Nursing my now 10-month old son is one of the most beautiful, but also one of the hardest and most challenging things I’ve ever done.
I always knew I wanted to nurse my baby. Before giving birth to him in last September, I had prepared for breastfeeding the best I could. I had talked to my mom friends about it, I had read about possible challenges, I had gone to a childbirth education class with my husband and hired a doula who was also able to support me with breastfeeding. I had my troops gathered and ready, and once my son was born, it quickly became clear he was a pro at nursing. Mere seconds after he was born, he eagerly latched on – and hasn’t let go of my breast since. We had our challenges in the beginning, there were a few days when nursing definitely wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world – but fairly quickly we got the hang of it, and we got off to a good start. We have now enjoyed a very successful 10+ months of breastfeeding with very little, if any, real issues.
And yet – breastfeeding is still one of the most difficult, challenging, emotional and draining things I have ever experienced in my life. Breastfeeding may be a very natural thing, but that definitely does not mean it’s easy.
I’ve had many moments of anxiety about nursing. Instead of nursing feeling like a privilege and pleasure, it has sometimes felt like a chore, something I had to do but didn’t really want to. While I love to see my son grow from breast milk and feel proud about my body’s ability to nourish him, there are days when I also feel anxious over how dependent he is of my breasts. In the beginning, his tiny belly could only hold very little at a time, and he needed to feed often – which meant I would sometimes jump out of the shower in the middle of shampooing my hair because I heard his hungry wails through the running water. I couldn’t imagine leaving the apartment without him, and most of the time I ate my meals over him, with my baby lying on the nursing pillow and eating at the same time. By the end of the day, he would be covered in crumbs of whatever I had been eating throughout the day. I would sit on the couch until there was an imprint of my butt permanently pressed to the cushion, watch my son’s cheeks move in and out as he nursed – and inside, I would feel horrible over the negative feelings I was experiencing. I felt smothered by how attached to my breasts he was – and then I felt guilty about feeling that way, and would try to push those feelings aside and ignore them. The longer I ignored them, the harder it got – and eventually I would find myself nursing him while crying at the same time, without really knowing why I was crying.
I’d barely been a mom for five minutes, and already I was overwhelmed, feeling crushed under the weight of someone depending on me so completely and utterly as this little baby boy did. What was wrong with me?
Nothing. Nothing was wrong with me, and I’ve come to realize that the feelings I was experiencing – and still experience every now and then – are perfectly normal. Even when mothers are able to breastfeed their babies, there are still moments when it’s very hard. It’s emotional, draining, tiring, frustrating– and this is why it is so incredibly important that we ensure that all pregnant women, everywhere in the world, have access to proper support for breastfeeding before and after labor, and that there are policies and structures in place to allow mothers to continue nursing after returning to work, which is also the focus of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week. Not all women will want to nurse, and whether to nurse or not should always be a mother’s personal decision – but no one’s breastfeeding journey should be cut short or doomed from the start because of a lack of proper support, information and help. Our societies don’t make breastfeeding easy. Nursing women are shamed, shunned, marginalized, pushed to toilets and alleyways to nurse out of sight, because we see breasts as a form of entertainment and an advertising tool rather than recognize and celebrate them for their ability to feed our children. It’s time to stop making breastfeeding even harder for women because of lack of proper support systems, policies, structures and lack of supportive environment – and time to start giving breastfeeding women everywhere in the world the recognition and support they deserve.
Before having my baby, I wrote an article titled “It Takes a Village to Breastfeed a Child”, but I didn’t truly understand how crucial breastfeeding support really is until I had my son. I’ve talked with women from around the world, and know our challenges and troubles are universal – I’ve met mothers who are going through the same feelings I’ve gone through, and I’ve even ended up breastfeeding another mother’s child when she wasn’t able to do so herself in that particular moment. So here is my message to you on the occasion of this year’s World Breastfeeding Week: Whatever you are feeling, whatever you’re going through, you are not alone. Ask for help, offer help, be a part of that global village – and whether you’ve nursed for a day, a week, a month, a year, or multiple years, be proud of yourself and be gentle to yourself. Breastfeeding is everything but easy, but we can make it so much better for ourselves by supporting each other, being kind to each other and encouraging each other.
And as for those moments when I feel like breastfeeding is too hard – luckily they are outnumbered by the good moments, when I look down on my child and see not only his hunger, but his pain, worries and fears melt away as he finds comfort and safety from nursing, from pressing up against me, from smelling my skin and my milk. Days like today when I look at him and I know: it is worth all the pain and trouble and it really does matter – every single drop of it.