On becoming sustenance

It is a humbling and challenging experience becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. That’s right. You as food. An experience unparalleled thus far in my life and possibly one of the most difficult. That is not to say that it is without its rewards (which I’m not going to discuss as these are widely preached already) but wow, it is tough.

I’m talking about breastfeeding. I think a lot about food and issues surrounding it and this is right up that alley…except that I hadn’t really thought much about it until now.

Throughout pregnancy, I was anxious about labour and delivery. To be exact, I was wary about the pain. Loads of people shared their own labour stories with me in the days and months leading up to my due date. However, my labour and delivery was thankfully pretty straightforward and frankly, not something that I would call “painful” in hindsight. Turns out I should’ve been anxious about becoming someone else’s sustenance.

Having attended prenatal classes and a breastfeeding information class, I am disappointed that not once did they mention what women commonly experience during the first few weeks of nursing. Pain. Soreness. Challenges. They talk about latching and signs of good feeds and show you pamphlets and brochures laden with pictures that portray nothing but blissful parents with their babes. All of that is important but what about cracked, bleeding nipples or otherwise sore nipples that don’t get enough of a break because you need to feed your baby every two hours? What about other issues that you may run into, like inverted nipples, over- or under supply of milk, or tongue tie?

Seeing your baby, red-faced, frantic, and crying hard, waiting to be fed and knowing that while you are its sole source of food (of its growth and well-being), you want nothing more than to hide your extremely sore nipples…but not being able to…and the toe-curling pain of an hour nursing session that ensues…it is more than enough to test your perseverance and the strength of your spirit. While you are already vulnerable from your lack of continuous sleep and chaos of trying to understand a baby, you need to figure out what to do to alleviate pain or address other nursing issues. Why had nobody mentioned that breastfeeding just might not be that easy and that it just might be painful? I felt ill-prepared. It’s difficult enough trying to ascertain whether or not your baby is latching well or not; after all, one can watch many videos and read sheets of instructions/diagrams but it’s only with time-after-time experience that one can really understand success and failure in this regard. When you have compounded issues on top of the ‘basic’ mechanics of latch and suck, nursing sessions can start to feel like a nightmare…a psychological hurdle followed by a physical hurdle.

Whenever a mom-to-be asks me for advice, I’ll talk about breastfeeding. That it’s important to acknowledge how you’re feeling and to feel confused from all of the differing (and sometimes contradictory) advice that you’ll get from those around you (doctors, lactation consultants, loved ones and friends). Many a time I felt like a failure for being scared to nurse and trying to put it off for just 5 more minutes…and it’s important to know that other moms have gone through similar pain and the same feeling of failure or wanting to give up.

It can be tough and it can be rough becoming somebody else’s sole source of sustenance. We should talk about it, worrying less about ‘scaring people off of breastfeeding’ and more about supporting mothers-to-be in the reality of what they may face in the days and weeks

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