I’m here to talk about nursing and how very, very hard it is for me. With all four kids I’ve given it my best effort, and all four times I’ve spent the first months feeling like a total failure because I struggled with it so much. After a few months the physical pain goes away, but then I go back to work—and poof! Just like that, my milk dries up. No matter how much I pump or how often I nurse the baby when we are together, my milk supply is like a faucet that has been turned off.
Based on my experience, I try to encourage other moms as best I can. I think admitting how difficult it is can be helpful, so other moms who are struggling know that they’re not alone. And I like to remind moms that they can only do the best they can. The ultimate goal is for the baby to be fed and for both mom and baby to be happy. If that means nursing, great! If it means formula, that’s great, too!
I owe my nursing successes (however small they may be) entirely to the wonderful lactation nurse I met when I went to a new mom support group at St. Mary’s when my first baby was 4 weeks old. I’ve been going back to see her regularly for the past six years. This group is free to all moms in the community and meets one morning each week (usually in the basement at St. Mary’s) to provide free lactation support. The nurse who runs the group is nothing short of a saint. She is the only reason I didn’t quit nursing every. single. time. She always helped me get through the beginning agony that I experience with breastfeeding.
But do you know what else she does? She tells me (and all the other moms, too) that there can be no guilt associated with nursing. The goal is to feed the baby. “Did you feed your baby?” She’ll ask a mom whose face is riddled with guilt after she admits to having fed her baby formula for whatever reason. “Yes? Then you did the best job. Way to go, Mom.” There aren’t words to express how much I appreciate this nurse’s approach, because being a mom is guilt-ridden enough. What moms need is to be told they’re doing a good job. And that’s exactly what this nurse does. She’s a hero in my eyes.
Before I went to the first meeting, I was nervous because I didn’t really see myself as a support group type of person. I mostly dislike everyone, and the last thing I want to do is spend my time hearing about how great everyone else is at nursing and parenting while I sit there with bleeding nipples, feeling like I don’t know how on earth I’m going to make it through the day. But six years ago, I was determined to nurse my baby, and I was failing. I had to get help. So I swallowed my pride and went to the support group. It was the best decision I could have made. And I couldn’t have been more wrong about my pre-conceived notions of this group.
When I went with my oldest daughter, I was afraid of being judged by the other moms because I was having so much trouble nursing (and with adjusting to life as a new mom, in general). But I couldn’t have been more wrong. The other moms were—and have always been—supportive and non-judgmental. I remember thinking that I was the only person who was struggling. Again, I was wrong. I can’t tell you how much it helped me to go and see other new moms who were struggling like I was. Maybe their struggles weren’t exactly the same (although some of them were), but they were all struggling with something. And it helped me feel not quite so alone. Because having a newborn can be so isolating. It was helpful to be in a room full of other new moms and see for myself that I wasn’t alone.
It was also helpful for me to see moms of babies who were a little bit older. These moms talked of magical things like sleeping through the night and going out in public on a regular basis without absolute panic that they’d forgotten some newborn-essential item. And it gave me hope. There have been times with each of my newborns that I felt pretty hopeless. And the new mom group has always given me hope, which is why I recommend this group to literally every single person I know who is having a baby. For the people who don’t live in Reno, I recommend that they find out if their local hospitals offer any similar community service. Because that’s what it is. It’s a service to the community to help new moms through the struggles associated with nursing and sleeplessness and questions and uncertainty and the isolation that inevitably comes with having a newborn baby.
I know that I will be forever grateful to the new mom group at St. Mary’s, to the other moms who gave me hope and to Nurse Denise for all her guidance, humor and words of wisdom.
This is an adaptation of a post that originally appeared on Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine.