Courtesy of Ej Dickson

Breastfeeding Is So Hard, & I'm Really Not Sure If It's Worth It

By
Share
Ad failed to load

"Tell me if this hurts," the lactation consultant said. She grabbed my right nipple and twisted it repeatedly in a counterclockwise motion as I made a mental note that if someone asks you to tell them if something hurts, it almost certainly will. I had just given birth a few days ago, following a c-section that, while planned, had led to an excruciating recovery process, to the point that I could not reach for the remote control to change the channel to Revenge Body With Khloe Kardashian without shrieking like a wounded bat. I hadn't slept in days, because the nurses kept waking me up to take medication and pump and try to breastfeed (even though it was hard), and to top it all off, I hadn't pooped in 72 hours. And now, here was this lactation consultant, who was trying to get my milk to come in by treating my nipple as if it were a stubborn lid on a jar of maraschino cherries.

"Yes," I managed to eke out, trying to ignore the sharp swaths of pain shooting through my breast. "Yes, it hurts." I then collapsed into her arms and started sobbing, thus marking my ignominious entry into the world of breastfeeding.

During my pregnancy, I had been relatively laissez-faire about whether or not I would try to breastfeed my son. Like most expectant moms, I'd heard "breast is best" ad nauseam and read all of the research about the purported benefits of breastfeeding. But as a natural skeptic, I also decided to read all of the research indicating that some of these purported long-term benefits, such as higher IQs and immunity against various health issues, were inflated by well-meaning public health experts. Ultimately, my attitude toward breastfeeding was similar to my feelings when I went to SoulCycle for the first time: I was skeptical about its benefits, but because everyone else was so nuts about it, I was willing to try it.

Ad failed to load
Courtesy of Ej Dickson

Then my son arrived, and everything changed. The second I laid eyes on his squalling little body, I knew that if there was even a sliver of a chance that breast milk was the best choice for him, I was going to give it to him, straight from the tap, and nothing else.

"Are you going to breastfeed him?" the nurses asked me, almost immediately after he was born.

Ad failed to load

"You're goddamn right I am," I told them proudly. But of course, much like my feelings on SoulCycle, which evolved from extreme skepticism to full-on mania the second I did my first handlebar crunch to N'Sync, the reality was more complicated than that.

Contrary to what those blissful mother-baby tree-of-life breastfeeding selfies might tell you, breastfeeding can be incredibly uncomfortable.

For starters, my son arrived a month early, which meant that even though he was in relatively good health for a preemie, he spent the first days of his life in the NICU. A few hours after he was born, a NICU nurse asked me if it was OK to start feeding him formula.

Ad failed to load

"What's the alternative?," I asked.

"That we wait for your breast milk to come in," she said. Since that wasn't happening anytime soon, and I wasn't about to let my premature son starve to prove a point, I gave her my blessing. But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned that he would become so accustomed to eating from a bottle that he'd be wary when it came time to transition to the breast.

Courtesy of Ej Dickson
Ad failed to load

As it turned out, that's pretty much exactly what happened. Every few hours, I'd come into the NICU to try to breastfeed my son, only for him to start shrieking and beating his tiny red fists against my chest, as if I were holding his testicles to a hot stovetop.

"This is totally normal," the lactation consultant repeatedly assured me. "It's pretty common for premature babies, particularly babies born via c-section, to struggle with breastfeeding for a few weeks. Just keep trying and you'll get the hang of it." I'd nod gamely, trying not to take it personally when he'd have a fit over the sight of my exposed breast, or when, at one point, he tried to latch onto my husband's nipple instead of my own.

The first few weeks of a new mom's life are invariably a struggle, filled with diaper blowouts and bleary-eyed hourly feedings and shoveling cold mashed potatoes into your mouth because your baby won't stop crying long enough for you to eat a proper dinner, but they're also supposed to be filled with tender moments, like first trips to the park and reading picture books in rocking chairs and lying very, very still and listening to lullaby versions of Pixies songs. I knew I was supposed to be using this time to bond with my son, yet I found myself more attached to my breast pump than I was to him.
Ad failed to load

After I brought my baby home from the hospital and my milk officially came in, I'd try to remind myself of the lactation consultant's words every time I tried to get him to breastfeed. Yet he steadfastly refused to latch. I tried everything that all the Facebook lactivist mommies and La Leche League forums recommended: nipple shields, mouth exercises, dribbling formula on my nipple like I was in a preschool version of the candle wax scene from 9 1/2 Weeks. Occasionally, I managed to get a few perfunctory sucks out of him, which were usually accompanied by high-pitched wailing or my own yelps of pain. Contrary to what those blissful mother-baby tree-of-life breastfeeding selfies might tell you, breastfeeding can be incredibly uncomfortable.

Courtesy of Ej Dickson

It can also be incredibly time-consuming. Eventually, I decided to go to another lactation consultant, who, after checking us both out and verifying there were no physical issues (like a tongue tie) on either of our ends, put me on a strict regimen of both pumping and breastfeeding at least 10 times a day, in addition to his regular feeds.

Ad failed to load

Considering I was only getting two to four hours of sleep as is, this struck me as more than a bit impractical. "So when do I get to sleep?" I asked.

"You can sleep when the baby sleeps," she told me, a tried-and-true aphorism that, as most new moms know, is only really useful if your baby actually sleeps, which most do not.

Nonetheless, I persisted, the words of the lactation consultant at the hospital and the moms on Facebook breastfeeding groups ringing in my ears. It's totally normal for him to have trouble, I reminded myself. Just keep trying. But considering how many moms on the internet appeared to have no issues with breastfeeding, and considering how many of my baby books seemed to take it for granted that all moms breastfed without any difficulty, I found it hard to believe that my struggles were really as "normal" as the lactation consultant said they were.

Ad failed to load
Courtesy of Ej Dickson

It was when I started ignoring my baby's cries from his bassinet to start my umpteenth daily pumping session that I started to wonder: Was it really worth this much trouble to breastfeed? Sure, I wanted the best for my child, as any mother does, but I certainly didn't want the best for him at the expense of my sleep cycle, or my sanity, or the structural integrity of my nipples.

Most of all, I didn't want to try to breastfeed him at the expense of forming a bond with him. The first few weeks of a new mom's life are invariably a struggle, filled with diaper blowouts and bleary-eyed hourly feedings and shoveling cold mashed potatoes into your mouth because your baby won't stop crying long enough for you to eat a proper dinner, but they're also supposed to be filled with tender moments, like first trips to the park and reading picture books in rocking chairs and lying very, very still and listening to lullaby versions of Pixies songs. I knew I was supposed to be using this time to bond with my son, yet I found myself more attached to my breast pump than I was to him.

Ad failed to load
I do, however, blame a cultural climate that teaches new mothers, and women in general, that the experience of being a new mother is invariably marked by pain, guilt, and above all else sacrifice — of their bodies, of their sleep cycles, and above all else, of their time, which will never be more valuable than it is during the rapidly waning moments of a child's infancy.

Ostensibly, breastfeeding is supposed to be an ideal way for mothers to bond with their babies during the first few weeks of life. I'm sure for many breastfeeding moms, this is true, but for me, it has been anything but. For me, breastfeeding has been marked by frustration, discomfort, and an acute awareness that the time I have spent trying to breastfeed and bemoaning my inability to do so could have been much better spent in other ways.

Ad failed to load

In the weeks since I gave birth, I've learned firsthand just how insidious the pressure to exclusively breastfeed is, and the pain it can cause for new mothers, who are already physically and emotionally vulnerable enough as is. But even though I do believe that the "breast is best" message is harmful, I don't fault breastfeeding advocates and lactation consultants and sanctimommies for perpetuating it. (OK, maybe I do blame the sanctimommies a little bit.) In fact, I'm incredibly grateful to the lactation consultant I worked with at the hospital, who, when I started crying, took me in her arms and rocked me gently and told me not to put pressure on myself, that as long I was taking care of my baby I was doing a great job.

I do, however, blame a cultural climate that teaches new mothers, and women in general, that the experience of being a new mother is invariably marked by pain, guilt, and above all else sacrifice — of their bodies, of their sleep cycles, and above all else, of their time, which will never be more valuable than it is during the rapidly waning moments of a child's infancy.

That said, I'm not going to give up on breastfeeding. That's partially as a matter of pride and partially because formula is just really f*cking expensive, but it's mostly because, like eating sushi or going to SoulCycle or wearing flared pants or any new experience that might arouse skepticism but that people say is totally worth it, I've heard enough good things about breastfeeding that I'm not quite ready to deprive myself or my son of its benefits just yet.

Ad failed to load

But I suspect there will come a time when it's not worth it to "just keep trying." I suspect there will come a time when I'll look up from my Boppy and realize that my son's first months of life have flown by, at which point I'll throw away my nursing bras and pick up the Similac without any semblance of regret.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

Here's How To Introduce Your Pet To Your Baby & Make Everything As Calm As Possible

Our home, which we lovingly refer to as “the funny farm,” is filled with four-legged family members. We have two crazy beagles and two cat jerks, and boy are they loved and spoiled. (As they should be.) But we are now finally having a baby of our own…
By Abi Berwager Schreier

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}