What I Learned from My Struggle with Breastfeeding
Let me start by saying: I am a HUGE proponent of breastfeeding. I believe in it and support it 110%. I nursed my daughter for 16 months and my son for 14 months. There were many aspects of breastfeeding that I adored, like the bond it created between my children and I and the satisfaction I had in knowing I alone could nourish my child. But I will be the first person to admit that there were also a great number of things that I disliked about breastfeeding, and that almost made me give up on it altogether.
Before I was even pregnant with my first child, I had made up my mind that I would breastfeed and do it for as long as possible. I had no qualms about it; I thought it would be natural and easy, a wonderful bonding experience. You know, all those things you hear about breastfeeding. You can imagine my surprise and disappointment when breastfeeding didn’t go as smoothly as I had anticipated. In fact, my breastfeeding journey with my daughter was so challenging that I wanted to throw in the towel from the very beginning. I was completely dumbfounded that this thing that was supposed to be so wonderful and natural was absolutely NOT. I felt like a failure of a mother and like a broken woman. It was disheartening, to say the least.
Instead of giving up, though, I decided to open up. I talked with other moms, I did a LOT of research, and I poured out my concerns to my midwife and doula. I was shocked to realize that I was not the only mama out there who felt disappointment and failure as a nursing mom. More importantly, I learned that I didn’t have to give up; there were ways of fixing what was wrong or working around the challenges I was facing. I can’t tell you how relieved that made me feel!
Now, both of my kids are well beyond nursing age. My breastfeeding days are done, but my “battle” has left me with an understanding of these issues that I long to put out into the universe for other mamas. I know how important it is to share the truth with other moms. Here, I want to touch on some of the rarely-discussed issues regarding breastfeeding and shed some light (perhaps also offer some hope?) for other mamas out there.
It’s not always easy for mom.
There are so, SO many things that can complicate a breastfeeding relationship for a woman. I, personally, had issues with oversupply which led to my kids gulping down too much air with their milk, causing a lot of tummy pain. Many women also suffer from low supply, no supply, nipple and breast pain (if not cracked and bleeding nipples—not fun), engorgement, or flat or inverted nipples. I could go on and on. Here’s the thing: these issues are SO common and SO normal! Yes, they are challenging, but the good news is that there is almost always a way to work around them so that you can have a better, easier breastfeeding relationship.
For instance, I dealt with my oversupply issue by trying different feeding positions (side-lying nursing was a LIFESAVER!) and I treated my cracked and bleeding nipples by consulting with a certified lactation consultant who helped me help my babies with their latch. So while breastfeeding may not be easy from the beginning, it can and does get better. A couple of wonderful resources that discuss just about everything you’ll ever need to know about breastfeeding and its nuances are KellyMom and La Leche League International. Believe me, you’ll want to bookmark these websites!
It’s not always easy for baby.
Listen, if you think learning how to nurse a baby is hard, try it from the kid’s perspective. Believe it or not, the baby has as much to learn about nursing as you do. Baby has to learn how to latch correctly, suck efficiently, swallow without choking, stop when he’s full, breath and suck at the same time, etc. This is no cake walk! Even though baby does really well getting the nursing thing down on his own most of the time, there are many obstacles that can, and often do, get in his way.
One of the most common culprits are lip and tongue ties. Never heard of it? Yeah, I hadn’t either, but both of my children had severe lip and tongue ties which made sucking for them nearly impossible. Babies can also experience issues with food intolerances, nipple confusion, refill . . . again, I could go on. As with the issues moms face, baby’s issues are also treatable. When no doctor could tell me why my daughter had so much trouble feeding, I finally visited with a certified lactation consultant who diagnosed her with a severe lip and tongue tie. We were able to take her to an ENT with experience in revising ties and, using a two minute procedure, he was able to revise her ties and fix our feeding issues. When my son was born, I had him looked at right away and, sure enough, he also had bad ties. We had his revised when he was seven days old. Problem solved.
Both of my kids also had a dairy intolerance, so I had to give it up for about 9 months after each kid was born until he or she grew out of the intolerance. For a girl who loves coffee in her cream and covers everything in cheese, I can’t tell you how hard it was! But, for me, it was worth it to give up some things for a short time for my babies’ sake. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.
Bottom line is that the business of breastfeeding is hard on your little one, too. There are going to be kinks that you will have to help baby work out in the beginning, but if you keep trying, there are not many issues that you can’t get treated or find a way to work around.
Not everyone is supportive.
As natural as breastfeeding may be, unfortunately, not everyone in today’s society is as supportive of it as we mamas would hope. Our mother’s generation was bombarded with ads and propaganda telling them how much better formula was than breastmilk and that nursing a child was old-fashioned. Thankfully, all this misinformation has since been debunked, but the effect of the message it sent remains ingrained in some of that generation’s beliefs.
Ridiculous as it sounds, young mothers all over the country are lectured, chastised, given the evil eye, even kicked out of establishments for doing nothing more than feeding her child. This type of behavior has given moms the (untrue and unfair) idea that there is something wrong or shameful about breastfeeding, especially in public. Listen closely, mamas: there is nothing shameful or gross about feeding your child. You have the RIGHT to feed your baby when and where you see fit. Whether you use a cover or let it all hang out, nourishing your baby is top priority. Don’t let anyone shame you from doing what you need to do.
I was lucky in that I can remember very few experiences in which I felt like someone was disapproving of my nursing in public. Many times I would use a cover if my kid would allow it, but often I didn’t have one handy or my child refused to eat with a blanket over his head (I mean, wouldn’t you?) or I was in a hurry. Every now and then I noticed someone staring with a “look” on his face. When I noticed it I either ignored the person or gave him my best “I dare you!” look. I was always left alone after that!
Side effects may include . . .
If you’ve done any research into breastfeeding, you’ve probably come across the articles discussing common ailments that can accompany it, such as mastitis and thrush. Both of these conditions, while awful and painful, are easily treatable and can be prevented (although some mamas have a hard time with recurrent bouts of both). One ailment that was a complete mystery to me (and a shock to find out I had it) was a little known condition called D-MER (Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex), in which nursing actually causes negative emotions that occur right before milk release and continue for several minutes.
While D-MER does not affect most women (thank goodness), there may be other less joyful emotions that accompany nursing, especially in the early days. Worry, frustration, fear, guilt for feeling tired or resentful that your baby wants to nurse for the billionth time–all are normal feelings. Don’t let these temporary feelings deter you from continuing to breastfeed your little one! As you progress in your nursing relationship and as your baby gets older, it is highly likely that these feelings will subside and you will feel bliss, joy, awe and wonder in those quiet moments while you’re feeding your precious baby.
The Good News
I know, I know, I’ve just told you a billion reasons why breastfeeding is hard and can really make you want to quit. While all of that is true, it doesn’t change the fact that breastfeeding is amazing and beautiful and so worth it! Breastmilk is the best thing you can feed your baby if you are able, and the struggles it may bring will only last for a short season. Whether you choose to nurse or pump or supplement for your child, you are doing an AMAZING job! Don’t let these challenges get you down. Seek out help from certified lactation consultants or midwives. They have been trained to guide moms in this crazy beautiful thing that is breastfeeding. Use their wisdom and guidance to get you through the tough times, and remember to stop and enjoy the moments that are good because, believe me when I tell you, they are gone all too soon.