Breastfeeding is Hard

All those pictures of the serenely smiling mother who is tenderly cradling and eye-locking her happily breast-sucking newborn were sponsored by insane asylums or drug companies that want to depress the crap out of mothers then medicate them, thereby earning their big bucks.

You know those pictures! May as well call it "breastfeeding porn" for all the realism it bears to real-life average new-mama breastfeeding.

And here's the thing: most all of us buy into it. That breastfeeding is "natural" so it is as simple as putting the baby up, baring the breast, and like the positive and negative magnetic fields, they will find one another and  instantly embrace.

Only it's not, it's really not. It's like the negative and negative magnetic fields from the way some babies (– mine) scream, arch, pull away, go red and writhe. And it's like…what the hell? And in my case, this being my THIRD time around, it was like what the HELL?

What the FREAKIN' HELL? Are you kidding me? Cuz this can't be happening to me! I'm supposed to have this thing down already!

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I know "breast is best". You don't need to tell me that. My beloved Ma has always credited my stellar good health and cast-iron stomach to my having been breast fed. Never any hepatitis, dysentery or meningitis for me! Whatever smarts I might have, too, come straight from that warm mother's milk. I've grown up paying homage, albeit silently, to the wonders of breast milk, and believing that any mother that would give her baby anything other than the almighty Milk would be borderline abusive.

And yet. I've had to give my 3 babies – all of them – formula at one point or another. My first born was supplemented all the way until what milk I had dried up because I was pregnant again. Moxie, my second born, was almost exclusively formula fed for the first two months. And now Mac – we're easing off of it, but he had a good chunk of the stuff ingested since he came out of me, some 70 days ago.

It's sucked. Hard. And I have wanted to lash out at every disapproving pair of Berkeley attachment-parenting-crazed eyes that have lingered at the bottle that I was feeding my child with – scream at the ease with which they seemed to breastfeed, scream too at their taut, lithe yoga bodies that just naturally shed weight as they effortlessly nurse (- because don't you know, my body clings to each and every pound while I'm lactating, loathe to give up even a little).

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Breastfeeding. It's not easy. It's just about one of the hardest things in the world to get the hang of, I think. It's not just learning to do it yourself, it's learning to do it with someone who was just BORN, for crying out loud. Someone who doesn't TALK and gets pissed off when it's not happening quickly because they are HUNGRY.

And it's not easy because the "professionals" in this field can – and do – include those winners of "lactation consultants" that tell me the solution to my problems is to get on my hands and knees on the floor, let my boobs just hang down and aim one into the mouth of my baby (whom of course I'll place strategically underneath me). Uhhhh… Right. Or they want to slap a nipple shield on me, the easy short term solution that has awful long term repercussions.

I guess I feel like if our culture is going to put so much freaking pressure on women to breastfeed and be so horribly judgmental towards women who don't, there really should be more in the way of help besides telling a struggling new mother to "relax, RELAX, you just. have. to. RELAX". You know? Maybe more people out there like Jack Newman who seem to really know what they are talking about and can give all kinds of concrete, helpful advice that will lead to an actual nursing relationship being born.

Until then, I want people to ease up on the judgment, step down from the high horse of Imperious Breast Feeding. Smile at the mom who is carrying the bottle, too. Believe in the best of her and that she's trying as hard as she can to be the most awesome mother she can, and if that means formula, then that's what it means and it's fine.

Let's just support each other a little.

Because breastfeeding is really, really hard sometimes.

 

 

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Meriah
Meriah Nichols is a deaf artist, tech-junkie, Counselor (and sometime teacher), mom (one with Down syndrome), cat-lover, Trekkie, yurt-dwelling off-the-grid farmer's wife. She writes about travel, disability, and getting dishes done.

16 Comments

  • My first WAS that easy ….effortless …..my second had me in tears – such. Struggle. Only you know what is best for you and Mac. Trust yourself and ignore others who don't support you.  Don't be hard on yourself – you are awesome!!! 

  • Mine has been easy, but only because I think the universe feels bad for giving me such a difficult labor.  However, support is very very crucial. I had one friend who supported me incredibly, and that helped a lot.  We are in essence, community people living isolated lives. I am 26 and have never seen another woman breast feed, yet it is suppose to be the best way to go? I have seen tons of women formula feed. There is something inherently flawed in the fact that we don't have community strength for women during there pregnancies and after (especially after), when so much hinges on these little babies and thier well being.

  • AMEN, sister!! I struggled so hard with breastfeeding my older son (who's now 4.5). Ended up making it to 8 months…but only by supplementing with formula and constantly battling. He wasn't good at it, I wasn't good at it…we muddled through, but barely.

    Oddly, my second son has been easier–which is only odd because Sam (age 11 mos) has Down syndrome, and you and I both know that means he's SUPPOSED to be harder to breastfeed. And it was tough at first–took nine weeks for him to be able to exclusively breastfeed–but overall, he's been easier. 

    But neither has been effortless. Far from it. It's HARD. Harder with some kids than others, but HARD. And I hear you about judgmental attachment-parenting types. I'm all for attachment parenting, but you do what you gotta do. (I live in the East Bay, too, so I know the looks you get when you take out the dreaded BOTTLE!)

    Thanks for writing this. It made my day. And it's my birthday, so thanks for making my birthday! 🙂

  • What a brilliant and honest observation on this very emotive topic!!! I HATE brreastfeeding – there I have said it…. I struggled with my first son but manged to get to a happy balance of bottle and breast that worked for us both in the end. Second time round my little girl and I battle every day with feeding yet ironically she is flatly refusing to take anything out of a bottle though I would LOVE her to!!! I just need a bit of a break. I hate going  out in public because I know I will end up with both breasts exposed and everybody staring at the purple faced screaming baby and the very harrassed looking Mummy as they wrestle with each other. The other issue is that she has been dropping centiles on the weight charts which makes me feel that all the effort is not working and I am not giving her what she needs. I would love to fill her up with a lovely big bottle of formula but she just won't take it. Over here is the UK there is real pressure to breastfeed and you are made to feel terrible for considering formula but I truly believe that you have to be happy to make your baby happy so should be encouraged to follow what you think is best for your child whatever that choice is.

  • A friend of mine was telling me that she struggled with breastfeeding. She ended up pumping her milk and feeding the milk to her kids via a bottle. It wasn't what she wanted to do, but it was the best she could do in this situation. Would this be a consideration for you?

  • I had a nightmare-ish go at breastfeeding my first born. I visited with no less than five different lactation consultants over the course of several weeks, I also received a constant stream of calls and e-mails from my sister's beloved La Leche leader across the country. I was told by the La Leche gal that EVERYONE can breastfeed. She told me to ditch the bottles and formula because they were hindering my body's ability to let my milk come in. I am glad, in the end, that I didn't listen to her. My daughter was starving and I gave her formula. Turns out I am part of the 5% of women that CANNOT produce milk. Good to know, especially when my 2nd daughter was born. We started her on formula within 24 hours of birth. My breasts never changed or grew throughout my pregnancies. I have self-diagnosed myself with hyperplastic breasts and now that I am about eight weeks away from baby #3, I am more confident than ever that, despite what the experts say about breast milk vs. formula, some people NEED formula. Both of my girls are smart as a whip and they rarely get sick so all that crap about brain fuel and immune boosting power is simply that- crap. I don't buy it. I did let my girls suckle from my breasts for approximately the first six weeks but alas, there was no milk in there; we did it for the bonding time and as a soothing technique.

    I wish I could help other new moms out there who may have the same (undiagnosed) condition that I do and feel as helpless as I did. I applaud you, Meriah, for your lack of judgement when it comes to seeing a newborn with a bottle!!! Thank you!! I will think of you when baby #3 makes his/her appearance in a few weeks and I get that first disapproving glance from another mom as I prepare a warm bottle of formula. <3

    • I breastfeed both children for the same amount of time – one was easy and 1 was a struggle – i had to pump and bottle feed  – one is healthy and very smart – the other has a whole mess of allergies and constantly catches colds – everyone is different and judgement is wrong on any level. Congrats on your soon to be new arrival!

       

  • I tell moms all the time that the Madonna and Child picture of breastfeeding is not what it looks like at all in the beginning. That happens after the kid can sit up on its own and latch on its own- it's not a newborn thing AT ALL. And it usually lasts about as long as it took to snap the picture.

    And the boob-hanging thing: good for mastitis, but not until the baby is like 9 months and can latch on its own. Definitely wouldn't recommend to a baby who can't even roll over yet! If someone told you to try that with a small baby like MacQuinn, I'd find a new person to talk to!

    And yes, it's definitely hard. I had different problems with both my kids: with Margaret, she struggled to latch and I had oversupply and masitis. With Isaac, he latched well, but it hurt for months because we had thursh- and it wasn't even antibiotic-induced! I'm hoping this next time around goes better, but you never know what surprises each one brings.

    I always tell moms that I wish there was a way to say, "I guarantee your baby will have no problems…" or even "I guarantee your baby will struggle with X and you'll need to Y," just so you can prepare yourself, but there's no way to do that.

  • I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate this post.  I wish I could have read something like this a little over a year ago when I had never-ending struggles breastfeeding my daughter.  My daughter had a horrible latch, and after the first 2 and 1/2 weeks, when I could put her to breast without curling my toes from the pain, I got a bad bout of mastitis, and the supplimenting begin.  I remember crying for an hour the night we gave her her first bottle of formula.  I was so determined and committed to feed my daughter breast milk that I decided to exclusively pump from about 6 weeks to 2 days shy of her first birthday.  For about the first 8 months, I spent about 3 hours a day pumping.  My life and schedule revolved around pumping.  I got up at 4am most mornings to fit in my first pump of the day, pumped in car frequently, and spent 1 hour a day at work pumping, which make work a million times more stressful.  But unless there was no way to physcially make it work, I was going to follow through on my committment to give my daughter breast milk.  DH and I are planning to conceive #2, in the next several months, and I wish there was some way I could just avoid the breast feeding struggles, pressure, pain and emotions tied to that.  I promised myself not to think about breastfeeing until I'm in the delivery room.   🙂  Anyway, thanks for this post.  I think we need to reduce societal pressure on Moms to breast feed, because babies have been fine for many decades before breastfeeding was the "in thing" to do. 

    PS if you're considering pumping more, this board on Babycenter is so incredibly supportive and helpful.     http://community.babycenter.com/groups/a4592405/the_exclusive_pumpers

  • I have been so guilty of this – of feeling superior and smug and judgmental towards mothers who bottle-feed . . . until I had Finn.  He was number 6 for me, and we had a HORRIBLE time getting breastfeeding going.  Many hurdles to jump, many hoops to crawl through.  It wasn't until then that I realized, "You know what?  This breastfeeding thing isn't easy for every mother or every baby.  I was just lucky the first five times."  And I realize now that every time my judgmental eyes lingered on a bottle in a baby's mouth, never did I think to myself that that mother had tried to breastfeed – I just assumed she was a slacker.  I'm ashamed.

    • We all make mistakes and it takes a big person to admit when they're wrong. As a mom who tried so VERY hard to breastfeed but produced no milk, I applaud you for changing your way of thinking and for being willing to admit your mistake. 🙂

  • I was so stressed out with May the 1st month because she couldn't latch properly, and she would scream her head off from frustration.  With Tim it's easier but I continue to have overactive letdown that causes him to choke… good thing I heard from my cousin who is a mom and a pediatrician, and she told me years ago that breastfeeding hurts and it's hard, so I was somewhat prepaired.  Overall I'm doing well, but I think I will not want antone touching my boobs for a loooong time.  I need a break !

  • Well, I guess I should feel terrible for writing this but I could not breast feed my son… I had no milk, I was terrible depressed which did not help, he could not latch, and when he latched there was little milk coming out so he would scream, I was crying while he was crying… so I pumped, and pumped but like I said there was very little milk coiming out.. even with me drinking tees and water and all kind of hispanic concousions to make the milk appear out of nowhere! It all lasted one month… I gave up and started him on formula. I look back and think maybe I could've done more… but is done and at this point I really don't care if people judged me. It is hard and I applaude you for keep trying and not giving up!

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