Why is Breastfeeding So Difficult?

Maybe you’re a new or soon-to-be mama and are looking for breastfeeding prep, or maybe you’re in the trenches of postpartum life and need a hand of solidarity. Maybe you’re an adoptive mama who is looking to induce lactation. Whatever your situation, nursing a baby isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. It is WORK.

When you think of difficulties moms may experience during breastfeeding, I have had them all. Mastitis? Check. Thrush? Too many times to count. Raynaud’s in my nipples? Yep. Lip and tongue ties? 3/3 babies have had those too. Bleeding, cracking, pinching? All of the above. Clogged ducts that felt like someone had injected 57 marbles into my breast? Of course. Milk blisters where I had to use my toothbrush for something I would have never expected? Just par for the course.

Nursing is hard work. You and baby, although having lived together for over 9 months, need to learn how to do it together. It is not always a supernatural, “my body knows exactly what to do”, thing. There are particular holds that can help baby latch – I could never quite get that football hold down to where I didn’t feel like I was doing some really strange tricep workout. And, you have to feed them every 2-3 hours until they get back to birth weight. That means WAKING A BABY to eat. Don’t they say to never wake a baby? And that’s all while you’re recovering postpartum and beyond exhausted.

And boy is there a varying degree of qualification and skill when it comes to a lactation consultant. Please, learn it here so you don’t have to learn it when you’re crying into your coconut oil stained breast pads: you want to find a consultant with lots of letters after their name. You’re specifically looking for the IBCLC ones. If you find someone with a nice personality but they’re missing the first three letters, just move on. That IBC means a world of difference. I’ve had multiple LC’s tell me my babies did not have tongue or lip ties, that I just needed to pump instead of nurse right now, and that the excruciating pain I was experiencing was probably caused by the Snickers bar on my nightstand. None of those things were true, and it wasn’t until I hired a private IBCLC did I learn what I actually needed to do to better our breastfeeding relationship. Finding an IBCLC who is skilled at recognizing and locating oral tethering in babies is also a plus. 

Figuring out which pump to buy, or which bottles to get, which pillow you like best (Boppy, Breastfriend, or none?), learning which size flange you need, to shield or not, etc… it can all be so overwhelming. But, finding help right away can make the biggest difference. Don’t wait until you’re screaming in pain at two in the morning. Find connections early on. Take a class. Have business cards at the ready. Talk to your partner about what kind of support you want from them. Don’t take this for granted. You have to work for it, but it will be worth it.

When we adopted our son, I decided that I wanted to sacrifice for him the same way I had sacrificed for the others. But, he was three, developmentally delayed, cleft affected, and had no idea what a mother was. So, what was I to do? In the orphanage was a huge poster about “breast is best”, which I found ironic since these children didn’t have mothers or wet-nurses. So, I pumped. I pumped for his tiny, parasite-ridden, malnourished body. I collected donated milk from other moms who sacrificed for him, too. So, even when you can’t breastfeed your child, you still ask yourself, “Why is breastfeeding so difficult?”

Before I had my first child, I was always in the “I am not breastfeeding” camp. I just didn’t want to. It seemed awkward to my overly modest mind, and I didn’t want to have to deal with “all that”, whatever that meant to pre-baby me. But, when I became pregnant with my daughter, my views changed. I then wanted to give it a go, but only until 6 months. I couldn’t imagine nursing a baby WITH MY NIPPLES longer than that. That just seemed ludicrous. But, then she was 6 months old and I couldn’t imagine stopping. Though it was harder than I could have ever dreamed of, we had made it, and I didn’t have an end goal in sight anymore. Now, as I sit here nursing my third baby as I type this, I could never imagine not choosing this.