Breastfeeding is completely natural. That’s what everyone tells you when you’re pregnant for the first time, and there’s certainly truth to it. After all, women have been nursing their sweet babes since the beginning of time, and it is the most “natural” way to nourish your child.
Yet, sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing “natural” about it.
I fell into the latter category. My breastfeeding journey was anything but natural from the moment my son was born, but you know what? I ultimately stayed the course to my personal goal of nursing my son for a full year, and I can tell you exactly why: my husband. Now I know that men aren’t exactly a part of the typical breastfeeding equation; baby + mom’s breast = breastfeeding, right? I would argue, though, that my breastfeeding equation was a bit more like baby + mom’s breast + dad’s encouragement = breastfeeding. And here’s why:
1. I had no idea what was going on when my son was born. Not simply regarding breastfeeding, but about parenthood in general – and neither did my husband. We were probably humorously clueless as to what this journey would actually entail, so guess what?
When breastfeeding didn’t come naturally for my son who refused to latch, we knew no different.
It just happened to be the first parenting hump that we needed to overcome; one that took place with the incredible, professional support of the lactation consultants and nurses at our hospital. There were uncomfortable moments for this modest mama, but my husband was right by my side through it all, acting as if everything was completely normal. His confidence in this seemingly odd, certainly not ideal process made me believe that all was as it should be, so I honestly never even thought twice about it. What a gift that was.
2. After a trying couple of days attempting to figure this whole “feeding my tiny human” thing out, I began successfully breastfeeding using a nipple shield, and I was thrilled.
At the same time, though, every part of me hated it. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
When I forgot to pack that dreaded but oh-so-necessary shield in the diaper bag before leaving the house, we were forced to cut things short and go home; it obviously wasn’t an option for the baby to just not eat. The worst part was getting that dang thing to stay on. I’m sure there is some Jedi-esque trick that I never mastered, but milk would oftentimes end up everywhere but in my son’s mouth, which was exceptionally frustrating.
That meant tears. Lots and lots of tears.
Throw my wild, raging hormones on top of everything, and I was basically a complete wreck, allowing myself to believe the lie (and hear me, Mama, when I say lie) that I was failing this precious baby. And through it all – through those discouraging, confusing, challenging moments – my husband just let me cry. He allowed me to voice my frustrations without trying to fix a thing, because we both knew it wasn’t in his hands anyway. My husband would be the first to admit that empathy isn’t necessarily his strong suit, and loving someone well through something that you will never experience nor even really understand is a difficult task, but he did just that.
3. Even setting my son’s specific issues with latching aside, breastfeeding was just plain hard. First off, it was painful. As a brand new mama, my poor nipples had never seen that much action. And then came the clogged ducts. Though it hurt to even simply touch them, I knew (okay, I Googled) that heat + massage was the answer. So there I found myself: reluctantly massaging away, hot water beating down, feeling like I’d never enjoy a normal shower again.
Though I’d heard horror stories of how much worse it could get than what I was experiencing, I still jumped at the opportunity to do something I do all too often – complain. Call it venting, call it my cathartic moment, call it whatever you want; in the end, I was throwing myself a pity party. But knowing that I could openly discuss these struggles with my husband made all of the difference in my attitude toward breastfeeding, and though I’m sure there were moments he would have loved for me to have thrown in the towel just so that he wouldn’t have to hear me say, “Can you hand me the nipple cream?” one more time, he never once suggested that I give up.
Because our son was (thankfully) thriving and it was up to me to persevere, my husband knew that he had an extremely fine line to walk as my partner in this journey. He was called to encourage me without pressuring me to stay the course, which I’m sure was rather confusing and terrifying, but he walked that road with both grace and love. He never gave me an out, yet he never made me feel like everything was resting on my shoulders, and that gave me the strength I needed to make it through.
My breastfeeding journey was far from perfect, but we made it through that year as a family. My husband, my little boy, and myself – we all played a special role in the journey. We persevered through the hard times and marveled at how natural (there’s that word again!) things eventually became. With my husband by my side, I felt like superwoman, which is a gift that every mom undoubtedly deserves. So whomever that “support” may be for you – a spouse, family member, friend, or medical professional – just know that you are never alone, and know that you are stronger and more capable than you ever imagined. And to my sweet, strong, unwavering husband – thank you.
*It is recommended to follow up with a lactation consultant when using a nipple shield. It is advised to seek help if you are experiencing pain while breastfeeding – whether that’s from your primary care provider or a lactation consultant.