Why is Breastfeeding So Hard?

(Or, the Case for Public Breastfeeding...)

Think about the first time you got behind the wheel of a car—your first chance to drive! By this point in your life you’ve been riding in cars for many years. You’ve seen multiple people drive and you’ve observed them in some tricky situations—confusion at a 4 way stop, merging in heavy traffic on the interstate or squeezing into a parallel parking spot. You probably had someone beside you on that first day who had been driving for quite a while to help guide you through your first attempts as a new driver.

Now, imagine if that first driving experience was the first time you’d seen a car—would you even be able to turn on the car and get it to move? Probably not. 

This is what breastfeeding is like in America today. Today’s mothers have not grown up observing breastfeeding throughout their lives. They weren’t there when their aunt had mastitis, or older sister struggled to make enough milk or their mother had painful nipples- either because they formula fed or because it was hidden away or because we have smaller, more spread out families than in some other places and times. A generation ago (and in many places in America today) there wasn’t good information and support around to help those folks be successful in their nursing journey.

Today’s new mothers are also not observing normal breastfeeding much growing up—so how can we possibly hope for them to know what’s normal and when some extra help is needed?  Add to this that new mothers regularly receive conflicting information and advice about breastfeeding, and are in the foggy head early days of postpartum. The task of initiating breastfeeding successfully is quite challenging!

So, new mommas, what to do to set yourself up for success?

First- educate yourself by taking a class, reading a book or watching some videos. Consider your source. I would suggest not getting your breastfeeding education from just friends and family as their information is likely to be skewed to their own experiences (hint- no it is not supposed to hurt like crazy for the first 3 weeks).

Second- hang out with breastfeeding people, at a new moms group, a Le Leche League International Meeting or with other breastfeeding friends.

Third- line up good lactation support in case you run into challenges. An Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is someone who’s gone through extensive education and experience to be knowledgeable about breastfeeding. I suggest trying to stick with the same person throughout the time you are working through challenges so you have someone who is seeing how the whole picture is evolving over time.

Finally—and perhaps most important—don’t hide the boobies! Today’s little girls and young women need to see what real breastfeeding looks like. So that when they get behind the wheel for the first time they are set up for success.