Blissful Breastfeeding? When Nursing Isn’t as Easy as It Seems

“Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.”

The first time I had a baby, I was fooled.

After days of induced labor, half a week riding the roller coaster of contractions, and three hours of pushing my boy into the world, I believed the struggle was over. The bliss of motherhood could begin.

I cuddled my baby close to my breast and waited for the magic of nursing to start, for my son to latch on and for the two of us to begin to bond in the way I’d always heard breastfeeding would bring.

But this little person who for nine months had been nourished by my body seemed to want nothing to do with being nourished by me now. After all, in the womb, it was easy. This nursing business, though, was hard work – for both of us.

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Two weeks after giving birth to my son, I sat in our living room recliner, crying. While it could have been the little sleep I was working on, my tears also stemmed from the fact that there I sat, pumping milk, while on the sofa, there my husband sat, feeding our baby a bottle of my milk.

“I’m supposed to be the one bonding with him while he eats,” I lamented as my husband gave a weak, sympathetic smile. He offered that I could give the bottle, but I wanted to keep my body on our son’s feeding schedule, to keep up with his demand. So, my husband fed while I pumped.

To say nursing didn’t come easily for me would be an understatement. And I’ve found since then that we don’t often hear the stories of struggle that come with breastfeeding. We see blissful moms wearing sweet smiles and taking selfies as they nurse their newborns, a trend especially popular in the celebrity world lately. Since giving birth to my second child seven months ago, I’ve taken more notice of these peaceful pics because, though encouraging, they also run the risk of being terribly discouraging.

It comes so easy for them, we might think. Nursing just isn’t for me. And really, it’s okay if it’s not. But, what if it is? What if we really, really want to breastfeed our child but it’s surprisingly difficult, and our disappointment at our shattered dream breaks our hearts?

That’s where I was at five years ago. In the end, it took the first full month of my son’s life to get him to nurse at all, and the second full month to get him to nurse well. For the majority of that first month, my son subsisted on bottles of pumped milk, and I kept trying, day in and day out, to wean him from them and onto me.

After four weeks of persisting, it worked. Not because my son suddenly and miraculously figured out how to work for his food, but because I finally abandoned the myriad words of advice I was given, particularly the advice to avoid giving into the use of a nursing shield (“He’ll never get off it,” I was warned). For me, the shield restored my dreams of a happy breastfeeding relationship with my child. I let go of the chidings of others and embraced what would allow me the bonding I’d been hoping for.

Medela breast shield

Medela breast shield

After a week or two of nursing with the shield (which my son took to immediately), I began to pull it away halfway through feedings. In time, he latched back onto me without it as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. And, eventually, it was. We enjoyed a full year after that of the type of peaceful, easy breastfeeding I’d envied other moms.

Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.

Because parenting isn’t about comparing. It’s about every mother doing what’s best for her unique child and accepting that what comes easily to one parent/child relationship doesn’t always come easily to another.

If we trust in that, then no blissful picture of perfection will ever discourage us again.

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