Breastfeeding is Hard


IMG_7438My little daughter, Emily, was playing with baby dolls.  She wanted me to play with her.  Handing me a soft, pink baby, she told me baby was hungry.  I pretended to lift the corner of my sweater, pantomimed nursing the doll for three seconds, then burped it.

“No, Mama!” Emily said.  “Dat baby get her milk fwom a cup.”

“Really?” I asked.  “She looks kind of small to be drinking from a cup already.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt a little judgey  of Emily’s parenting of her doll, so I added, “Ok, Em.  Why don’t you get her a cup and show me how you feed baby.”

Emily trotted off to her kitchen play area and came back with a pretend jug of milk.  She lovingly dumped the milk down baby’s mouth and then held baby to burp her, just like I had.

She giggled when she made the pretend “Buuurrrppp!”

A little while later, Emily picked dolly back up, proclaimed baby was hungry again, and started to tug at the collar of her top.  It took me a moment to figure out what she was trying to do.  When I nurse Emily, either in the morning or before bed, I am usually wearing a tank top that I pull down over my breast to allow her access.  Emily was trying to do the same.

Her top had a snug, high neck, so she was unable to do it.  She looked at me pleadingly.

“I don’t know how to get her undah’ deah,” she said.

“Well, Emily, honey,” I said.  “That shirt won’t work to pull down, so why don’t you sit down with baby and try pulling up the corner of your shirt?”

I thought I was being helpful, but Emily got really frustrated.  After another moment of struggling with her shirt, she threw the baby doll down and stomped off, crying.  When I tried to help more, the situation escalated to a full-scale tantrum that lasted 15 minutes and ended with Emily going down for her nap.

Poor kid.  It’s hard to be three.

But seriously, I’ve been there with breastfeeding.

I remember struggling with my babies to get them to latch comfortably under my shirt.  It was so awkward, exhausting, and painful in the beginning.  I remember the frustration of not to be able to feed my babies quickly, easily, and painlessly.  Ugh.  Not just frustrating, but demoralizing.

I spent hours crying about it during those early weeks of motherhood.  My nursing relationship with my newborn son was initially so awful it contributed to postpartum depression and anxiety.

While I never wanted to throw my babies, I did feel urges to put them down, quietly go make a bottle, and be done with breastfeeding once and for all.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, but perseverance was hard.

With both babies, we developed a nursing relationship that worked for us (after some close monitoring, assistance, and support from a skilled lactation consultant, the pediatrician, and my doctor).  With both children, the first step was addressing tongue ties and nipple infections.

With my son, severe sleep deprivation was contributing to my depression, so I had to come to peace with letting my husband supplement with bottles while I got a few extra hours of sleep.  Because I had trouble responding to a breast pump, we used formula.  In the long run, coming to terms with mix-feeding likely saved any semblance of a nursing relationship with Jack.  He weaned completely just before he turned two.

Emily also needed supplementation due to my experience with crazy nipple trauma, and supply issues when I returned to work.  She was a picky eater, however, and never really took to her bottles the way Jack did.  She ended up nursing all night long to make up for what she didn’t eat during the day, and I was fine with this because it meant she was almost exclusively breastfed.  There were times when I couldn’t pump enough for her and she was offered formula at daycare, especially after she started solids at six months and my supply dipped.

With both kids, I remember feeling really angry at how difficult it was to breastfeed.  I had figured it would be the easiest and most natural thing in the world, as I think many women who plan to nurse their babies figure.  Latch on.  Latch off.

It was shocking to me to find how uncomfortable, time consuming, and confusing it was.  Shocking!

I’m not sure why breastfeeding is hard for other women, but I think in my case, as a very independent, modern woman in a fast paced society, it was a challenge to have to really struggle at something and have this tiny human glued to an organ that in 30-something years had never really been put to the test before.  I was not prepared for the discomfort, supply issues, or sense of being totally touched out.

That, and for all our society advocates for moms to breastfeed, it really isn’t supportive of it in the larger scheme of things.

  • Formula companies lie in wait to prey on new moms who are vulnerable from sleep-deprivation and anxiety of wanting to do everything correctly for their darling new babe, with glossy ads that promise their product is just as good as their own milk (spoiler alert:  it isn’t).
  • In the US, there are no paid maternity leaves, and so just as a mom and baby are establishing their nursing relationship, mom may have to return to the workforce, thereby disrupting lactation.
  • Women often have to fight for their right to pump for their babies in a clean and private space at work, although they shouldn’t.
  • The breast is still viewed as a device of female sexuality, rather than a food-delivery-system for babies.
  • People are all kinds of judgemental and uneducated about when, what, where, how, and for how long women should nurse.  God forbid you nurse a baby past a year, or into toddlerhood, as I did with Emily.
  • Speaking of education, even highly educated people (such as myself) have a general lack of understanding about how lactation works, why it is important, and how to troubleshoot common issues.
  • And don’t even get me started on the controversy about nursing in public.  I mean WHY is that still even an issue?  There continues to be societal stigma around breastfeeding which keeps it from becoming the norm.

The last reason is why, when Emily gives me a doll to feed, I always pretend to nurse it.  I want my children to see breastfeeding as something that is normal, natural, and totally worthwhile even if, as Emily discovered today, it is not always simple.

Did you struggle to breastfeed?  Were you tempted to quit?  How did you make your nursing relationship work for you and your child?    

10 responses »

  1. Whoa man. You’ve read my story: we made it work for as long as we could with supplementing and pumping and patience.
    I appreciated the part about severe sleep deprivation contributing to depression. I am one of those who does not adapt to sleep deprivation well at all. I fall apart. So that made everything 1000 times harder.

    • I totally feel ya. I “always” advocate for breast milk, but our society does not make it easy. I think there is so much crazy stress we go through as new moms. . . I was glad that I could hang on to my nursing relationships with both my kids in my own ways, despite all the crap that comes with motherhood in this country. I feel really blessed my body adapted to nursing in the evenings/weekends and my babies were always happy and healthy. The sleep deprivation stuff is so real. It is torture. Pure. Torture. I’m so with you on that one. Thanks for stopping by!! I hope everything is going well with you and your lil peanut! He must be getting big… xo

  2. Nursing definitely was not as easy for me as I expected it to be. The supposed lactation experts at the hospital were either nonexistent or were “experts” in name only to satisfy some administration requirement. I turned to La Leche, and the women there helped with the technical aspects of latching on that made things much easier. BUT they were rude and unpleasant and completely unwelcoming so I only went once. I was the first in our group of friends to have a baby, so I really was on my own. Then I had mastitis at least twice with each baby. Yikes! But I was totally committed to absolutely everything about breastfeeding, so I persevered and managed to nurse all three of them for a year each. It helped a lot that I wasn’t going back to work, so in theory I had all the time in the world (yeah, right). I’m really glad I stuck with it, though – I would never trade those very special memories of all that cuddling and of being the one they depended on for nourishment. Happy days.

    • Oh, Mama, what a story! You are a breastfeeding rockstar! I’m sorry to hear La Leche was a negative experience for you. I’ve never been to a LLL meeting myself, but I was lucky to have an amazing support group that was extremely welcoming with my daughter, and a IBCLC who was really a patron saint of lactation. It is really hard when you feel on your own, which I did feel after my first baby. Thanks so much for sharing your experience with me. It always blows my mind how some women really struggle with nursing. . . I’m always like, why don’t they tell you this before having kids?! Oh, yeah, because we probably wouldn’t have them! xoxo.

  3. Your post made me laugh today. I loved your story about your daughter’s efforts to feed her baby. Mostly because this is so very far from anything I’ve experienced with my two boys. My four year old does get pregnant sometimes but he tends to give birth to either puppies, or even more often, dragons and they come out ready to fly! 😄 thanks for sharing. I do think your efforts to normalise breastfeeding thru play are awesome!

  4. I struggled mightily, as my mom watched helplessly because she hadn’t nursed any of her children. Thank God for La Leche League’s help! Without that lactation consultant, I wouldn’t have been able to nurse my first born at all, but even with her help, it was a major struggle the first month or more. It was logistically easier with my second daughter, but no less painful. In addition, I caught the flu sometime immediately after her birth, and remember needing my husband to sit right next to me during nursing so I could hand off my daughter to him each time the urge to throw up hit me. Ugh! He was patient then, but grew weary of nursing as I grew bolder with nursing in public. He despised it, yet I despised being trapped in our house.

    I hope all of this shifts for our children. Nursing is a skill that must be taught and learned – it is not inherently known! And it is a beautiful, healthy thing.

  5. ” but I think in my case, as a very independent, modern woman in a fast paced society, it was a challenge to have to really struggle at something and have this tiny human glued to an organ that in 30-something years had never really been put to the test before. I was not prepared for the discomfort, supply issues, or sense of being totally touched out.” <—- So totally this…. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding are the things that reminds you that we are mammals and the society is not for mammals… I love the nursing relationship I have with my daughter and cherish it, especially since she is 31 months now so it won't be forever… I do not dare to say that I still nurse her most of the time, since some people are so short-minded.
    Good luck to Emily in her quest to find the suitable clothes to breastfeed 😉
    Lots of love

  6. Pingback: When Breastfeeding IS All About Me | momaste

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