10 Reasons Breastfeeding Is Actually The Hardest Part Of Parenting

by Kimmie Fink

So far, motherhood has been hard. To be fair, I haven't had to deal with a child going through puberty or trying to teach a teenager how to drive. I'm a mom to a 2-year-old toddler, and I haven't even tackled potty training yet. I have been through the newborn stage, sleep training, returning to work and starting childcare, and a year of taming toddler tantrums as a solo parent (courtesy of deployment), though. Honestly, none of that holds a candle to my biggest motherhood challenge: nursing. Yes, breastfeeding is the hardest part of parenting, and I have no doubts about it. Maybe I'll change my mind as I become a more experienced mom, but I honestly doubt it.

My own mom is a huge champion of breastfeeding. I was already inclined to parent as I was parented, so the research I did on the benefits of breast milk only served to solidify my commitment to exclusively breastfeed for the first year of my child's life. After all my careful preparation and the assurances of others that breastfeeding was the easiest thing in the world, it was a slap in the face when that first feeding session was an undeniable failure. During my breastfeeding journey I struggled with low supply and, eventually, made the heartbreaking (for me) decision to supplement with formula. I hung on and was able to nurse for about seven months before I decided to fully wean my baby.

I know that parenthood is full of trials and tribulations (many of which I've yet to encounter), but I think the special circumstances around breastfeeding make it a significant obstacle. So if you manage to come out the other side of sustaining a tiny human life with your body, I think you can safely assume you can handle whatever else being a parent throws your way.

Because You're Kind Of Clueless

You can do all the reading and take every class, but unless you've breastfed before, you really don't know what you're doing. That leaves first-time moms in the lurch. I know some new mothers can just let instincts (their's and the baby's) take over, but the rest of us are Pam Beesly fumbling with our nipples.

Because It's Your First Challenge

I think this is the crux of it. Breastfeeding is the first test of your mothering mettle. It's an opportunity to prove yourself, so there's a lot riding on your success or failure. You tell yourself, "If I can't figure this out, how will I ever handle diapers or 'the talk' or SAT prep?"

Because It Takes A Physical Toll On You

Fighting bedtime and back-talk sucks, but they don't affect your body the way breastfeeding does. I'm not discounting the health benefits of nursing to mom, but it's worth noting the associated aches, pains, and fatigue. According to Women's Health, breastfeeding burns 300-500 calories a day. The process is physically draining when things are going well, but it's that much harder when you have complications like sore and cracked nipples or a breast infection.

Because It Doesn't Always Come Naturally

"Breastfeeding is easy" is the biggest lie expectant mothers get told. Maybe it was a few generations ago, when women grew up watching their moms, aunties, and grandmas breastfeed on the regular, and could then turn to those wise women to help them when the time came. These days, there's a rather steep learning curve.

Because You're Chronically Tired

I'm not saying I'm not tired now that I'm a toddler mom. I'm a permanently exhausted chicken just like the rest of you. I'm not getting up in the night every three hours, though, and that makes a huge difference in how I handle adversity. New moms go through the physical trauma of birth and then have to attend to the around-the-clock needs of a tiny, helpless human. Fatigue can make breastfeeding the straw that broke the camel's back.

Because There Are Plenty Of Pitfalls

There are lists of common breastfeeding mistakes because, as I've established, we haven't the foggiest idea what we're doing. I fell into the traps of using a nipple shield to latch (great in the moment, but not so much when I had to wean my daughter from it) and supplementing with formula to compensate my low supply (which further damaged my supply).

Because It's Time Consuming

Breastfed babies need to be fed on demand. According to Kids Health, newborns should nurse 8-12 times a day, or every one and a half to three hours. That's a major time commitment, especially when you account for pumping. If you have a slow nurser on your hands, you pretty much have a kid on your boob every hour of every day.

Because Your Emotional Investment Is High

There's nothing more primal than the desire to protect your baby. Providing for the health and wellbeing of your baby is your prime directive as a mother. So when you can't do it as nature intended, it can be emotionally devastating. I remember crying on the way home from my newborn's weigh-in after my attempts with a supplemental nursing system set off a panic attack.

Because Societal Judgment Abounds

New mom? Get ready to have every single one of your parenting decisions go under the microscope, and everyone has an opinion about breastfeeding. They run the gamut from "breast is best" to "cover that sh*t up." Some people might tell you to quit whining and just give that baby a bottle. Others could try and guilt you into continuing to do something that's not good for your mental health. All that talk makes it hard to hear your own inner voice.

Because It's All On You

Your partner and family should provide you with support as a nursing mother, of course. At the end of the day, though, and if you choose and/or are able to breastfeed, the responsibility for nourishing your child falls on you. This is especially true in the beginning, only because you don't want to introduce a bottle too soon. As for baby, well, they can't be cajoled or reasoned with. You're a breastfeeding team, sure, but there's no denying you're the captain of the ship. No one tells you how lonely breastfeeding is, and perhaps that's the hardest part of all.