Looking back now, I still can’t believe how naïve I was when it came to breastfeeding. I was so confident it would work out seamlessly, I decided against attending a free breastfeeding how-to class offered by my OB-GYN. I remember thinking “You put the baby on the nipple, and he/she eats. How hard could it be?” When new moms ask me about breastfeeding issues now, I tell them honestly — it is hard, it is isolating, and you need to ask for help.
Some mothers may disagree with my grim diagnosis, but I know so many others who would agree. In fact, when I took the question to my Facebook page, I was surprised by just how many women struggled to breastfeed their babies and were happy to talk openly about what they went through. The overwhelming similarity between all of their stories was simple – breastfeeding was one of the most emotionally triggering things they’ve ever done. And that’s from both mothers who breastfed throughout their child’s first year and women who couldn’t do it at all.
“I would say that 100% of people who breastfeed struggle in some way. I think that anyone who breastfeeds their baby struggles,” Chelsea DuBois of Doula du Nord tells Parentology. “Obviously there are those who struggle with bigger issues, but even if breastfeeding comes ‘easy’ to someone, there’s still so much doubt. There will always be questions and insecurities.”
Raleigh-Elizabeth Smith Duttweiler, freelance writer and mother of three, concurs. “Breastfeeding is like the rest of mothering: it requires a village. I couldn’t have done it without all the friends and family members who passed on their tricks, without the doctors encouraging me to see lactation consultants and without the lactation consultants who were miracle workers under the right conditions.”
There are so many pros to breastfeeding your baby. Breast milk contains antibodies that fight against infection; the colostrum in first milk contains special proteins that aid with baby’s first digestion; and your brain releases oxytocin during — a natural stress and anxiety-relief — that promotes bonding.
These are just a few of the benefits, with so many moms also admitting that breastfeeding helped them lose baby weight faster, since it burns about 500-600 extra calories a day.
“When I talk with moms who breastfed, they usually fondly remember the experience — the feeling of nurturing that came with it and the connection and empowerment they felt,” Leigh Anne O’Connor, board-certified Lactation Consultant with Media Liaison LLL of New York, tells Parentology. “Some women realize newfound respect and self-confidence when they breastfeed. For the babies, the nutrition that the milk offers are unique and invaluable. The immunity human milk offers is second to none.”
Breastfeeding Issues: It’s Difficult
It’s hard. It sounds so simple, but it’s true. Breastfeeding is very difficult.
“In my experience, I would say upwards of 70% of women find breastfeeding challenging,” O’Connor says.
Duttweiler’s first child was fed through exclusive pumping. According to her, he celebrated his first birthday with breastmilk for breakfast and whole milk for dinner. Her second struggled with severe food allergies, and stopped breastfeeding when she turned four weeks old. Her third grappled with the same allergies, but after tenacity and patience, ended up exclusively breastfeeding until she was two years old. The only problem, though, is how isolated Duttweiler felt in doing so.
“I think it’s really important to note how desperate feeding your kid can feel,” she says. “My third wouldn’t take a bottle. It can be very trapping.”
Duttweiler’s experience is, sadly, not unique. Brandi Brown, a mother of two and entrepreneur based in North Lake Tahoe, has a similar story.
“I worked with the lactation consultants at my hospital, and they were great, but I never felt like that solved breastfeeding for me,” Brown tells Parentology. “They gave me advice, handed me nipple shields and even gave me a Supplemental Nursing System — which was a nightmare. But none of it made my baby latch. At the end of the day, I had a baby that just didn’t want to breastfeed.”
You’re Not Alone
Like these women, and millions of others, I struggled from day one to breastfeed my daughter. She had multiple tongue, lip and cheek ties, and just wouldn’t latch. I spent hours trying to get her to feed, and even sought the advice of an expensive consultant. No matter what I did, she just wouldn’t breastfeed. Each feeding session felt like a war — we’d both end up in tears and I’d leave the room to pump, feeling completely defeated.
Duttweiler also experienced defeat. “I wish someone had told me pumping exclusively was an option; that you may produce more than enough milk; you may cut out every food on the face of the planet, and still your child may not be able to nurse.”
According to DuBois, that’s one of the biggest breastfeeding issues for new mothers. She states women who breastfeed face a lack of knowledgeable support.
“In our society, many doctors don’t have any breastfeeding education, so those who need access to knowledgeable, unbiased breastfeeding support might not get it,” DuBois says.
However, even those who do seek support — whether through a certified lactation consultant, a nurse practitioner or even an experienced friend or family member — struggle to get their babies to nurse.
Fed Is Best
I’ve always been a firm believer in the ‘fed is best’ mantra. Now, I realize there’s some controversy with the language behind this — as there is with anything to do with breastfeeding — but for me, it saved me while I was seriously grappling with the guilt and stress that came with those unsuccessful breastfeeding attempts.
“They say fed is best is the most important, but a mother not beating herself up for whatever option she ends up choosing [in terms of feeding her baby] is just as important as the baby being fed,” Duttweiler says.
This is especially true given what women face immediately after giving birth. Post-delivery, a woman’s hormones go from the highest they’ll ever be to the lowest. A woman’s estrogen and progesterone levels drop dramatically, which leads to baby blues, anxiety, depression, mood swings, and irritability. The last thing needed is the overwhelming self-doubt that comes from struggling to feed your baby.
“Always remember you’re doing a great job, no matter what you chose,” DuBois says. “Your worth is not tied to how you feed your baby.”
After a month of struggle to latch (even after laser surgery to remove tongue and cheek ties), I made the decision to exclusively pump. My daughter took a bottle without hesitation and ate better than ever before. It was hard — especially when I’d visit a close friend who had no breastfeeding issues — but the decision also brought an overwhelming flood of relief.
“[I gave up breastfeeding] the moment I was asked what my issue was with just giving her a bottle, and I didn’t have a solid answer,” Brown says of her experience. “This question by my OBGYN made me realize that, instead of trying to breastfeed a baby that didn’t want to, I could just pump, which was much easier for me.”
After six successful months of exclusive pumping, we found my daughter just wasn’t getting enough. We were already supplementing with formula, and I was struggling to give her even two bottles of my own milk. I kept trying to up my supply and make more, but ultimately, I just stopped producing milk.
Swapping to full-formula was one of the most bittersweet moments of my life. I no longer had to pump 5 – 7 times a day, I could enjoy two glasses of wine without guilt and I could sleep through the night. The sadness came from the fact that my daughter was growing up, and no longer needed me, at least that way. The disappointment I felt quickly dissipated, thanks to the support of my family and friends.
“Formula is a great option for many, so is breastfeeding,” DuBois says. “It does not have to be all or nothing.”
In the end, you have to do what’s right for you. Whether that’s breastfeeding, pumping, formula feeding or a mix of everything, the only thing that matters is that your baby is fed and you’re okay. If you’re struggling, reach out for help. It can change your entire perspective.
“My biggest advice for those struggling to breastfeed is to seek out knowledgeable support in your community,” DuBois says. “That may be a lactation consultant at your birthplace, a different medical professional, a La Leche League meeting, a local lactation counselor or consultant, or a friend or family member.”
And perhaps most importantly, DuBois says, “There’s no reason to do this alone.”
Breastfeeding Issues — Sources
Raleigh-Elizabeth Smith Duttweiler
Chelsea Dubois, Doula du Nord
Leigh Anne O’Connor, board-certified Lactation Consultant with Media Liaison LLL
ScaryMommy: ‘Fed Is Best’ Is Fine, But We Can’t Gloss Over The Benefits Of Breastmilk