I Love Breastfeeding -- but It's Time to Stop Pretending It's Easy


If a pregnant woman asked me if nursing was easy or not, I'd do the same thing so many women did for me when I was pregnant. I'd shift my eyes to the ground, shrug, and reassure her that, yeah, it's pretty easy. But it would be a terrible lie. I've nursed three children to ages mostly associated with fringe Hollywood celebrities. I still nurse my youngest, age 3, to sleep at night. I tandem-nursed a baby and a toddler. I nursed through two pregnancies. I have been yanking my boob out daily for almost eight years now. And if there's one thing breastfeeding moms need to admit, it's that nursing is freaking hard.


All three of my children had milk and soy protein intolerances, meaning that if I wanted to nurse (and I truly did), I couldn't eat even a trace of dairy or soy, lest the proteins pass through my milk and make them sick. Two of my babies had other intolerances as well, to milk and nuts and citrus fruits, among other things, so I was on a special diet for months. I've had mastitis and yeast, toddler latches gone awry. My youngest was also born with a tongue tie and nursed my nipples into hamburger meat before we figured it out.

Elizabeth Broadbent

More from CafeMom: 21 Answers to the Questions Breastfeeding Moms Are Too Embarrassed to Ask

We say breastfeeding is natural, and it is. But no one ever said every natural process of the human body is easy or pleasant. We set women up for failure when we make them think that's the case. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 82 percent of new babies are breastfed for at least some of the time. But only a little over 55 percent are still breastfeeding at 6 months, and only 33 percent make it to a full year of breastfeeding. Some moms give it up simply because they realize breastfeeding isn't for them. But others lack support and go through hardships they weren't expecting, and it's hard to prepare when you don't know what's coming.

One mom I know, Rachel, found out she had hypoplastic breasts, meaning she had "insufficient breast tissue" to produce milk. She also had polycystic ovarian syndrome. Her first baby was born three weeks early and never got a good latch. Even with help from a lactation consultant and a nipple shield, Rachel was forced to stop trying to nurse after only a couple weeks, because it just wasn't working out. Baby number two latched okay, Rachel says, but she never made enough milk so she had to supplement with formula for the entire 10 months that they nursed.

My friend Jennifer remembers her nursing experience as, "ENGORGEMENT. My breasts were rigid and the size of NFL regulation footballs." There are also blocked ducts, milk blisters, and infections to worry about. Darcie, a mom of two, told me she had mastitis five times before she gave up on breastfeeding. And 40-something-year-old mom Jill had flat nipples and could only pump. Another mom I know, Alison, had thrush, which she says felt like having "flaming nipples being fed through a shredder."

Mom Sarah adds that while breastfeeding wasn’t difficult physically, "My challenges were having never experienced that level of dependency and lack of privacy before ... doing things like taking my children to my work conference because it was easier than upsetting a toddler who is used to nursing before bed. Breastfeeding itself has been and continues to be amazing, but the lack of independence that exceeds anything one would ever imagine is an adjustment."

So why do we lie and say it's easy? Leslie, a breastfeeding peer counselor, says it's because there's too much pressure on us, and we feel like failures if we're honest. "You have to be perfect," she told me. "You have to do everything absolutely right or everything will be blamed on you as the mother ... It starts with the birth; have to have a perfect birth, and have to be social after the birth, and it trickles down from there."

All the way to breastfeeding. The perfect mother breastfeeds perfectly, and if she doesn't, she lies about it -- because to do otherwise would be a failure of not only her ability to mother, but of her femininity itself. Breastfeeding is a natural part of being a woman, after all. And if we can't do it, clearly there must be something wrong with us.

More from CafeMom: 23 Celeb Moms Openly Breastfeeding Like it's NBD (Because It's Not)

Leslie also says our reluctance to talk about our breastfeeding problems may contribute to moms getting bad or outdated advice that actually makes our problems worse. "While there are those with legit issues … there are also those that are battling issues that are self-created, and I say 'self' as in support-system-created," she explains. "Those that battle low supply because a 'helpful' nurse convinced the mom to supplement when baby wanted to cluster feed -- a cluster feed that could have been a major building block to establishing supply [but they didn't know better]. I hate that so many mamas face problems. But it burns me that so many of these problems are created from poor advice or poor support."

That's why we need to bust the myth of easy breastfeeding wide open. We need to tell our truths and share our stories, so other women know what to expect, what to do when it all goes wrong, and who they can safely turn to for help. We need to say that nursing is hard -- and admitting it's hard doesn't mean it it's less beautiful or important or "worth it."

Tonight, my toddler will pinch my boob and alternately nurse hard and then not at all. But the closeness we share will be worth every pinch and pull and kick. Nursing my three children was hard. Nursing, sometimes, still is hard. But I love it. And I can say without a doubt that it is worth all the trouble.

Read More >