Breastfeeding might be considered one of the most natural things in the world, but that doesn't mean it's not also incredibly challenging, both emotionally and physically. Women are constantly told that "breast is best," and while I'm not arguing those facts or telling any other mother what's best for her and her baby (only you know), can we at least recognize that it doesn't come easily to everyone? Actually, for a lot of us, it's the f*cking worst.
When I was pregnant with my son, I had every intention of breastfeeding him for at least his first year. I wanted so desperately to be one of those women who were able to casually nurse their baby in public as if it were as easy as breathing. I wanted to feel that magical bond with my baby boy, knowing that I was the one who created his life and also helped him thrive in his new world. However, what I got was a stark reminder that intentions are often different than reality.
Can we at least recognize that it doesn't come easily to everyone? Actually, for a lot of us, it's the f*cking worst.
Nursing is one of the hardest things I've ever had to do, and certainly one of the most consistently painful. Even after meeting with the lactation consultant multiple times, we never got a decent latch. My son fumbled around looking for food, and I, unsure of what to do, couldn't help him find his place.
We resorted to nipple shields, which caused pain so sharp that I can still feel it three years later when I think about it. Beyond the pain, the nipple shield trapped me at home because the last thing I wanted to do in public was whip out my breast to attach it. And no, I was not about to sit in public bathrooms for 25 minutes everywhere I went.
We spent the next couple of months desperately trying to figure out a rhythm. He'd cry, I'd attach the shields, he'd suck, and I'd hope he would be done for at least a moment so I could get some rest — and then cluster feeding happened. Every half hour, he would let out an insatiable cry that demanded more food from my already-dry breast. I felt deflated and drained in every possible way. Combined with frequent bouts of mastitis, I felt like an awful mother and a complete failure of a woman.
While my experience is personal, I don't think it's unique. Considering that 81 percent of babies are breastfed but only 51 percent of 6-month-olds are nursed, many women stop because they either have to or they want to. I was fortunate enough that I didn't have to factor breastfeeding into my work routine since I was taking an extended maternity leave, but for many women, returning to work is one of the main reasons they stop breastfeeding.
So while breastfeeding might be natural, we need to do better in supporting women who struggle with it. Besides home visits for lactation support and acceptance that women can feed in public, let women voice their frustrations about breastfeeding. I'm so happy for the women who felt like feeding came easy to them, but that doesn't mean my experience was any less valid. Telling women to suck it up and just deal with the pain or switch to formula isn't helpful. Let women vent, listen to their concerns, and acknowledge that even natural experiences can be hard.