When I meet with new moms, it’s amazing how often the topic becomes breastfeeding.
The constancy of it all.
The lack of sleep!
The shock that something so natural would be so dang difficult.
Tongues? Who knew that tongues were so important?! (You can read more about tongue-tie and breastfeeding here.)
Many women – maybe even most – struggle with breastfeeding at some point. Why is breastfeeding so hard?!
Why is it that something as biologically normal as breastfeeding can be such a trial?
There are probably many answers to this question. It’s possible that modern birth practices that often include surgical birth, various medications, and separation of mom from her baby can cause problems with breastfeeding.
The impact of cesarean birth on breastfeeding is well documented. (Here are some tips for breastfeeding after cesarean.)
There is also research showing that medications like pitocin can increase jaundice in the newborn which can make baby lethargic and cause breastfeeding troubles as well.
Other studies have found that pain medication given in labor can have a negative impact on breastfeeding.
It’s also possible that separation of the mom from her baby during that “golden hour,” right after birth disrupts the mother/baby dyad when biology needs them to be together. (I certainly felt like the, “We need to weigh and clean your baby,” standard procedure caused problems with initiating breastfeeding with my first baby.)
Maybe modern medical procedures, while they can be lifesaving, can also disrupt breastfeeding.
Maybe breastfeeding is hard because we just forgot how to do it.
Breasts, as well as every other specifically female body part, are constantly questioned in their ability to actually function properly. It’s commonly believed that we women are created with some major flaws that can be improved upon with newfangled things like formula, toughening up, and disinfectant.
In the US, an entire generation of women pretty much avoided breastfeeding for man-made options considered superior. Maybe we have trouble with breastfeeding because there just aren’t enough of us who grew up watching breastfeeding and not enough of us who have older, wiser, women in our lives who can show us how it’s done.
I am sure all of these things contribute, but there is another thought that runs through my mind sometimes.
Maybe breastfeeding is supposed to be a little hard.
Maybe there is meant to be a learning curve.
Maybe there is value in learning the dance between us and our new baby as we navigate new breastfeeding, get to know each other’s cues, and figure out what works.
Is it possible that there is value in the hard days and the harder nights?
What if the sacrifice and the tears that so often accompany the stages of breastfeeding have a purpose, a point?
I have to admit though that I am grateful for my breastfeeding journeys and I’m OK now, looking back, with the difficulty.
I remember my first baby who was tired and jaundiced. I was recovering from a long labor. I remember sitting on my bed, holding my baby while we both cried and I tried to read in a book how to properly feed him.
I wasn’t suffering. It wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t easy either and it was months before things were running smoothly and the entire journey involved learning. This was the same with all my four children.
I learned to give up a lot of myself for those babies.
I learned to sacrifice.
I learned to read a baby’s cues.
I learned to trust my instincts.
I learned to sit and be still.
Eventually I learned to trust myself and my body and my ability to do this mothering thing – but it didn’t happen overnight.
I learned love through service and disappointment.
Now that first baby is quickly turning into a teenager and, let’s just say, it’s a good thing I learned to love him back then!
To all you moms out there struggling through some aspect of your nursing journey, whether it be latch issues, tongue tie, pain, lack of sleep, mastitis, biting, toddler pinching/scratching, nursing strikes, over or under production, or anything else – I am sorry. It genuinely SUCKS when something so “natural” is so, so hard.
You are not alone.
Maybe another reason breastfeeding can be so hard is because women need each other but we can have a hard time reaching out. The struggles of early motherhood almost force us to reach out for help.
When I go to moms’ groups I find women who never thought much of “support groups,” but suddenly realized they needed them when that screaming baby came along.
If you are struggling with breastfeeding, I want to say I’m sorry. I have experienced many of those struggles too, and I guarantee that millions of other women have suffered or struggled with you. You are not in this ship alone. There are many with and many who have gone before and who will come after.
Why is breastfeeding so hard? I can’t say I really know. But it often is and knowing you are not alone is one of the best helps on that crazy journey.