Breastfeeding Hard?

You had a baby.  Somewhere during your pregnancy or maybe even before, you realized that the baby inside you was going to have to come out.  Your fantasies up until this point had mostly been about round bellies, shopping for baby things and then, like magic, holding a tiny bundle of a person.  Rosey and shiny visions where even the diapers are adorable.  There may be moments of panic where a little voice freaks out in your head that you’re going to be a mother.  But it’s exciting too.  And then it hits you: you’re going to have to get it out of you.  Perhaps a movie reel begins in your head with sound bites of conversations you’ve either been a part of or you’ve overheard and soon you’ve created a composite of what you imagine your birth is going to be and it plays like a horror movie over and over in your head.  Even worse, people may start sharing their own horror stories telling you about their births.

I’ve never understood this, by the way.  See a glowing, beautiful, happy looking pregnant lady and let’s tell her the scariest crap about birth ever.  Because that’s real sweet and encouraging.  What kind of person does that and why?  Sadists.

If TV, movies, and personal horror stories dominate our view and understanding of childbirth as a society then we have lost our birth culture.  We have replaced it with a Hollywood version, a version of sensationalism and fear.  It may be more entertaining but it isn’t very inspiring.  And so we lose the true culture of birth and replace it with something… other.

Then it happens.  Hopefully you’ve prepared yourself by taking a childbirth education class by the time the actual birth rolls around and have replaced your horror film composite with positive birth images but either way, that baby is coming out.  Regardless of how your little bundle is born, it’s hard work and, let’s be honest here, it changes you forever.  Often during labor a woman will say “I can’t” but then she does.  When a birthing woman I’m attending says these words I know two things: she is probably close to the end and she already is doing it.  You can’t do this?  You already ARE!  Sometimes that is all we need to hear to release our fear, listen to our intuition and just do, just be.  In labor you experience some of the hardest work of your life.  Even if you get the drugs and you don’t feel what’s going on, your body feels it, your body does it and you bear the marks of the last leg of the journey toward motherhood.  Home, hospital, birth center, unmedicated vaginal birth, epidural vaginal birth or cesarean, this experience births not only your baby but you as a mother as well.  In this experience you discover that you, the mother you, is strong, powerful, courageous, beautiful, gentle, nurturing, determined, and so much more.  You are any one of those things in any given moment.  You are all of those things at once.  You are Mother.

And just like that it is over. The journey towards motherhood complete.  Now you embark on the journey of motherhood, a journey you will be on for the rest of your life.

Breastfeeding may be normal, it may be totally natural but it isn’t always easy.  Sometimes that catches us by surprise and our confidence flies out the window.  When a new mom is at her wits end, exhausted and unsure, when she can’t see what she has become on her journey to motherhood and now fear is all she hears, a new horror flick may begin to run through her head.  This time it is about breastfeeding and she doesn’t know it but she’s been booby trapped (Best For Babes shares how).  This new film is punctuated by an alarming number of sound bites from well meaning friends, family and strangers saying things like “breastfeeding is so hard!” “formula is just as good,” “not everyone can breastfeed, I couldn’t, you probably can’t either,” “what’s your partner going to do if you breastfeed?” “If you put them on formula they won’t have to eat so often, they must not be getting enough if they are always so hungry!” and the oh-so-supportive “you won’t make it past a few weeks at most.”  Add in formula advertisements that promise brain boosting all-natural additives, claim to be perfectly formulated to meet your baby’s needs, offer the allure of sleeping through the night, dish up precisely measured scoops so you know exactly how much your baby is getting and powder in a can sounds like the greatest fear and stress reducer available to new parents.  Even worse, those fears can be handed a megaphone when inadequately educated experts; OBs, RNs, pediatricians, and even some midwives and lactation consultants are sometimes undereducated and perpetuate some common myths about breastfeeding and early infant feeding and growth.  They tell her how, when, with what, in what way, how often what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like, what it weighs like, what it charts like.  In fact, the information may clutter things up so much a mom doesn’t have the chance to listen to the natural desires of herself and her baby.  She may be so distracted and worried about doing it wrong that nothing is going right.  (I absolutely adore what Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC has to say on an over-left-brained approach to breastfeeding)

Barring any true breastfeeding problems such as Insufficient Glandular Tissue (google it) or other legitimate problems, most of the time what a mother struggling with breastfeeding needs to hear is simply “You can do this.  You ARE doing this.”  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that breastfeeding isn’t too hard for anyone.  Is it hard?  Yes, often it is, but I don’t believe one single mother would find it too hard.  No, what is too hard is battling lack of support, bad information, fear, societal expectations, and maybe even her own body.  Sometimes a mom may want to give up, I know I have, but breastfeeding is not too hard.  If you put your baby to your breast, if you hook yourself up to a breast pump, you ARE doing it.  There is no guarantee that it will work exactly how it is supposed to every single time but most of the time it will.  Even when it doesn’t it isn’t because breastfeeding is too hard, it’s just the other obstacles that got in the way that were too difficult to manage.

Check out this list of 25 things that could be harder than breastfeeding.  Bet you’ve done a few of these already.

Just as we have lost the true culture of birth we have lost the true culture of breastfeeding.  When we believe that a what is actually normal, such as a newborn eating every 2 hours (taking up to 45 minutes or even an hour at the breast meaning all. the. time.) or the breasts feeling less full after a few weeks or months as the body regulates supply, when we believe these normal physiological developments are not normal and reach for formula as a first solution then we have forgotten the true culture of breastfeeding.  (Christie Haskell over at The Stir has a post with pictures to demonstrate the size of a newborn stomach if you’re wondering why a newborn does eat so often.)  There was a time when instead of calling a lactation consultant about these issues women would have asked a more experienced family member.  Don’t get me wrong, I love lactation consultants, I just long for the days when they weren’t quite so needed.

We should be honest about our breastfeeding experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, and the funny too.  However, let’s not forget to tell the good and build moms up in their breastfeeding regardless of what becomes the primary source of nutrition for their baby.  Breastfeeding may be hard sometimes but you’ve probably already handled harder.  And for those of us that have come through breastfeeding challenges with positive and not-so-positive stories, we need to be bosom buddies for others.

So let me add my voice to the chorus of lactation consultants, breastfeeding support organizations, and the host of bloggers and say most women can breastfeed.  Put your baby to your breast and you ARE breastfeeding!  You go girl!  Maybe, just a little, we can reclaim the true culture of breastfeeding.

I know that not everyone can or should breastfeed and I don’t wish guilt on anyone that feeds their baby formula.  There is not one single thought in my head that those that give their babies formula are somehow less as mothers or didn’t try hard enough or are weak.  I recognize that every situation is different and support all mothers in nurturing their children regardless of how they are fed.  Still, I will continue to encourage breastfeeding and let women know that for most it’s not only normal it’s entirely possible.


  1. dohiyi mama says

    This is what I did- I never told anyone I was going to breastfeed, hardly told anyone I was having a homebirth, and never took my baby to the doctor. I just did it. Very happy with my decision. 🙂

  2. You labour analogy often comes to mind when I hear people discussing their struggles with breastfeeding or the reasons why they stopped. Sometimes the 'you can' (or words to that effect!) is just what's needed. Sometimes we all need a prod to enable us to do things that are difficult – in all aspects of life. Tiredness, hormones, pain, all get in the way when it comes to breastfeeding & that's when you need to be able to rely on someone standing with you to – be it a partner, mother, midwife or friend. That's not bullying (bullying is something very different, and it's NOT ok). In our FB group we recently had a discussion about the question "Has a breastfeeding 'bully' ever helped you"? Quite a number of mothers said they were very grateful to their stern midwives for standing firm when they were on the verge of giving up.

  3. I love this. Thank you.

  4. i honestly feel grateful to the midwifes in the RVI @ newcastle, i was determined to bf and while my son had latch issues by the end of the first 24 hours when he had yet to eat i was ready to head for the formula. Thankfully the midwife on duty kept pushing me to try again and again and when i was at my Very last attempt she practically forced my boob into his mouth and he finally latched. We had a very painful time until he got the hang of it at around 10 days but if it weren't for the support of the midwifes / community midwifes and the health visiter i would have given up. Especially the community midwife that suggested nip shield when my nips were cracked and i was crying each time he latched and was so supportive that she refused to sign me over to the HV until i was ready

  5. Great post. I need to remember to come by more often!! 🙂

  6. I love the labor analogy. I never did understand why people would tell me those horrible things when I was pregnant. I was happy to tell anyone who asked that I was having my baby with midwives (one at a birth center, second one at home) and I breastfeed proudly, something that changes even among breastfeeding moms as your children get older, I still breastfeed my two year old and only recently weaned my four year old.

  7. The Fearless Formula Feeder says

    Beautiful. And thanks for the caveat at the end. It's appreciated. 😉

    I think it is so important to have encouraging, positive stories out there, and I agree that it's probably not (typically) the ACT of breastfeeding that is hard; it is, as you say, all the crap that surrounds it in our messed up society.

    But as one of those rare women who has ridiculously sensitive breasts, I do have to admit that nursing on my right boob was utter agony. Worse than 18 hours of non-medicated pitocin labor. And it persisted for over a month, at which point I quit. But this is not "normal", and I totally don't mean to spread "horror stories" about it; I just think it's also good to be truthful so that us freakshows don't feel alone.

    But again – beautiful, encouraging post, and excellent message!

  8. @Fearless:

    Thank you for your comment. One of the reasons I want to point out that breastfeeding isn't or shouldn't be "too" hard is because if it is then something is probably wrong and needs to be checked out. I think some women go on to have torturous breastfeeding experiences because they believe that breastfeeding is just hard and they grin and bare it (no pun intended) when in fact there is a real problem.

    Women that do encounter breastfeeding difficulties aren't freaks, not any more than anyone else that encounters some kind of difficulty that "most" don't have. In our own way, we all are freaks.

    It is my hope that in sharing a wide variety of stories we can all find the support we really need. That is why I make it a point to share guest posts that include the breastfeeding stories that didn't work out. If you'd like to share yours here I'd be honored to feature it.

    Thanks for stopping by and I'm so glad you found this post encouraging.

  9. Re: torturous experiences leading to real problems . . .

    I have a friend who tried *so hard* to breastfeed through her pain that, after trying and trying and trying, found out she had breast cancer.

    She's since had a double-mastectomy and is undergoing chemo.

    I applaud her strength and I'm *so glad* that her persistence to breastfeed led to an intervention that has saved her life.

    Sorry to de-rail the topic.

    Beautiful post! Thank you!

  10. This wasn’t my experience. Breastfeeding is probably the hardest thing I have ever accomplished. I took classes and read books before, willed myself to battle all the potential naysayers I may meet along the way and then my baby refused to latch. I was completely unprepared for the amount of desperation I would feel. No one ever talks about that. All my nurses were super helpful but my son was wanted the process to work differently than it did. No one forced formula on him, in fact the opposite is true, but no one seemed concerned that he wasn’t eating yet. Finally 24 hours after his birth, I gave him a bottle of formula. And here’s the thing, he was much more willing to learn afterwards. I know this isn’t right for everyone, but it was the best thing for us. I was finally able to see an IBCLC 36 hours after his birth and she helped us a lot, but it was 4 or 5 weeks before he began to willingly latch each time. It was sheer determination (nd the internet) on my part to make it happen. The resources I needed were regular visits with an IBCLC, and this just wasn’t available. In the meantime, I did use formula and because my supply regulated before he figured everything out, I still supplement. I’m not sure what the answer is but even with the amount of research I did, I was completely unprepared and the obstacles we encountered were not the ones I had readied myself for.

    • Holly, I’m sorry you had such a difficult time. I have had difficulties with breastfeeding as well. My point isn’t that breastfeeding is easy, because that’s not true for many women, myself included. My point is that as women we already deal with a lot of hard situations. It isn’t that it will be a walk in the park but rather the strength of women already shows that we can handle so many difficult challenges and this, like so many others, is worth the struggle. Some women have it easy but others of us face some significant challenges with breastfeeding but I believe we’re up for the challenge. If we can do all these other challenging aspects of life then we can at least face breastfeeding head on and give it an honest-to-goodness try because we can handle hard.

  11. I love this article. More women need to read this and words like this.
    I always knew I was going to breastfeed long before getting pregnant and (a bit naive of me I know) I had never thought about the possibilty of not being able to. My mum had breastfed my brother and I for 32 months between the 2 of us, so I knew I had all the support that I needed, as well as my husband being behind me too. As he knew, I knew, what I was talking about, same as when I explained about having a home birth and the benefits of it for all of us he quickly came round to liking the idea of not going to hospital.

    I joke with my friends that I am one of those women that makes others sick, as I never did have a problem. Although I never thought about not being able to breastfeed, I did make sure that I read up on all the medical conditions that can cause problems, and what signs to watch out for. The only bad thing about not having any problems is that I haven’t been able to give my friends much helpful advice when they have had problems (sis-in-law had mastitus twice, poor thing!) apart from what I’d read. And the other end of it, other friends not accepting any advice because ‘how could i know what they’re feeling when i never had a problem’ and then them giving up when I know they didn’t want to.
    If every women had read all the supportive and factual info that is out there, I know that more women would be determined enough and educated enough to persevere. Another reason why I NIP, is because I hope that every women whos sees me and my friends doing it will at least think about doing it themselves, as it was because my best friend would NIP everywhere, that I felt confident enough too as well.

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