“When I worry, I research. It’s my way of dealing with anxiety.”
“Breastfeeding is not as intuitive as you’d think.” The first time someone told me this, I was barely into my second trimester. I thought, Okay, so I’ll take a class before the baby arrives. I’ll be fine. Then I heard it again. And again. A chorus of moms saying it’s not as easy as you’d expect. A latch became more than a bathroom lock to fix. I started to worry.
When I worry, I research. It’s my type A way of dealing with anxiety. And since I was committed to breastfeeding, I figured that I would learn as much as I could in advance of my baby’s birth to prepare myself for the challenge. My husband and I took a breastfeeding class, I read the books and the breastfeeding blogs, I quizzed every mother I met about what exactly made it so tough. I took notes.
Once my son arrived, my overpreparation paid off in some ways (I knew the difference between a cradle hold and a rugby hold, and I had a highly recommended nipple balm on hand) but not in others. Hearing someone tell you in a class how to get a baby to latch is altogether different from trying to do it yourself. Reading about what a good latch should feel like versus what a shallow latch feels like is not the same as feeling it yourself. The day after Ben was born, I remember asking the hospital lactation consultant, “How can a baby this small not have a shallow latch?”
In the days following Ben’s birth, I agonized over what I was convinced was a shallow latch despite the fact that he was gaining weight and had a sufficient number of wet diapers. I returned to the various online breastfeeding sources I had consulted while pregnant and found every single way in which I was failing. If you look hard enough, there is always something you are doing wrong. One blog post told me: “If the baby is latching correctly, your nipple should never come out looking slanted, like lipstick.” I remember finishing nursing Ben, who was now in a blissful slumber, and agonizing to my husband about the shape of my nipple.
Ultimately, what saved me from myself was the wisdom of other mothers. My own mom recalled a similar pattern of overthinking breastfeeding with her first and reminded me that my son and I were both learning. I remember sitting with my mother-in-law while nursing and explaining to her why I thought we still weren’t quite getting the latch right. “Does it hurt?” she asked me. “Well, no...” I said, preparing to protest further. “Well then you’re doing it right!”
It finally sank in: There isn’t one right way to breastfeed, because we are humans, not machines. It’s not something to be perfected.
Once I was able to let go of my breastfeeding perfection complex, things got much easier. I came to love nursing. My new, relaxed attitude also meant I wasn’t fazed when my supply went down after I returned to work (we started supplementing with formula), and once I eventually got tired of pumping at work, I felt fine with transitioning to nursing just in the mornings and evenings. Right around my son’s first birthday, we were ready to be done with nursing.
And I didn’t Google it or ask a single person what they thought about that.
Kate Murphy works in marketing and lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children.