Most women I know, myself included, tend to think that labor and delivery will be the most difficult part of having a baby. I mean, you're literally pushing (or someone is cutting) an entire human being out of your body. It's going to hurt, it's going to be slightly scary and there's no way of knowing for sure (usually) how long it will last. Let me tell you from personal experience, though, that labor and delivery is definitely not the hardest part of parenthood. If you choose and are able to, breastfeeding is definitely harder than labor and delivery. In fact, for so many women, breastfeeding is easily the most difficult part of early motherhood, in general.
I wasn't daft to the possibility that breastfeeding could be difficult, as the potential complications are pretty well-known. However, I was convinced that labor and delivery would be far worse. Yeah, I was wrong. Bringing my daughter into the world was difficult, don't get me wrong, especially since my daughter and I experienced some pregnancy, labor and delivery complications that left me pushing longer than would have been necessary if everything had gone smoothly. However, and even despite that, I would still say breastfeeding is more difficult for many reasons, the biggest being that it simply lasts longer (usually).
Of course, this isn't meant to deter anyone from trying to breastfeed. Labor and delivery gets a bad rap, and are usually considered "horrific" or "gross" or any other qualifier associated with unpleasantness (which is sad, because it's pretty incredible. In no way do I want breastfeeding to be considered equally daunting or scary. Just like labor and delivery, breastfeeding can be made much easier with the help and support of a partner, friends, family members, and professionals. Still, it can be a tough experience and, in my opinion, tougher than labor and delivery for the following reasons:
You Don't Have An Expert By Your Side The Entire Time
When you get lost and don't know what is going on or what to do during labor and delivery, chances are that you at least have a doctor or nurse or midwife or doula, by your side and at your disposal.
While there are lactation consultants and countless forums, you probably won't have an expert by your side every second of every day that you're breastfeeding. Eventually, you and your baby will be on your own, and that can be a little scary.
It's Not Just Up To You
While you will probably (hopefully) have support during labor and delivery, so much of the process is up to you. For the most part, you're in charge. Even if you have a c-section, you get to be the one to determine when whatever happens, is happening. Yes, your baby needs to be ready to exit stage right from your body, but you're the powerful one. You're in control. You're bringing another human being into the world, or saying that you're ready for someone to assist you in doing so.
When you breastfeed, you can only do so much to help the process. You also depend on your baby. You're not the one having a meal, you're simply guiding your baby and hoping that they will do the rest of the work. It's a partnership, not a solo-mission, and that can make it pretty difficult.
You Have To Be Persistent For A Longer Period Of Time
While labor and delivery seem like they go on forever, they really only last a little while in the big scheme of things.
Breastfeeding can last much longer. Usually, in order to get the hang of it and push though any potential, early hiccups (like latching issues, under-supply, etc) you have to be persistent. You will probably end up feeling more like a milk cow than a human being, constantly feeding or pumping and, well, you've probably never worked so freakin' hard at something before in your life.
The Unsolicited Advice Lasts Longer, And Is More Overwhelming
Since breastfeeding is a longer process than labor and delivery, it offers more opportunity for unwanted advice from everyone: doctors, family members, friends, random people you meet, internet commentators and mothers at some group you were talked into attending.
You may receive unwanted advice prior to labor and delivery, but chances are, you will not receive any during the process. Everyone thinks they know how you should labor and how you should deliver your baby, but they tend to zip their lip when you're contracting or pushing. When you're breastfeeding, you could be in the middle of a feeding session (especially if it's in public) and someone will take the time to stop and comment about what you should or should not be doing. Sigh.
More People Tend To Be Around When You Do it
No matter where you plan to birth (unless it's at home, in which case you get to call the shots) there are restrictions as to how many people can be around when you delivery your baby (and how many people can visit once your baby has arrived). Honestly, it's pretty nice.
When you're breastfeeding, no such limit exists, unless it's one you enforce yourself. If you're breastfeeding in public, you really can't ask people to go home (although if they impede on your personal space, you most certainly can and should demand that they back up). Some solitary moments would be nice, but when you're breastfeeding on demand, they're not always guaranteed.
You Experience A Lot More Judgement And Shame
I'm definitely not saying that how you chose (or ended up) delivering your child won't be scrutinized. These days, women can't win regardless. If you birthed at home, you put your kid at risk. If you birthed at a hospital, you probably didn't get the "full experience." If you birthed without drugs, you were trying to prove a point. If you used an epidural, you "took the easy way out." And, of course, if you had a c-section, you didn't "birth" at all. It's all so ridiculous and endless and annoying and it can be difficult for any new mother to hear.
However, in the end, those unwanted comments pale in comparison to the judgement and shame a woman receives when she's breastfeeding, especially in public. Because our society has stigmatized and sexualized a very normal, natural act, women are constantly having to defend their right to feed their children whenever and wherever they need. Ugh.
It's Exhausting. Continuously Exhausting.
Don't get me wrong, labor and delivery are absolutely exhausting. However, the sheer length of time that breastfeeding lasts (for most women) in relation to the length of even the longest labor, makes breastfeeding infinitely more taxing.
If you are able and willing, you're breastfeeding virtually all day, every freakin' day (and night) and you're the only one who can do it. You're burning upwards of 300-600 extra calories, and your body is constantly working to produce more milk for your baby. I mean, it's a lot of work.
You'll Destroy More Than Just One Outfit
You may mess up a pair of pants if your water breaks unexpectedly, sure. However, once your water breaks (and only if it isn't broken for you) you'll probably change into a gown or get into a tub and the mess, for the most part, is over.
When you're breastfeeding, you greatly increase your chances of messing up your clothes, and I'm talking multiple articles of clothing. Whether it's leaking or your baby spitting up after a feeding, you'll ruin more than few shirts, my friends.
The Potential Complications Last Much, Much Longer
The potential labor and delivery complications are scary, you guys, and I'm not one to downplay them. However, even the most serious don't last for very long (hopefully) as there will be qualified professionals to assist you and rectify the situation.
Breastfeeding complications, on the other hand, can last for a significantly longer period of time. If you have mastitis, it could take days before you realize there's even an issue, and then at least 48 hours for the antibiotics to kick in and do the necessary dirty work. Clogged milk ducts can continue for days, if not weeks, and can be a recurring problem. Supply issues can last throughout your entire breastfeeding experience, which could be months upon months.
Still, Like Labor And Delivery, It's Worth It
While I, personally, think breastfeeding is substantially more difficult than labor and delivery, the one thing they certainly have in common is the pay off. It's worth it, you guys. It's worth the hardships and the difficulties and, yes, even the pain. It's worth the anxiety and the fear. It really, truly is.