Breastfeeding may be natural… but it’s certainly not easy

By Sarah Rieke

Three days after my first baby was born I was slumped over on my couch in the cream-colored fleece bathrobe I hadn’t taken off since we arrived home from the hospital. On my right hand, side my mother-in-law was spoon-feeding me french vanilla yogurt while I tried to massage the side of my breast in the hopes that it would help to stimulate a more consistent milk flow.

A dear friend sat on the other side of me trying to help my newborn son latch on while simultaneously feeding him tiny drops of pumped colostrum through a medicine dropper in the hopes that it would motivate him to have a stronger suck and spur my milk production, which was in dire straights.

“Why is this so hard?!” I blubbered through bites of yogurt. “If breastfeeding is natural why is this so stinking hard?!”

About a month later both my son and I had developed a decent feeding groove. He was latching better and I felt more comfortable. But breastfeeding was still far from easy. Each nursing session lasted close to an hour and was broken up into five minute intervals wherein I had to tickle my son’s feet or stroke his chin or remove items of clothing, just to keep him awake.

I remember thinking, “If this is supposed to be the most natural thing, why is it such a process?”

Several months later my son was a happy, smiley, sweet pre-crawler. I had mastered the feeding schedule and he was a pro at nursing without falling asleep. Everywhere we went people would comment on his bright blue eyes or his white-blonde hair. He really was adorable. But people would also comment on how small he was.
“Oh, you must be breastfeeding,” they’d say. And when I nodded my head yes, they would nod theirs too as if to communicate that I was doing my son a disservice. Even the pediatricians gave me grief about his size and questioned my milk supply, suggesting pumping or supplementing with formula.

After almost every interaction like this I would think, “If breastfeeding is supposed to be natural than why does it feel so discouraging?”

Recently I was talking to an older woman who works as a postpartum doula assisting new mothers as they adjust to their newborns. One of her most primary duties is that of breastfeeding consultant. I recounted to her how I had felt in those early days of learning to breastfeed my firstborn and how discouraged I had been at how difficult it really was. She gave voice to the very thing my heart had lamented over.

She said, “Just because breastfeeding is natural does not mean it is easy.”

I wish someone had told me that when my baby was born six years ago. I wish somewhere in the midst of all the books on breastfeeding and newborn scheduling was a chapter entitled, Breastfeeding: It’s So Hard You’ll Want to Quit … So Bad.

 This is not an article meant to put full-time breastfeeding on a pedestal and put down any other types of infant nutrition. Really, by all means, use whatever feeding method that best keeps your baby full and content and whatever is most ideal for your lifestyle. I truly mean that. This article is simply meant to encourage those mothers in the thick of breastfeeding who are tearfully wondering, “Am I the only one who finds this so difficult?”

Today, I have nursed two babies through infancy and am now in month three of full-time breastfeeding my third and there are still days when I want to throw in the towel. There’s something deeply exhausting about being solely responsible for the nutritional needs of your baby.

If you find yourself there today, discouraged by the difficulty of exclusively breastfeeding, please know you are not alone. You are not a bad mom for feeling that way and you aren’t doing it wrong.

Breastfeeding is natural but it most certainly is not easy.

Give yourself grace as you learn, and space to give your body what it needs to continue producing milk for your little one. Don’t feel guilty if you need to supplement with formula or skip a feeding to have someone bottle-feed your baby so you can just have a break. This is all a part of self-care and you need it.

You are truly amazing – you grew a baby inside your own body, brought that baby into this world with your own determination and strength, and are now sustaining their life with your own personal nutrition system. Don’t let a few setbacks get you down.

You are one heck of a superwoman.