Breastfeeding is hard as hell, and this is coming from someone who has done it successfully with two kids. It’s one thing I always try to tell women who have a desire to do it; it sucks. It hurts. Nothing comes out in the beginning. It’s not easy for anyone.
Well, I’m not sure if it’s really hard for everyone, but in my very scientific observation of all my friends, every one I’ve had who has ever done it had a really hard time. This was also confirmed by an article in Slate I read yesterday titled, Women Have Struggled To Breastfeed Since Ancient Times. It’s hard. It’s always been hard.
The women I know who gave up from sheer frustration (not for medical issues) thought that is was so hard that they must be failing. Here’s what I think; we’ve all been brainwashed into believing that just because our bodies can lactate, milk should be able to flow from our boobs like some kind of abundant fountain after we give birth. No. Not so much.
With all the talk about how great it is for you, there’s really a lack of real support to help you succeed. If breastfeeding is so damn great, why was I sent home from the hospital with several goody bags full of formula? It would have been much more helpful to have a list of lactation consultants in my area, and maybe a way to get free home visits if needed, no? There is the poster in the doctor’s office, the prenatal question about whether you plan on doing it- and then you are pretty much on your own. Here are some details I can tell you about my personal experience that may help you if you think you are failing miserably at this whole breastfeeding thing.
1. Your milk doesn’t come in right away.
Guess what? It can take a few days for your milk to come in. This generally wouldn’t be a problem, if you didn’t have a nurse breathing down your neck every hour, shoving a feeding log in your face and asking you to record how much your baby is eating. If you labor in a hospital – this is what will probably happen. Here is my very informed, medical advice for you; grab the log and just write a bunch of nonsense numbers on it. That way – the nurses will back off and you will be less stressed.
For some reason, the fact that babies are born essentially “waterlogged” and don’t need much in terms of nutrition for their first day out of the womb eludes most nurses on maternity wards. The majority of them will act like you are starving your baby if milk doesn’t start shooting out of your boobs immediately. No one wants to starve their brand new baby. Don’t worry – you aren’t.
2. It hurts.
Those of you who never experienced pain while breastfeeding are very lucky. In one study of 100 women, 96 of them experienced some pain the first week, which peaked in days three to six. Poor latch-on is usually responsible.
No one just naturally knows the right technique for teaching her baby how to latch. I know people will point to tribes of women who live off the land and don’t have any instruction and insist it’s the most natural thing ever – and we should all know how to do it. Bullshit. I’m sure those women are in a lot of pain, too.
Most babies will just put their mouths around anything in their general proximity and suck the hell out of it. It is very helpful to have someone show you the tricks for getting the whole areola into the babies mouth, so they’re not just sucking on your nipple. This is how cracked, sore, bleeding nipples happen. Not fun. If you are experiencing pain in the beginning stages of breastfeeding – you are not alone. It usually passes. If it doesn’t, you may have thrush or some other condition that needs to be medicated – but that too may pass with the right treatment.
3. Don’t be thrown off by your milk factory friends.
It is typical for a mother who is nursing full-time to be able to pump around 1/2 to 2 ounces total (for both breasts) per pumping session. Read that again. And again. There is nothing more stressful than pumping for 10 minutes and seeing an ounce of milk result. But it’s normal.
There is always the woman who has a freezer full of milk and talks about how much it’s basically coming out of her ass. Don’t get thrown off. Keep pumping, stay the course, try not to get frustrated. And if you are really having supply issues, talk to your doctor about things that will help you increase your supply. I had what I thought were supply issues because with my first baby I didn’t know it was normal to produce 2oz or less per breast per pumping session. I introduced fenugreek. Problem solved.
I’m not giving the above advice to imply that all women can breastfeed, because that is just not true. I’m giving it to those of you who want to do it and are suffering through the first very hard days, to let you know you are not failing if you are experiencing any of the above. The most important thing to remember is that your comfort and sanity are the most important things right now. In my opinion, they’re more important than “succeeding” with breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding isn’t the most “natural” and “easy” thing in the world. Don’t feel bad if you can’t do it.
(photo: Getty Images)