advice, books, honesty

What to Read While Breastfeeding: A Primer

IMG_8179Well, things got busy.

We welcomed a new addition to our family, muscled through some major house infestation issues (with a five-week-old! super fun), and started preschool. And now *cough* it’s December. Whoops.

Still, I’ve managed to scrape out some precious reading time while nursing little Junebug, though not nearly as much as I did with Blueberry. Turns out toddlers see you sitting on a couch and think, You could read to me! Right now! This book! and completely ignore the infant guzzling away at your breast. The three of us have had some good bonding time. But it makes the few times I’m able to read what I want all the more precious.

The first time around, I learned some valuable lessons about how to maximize my reading enjoyment, and I’ve further refined them with Junebug. In case you’re in the market for some reading-while-breastfeeding advice, I present the following primer:

1. Accessible text is a must. When you’re regularly subsisting on four hours of sleep (or less! and all of it is broken up!), you don’t have the bandwidth to power through Dostoevsky. (Or maybe you do, and if so, you go, mama.) I had to ease into breastfeeding with my guilty pleasure, celebrity magazines. Those early weeks were made so much better when I could escape into the pages of US Weekly or People and catch up on the latest royals gossip. Sometimes I was so tired it was all I could do to make it through a paragraph-long text box, and I’d end up gazing longingly at photos of the young and the beautiful sunbathing in Maui who all looked well-rested.

2. Once you’re ready for a meatier read, try a graphic novel. When Blueberry was born, I followed a friend’s recommendation to read Raina Telgemeier’s Drama. It had all the benefits of a celebrity magazine (abundant pictures! accessible text!) but with an actual storyline and character development. I blazed through Drama in two nursing sessions and then checked out Telgemeier’s backlist, plus all the Amulet books. Junebug and I, meanwhile, read Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends and Best Friends, and got in on the ground floor of now-3-year-old Blueberry’s obsession with Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl. They’re fun, quick reads, and you get the satisfaction of reading an Actual Book without the time commitment of a text-only book.

3. Ready for Text Only? Return to beloved series or old favorite standalones. As a reader, the hardest thing for me to do is invest in new characters. I put off starting new books even when I know I’ll love them, because it’s hard to put in the emotional investment at the start. So when your emotions are still rubbed raw by every muted cry, and your hormones are riding a roller coaster, the last thing you want is more emotional work. I read old installments of Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series with Blueberry, because apparently female detectives in period England make me feel deeply cozy and cared for.

4. Stay away from body horror. I don’t really enjoy creepy books to begin with, but there’s nothing like reading some full-on body horror while a tiny infant sucks at your nipple. Physically, breastfeeding can feel strange at the best of times, and when it doesn’t it can really, really hurt. So when I found myself recoiling at the people-turned-sex-hungry-killer-praying-mantises in Andrew A. Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle, I decided I’d reached a firm boundary. Infancy is a tender time for all involved, so I needed to be gentle with myself. Reading included.

5. When all else fails, don’t read. Binge-watch. I’m the first to admit I’m a Luddite, and we’re still trying to limit the kids’ exposure to TV. That said, sometimes you’re just too damn tired. Blueberry and I developed a lovely ritual of settling in for an hour of Midsomer Murders while we both had lunch. While it may seem wrong to watch a murder mystery with an infant, the cozy British factor more than made up for it.

All of the above has been true for me personally, but your mileage may vary. Plus now that we’re out of the newborn phase, I’ve been able to branch out a little. Lately I’ve been enjoying cookbooks and food memoirs, of all things.

Have you ever developed reading guidelines for certain periods of life? I’d love to hear.

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