Before I had a baby, I thought I knew just about everything there was to know about parenting. I knew that kids who are disciplined properly don’t throw fits in Target. I knew that co-sleeping was never acceptable, no matter the circumstances. I knew that complaining about motherhood was never OK, no matter how little sleep you were getting or how terrible your one-year-old was to be around when she is teething, because motherhood is magical and how dare you gripe about it.
Of course, once I actually had kids (three, to be exact), I started to reconsider everything I had believed to be true about parenting. I'm constantly reminded of just how little I actually knew about raising children before I had any of my own. One of my biggest regrets is gloating that I wouldn't have a problem breastfeeding my kids, because breastfeeding was natural and easy — which is, in retrospect, one of the dumbest things I've ever said.
I remember the conversation clearly. I was driving home from work, three months pregnant with my first baby, and talking with my mom on the phone. I was rambling about how excited I was to be a mom and we started talking about preparing for the new baby over the next few months. The conversation landed on breastfeeding, and at some point my mom gently warned me, in direct yet gentle tones, that breastfeeding is hard.
She explained how difficult it was for her to adjust to nursing my brother, her first child, and how it completely consumed her time for the first several months of his life. She talked about how hard it was to juggle the demands of a baby while making sure you fed yourself plenty of nutritious food so you could make enough milk. She also talked about latch problems and the woes of pumping as a working mom.
Of course, in my know-it-all, pre-child state, I completely blew her off. "It's totally natural," I said. "It'll be easy for me to figure it out."
When my first daughter arrived, I came face-to-face with the reality that there is nothing that feels natural or easy about breastfeeding when you are a brand-new mom. From the first feeding, when a nurse I had never met grabbed my breast and shoved it into my daughter’s mouth, to the countless nights I spent tearfully begging my daughter to eat, I learned this lesson the hard way.
There is nothing that feels natural or easy about breastfeeding when you are a brand-new mom.
Breastfeeding may be “natural” in the sense that your body knows how to make milk, but there is nothing that feels natural about having a tiny human being attached to your breast around the clock. It takes a lot of time and patience to grow accustomed to sharing your body with your child or connecting to a machine to pump milk out of your boobs four, five or ten times a day.
My body may be “made for motherhood," but that hasn’t made breastfeeding easy for me. There's nothing easy about setting an alarm for every two hours to wake a lazy eater who isn’t gaining enough weight. There's nothing easy about scheduling your entire day around ten feedings. And there's nothing easy about breastfeeding when you're experiencing toe-curling pain.
I'm glad I pushed through the discomfort and the awkwardness until I felt more at ease breastfeeding my babies. I'm glad I didn't let the difficulty of breastfeeding become a reason for quitting, because the time I spent nursing my kids will be something I'll never forget.
After a while, it gets easier to breastfeed. You struggle for weeks, maybe even months, and then one day you wake up and realize you aren't struggling anymore. It starts to feel natural, too, like something your body was made to do. Ultimately, breastfeeding isn't easy, but it is still worth it.