We’ve all heard that breast is best for our babies, but the reality of breastfeeding can be much more difficult than this pithy expression can overcome.
When I got pregnant, there was no question that I was going to breastfeed. I didn’t know quite what the experience would be like, but the reality was nothing at all like what I expected.
It was much, much harder.
And I think it is much, much harder than many women realize that it’s going to be.
When I hear women struggling with breastfeeding, I want to tell them: “I’ve been there. It gets better. It’s worth it in the end.” But those words are much too simple also. Here is what I want to tell breastfeeding mothers who feel like they are too tired and too isolated and just feel like they don’t have the will power to go on:
Hang in there!
In the beginning, you are exhausted, and your baby seems to be crying to eat as soon as you’ve finally fallen asleep. You might be able to get a handle on the day when the world is awake and you feel some kind of solidarity, even if only in spirit. However, the nights are long. They are isolating. You will be awake when everyone else is asleep.
It may be hard, but it is all totally normal, and it’s all worth it in the end. If you feel that breastfeeding is right for you, then just hang in there. You will get through the trying times, and you will be glad that you didn’t give up.
It may hurt.
I know this is controversial. You’ll hear a lot of breastfeeding advocates say that if it hurts, you’re doing something wrong. But this isn’t always the case. Even in the best case scenario, just the newness of breastfeeding can cause your nipples to be sore.
However, many new moms do struggle with getting it right at first. Working with a lactation consultant is the best way to work through issues like improper latch so that you can overcome these difficulties as soon as possible. In the meantime, you might suffer through cracked nipples, bleeding nipples, clogged ducts and more.
Again, this is all pretty common. If you get help, you can work through these troubles in most cases and establish a healthy breastfeeding relationship that isn’t painful and that is rewarding for both you and baby.
Trust yourself and your baby.
Your baby most likely isn’t going to eat on a schedule. In the first few weeks that I brought my daughter home, I was going crazy because I thought “She just ate! She can’t be hungry!” But she was. Or she wanted comforting. Either way, she needed to nurse, and it didn’t matter if she just nursed 10 minutes ago. She needed to nurse again.
Once I gave in to nursing my baby on demand, life was much easier. She was happier. I was happier.
Don’t let other people tell you when your baby needs to eat. Feed your baby when he tells you he needs to feed.
You are in control.
When family and friends are crowding around you and giving you all their “good advice,” it can be overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion about what’s right, and some people aren’t too shy about making sure you know that they are right and you are wrong — regardless of whether they have children or not.
It’s easy to let those voices take over when you are new to parenting, confused, insecure, and completely exhausted. However, it’s important that you know that you are in control. You decide how you feed your baby — regardless of whether your mother tells you that she formula fed and you were just fine. You decide when you feed your baby — regardless of whether your mother-in-law tells you that your baby is “fine” and doesn’t need to eat for two more hours.
You are in control.
That includes in the hospital when you are establishing your breastfeeding relationship. Don’t feel shy in telling doctors and nurses that you don’t want your baby to use a pacifier or to receive formula or other supplements. You have a voice.
You won’t necessarily lose weight.
Sure you burn extra calories when you breastfeed, but not everyone loses weight. Some people — like me — actually gain weight while they’re breastfeeding.
Don’t worry about what other people say or think: Just keep feeding your baby the way you choose and focusing on getting the best self-care possible, including eating a healthy diet and getting the exercise you need.
You can breastfeed after you go back to work.
You don’t have to stop breastfeeding because you return to work. Your employer is legally required to give you the space and the time to pump at work, though many women still report issues. So long as your employer is complying with this requirement and you have the motivation to do so, you can continue to pump at work for as long as you want to breastfeed.
Of course, you may ultimately decide that pumping is the absolute worst (which it is), but that choice is yours to make. Just know that you have the options, and don’t feel that your breastfeeding goals must be deterred by going back to work.
You have options.
Don’t feel like you are obligated to breastfeed.
If you decide that breastfeeding is the best decision for you and your baby, that’s alright.
If you decide that breastfeeding is the best decision, but then you change your mind after three months, that’s alright.
If you decide that you don’t want to breastfeed and you want to exclusively pump instead, that’s alright.
If you decide that you don’t want to breastfeed and you want to use donor milk instead, that’s alright.
If you decide that you want to supplement your breastfeeding with formula feedings, that’s alright.
If you decide that you want to stop breastfeeding and switch to formula, that’s alright.
The key is that you know that the decision is yours to make and that it shouldn’t be persuaded by the opinions of others. Use the information at your disposal to make the best decision for you and your baby, but don’t feel like you have to do anything out of fear of judgement.
You have rights.
In most states, you have the right to breastfeed your baby anywhere that you have the right to be. That means that you can make the choice to feed your baby anywhere that he needs to eat and anywhere that you feel comfortable doing so.
If you’re in the middle of the mall, you can feed your baby.
If you’re at a restaurant, you can feed your baby.
If you’re in the middle of a crowded playroom, you can feed your baby.
You can feed your baby whether you have a cover or not. Do not let other people intimidate you or make you feel uncomfortable. Know that you have rights, and know that you are doing what is best for your baby.
It’s not “weird.”
When people tell you that they think breastfeeding is “weird” or “unnatural,” they are reflecting their own issues, not yours. You’ll most often hear this when you are still breastfeeding a toddler (26 months here), but a few people will say it even about babies.
Ignore these people. Trust what you are doing and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Whatever happens in the course of your breastfeeding experience, just remember: You are doing the best you can, and whatever decision you make is the right one for you and your baby. Everything else will fall into place with time.
Hi Anne, I’m thinking about going out of town for two nights, but I’ve never been away from my 14-month-old daughter and I’m afraid she won’t want to continue breastfeeding when I get home. Is this anxiety justified? If so, is there anything I can do to help ensure that we pick up where we left off (besides pumping while I’m gone and having my husband feed her expressed milk)? Thanks so much! Meaghan
This should answer your questions. Hope your trip goes well!
I breastfed my Son for exactly 20 months and now its been 5 months since I weaned him off (My weaning was a very gradual process and by the time I stopped feeding, I had come down to 1 feed in 24 hours). I am not leaking, but if I press really hard, I sometimes get a drop or so of colostrum from my right breast and a drop or so of clear fluid from my left breast. My question is why do I still feel milk glands in my breast? My breasts are soft and I can feel the change in them since I have stopped feeding. But I assumed the milk glands retreat in a couple of months or so. However, there are quite a few in my breast which I can still feel like moveable oval things. Is this normal? And how long can I expect the changes to go on before my breasts feel totally normal?
What you’re describing isn’t unusual at all. This article should answer your questions.
Thanks for your reply!
I will then take it that my breasts are still undergoing changes and it will be a while before the milk glands shrink to their pre-pregnancy size.
Thank you for this. My daughter is almost four months old and we’ve been nursing since day 1. And I think I have heard just about everyone’s opinion in regards to my daughters eating habits…including my own father in law. After the first month my mom showed up to my house with a big box of formula and bottles. I love her… but because she wasn’t breast fed and didn’t nurse me, she’s got that programmed thinking “formula has all the nutrients that baby needs” and breast feeding doesn’t seem natural to her.. My mother in law has whined that I don’t feed my daughter formula since she was born. And when we’re over visiting on a day when my baby might be particularly fussier, it’s chalked up to being she’s hungry and just not satisfied with my milk – milk that couldn’t possibly be up to par with what she needs.
I think the only person in my life (my husband is amazing and understanding, but he would also give into the fears of others) who truly believed in the beauty and my ability to nurse was my midwife. What an amazing woman and support. When she told me not to worry and that I was doing a good job after 3 uncertain weeks and even a couple bottles of formula (I feared my babys gas HAD to be due to my milk, was not normal, and was pressured by family to try something else) it brought tears to my eyes and I still get emotional and miss her support. It’s so important to have someone believe in you and cheer you on, especially when all you want is what’s best for your baby but you’re just not sure of just about everything.
So here we are at four months, and after finding this website I have to say it has been so encouraging. Just the other day I was criticized for my baby’s fussiness and that my breasts are not producing enough for her. But it is near to impossible amongst all the cleaning and cooking and visiting (the non supportive and non understanding family of course) to just relax and have baby suckle. I’ve pledged to go on a nursing vacation the next few days to build up my supply and spend as much time cuddling and nursing as my baby needs. And I’m hoping to buy a nice breast pump next week and start that full time. Because I think I need to set the middle ground and provide bottles for family visits and day time feedings. Also to keep up my milk supply and not be drowned by negativity when my daughter might be particularly tougher to nurse. And I’m happy with that. I feel blessed to have had the experience of breastfeeding. And I hope to continue. And articles like yours are a God send to women out there like myself. Amongst all the opinions, it helps to bring into focus what my own are. It’s very encouraging. Especially when you’re just about to give in and go against what your heart truly wants and wishes for. Wanting what’s best for our children is what it boils down to. Thanks again <3