Turns out, nursing wasn't the bonding experience I expected it would be. When you're getting ready to have a baby, no one is shy about sharing the benefits of breastfeeding with you. I had heard all the reasons why choosing to breastfeed was a good choice and one of them was the expectation of a sweet bonding experience with my baby girl.
I'm still glad I breastfed my baby, but truth be told, I didn't truly enjoy the process. However, it did help me in other ways.
1. Breastfeeding Is Time Consuming
I was prepared to have a baby; I was not, however, prepared to nurse around the clock for five days until my milk finally came in on the fifth morning.
My daughter was born via an unplanned cesarean many days after her expected due date. Exhausted and totally clueless, I was still excited to try nursing the moment they laid her on my chest in the recovery room. I knew enough from the books and videos I consumed while pregnant to not expect my milk supply for at least 24 hours - but it was more time consuming than I had anticipated.
2. Breastfeeding a Baby Is Both Physical and Mental
I was so relieved that my milk was in, I just assumed the hardest part of nursing was over for me. I had no idea the struggle of nursing would continue for weeks. The pain as my body was adjusting to this new sensation and the lack of sleep from cluster feeding seemed to pale in comparison to my emotions. I felt increasing guilt as my daughter's weight and cries signaled I wasn't producing enough milk - despite my desperate attempts to increase my supply. It turns out that the mental load of nursing can deeply affect how you process the experience.
The good news I did finally discover is that some parts of nursing get easier with time and experience - as do most parts of new motherhood.
3. Not Every Mom Bonds While Breastfeeding
This isn't a deep dark secret we have to keep as moms. As I wrestled with supplementing, nursing bras, and the perfect position for comfort for myself and my daughter, I started to notice the one element that seemed to be missing from this entire nursing journey: bonding while breastfeeding.
Out of all the women I spoke to while I was pregnant, the ones who had nursed their children said it was one of their fondest memories and proudest accomplishments. I couldn't wait to join their club. I was hoping the bond I felt while pregnant would carry over through breastfeeding once my daughter was born.
As the weeks went on and nursing became far less painful and a lot more comfortable, I discovered that the pain and inexperience weren't my only issues with nursing. Deep down, I just didn't like it. I felt like I was keeping some dark secret about how much I disliked doing the one thing for my baby that no one else could do. How could I not enjoy this experience that so many other women loved?
The truth is - you don't need breastfeeding to feel bonded to your child - and if you've already started the nursing journey and don't enjoy it as much as you expected you would, that's OK. It's also OK to stop!
4. There's No One-Size-Fits All Feeding Experience
While I felt deeply bonded to my daughter from the moment I finally got to hold her in my arms, breastfeeding didn't contribute more to that bond. In fact, I felt more bonded to her the first time I gave her a bottle of formula.
When I could finally settle her cries with enough milk, I didn't care that it wasn't my milk. All I cared about was that she seemed content and satisfied. That felt more like a bonding experience than every nursing moment we journeyed up to that point.
I nursed my daughter, while supplementing, until she was five months old. New moms hear about the health benefits of breast milk over and over again - which was another reason I kept going, despite my discomfort. The impact it would have on her immune system, digestion, and development were to me well worth the five months of doing this thing I didn't love.
It's important to remember that if breastfeeding isn't working for you that it's OK to pump and bottle feed or simply switch to formula. You don't need permission from anyone to do that. A happy mom makes for a happy baby and if you are miserable breastfeeding you don't need to suffer. Do what's right for you.
5. Breastfeeding Was a Way to Honor My Motherhood Journey
I knew immediately I would attempt to nurse when I found out I was pregnant. So I also nursed during those five months - which seemed like an entire lifetime - because I wanted to honor my first motherhood decision.
The inexperienced mother I was at that time was still capable of making a good decision for her child. The mother I was when I knew it was time to introduce some formula was also making a good decision for her child. And the mother who continued to nurse despite disliking the experience made a good decision for her child. I needed to honor those stages of motherhood as best I could.
6. Nursing Gave My Daughter Comfort
Nursing was our first reconnection after a traumatic birth. It was the first thing we experienced together after she was taken out of my womb. It was the first thing she wanted when she was laid on my chest that night in the hospital.
Every time I sat down in that rocking chair and silently cringed within, I knew I was giving my baby girl the singular thing that helped her feel safe, loved, and comforted. So - I kept nursing as long as I did because I knew it brought my daughter comfort.
7. Nursing Felt Redemptive After a Traumatic Birth
I also kept nursing because, though I disliked the feeling, it was healing to do this thing for my child with my body. Missing out on the natural birth I planned and having a cesarean felt like a loss at first. I grieved that experience for a long time.
Providing my daughter with the comfort and the nutrition of nursing felt redemptive somehow. Even though I carried guilt over not producing enough milk for her, just producing some felt like a win after my birth experience.
8. It's OK When Reality Is Different From Our Expectations
It's OK when real-life parenthood is different than what we expect (or what we're told). It opens the door to conversations we can have about the reality of one of the hardest jobs in the world. Sometimes the experiences you expect to enjoy prove to be difficult and draining, while the moments you dread turn into the most beautiful parts of your motherhood experience.
9. It's Important to Do What Feels Right at the Time
After five months of nursing and supplementing, my daughter didn't prefer either feeding option, and I was okay with letting my nursing days go. She naturally weaned herself and I can't tell you what her last nursing session was like because I honestly don't remember. I didn't cry, and I didn't do a meaningful photo shoot or transform the remainder of my milk into a beautiful keepsake. I just moved on.
I felt guilty while nursing - and after my daughter weaned - for never having truly enjoyed the experience. But I learned so much that I was still glad I gave it a go for as long as I did. Though the experience never bonded me more to my daughter, I know it was the right choice for both of us in that season.
10. Bonding Goes Way Beyond Breastfeeding
If you're trying to decide whether you want to try breastfeeding or you're up late Googling why the process doesn't make you feel bonded to baby like I did countless times, remember the one thing that bonds you to your child like no one else (and it isn't your ability to produce milk). The truest bond you share with your baby is being their mom.
The bond you have with your child is unmatched and unbreakable, not because you breastfeed - but because you love your child in a way no one else ever will.
Do What's Best for Your Motherhood Journey
Though breastfeeding didn't provide the bonding experience I expected it would, it still provided countless benefits for my daughter. It was just the beginning of many selfless choices I would need to make as a mother. However you decide to feed your baby and however you feel most bonded to your baby can be a beautiful expression of your motherhood journey.
Do what feels right for you and let go of the pressure to experience things the way other mothers have before you. This is your motherhood journey and it will be uniquely yours from the moment you see those two pink lines.