Breastfeeding: As Challenging as It Is Beautiful



It’s an endearing nickname I earned from my teenage sister while I was breastfeeding my second baby. You see, it fit me well because there in those postpartum moments I looked very much like a large, female swine nursing her piglet young. I was overweight and my postpartum belly protruded like the swollen, round abdomen of a mother pig. I didn’t move very fast. I lumbered around the house and did very little day to day.

My bulging and inflamed breasts hung down from my chest just like the sagging teats of a sow, too. And for the first month or so of breastfeeding, I probably even sounded like a sow, grunting and groaning every time my baby boy latched on to my sore and aching nipples. Sounds glorious, doesn’t it?

Oh yes, becoming a breastfeeding mom was just fabulous.

August 1 – 7 is World Breastfeeding Week and throughout the world people are celebrating the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby, as well as making sure that women across the world have the support they need while breastfeeding their children. And while I fully support breastfeeding, and I wouldn’t go back and change my decision to breastfeed my baby, I do think that the difficulty of breastfeeding and the commitment it takes is far underestimated by the majority of the population.

The difficulty of breastfeeding

You see, most would think that putting a baby to breast is just that- put them on the “boob” and resume regular activity. Well, not exactly. It’s so much more. As a mom deciding to breastfeed, you have chosen to nourish your baby in this fashion because you believe it is best for baby, and maybe even best for you, too.

But no one prepares you for the trials and tribulations of actually breastfeeding.

You endure baby’s latching issues and your sore and cracked nipples. You sacrifice your sleep, waking up every two hours because you’re the only one that can feed the baby. You stock up on those bulky breast pads to stick in the cups of your bra because when that baby cries, your milk begins to flow like a Yellowstone geyser. And sometimes, the geyser opens up even when you don’t hear the crying because your female mom-body is just that amazing.

You return to work, dragging along a heavy breast pump so that every three to four hours (if you’re lucky) you can pump and store the breast milk for baby. And God help you if you’re busy at work and it’s five or more hours between pumping sessions. The breast engorgement you experience is an excruciating pain like no other!

And then the engorgement leads to clogged milk ducts, which you must vigorously rub to unclog. And no, I’m not talking like a “massage” either; I’m talking more like a mashing, a squeezing, a squishing. All very painful things you must do to your own breast. Because clogged ducts lead to mastitis, a flu-like infection that causes your poor breast to become red and swollen and hot like someone lit a match inside the dang thing! Not to mention the body aches, the fever, the overall feeling of death that takes over your body with this debilitating mastitis. To top it all off, while you’re feeling like you just got hit by a Mack truck, you still have to feed that sweet baby. You still have to wake up every 2-3 hours and put the baby to the breast.

Cue match-light feeling, again, and again, and again.

Post-breastfeeding and the new normal

One day, you decide your breastfeeding journey must come to an end. But alas, the sagging of your breasts does not. Believe it or not, once you stop breastfeeding and all of your milk dries up, your breasts do not return to the once “perky ladies” that they were prior to pregnancy. Your entire body shape changes, your breasts never look the same, and neither do your nipples, for that matter.

Many times have I gotten out of the shower, and looked in the mirror at my naked body. My very imperfect naked mom-body, and I just have to sigh. It’s these times that I want to cry a little, reminiscing about my slim, proportionately curved body that I once saw in that mirror years ago.

But, it’s these same times that I also think of the power of my body.

I was fortunate to be able to use my body to grow my two tiny humans and blessed to provide the most perfect nourishment to one of them. I think of the bond I had with my son throughout breastfeeding him, and the bond we still share. I think about what my breasts did, and, even though they may not look plump and perky today, I am truly amazed by these fabulous parts of my body.

And even though I received the nickname “Sow,” even though my breasts and body may sort of fit the description of such swine, I earned that nickname, and I earned it with the biggest, most beautiful A+!