Breastfeeding is Hard – A Note To the Mom Who’s Struggling
This post is based on personal experience and not to be taken as medical advice. Consult with your doctor when making medical decisions.
If you’re having a hard time breastfeeding I want you to hear this and absorb it right down into your soul: there is nothing wrong with you.
You’re not alone if your baby has a hard time latching for one reason or another; if you struggle with milk production; or if you feel like you just can’t get it.
Breastfeeding is hard.
For some reason there is an obnoxious myth about how “beautiful” and “natural” it is – leaving mother’s like me (and maybe you) feeling like there must be something wrong with us.
Despite having attended a breastfeeding class prior to giving birth, and choosing a pediatrician with a lactation consultant, and giving birth in a “baby friendly” hospital that also provided a lactation consultant – I struggled. And in talking with many of my friends, the breastfeeding struggles we faced weren’t uncommon.
Sure, your baby knows that they’re hungry, and that they want to be close to mom, but the actual execution of nursing can be really difficult.
And its not just difficult physically, breastfeeding is so hard mentally too. Add to it issues of pain while breastfeeding, low milk supply, and the thirst and exhaustion that come with it — I’m genuinely surprised that we’re made to feel like we’re the odd ones when it just feels hard.
Because really, the women who don’t have a difficult time with it seem to be the unicorns.
I often had discouraging flash backs to videos we saw during our childbirth class of these newborn babies rooting and latching instantly.
I felt like I must be doing something wrong.
Surely they wouldn’t show videos like that during a class that was literally created for parenting preparation if that wasn’t the norm. If that wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Right? So that must mean there is a problem with me! Or worse – with my baby.
Giving birth and bringing home a beautiful, angelic, screaming monster can make mothers feel alone enough, without adding to it a stigma that breastfeeding should come easily or else you’re not being the right kind of mom.
But here’s the truth:
It’s normal for breastfeeding to be difficult
Isn’t that disappointing?
Up until I had children of my own I always thought breastfeeding would just click.
It wasn’t until I was trying to feed my own son that I learned the difficulties I was having — how to hold the baby comfortably, getting a good latch, dealing with clogged milk ducts, spraying my baby in the face constantly were all totally normal.
Don’t believe me?
Ask your friends who have been through it. Maybe even your mom.
You’ll be surprised, and hopefully a little bit comforted, to find out that whatever breastfeeding struggles you’re facing are totally normal and common.
In fact, according to the CDC, as many as 60% of us don’t breastfeed as long as we had planned to — that’s a lot!
You. Are. Good. Enough.
Breastfeeding is hard.
Sleep deprivation is hard.
Not being able to shower alone (or as often as you’d like) is hard.
It’s so, so, so, so, so (shall I go on?) easy to get trapped in the mindset that if things aren’t going the way you expected then you must not be good enough.
Being a mom is hard work. Being a baby is hard work. Everything requires a learning curve (even the stuff you expect to come naturally) and you’re doing so much better than you think you are.
How would you treat your best friend if you knew she was having a hard time with something like this?
I’m willing to bet you wouldn’t tell her she sucks and she’s doing a terrible job. Of course not! So don’t do that to yourself.
It’s so easy to get caught up in how we want our parenthood journey to go — the vision of the perfect mom and dad for our perfect little baby. And to feel like anything that doesn’t go according to plan somehow takes value from our perfect picture.
But it doesn’t have to.
Breastfeeding is wonderful, but its also hard. And if you want to continue to breastfeed, continuing to struggle with it until you get it — that’s fine! And if it gets to be too much — that’s fine too!
Your worth is not tied to how easy this is.
You are worthy and wonderful and the perfect mom for your little one. Full stop. That’s it. You just are — there are no caveats.
YOU ARE GOOD ENOUGH. Just as you are.
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Don’t compare yourself
Breastfeeding is really hard for a lot of people.
And for some people it comes a little bit easier.
Wherever you fall, I can guarantee your journey is different than the person next to you.
There is so much comparison (and competition) in parenthood that is so unnecessary. Whether you nurse your child until age 2 or for 2 days, have a great milk supply or a low supply, supplement by pumping or by using formula, what matters is making sure it works for you. Any time spent comparing your journey to others is time taken from enjoying your baby.
And honestly, there is a very good chance that you’re comparing yourself with someone who has struggled with some aspect of feeding their child. Because people most people don’t go around announcing their struggles. We live in a time when everything is gussied up for social media.
So really, do try not to compare.
Ok, but why is breastfeeding hard on my body?
Breastfeeding can be difficult for a large number of reasons.
Does your baby nurse for extended periods of time (45 minutes or more)? Does your baby want to feed constantly? Then you may be battling with a low milk supply. If that’s the case, you may want to try to add some pumping sessions into your day to help stimulate your milk production. Making sure you’re drinking enough water and eating nutritious foods with lots of healthy fats can also help.
Are your breasts constantly engorged? You may need to pump before feedings in order to release some of the extra milk. Or, if your baby seems hungry AND your breasts are engorged, your baby may be having difficulty latching. A nipple shield might be helpful on occasion, but meeting with a lactation consultant might be a useful tool to help both you and your baby adjust to a more comfortable latch.
If it hurts to breastfeed, or if you have cracked or bleeding nipples, you may need to work on making sure your baby gets a better latch. Sometimes this is because of a lip or a tongue tie, but sometimes it’s just a matter of working with your baby.
Clogged ducts can be another common issue for breastfeeding moms. There are a lot of helpful ways to clear them, including pumping, feeding, or hand expressing after a warm compress or hot shower followed by an ice pack or using the Hakka trick.
All of these things are totally normal. They suck, and you have to work on them, but you’re not alone if you’re struggling with any of these things.
Ok, but why is breastfeeding so hard mentally?
A lot of things can make breastfeeding a mentally difficult task.
Whether its unrealistic expectations that we set for ourselves or that we know or believe others are putting on us can all put us in a difficult spot. Especially when dealing with the hormones associated with the major physical changes of being pregnant, then giving birth, and then making milk, and at some point getting your period back.
It can also be hard because of sleep deprivation and/ or a lack of support from your friends and family.
Add to it the financial pressure you may be feeling to make breastfeeding work so you don’t have to purchase formula, there are a lot of things that can contribute the mental load a mother carries while trying to breastfeed.
Some mothers also experience Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (“D-MER”) which actually causes feelings of anxiety or depression around the time your milk lets down.
All of that is to say, the mental load of breastfeeding exists and it can be exhausting.
But there are a couple of things you can do if breastfeeding seems to be difficult for you mentally:
- Talk to someone about the difficulties you’re having. Whether its a lactation consultant who can help you navigate the physical difficulties that are putting too much pressure on you; a postpartum doula; a therapist; or a loved one.
- Revamp your expectations. Remind yourself that this is new for both you and your baby and it might take some time. And that’s OK. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with either of you if it doesn’t click right away.
- If finances are a concern, check your budget to see if its really saving you that much money to breastfeed. After the initial investment in bottles, you might find that the cost isn’t that different, since many women tend to eat more while breastfeeding.
- Limit caffeine.
- Get some vitamin D by going for a walk and moving your body if you’re able.
- Share how you’re feeling with other moms. You might be surprised that they’ve also had similar struggles and they may be able to offer some help or suggestions.
Breastfeeding may be natural, but it doesn’t always come naturally
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
Moms love talking about their babies and their parenting experience. If you have friends who have recently had a child and you feel comfortable doing so, ask for their input! It can feel really awkward sometimes, but you really have no idea what other people have gone through without asking them. And you might be surprised and greatly benefited by being transparent with your struggles.
Lean on your support system
Honestly, sometimes you just need to vent. There were so many times that breastfeeding was just so hard that I needed to break down to someone. In some cases, just venting my struggles and frustrations was enough to let me re-group and get myself ready to try it again.
And while you’re relying on this important support system you’ve built, remember that none of these people are mind readers. If you want your husband or friends to just listen and support your decision, offer support and encouragement, or offer advice — let them know that’s what you’re looking for.
It’s ok to get a second opinion
Sometimes talking to friends, pediatricians, and using your own maternal insights aren’t enough to make things just “click” for you and your baby.
Visiting a lactation consultant can be an excellent resource. They can provide some great guidance on different positions that may make feedings more comfortable, how to ensure a proper latch, and how to tackle a variety of struggles.
They exist because breastfeeding is hard and they want to help moms who desire to breastfeed do so successfully.
The lactation consultant in our pediatrician’s office was immensely helpful when I was really struggling to get a good latch during those middle of the night feedings. So if you’re struggling to breastfeed, a lactation consultant may be great resource for you.
And if you’re not sure where to find a lactation consultant? You can check with your OB-GYN, pediatrician, local hospital, local pregnancy clinic, or your good friend Google to find someone local.
I’ve also known multiple people who found that part of their breastfeeding struggle was due to their baby having a tongue tie or a lip tie. If you think that may be the case for your child and you’re interested in having them evaluated by an ENT, get them checked out! You don’t necessarily need to act on the information if you find out they do have one of these, but it may help you to understand why things may be more difficult for you. This diagnosis may be especially helpful if breastfeeding is particularly painful.
Feeding your baby in a way that works for you
If breastfeeding is a priority for you, then keep at it!
I know some moms want desperately to be able to breastfeed and the struggle is hard, discouraging, but pushing through all of that is what mom needs. Sure, baby would be fine with formula, but mom wants to make it work.
That was me.
Especially as a working mom who got such a limited amount of time with my kid, breastfeeding and pumping was my way to contribute to my son’s day. Despite struggling to get an adequate latch, having a low milk supply, and getting mastitis twice it was something I felt strongly was something I wanted. I didn’t need people trying to convince me to feed him formula, I needed support for the decision I made.
If your baby isn’t gaining the way they should – talk to the pediatrician and find a way that works for you and your baby. Maybe you need to incorporate formula, or pumping and formula in order to get your supply up. But if it is a priority and you want to make it work, keep at it! Even if you have to supplement.
If you decide breastfeeding isn’t working for you, THAT’S OK TOO
Maybe you want to breastfeed but its just too exhausting, you have a low milk supply, you’d rather have more flexibility, or you have one of a million other reasons that breastfeeding doesn’t work for you. THAT’S OK TOO.
I want you to read this and believe it: YOU HAVE NOT FAILED.
I had a friend once tell me – “all of our kids are going to be eating chicken nuggets off the floor in a few years anyway” and that was such a good reminder to me that doing something that works for both mom and baby is what is most important.
As long as our babies are fed, you won’t be able to look at the kids eating chicken nuggets off the grimy floor and be able to identify who was breastfed and who was formula fed anyway.