The One Thing Every New Mom Needs To Hear When She's Struggling With Breastfeeding
As natural an act as breastfeeding is, it's also difficult and exhausting and painful and, you guessed it, frustrating. In an attempt to normalize breastfeeding, many pro-breastfeeding mothers have gone to extensive lengths to highlight the normal, natural components of breastfeeding; passionately arguing that a woman's body is made to breastfeed, and the act of breastfeeding will come easily to any woman who attempts it and is willing to "stick with it". While that is true for many, it isn't necessarily true for everyone. Just like some women's bodies aren't made to have babies (or they are, but that doesn't mean every woman that can have a baby should be forced to have a baby), not every woman's body can provide enough milk to successfully breastfeed her son or daughter. Just because breastfeeding comes naturally for some, doesn't mean it comes naturally for all. Which is why, the one thing every new mom needs to hear when she's struggling with breastfeeding is that her experience is just as "normal" as anyone else's.
Feeling downtrodden and defeated and like a total failure, is normal. Feeling fatigued and at the end of your metaphorical rope, is normal. Feeling like breastfeeding will never work for you or your baby, is normal. Hell, feeling like you can't stand breastfeeding; like the pain and the pressure isn't worth the ongoing, exhausting effort; like breastfeeding isn't something you want to continue, is normal. Those feelings do not make you a bad mother and they are not indicative of your future parenting abilities and they most certainly do not mean your kid is going to grow up lacking something vital. It just means that your breastfeeding journey isn't the same as others, and that is an important lesson every parent should learn.
Women (especially first time moms who have never attempted breastfeeding before) struggling to sustain their babies with their own bodies, need to know that the emotions attached to their struggle, are valid. It doesn't matter if others can't understand; it doesn't matter if other women never felt defeated by breastfeeding, annoyed by breastfeeding or hated breastfeeding because of complications or struggles or, well, just because. It doesn't matter if others don't understand that even though it's difficult and you are left in a puddle of your own tears after each feeding session, you don't want to switch to bottle feeding. At least, not yet. It's okay if they don't understand that hearing, "You can just use formula" isn't helpful, because breastfeeding is important to you and you want to exhaust all options for as long as it is safe to do so. All of these instances don't make you an ill-equipped mother, they make you a determined, strong and steadfast one.
And most importantly, if you're struggling with breastfeeding, you need to know that you're not alone. All of your feelings of inadequacy and frustration aren't just "normal", they're felt by countless other women who struggle silently to do what they've been told their bodies should be able to do effortlessly. I, for one, had a difficult time breastfeeding, not for physical reasons but for mental ones. As a sexual assault survivor, it was very difficult for me to associate the act of breastfeeding with something other than my trauma. It took weeks of mindfulness and tears and self-doubt and discussions, before I was able to look at breastfeeding as nothing but my son having multiples breakfasts, lunches and dinners. In those moments of complete defeat, I felt alone; as if I was the only one that couldn't be a natural breastfeeding pro. Of course, I later learned I wasn't; many women, including sexual assault survivors, have a hard time breastfeeding, and many of the feelings I endured during the most difficult breastfeeding moments were and continue to be shared by others, too.
When the word "normal" is attached to any parenting decision, it makes alternative options and those who choose to take them, look or feel defunct by default. It can make a mother who can't breastfeed or struggles to breastfeed or even chooses not to breastfeed, feel selfish and lazy and somehow lacking a hidden "motherhood gene" that makes breastfeeding this no-brainer, easy and pain-free decision. It's an unfair burden forced on women who struggle with breastfeeding; one that can easily be removed if we choose to stop putting women in boxes and pinned under labels. There is no "real woman"; there is no "natural woman"; there is no "normal woman"; there are simply women, carving their way through life the best they can, on their own terms and in a customizable way that should never be judged or criticized.
So if you're struggling to breastfeed, know that you're just as great a mother as someone who find breastfeeding effortless. Your experience is just that: yours. There isn't a person in the world who knows exactly what it's like to be your kid or kids' mother, which means there is no one who can tell you what should be happening, what you should be feeling, or how you should be parenting. You, and you alone, get to decide what's "normal" and what isn't, so don't be hard on yourself if breastfeeding doesn't feel as normal as others have told you it should feel. Everyone's journey through parenthood is different, and the journey of a mother who struggles with breastfeeding is just as beautiful as anyone else's.