Throughout my first pregnancy, I planned to breastfeed my baby, anxiously awaiting the task ahead. I heard every horror story imaginable from friends and family and coworkers: from milk supplies that never came in to cracked nipples to clogged milk ducts. It seemed that everyone had a story to tell and most of them were negative. These stories made me scared shitless. Scared enough to actually fear breastfeeding and everything that came with it. Was everyone I knew really having such a difficult time nursing? Or were they just too afraid to speak up if their experience was a positive one? When it comes to motherhood, I find that most moms are more willing to share the bad over the good so as to avoid being labeled That Mom. You know That Mom I'm talking about: the ones who get called out for being "too" positive, the moms no one believe when they swear they are actually happy raising kids and doing mom-esque things. So we guilt ourselves into participating in conversations where we try to convince others that we're all in the same boat, this sucks, it's hard and any one who tells you any different is lying and/or overdosing on unicorns and sparkles.
Here's the thing: I love breastfeeding. I love being close to my baby. I love hiding away from the world under the covers and keeping my newborn right next to me. Two kids and one on the way in and I'm no longer afraid to just come out and say it: I love being a mom and embrace the chaos that role entails. When this baby is born, I am fully aware that I will get little to no sleep, that my body will be a big hormonal mess, that my baby will want to nurse nonstop regardless of how sore my nipples might be. I have come to terms with the fact that I will have little time to myself, that showers will become a luxury, and that no matter how hard I try, I will never be able to fulfill all of my obligations because there just won't be enough hours in the day. And I have grown enough as a woman and a mother and a wife to be okay with all of those things. Because a miraculous and wonderfully made person is about to enter into my life and I will be forever changed. And that demanding, exhausting, and sometimes scary newborn phase is a very tiny and insignificant window in the grand scheme of things. You accept the reality of it and you move forward, enjoying it for what it is.
And you prepare. If you've read my blog at all during this pregnancy, it's pretty obvious that we've spent a fair amount of time nesting and organizing and making room for this baby in our lives. That's how I get through life changes: I allow myself the space to prepare. I put time and energy into welcoming the change. I listen to the horror stories and the unsolicited advice, I take notes, I learn lessons, and then I make my own experience, always hoping and praying for the best. And if the best doesn't come, I hope and pray for the strength to deal with whatever comes my way with grace.
Breastfeeding is a learned art between baby and mother: it takes preparation, practice, and patience. It requires a strong support network and a determined spirit. Here is a list of a few essentials:
1. Nursing bras: I have a sleep nursing bra in my hospital bag to wear for the first few postpartum days. I have several different styles waiting for me at home: a few with underwire, a few without, a blend of different shapes and sizes I've found work best for me. Do yourself a favor: grab your best friend and a sense of humor and try on as many bras as it takes to find what works best for you. Remember: your boobs will increase in size once your milk comes in. Don't freak out when you wake up one morning resembling Pamela Anderson.
2. Nursing pads: I use disposable pads for the first few weeks when things are just all leaky and unpredictable. Once my milk supply becomes a tad bit regulated, I switch to washable pads.
3. Nursing tanks/flowy tops: Set yourself up for success by wearing clothing that is easily accessible to your nursing lifestyle, especially at the beginning when you're just getting the hang of all this nursing business. I prefer loose fitting, soft, breathable, cotton tops that are easy to pull up.
4. Breast pump: I wrote this post on pumping and it covers all the basics.
5. Nipple cream: The hospital will provide you with a lanolin cream, no need to pack it but you should definitely have some on hand for when you get home. My lactation consultant recommends that mamas who plan to nurse should start greasing those suckers up a few weeks before your due date. There are plenty of women out there who will tell you that applying nipple cream before the baby is born did them absolutely no good but I say why not? It can't hurt and the cream is actually very soothing to dry pregnant skin.
Remember: preparation, practice, and patience. But, most of all, acceptance for whatever comes your way. Take deep breathes, ask for help when needed, and give yourself and your baby the time you need to make this new relationship work. It is not always easy or beautiful or perfect but it is a journey well worth embarking on.