I have always known I wasn’t part of “The One Percent Club”…  at least not regarding monetary holdings.

But I recently learned that I am part of a different lofty percentage club – the “47-Percent Club.” That’s the percentage of U.S. women who are still breastfeeding their child when it’s six months old.

Yippee!

Breastfeeding tribal woman with machete

(Damn her! She’s making it look easy! That machete surely isn’t helping either.)

Alas, I honestly don’t feel that this ‘feat’ is super-kudos-worthy. I’ve many friends who completed a full year of breastfeeding, the minimum recommended by the American Association of Pediatrics.

Lately, when pow-wowing with new moms, I’ve been hearing a certain refrain more and more:  “I tried, but quit after four weeks. It was just too hard.” I’ve gotten of trial periods of one week, three weeks, and a month.

Each had different reasons for stopping: One said she couldn’t seem to regulate her milk supply and always had too much; another had trouble getting her baby to latch. A third quit because her nipples cracked and bled. A fourth didn’t offer specifics, just that it was “too hard.”

You know what? I experienced every one of those things too.

(Save for one – I didn’t have the nipple cracking, because I had heard about cracked nipples and babies spitting up blood, so I was a religious Lanolin user from day one, determined to keep my nozzles in tip-top shape!)

Milk supply was a bear for me. I remember sitting on the bathroom floor, fresh out of the shower, two weeks after giving birth. The water from the shower had stimulated my letdown and I was squirting milk about four feet across the room. Seriously – four feet. That’s oversupply plus forceful letdown in action, and it’s not as cool as it sounds. Particularly when feeding your baby, because when she’s trying to breathe, milk is shooting at the back of her throat. Not fun.

My daughter had trouble latching onto my left side from day one. I tried a nipple shield and myriad other tricks until she finally figured it out (or maybe my hooter morphed permanently… who knows?). I had blocked ducts starting right after I got home from the hospital, which I treated by massaging them often (my husband volunteered his services for that one, LOL) and using a heating pad. Not fun. Despite it all, I was determined to keep trying until I had exhausted my patience (or my daughter’s).

One particularly difficult day came when she was about three weeks old. I’d traveled to my parents’ house for a visit, our first road trip. I sat on my dad’s couch, trying to nurse with my parents and one sister looking on (respectfully keeping their eyes averted of course), but Peanut refused to latch. As she cried and cried, my blood pressure skyrocketed and my frustration grew.

My mother chose that moment to shake her head in exasperation. “I don’t know why you insist on nursing. It would be so much easier to pump and bottle feed.”

I’m still ashamed of what I did next.  The words I snapped back at her were not nice. (My classy selection: STFU, with particular emphasis on the ‘F’. Like I said, I’m not proud.)

The room went silent, and I immediately regretted losing my temper. Awkward. But it was a good example of how breastfeeding can test your patience (combine that with sleep deprivation, and you may just tell your mom to STFU). I really felt like giving up that day.

(Apparently this woman is capable of holding her infant as he breastfeeds and eating a sandwich and bowl of fruit. Oh and drinking a glass of milk. She's setting the bar high. I can't even sit my child on my lap and eat a burrito. I lose at parenting.)

(Apparently this woman is capable of holding her breastfeeding infant AND eating a sandwich and bowl of fruit AND drinking a glass of milk. She’s setting the bar high. I can’t even sit my child on my lap and eat a burrito. Apparently I lose at parenting.)

Why was this so hard? I’d observed breastfeeding before. It looked perfect and effortless, like a symphony on opening night. What I didn’t realize: just as an orchestra seems to play a concerto with ease, that ease comes after many hours of rehearsal. Breastfeeding is no different.

The point? Breastfeeding is hard. If someone tells you it’s easy, they’re full of it.

So if you are a new mom and you want to breastfeed, be prepared for some hard work. If you get through it, there will be sunshine and rainbows, I promise! Okay maybe not. But it’ll get a lot easier if you can push through the crap.

I was fully unprepared for the ‘Eight Weeks of Breastfeeding Training.’ I hadn’t heard a word about it ahead of time – the very common two months of difficulty, frustration, and madness, before everything starts to click. Only afterward did I start hearing how common it was.

I think that New Mom Prep does a bit of harm by deemphasizing how hard breastfeeding can be, how difficult it is to hit your stride. Maybe this is why some moms I spoke to gave up so quickly.

It took Peanut and me seven weeks to hit our rhythm, and it’s been (mostly) smooth sailing ever since. I’m happy I stuck with it, and though I probably shouldn’t admit it, I never want to stop (I might move to Mongolia so I can breastfeed her ‘til she’s nine… would that be weird? :-)).

I love that I can provide comfort so easily to my baby girl. After a particularly satisfying meal, she looks up at me with heavy-lidded eyes, smiling dreamily, and I feel like the most wonderful mommy in the world.

I’m certain all moms have these heartwarming moments, regardless of how they feed their babies. Though now that I’ve fallen in love with feeding her straight from the source, me, I feel oddly disconnected when I feed her from a bottle.  Like something is missing.

I will never claim breastfeeding is no big deal, regardless of how long you’ve been at it. I stop what I’m doing twice a day to pump at work, and delay bedtime every night to empty the milk-makers. Plus I live with constant fear that if I’m kidnapped, I will probably die of mastitis, because my survival is dependent upon emptying my breasts every few hours. (Yes, I do worry about that, more than I like to admit. Is that weird?)

Whether it’s “kudos-worthy” or not, I want to congratulate all the new moms that stick with it. Because it’s hard early on, and it’s exhausting even after it stops being hard.

Provided you’re not going completely insane (and that you’re making milk), keep at it. If you hit the one-year mark, you earn your “25 Percent” badge. Yippee!

 

(P.S. — Yes, I shamelessly stole this blog title from Duff McKagan’s book, but I couldn’t have said it better myself.)

 

Why stop now? Keep reading, friend.

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