Have Boob, Feed Baby?

Nursing is such a beautiful, natural thing. Moms and babies have perfected it through out the history of, well, moms and babies. It really is a simple concept. The breast are actually glands, glands that are “activated” during pregnancy and then turn on after birth. Hormones signal to the glands to start producing milk and the body uses calories and water to create the perfect little liquid meal for baby. There is an amazing, unique relationship between baby and breast, a supply and demand bond, a miraculous chemistry of calories, fat, antibodies, sugar, protein and more in this production. While scientists have tried and formula companies claim, nothing has been made quite like it. You should go research all this, it is really cool. Goggle, it is a wonderful thing.

Not all mothers want to breastfeed but some plan to do so, believing (as do I) that it is the best for their baby. After all, what could be more natural? Side note: Anyone else find it odd that we applaud women that breastfeed and yet we call it natural? If it is natural, why do we act like it is this herculean feat? There are other natural things that we don’t praise people for, like going to the bathroom. Oh wait, I have cheered for someone going potty before. Hmmmm, maybe there is something to that. Moving on!

So what happens to the new mom that decides she’s going to breastfeed, figures it can’t be that hard since women have been doing it for ages, reads that if you have a correct latch it shouldn’t hurt, gets the Lanisnoh, breast pads, nursing stool, and a cute nursing cover so she can be “discreet” and is already to breastfeed and then little Johnny comes along and holy crap, it isn’t as easy as “have-boob-feed-baby?” Johnny clicks when he nurses and it feels like someone has placed vice-grips on her nipples. She follows the directions she’s read to break baby’s latch and try again, this time pulling his jaw down or adjusting his position so his jaw is under the nipple and he’ll have to open wider, put his tongue forward to get a correct latch. Tentative but confident that this natural way to feed her baby is totally something she can figure out she goes for it. Once again it hurts but lessens a bit as he sucks and since she doesn’t feel like screaming this time she lets him stay only to have such a forceful let down of milk that Johnny pulls off sputtering with milk running out of his mouth and spraying him in the face before mom gets pressure on the boob to stop the flow. Trying again, she moves him towards the breast again, trying to encourage a good latch but now he’s so hungry and so angry that he won’t stop screaming even when the nipple is completely in his mouth. The meltdown reaches to mom and soon both are in tears. Now what?

I think this is why some moms give up, even the most basic problems can be discouraging. Pain is a bitch. And, I’m going out on a limb here, but I don’t really believe that good latch equals no pain for every woman, every time. Without good support, quality information, lots of encouragement, and a little bit of reason, even the perfectly latched, well supplied baby/mom team can want to quit. Particularly if she is convinced that this natural nourishment for her baby should come easily and she is embarrassed that she is experiencing trouble. If there are real problems such as latch issues, thrush, mastitis, low/over supply etc. it can even be more difficult. At such a delicate time as the postpartum period, an overwhelmed mom faced with the manic nature of her body, painful breasts, sleep deprivation and a squalling infant could easily become defeated. In those most desperate moments the bottle and formula look like a savior even if she knows “breast is best.”

Does it have to be so hard? No, and a lot of women don’t find it to be a challenge. Who knows why. Maybe they were more prepared. Maybe they had better support. Maybe they were just freakin’ lucky. (Now, now, don’t go hating them for it.) But in those very early days, many women have an experience that isn’t quite the rainbow farting unicorns they had imagined. They pictured sweet greeting card images of looking down into the deep eyes of their new baby, wrapped sweetly in a soft blanket suckling delicately at her breast. Instead they got a clenched jaw, a baby with a toothless mouth of torture, the vocabulary of a sailor and tears- 2 sets. She may even be blessed with cracked and bleeding nipples and if she’s really on the shit-list, thrush. Somebody may have really had it out for her mommy confidence if her baby doesn’t gain well, she’s told she doesn’t have any or enough milk or the ultimate blow: baby is failure to thrive.

I can’t help but wonder if there was a time when society didn’t throw around terms like “natural” or “easy” when it came to breastfeeding. Not because it wasn’t those things but because it didn’t really matter. Breastfeeding just was. That, and instead of women getting their support from books, the internet, Lactation Consultants, OBs and pediatricians, they got their support from their families, from other moms, from the community. Don’t get me wrong, all those resources are great and I’m so glad we have them. The thing is maybe what we need even more is real support, swapping stories, acknowledging the struggles and sharing the beauty that would help a mom press on. There are real challenges, real reasons why for some moms and babies breast is not best. Not as often as we seem to hear but they do happen. For those other difficulties I wonder if it is really just a lack of support, one on one, hands on support. Either way, all of them would be easier with help and support. The mom that feels guilty that she started formula because she couldn’t take the pain or the screaming. The mom that isn’t sure she can make it through the initial few weeks. The mom that was abused and can’t breastfeed emotionally even though she can physically. The mom whose baby needs her to stay on her meds more than she needs to breastfeed. Or the mom that was told she couldn’t do it. If, after a new baby is born, the women in the new mom’s community descended on her with meals, cleaning, glasses of water and company, helping her get settled while she establishes this new nursing relationship there would be more women saying “We had a rough start but we made it and it was totally worth it.” In my land of rainbow farting unicorns, that is what happens, women, both familial and friends, offer hands on support providing practical and emotional encouragement. Can you do it? Can you find a way to play in my little world of make-believe and actively support a breastfeeding mom or two?

It only seems natural.



  1. Great post. I'm one of the lucky ones who had fantastic support, especially in the early days. I'm hoping to be able to pass on the support I was given and help others start out on the right foot.

  2. Jessica says:

    Tacey, I'm so glad you have fantastic support and are able to pass it on. I think some women have support in the sense that they here "breastfeeding is wonderful!" but not hands on and honest support. You indeed are a lucky one and so are the women you are moving on to assist.

  3. Thank you for that post. All 7 of my kids were different and pain was a part of each nursing adventure in the beginning to varying degrees. Labor is natural and we expect it to hurt. Breastfeeding hurts but that pain is just not explained as natural. I really try to encourage moms to hold on there till their baby is around 3 months old. That just has always been a magic time. It is like my babies just "get it" at that age and everything mellows out. It is a learning experience for the baby sometimes too.

  4. The Sharp's says:

    Hilarious!!!! I am not in the breastfeeding stage right now, but I wish this blog was around when I was! I breastfed my 2nd son for 8 months until I ran dry. It was painful and hard, but I was determined to make it work. I'm looking forward to the support when the next baby comes, whenever that will be!

  5. Fabulous post! It wasn't until baby #3 that I had my first experience with thrush, and it was worse then hell. Even as a HUGE breastfeeding advocate and ebfer thoughts of quitting were not uncommon there for awhile. It was a lesson in empathy to be certain. And yes, I'll join the rainbow farting unicorn league's New Mama Welcome Party of Breastfeeding Support (MNWPBF – say that five times fast!)

  6. Shanna, wouldn't it be NMWPBF? HAHAHA! And I'd love to have you and everyone else in my beautiful land of rainbow farting unicorns. BTW, I had thrush for the first time with #4 and I honestly thought nothing was worth that agony. We made it through, but I think it was only because I was afraid of the price of formula.

    Sharp's we'll be here for your next baby! I'm sorry you experienced pain, I hope that won't be the case for you next time but if it is we will most certainly be here to offer encouragement, tips and support. You are so awesome to go through it to give the best for your baby!

  7. September Love says:

    Loved that post. Very well written! I, too, am a proud Lactivist and WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, too. Our slogan is "Loving support makes breastfeeding work" – and that is exactly what we aim to do – lovingly support our moms, whatever their struggle might be. It gets hard sometimes, but I always let my moms know that as a society, we don't have the upper hand on breastfeeding. Because we lost touch with the ability to pass down nursing wisdom when formula was SO popular and more moms formula fed than breastfed, we really can't expect every nursing relationship to be easy – but that that is exactly why there IS help out there….because it's needed. Anyway, loved your post. Thanks for writing. I'm so glad I found your blog!

  8. Mrs. Brock says:

    Great post! 🙂 I can relate to this completely. I had mastitis, sore nipples, my baby had/still has a tongue tie (so my nipples are sore most of the time, just not cracked and scabbed over now!), she was premature… so frustrating and exhausting, but to me there was no other alternative and we made it work. It was so so so worth it! She went from 4 pounds to over 8 pounds in 6 weeks. Yay for boobies!

  9. My 1st was in the nicu for 32 days after birth and I diligently pumped and then spent a very miserable couple of weeks switching baby from bottled breastmilk to on the breast. It worked but, despite herbal teas, I had ongoing supply issues, a horrible latch, cracked and bleeding nipples plus a very long episode of nipple thrush and a brush with mastitis, plus a baby who nursed 24 times a day for the first 7 months, and was still nursing 8-12 times a day by 9 months. We stuck with it for 13 1/2 months (only stopping when my milk dried up due to baby being unable to nurse due to a bad sinus infection)! It was totally worth it. And if I hadn't come from a family where breast feeding was not only normal but assumed,
    (What else would one feed their baby?) I doubt I would have been able to stick it out.

  10. i was also one of the lucky ones, meaning i haven’t had any nightmare experiences with thrush, cracked nipples, mastitis, etc. that being said, the beginning was rough. it’s such a steep learning curve at first. but i was determined that we wouldn’t touch formula with a ten foot pole, and now my daughter is 9.5 months old and thriving perfectly and i couldn’t be happier with my decision to stick with it. i’m actually looking into becoming a WIC peer counselor so i can help other new moms get to where i am today! yay, yay, yay for the magic of the boob! 😀

  11. Yup- you just described my last 2 months to a T- including the “clicking” sound my little guys constantly makes, the over supply issue and the Thrush. I’m keeping my fingers crossed we can keep nursing as I’m just finishing up my Gentiam violet and babies Nystatin. So what is that clicking noise during nursing anyways? I assume it causes more pain?

    • Amanda, if you’re still having issues with the thrush, ask for a culture to rule out staph. Also, Nystatin has sugar in it which feeds thrush and so sometimes the yeast is resistant to the Nystatin treatments.

      The clicking could be nothing, sometimes babies click as they break the suction in an effort to control the flow of your milk. But other times it’s a sign of a problem such as tongue tie, bad latch or other problem. Check out kellymom.com for more information on what the clicking could mean and if you continue to have problems with pain or thrush or anything else consider seeing an IBCLC to get more involved help. I hope things smooth out for you soon. ~Jessica

      • Thanks Jessica- I had never heard about having a culture taken but will do that if the yeast comes back. The Lact. spec. said the clicking should go away by 2 months of age as my little guy gets out of his bad (probably learned in utero) habit of sucking his fingers. I do think its slightly better. Heres hoping ecverything works itself out, because at almost 3 months, I’m finally starting to enjoy nursing him..

  12. Julie Todd says:

    I was one of the lucky ones in the aspect of pain, I really havent had any. In the beginning I had only planned to bf for the first 3 days so my ds could get the benifits from the colostrum, then I decided to bf the 8 weeks of my matetnity leave, and now my son is 4 months old and we are still going strong. I pump at work (which isnt easy). My issue has been lack of family support. My dh is/was just jealous and weirded out by the whole thing, and so was my mother-in-law. But I ignored them and continued to do what I felt was best for my child. But their lack of support really made it difficult. Made me feel as if I needed to hide. But then I found TLB (thanks to my sister) and since then I decided not to hide any more, that I need to take that feeling of shame and turn it into pride! My husband and mother-in-law have a new respect for me and even now encourage me to NIP, and are proud to tell everyone that I BREAST FEED!

  13. I’ve been reading a lot about tongue tie, and I really think that should be screened for, right away, so it doesn’t interfere with breastfeeding. The clicking sound and pain can be a symptom of that. They can cut the tie and solve the problem quite easily sometimes, and save a mother so many months of pain!

  14. I have been so blessed to have the wonderful support and truthful answers and stories of difficulties. My first curled her tongue we went through. Hellish thrush (oral diaper and nipple) blisters, mastitis, cracks bleeding biting that was just short of drawing blood. If it were not for the support and encouragement i received we wouldn’t have made it. Now nursing DD #2 it feels like second nature for me. I just keep reminding myself this too shall pass. I try to help others but there isn’t much to do when everywhere i look is formula fed babes. That’s why i love TLB i can help in some way and others can benefit from my experience.

  15. Jen Webster says:

    Great post! I have been thinking a lot about this issue as of lately…
    A friend of mine just had her son a few days ago and I told her that I can empathize with her if it is rough in the beginning. I let her know if she needed anything, ANYTHING, like somebody to call in the middle of the night because she is frustrated I’d answer. I would have loved if somebody offered me that kind of breastfeeding support. I felt so guilty for hating breastfeeding because it wasn’t “unicorns farting rainbows” at the beginning, but it DOES get easier. I had heard these words from my midwife and other nurses…these words kept me going at the hardest of times. I make sure to reiterate that to new moms.

  16. MyLittleSophie says:

    See, you don’t HAVE to switch to formula if the pain is too much. Just pump, put the milk into bottles, stick em in the fridge, and reheat when needed. The baby still gets all the nutrients from breast milk without the pain of thrush, mastitis, etc….Now if you’re dry? That’s a different matter. Don’t feel ashamed, if you’re dry, you’re dry. Similac is very good.