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A Few Good Moms: Can you handle the truth about breastfeeding?

The breastfeeding mother’s best friend and worst nightmare all rolled up into one great machine - the breast pump.
The breastfeeding mother’s best friend and worst nightmare all rolled up into one great machine - the breast pump. MCT

The mother-to-be finishes reading the article from the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding the healthiest feeding option for infants and affirms her decision to breastfeed her baby. What could be more natural?

You want the truth about breastfeeding? I think you can handle it.

Yes, breastfeeding can be a beautiful way to provide healthy nourishment with lasting benefits for your baby. But some moms are surprised to find that this experience may be fraught with feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and guilt. (Of course, while this may be the first time you feel that way as a mom, it certainly won’t be the last.)

Perhaps you will be like my friend whose son was born six days before mine. She came over early on with her baby and we had to feed the boys while we were together. I can still picture her in a crisp pastel button down blouse, demurely draping a soft cloth over her baby while he nestled at her breast. She continued with our conversation without missing a beat, smiling and laughing as she relaxed with her son.

Meanwhile, I struggled to open the large well-worn shirt borrowed from my husband for this purpose. With sweat dripping down my face and back I attempted to properly position my baby and secure a productive latch. Maybe our issues stemmed from his general disinterest in eating, a problem that we’d struggled with since his birth. Maybe our issues related to the milk dispenser being a full two and a half times the size of his head. (This is an ironic mind melt – at the time when you physically resemble a porn star you are as diametrically opposed to that role as you can possibly be, in full-on mommy mode with your body completely and miraculously utilitarian.) Regardless of why, we huffed and puffed and perspired and fussed and struggled the entire time. I felt completely incompetent.

As it turns out, there is a make-or-break situation that may unfold with the supply and demand part of the breastfeeding equation. My son did not demand very much – or even enough, as it turns out. When we went to the pediatrician’s office for a regular appointment they were alarmed to discover he had not gained any weight since his last visit. He was whisked away for tests to rule out something serious.

Thankfully, all was well – except my milk supply. Since he didn’t take a lot I didn’t make a lot. (The opposite can also be true – after birthing twins my college roommate’s insane milk supply led to a silly group email announcing that she had been named the new president of La Leche. The fun continued when one recipient earnestly sent heartfelt congratulations, not realizing it was a joke. Or perhaps totally realizing that one should never EVER joke about La Leche . . .)

So with my son’s issues, we went back to his newborn feeding schedule – only this time after every feeding I would also need to pump to increase my supply. Ah, the pump, a perfect device for those post-partum ladies who don’t feel enough like a total cow. To add insult to injury I initially bought the wrong one, not the primo model that would pull a respectable amount every time, and I couldn’t return it when I had to get the real deal. (Trust me when I say the only thing more un-fun than a breastfeeding pump is a breastfeeding pump that doesn’t get the job done.)

In the end I am left trying to explain to my husband how we’d managed to spend a small fortune on nursing paraphernalia for the baby . . . the same one whose feeding needs were provided for by Mother Nature.

I am not saying you shouldn’t breast feed, and I am not saying you should. The truth is, you can make the choice that works for your family and it will be fine, a lesson I learned when I turned to my own mom for advice. She wanted to help but didn’t have a lot to add – back in her day she was counseled to use formula and so that is what she did. We both seemed to have survived just fine.

Want to get a better handle on breastfeeding? Check out the many resources available through La Leche League International, enjoy a laugh as Tracy Curtis contemplates sharing breastfeeding pics on Facebook, and if you are thriving while breastfeeding consider starting your own business with this scoop from The New York Times.

Bess Kercher, M.A. explores the reality of motherhood at www.MomsCharlotte in her blog "A Few Good Moms: Can You Handle the Truth?" Bess lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons. You can read more of her writing at www.maemucho.com.

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