Most pregnant women dream of the moment their babies are born. A pregnant mama imagines that the moment her baby takes his first breath, she will fall deeply and madly in love.
That’s what happened for me. After 15 hours of labor and over two hours of pushing, my midwife told me to reach down and pick up my baby. She was a big, fat eight pounds, 14 ounces of hot wet perfection. It is harder now, after all of these eight and a half years, to remember the physical feeling of her slippery body on mine. But I remember. Her huge, almond-shaped eyes looked right up at me and I deemed her the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen.
But I know that this doesn’t happen to everyone. In fact, studies have shown that about 40% women describe the first feeling they feel toward their baby as “indifference.” This is more likely to happen if she has had a highly medicalized birth. Women who have had c-sections report sometimes feeling like they didn’t even really give birth.
Over the years, I have seen many, many women who just don’t quite bond with their babies. Not in the first few days, not in the first few weeks. Sometimes it takes months. But they all eventually do.
Let me explain. This woman who hasn’t yet bonded with her baby, she is pouring herself into her baby. Perhaps she is nursing every one to two hours around the clock. Maybe she has cracked, bleeding nipples. Maybe she is pumping. She is doing what she is supposed to do. Doing what is “right.” Doing what is “best.” But mostly she is going through the motions hoping something changes. I give her a lot of credit and you should, too. It takes a lot to sacrifice your body, your sleep, and your sanity to feed a milk sucking parasite.
Yeah, I said it. Newborn babies are milk sucking parasites. A lot of people don’t like to think of babies as parasites because that is mean, but, until a mom really enjoys breastfeeding, it feels like baby is the only one benefiting from this deal.
A baby younger than six weeks old seems to not even know there is a pretty lady attached to his food source. A newborn roots around frantically, often with his eyes closed, until he finds what he is looking for. He savagely attaches, sucks furiously, then maybe opens his eyes long enough to look past his mother’s face at God-knows-what. After he has had his fill, he pops off, fast asleep, mouth agape, milk dripping out of the corner of his mouth. Perhaps he will curl his mouth into what seems like a smile in his sleep, dreaming of magic milk, no doubt.
It is human nature to seek reciprocation of love and effort. I mean, you let him suck on your boobs 12, 15, 20 times a day and what does he give you in return? The entertainment of a very loud and juicy poop.
Here’s what I estimate: Everyone is different of course, but most mamas in support group tend to agree with this theory:
For the first two weeks of your baby’s life, you do whatever you need to do to survive. You probably won’t remember much of it anyway.
During weeks two to six, you tolerate breastfeeding. Maybe you feel lots of gushy love for your baby, maybe not, but most women do not love breastfeeding at this point. They may be proud of themselves, but overall they are indifferent. They don’t stop because they have gotten through the hardest part, but they also aren’t sure why on Earth women breastfeed for years. What’s the big deal anyway?
Sometime during weeks eight to 12, you start to “get it.” This is when women really start to fall in love with breastfeeding.
This is when you feel like you know what you are doing (you know, for the most part). This is when baby comes off the breast and looks at you, then gives you a huge real milky smile, as if to say, “Hey, pretty lady! Have you been here all along?! I love you as much as I love this boob right here!” Your heart melts and you decide you will breastfeed forever if it means you get smiles like that every day.
So, maybe it will be love at first sight or maybe it will take a few months. But you will fall madly, deeply in love with your baby and, chances are, fall in love with breastfeeding at the same time. In my mind, if I can help a women hit this point, I have done my job because the love of breastfeeding will take her the rest of the way.
P.S. I want to mention that there are some women who I know who never really liked breastfeeding, but they did it anyway–many of them for a year. We should build some sort of shrine to these women who have made one of the greatest sacrifices of self. Can you imagine your breastfeeding relationship if you didn’t get anything out of it besides the knowledge that you are feeding your baby the optimal food? Yeah, me neither.
P.P.S. I also want to mention that there are some women who suffer from a condition called Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex or D-MER. In these women, with every let-down they get a suffocating feeling of depression, often described as home sickness. This is due to an odd imbalance in Dopamine in the brain that occurs only with let-down, so for about the first five minutes of breastfeeding. If you think this may be happening to you, check out this site: http://d-mer.org/ and also e-mail me so we can talk through it.