel like breastfeeding is the longest brief life phase. It’s ok. It doesn’t make you a bad mom. It doesn’t lessen your efforts.
Sure, you should try to harness your emotions and not lash out at others. Of course hormones aren’t a blanket excuse to act however you please. Yes, you shouldn’t be edgy towards non-breastfeeders because they don’t face your same trials; you know full well that they battle their own struggles.
Still, we’re human. Sometimes we falter. Sometimes our burdens overwhelm us and sully our good intentions. That’s natural. That’s normal. Breastfeeding is still worth it. You can do this. You’re still a good mom. Even if you are grumpy.