Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Jessica S. Marquis, Phoenix, AZ, USA
“Nipple butter.” Her finger swiped the air as if to underline the phrase. She, like the orchestra director, and I, the lead violinist, anxiously awaiting her next stroke. “You’ll want lots of nipple butter.” She nodded and settled back into the chair. I nodded along with her in an attempt to fit in.
I was not yet a mom myself and this talk about nipples wasn’t a part of my everyday repertoire. Yet, there I sat across from my co-worker veteran mama, who was giving me the hard truth about breastfeeding.
She leaned forward. “You know those pictures of moms serenely looking down at their babies as they quietly nurse? Fake. You’ll be dripping sweat and wrestling while your nipples bleed. So, nipple butter.”
How had I missed this crucial detail about breastfeeding: that it totally sucked?! As the months wore on, I was privy to a growing album of battle hymns about plugged ducts, infections, tongue-ties, supply issues, and the miraculous blessing of formula. But why did mothers need it? Why was something my body could do naturally such a cause for disgruntlement?
Before my little peanut started growing in my womb, I didn’t have much of an opinion on baby stuff. I knew I wanted to deliver at a birth center and didn’t want a hospital birth unless medically necessary. As my husband, Bob, and I attended the prenatal classes, my knowledge grew and, with that, the responsibility of more decisions. Cloth diapers or disposables? Strollers or babywearing? Delayed cord clamping? Formula or breast? Upon a review of relevant research and some conversations I never expected to have, I realized I was going to breastfeed. I was dedicated to doing everything within my power to ensure the only thing my baby tasted during her first six months came out of me.
And so, as I gazed into the eyes of our newborn for the first time, I inhaled deeply in preparation for the pain of that first latch. She found my nipple on her own. And then she drank deeply. That night after she fell asleep, I set my iPhone alarm for two hours ahead so I could wake her up to ensure she received adequate nutrition. An hour-and-a-half later, she woke me up with a hungry whimper. I never set an alarm to feed her again.
My breasts were available whenever she wanted them, and we both found that arrangement quite pleasing. Sure, it meant a lot of sitting. Yet I’d never felt more relaxed. My body was growing her body—it was supremely symbiotic. I saw how breastfeeding was benefiting us both. I lost a ton of weight, and she didn’t get any of the illnesses that floated around our home, including the three times I had a fever and nursed her in a zombie-like state. There were no ear infections, no constipation, and every time she hurt herself I could calm her down immediately by offering my arms and breast. When I got plugged ducts, she was the one who cured them for me. And every time she spit up, which was a lot, I didn’t have to worry she had reflux from something inorganic.
The serenity of breastfeeding
We were in rhythm, in an intimate dance that these nourishing skin-to-skin moments choreographed. It was a great way to start off as a new mom, not worrying. I knew I would need solid cheerleading to keep going until she was ready to wean. Bob was great, as was my mom who lived far away in Hungary. But I needed other women who would reassure me during those 2am nursing sessions and four-hour long marathon cluster feeds. So I conducted surveillance in restaurants, waiting rooms, church, and grocery stores, looking for mothers with tiny feet protruding from their sides. I chatted with moms at my daughter’s swim class, and in local boutique baby stores with wacky names that sold organic pacifiers. I joined a Facebook group and made a friend whose baby also liked to nurse more than sleep. We sent messages back and forth, “Treasure these moments because you’ll miss them when the little one is 13.”
It was through observing and interacting that I grew more confident. Just yesterday, I was nursing my baby in a restaurant as customers passed by. My dining companion beamed at me as she remembered her own bonding time with a son who is now himself a father of three. I was able to take a three-month maternity leave and then become a stay-at-home mom and nurse at any time. My baby thrived. I was fortunate and I don’t take a beat of it for granted. But I do not think I am an exception. I believe what’s important is commitment and support.
If a mama wants to breastfeed, she needs to surround herself with people who share the value of doing so, who will share knowledge and inspirational tales when things get tough.