It’s either hard or it’s easy

Even after more than 10 years of helping moms with breastfeeding and more than seven years as a birth doula watching first feedings and then following up to see how things go, I’m not sure I can say with certainty what makes for a “hard” vs. an “easy” time breastfeeding.

The first challenge is definitional. As I like to point out in relation to labor pain, one person’s “oh, that’s a little uncomfortable” is another person’s “oh my god that’s so excruciating I can’t tolerate it.” And so with breastfeeding. Most women experience some discomfort in the early days of breastfeeding. Exactly how much, and whether this discomfort signifies that something wrong, is impossible for anyone but the mother to really figure out.

Then there’s the fact that breastfeeding doesn’t occur in a vacuum. Mothers come to it with all the biases, prejudices, associations, knowledge, and  beliefts that have informed their lives to that point. This life experience colors not only the actual breastfeeding experience but how a mother perceives it.

I was remarking recently about the fact that sometimes moms who have the most challenging birth experiences–long labors, unexpected surgery, etc.–have the easiest breastfeeding experiences, as if the universe were somehow rewarding them with a gift for enduring hardship, while moms who have short, uneventful births sometimes end up with all the breastfeeding challenges.

Of course, this does not hold true statistically and nobody should wish for a hard birth just to have an easy time breastfeeding. But it does illustrate that despite everything we know about how to make breastfeeding relatively easy (lots of skin-to-skin time early on, unrestricted and frequent feedings in the first weeks, good support for mom), there are factors that are out of parents’ control. This is because the breastfeeding relationship involves two people, mom and baby, and mom is in control only of her end.

If you remember this, then everything will be much easier, breastfeeding included.

–Audrey

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