When I meet with new moms, it’s amazing how often the topic turns to the troubles they are having with breastfeeding. I hear about the struggles; the infections; the cracking; the latch; the tongue tie; the lack of sleep; I hear it all. What I often hear the most is mothers being shocked that something ‘so natural’ can, in reality, be so danged difficult.
Why? Why is something that’s supposed to be the most natural thing on earth so hard for many of us? I remember lamenting to another mama that mama dogs make it look so easy, and I didn’t understand why puppies could nurse more easily than my own son.
It’s possible that modern birth practices, which 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, though strides are being made for mothers who need to have c-sections to reduce that disruption between mother and child in those important first bonding moments.
It’s also possible that even in vaginal births, there are issues that can make a difference. There is also research showing that medications like pitocin can increase jaundice in the newborn, which can make baby lethargic, can 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 feasible 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.) Now mamas are asking for that time back, planning in their birth plans and with their providers beforehand to do as little as possible in that first hour that is so important to mama and her newly born babe.
Maybe modern medical procedures and traditions, 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 women are created with some major flaws that can be improved upon with newfangled things like formula, toughening up, and disinfectant. Oh, and don’t forget that breasts can’t be any type of nourishment because they’re too often viewed in a sexual light only.
In the US, an entire generation of women pretty much avoided breastfeeding for man-made options considered superior. In the early 70s, women who breastfed were considered ‘too poor’ to give their baby ‘the best’ (formula) and it’s taken a few generations to come back to the realization that though fed is best, nature’s first choice has always been Mama’s Milk.
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.
Yes, you read that right.
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 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? Can we look at the trouble as an opportunity to learn together and to grow in each other as this new coupling of mother and baby?
What if the sacrifice and the tears that so often accompany the stages of breastfeeding have a purpose?
I’m not saying breastfeeding should be suffering, and that women should suffer at all costs. Please do not read that any differently than intended.
I have to admit, though, that I am grateful for my breastfeeding journeys and I’m okay 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 kept hearing about how it got easier, how it was like riding a bike. I, instead, felt like I was always trying to re-learn how to ride a unicycle, often while I was juggling flaming swords in the air. It was never ‘so easy because it’s natural,’ and…
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. I knew what I wanted to do for my child and the lengths to which I was ready to go in order for him to be fed by my breasts. It was a huge sacrifice, and a huge learning curve, and one I wasn’t prepared for if totally honest.
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. More, it’s hard for those of us who desperately want to nurse our children but struggle to constantly hear how ‘easy’ it is and how ‘natural’ it is when the only thing that feels natural is wanting to give up. Mamas, we feel you.
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. And in today’s world, where all it takes is one simple post about how hard something is for an entire group of Sanctimommies to pop up and make you feel like your centimeters tall, it’s hard to reach out and say you need help. I know. We get it.
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. And, more, if you’ve ever been shamed because you are having (or had) a hard time nursing your little one, you’re not alone in that either, and I am sorry for your hurt heart too.
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. Remember that. You’re not alone and there are lots of resources that you can turn to for help. We’re with you, Mama.