Mama in the City

A blog about raising my family in downtown Vancouver

When Breastfeeding Doesn't Come Naturally

I'm a perinatal specialty-trained registered nurse and I help first-time mothers learn to breastfeed every day. I had no idea that when it came time for me to breastfeed my own son that learning how to do it would prove to be such a challenge.

Before having my baby, I took courses and attended events all in the name of learning to support women with breastfeeding. I had passion about dispelling myths around breastfeeding and was an active supporter of friends who were nursing. I had no idea that when my own baby was born I would have such a tough time learning to breastfeed. How was it that I taught women how to breastfeed but here I was a bumbling tired woman feeling like I was learning a new language?

I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed and I actually never thought that it would be a challenge once I had my baby. I was shocked back to reality. Breastfeeding was very difficult to start and trying to do it every hour or two gave me a lot of stress in those early weeks. Despite lots of experience and education, I did not know that it was completely normal to feel overwhelmed about breastfeeding... it was normal to feel frustrated when latching seemed impossible.

I did not know that breastfeeding could be so hard. I had watched my girlfriends and my sister nurse their babies and they latched with ease and speed. I had helped many women in the first 48 hours and I thought I had it figured out. So why did it turn out to be such a difficult thing for me to learn?

My actual experience around learning how to breastfeed was full of engorgement and a baby born a little prematurely who didn't really get how to suck for the first while. He was a sleepy, jaundiced baby born to a diabetic mother and he needed frequent glucose checks and blood tests for the jaundice. It was vital to get in calories; soon the consumption of those much-needed calories became the focus and breastfeeding got off track.

When Ben was about 9 days old I ended up emailing a friend from work who was also a lactation consultant. My husband sent her the first SOS and I sent her a follow up message. I needed support and I needed someone with clear rested eyes to give me that support. Learning a brand new skill at the same time you are also completely exhausted from birth is difficult enough and on top of that there is a sweet baby exclusively dependent on you.

Breastfeeding is natural but there is still a learning curve and many different things to learn about breastfeeding. Many first mothers I've met have said that they thought breastfeeding would be easy and that latching would 'just happen'. You just cradle the hungry baby and the baby opens their soft mouth and things would just flow. It was nature!

The thing is, the term nature and the word natural don't necessarily mean the same as easy. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it will go along without hassle. Natural doesn't mean that you won't feel frustrated at times. Breastfeeding can be hard and can be a steep learning curve but it gets easier!

I think of how much effort and attention went into latching on a tiny newborn and then I think of casually nursing my hungry 7-month old in the rose garden at Stanley Park. So, my sweet readers if you are going to be new to breastfeeding surround yourself with support and know that it can get easier!


Awesome post. There is such a big learning curve and I really think it's important to know that ahead of time. If you don't know, it'll be harder to ask for help - or in some cases, to demand help. I think it's also important for husbands to know that it won't be easy going so they're ready to support their partners, even when the going gets rough. Kudos to your supportive hubby - asking for help for your labour & delivery nursing wife can't be easy. And, as always, he takes wonderful pics of you two. ;)

March 15, 2010 at 9:58 PM  
Lindsey Little said...

Wonderful amazing gorgeous picture! I am glad to hear that someone else had troubles with starting to BF!! It does get better. It does get easier but oh boy what a shock it was at first.

March 16, 2010 at 3:31 PM  
Wild Mama said...

Well written and I agree - lovely picture :) It's so true that although breastfeeding is natural, it's not always naturally easy to do even when we're trained to help others. I'm a doula and breastfeeding counsellor and I had so many challenges with my first. None with my second and actually my third baby was even more challenging than my first. Not what I would have thought at all. But every mama/baby pairing is a new breastfeeding couple, aren't they? Thanks for sharing :)

March 16, 2010 at 3:36 PM  
Jackie in San Francisco said...

I wish I had been able to be so comfortable with breastfeeding in public. That pic rocks!!!! I felt like a total failure. Breastfeeding was so hard and horrible for me that by week 3 I was crying and dreaded each feed. I felt so alone and so depressed. My baby was fussy at the breast and I ended up hating it. Don't get me wrong. I totally think breastfeeding is the best but in the end I just couldn't do it. My sanity was more important. Looking back now I wish that I had called out for help and been surrounded by loving caring guidance. I will try this when baby #2 shows up.

March 16, 2010 at 3:43 PM  
Anonymous said...

What a beautiful photo. I know this sounds silly but have you seen the baby episode of The Office? There's a very touching moment where the baby finally latches and it reminded me of your photo ;)

March 16, 2010 at 4:00 PM  
Anonymous said...

I had problems getting the hang of it with my first and my second. I thought that if I could figure it out the first time round that the second would be a breeze. More women should share this secret.

March 16, 2010 at 5:37 PM  
Sherri-Lynn Alma said...

I would like to give you big kudos. 1-for being honest 2- for posting this beautiful picture. How wicked awesome is it that you got such a professional picture taken of such a beautiful moment. It is a little bit refreshing to hear that someone with so much insight and knowledge also had a struggle. It makes all of us feel much better. Not to delight in your adventures but know what I mean!

March 17, 2010 at 8:33 AM  
Anonymous said...

It is overwhelming to become a parent for the first time for most of us, regardless of our background or our history. Suddenly having a baby completely depend on you is a HUGE shift, and trying to master a new skill like breastfeeding at the same time just ups that ante.

Like you, I had a struggle with my firstborn, who was born early and was sleepy. But like you I overcame the problems and breastfed successfully. I am so glad I stuck with it. In the end, in spite of the rough start, breastfeeding was beautiful.

March 17, 2010 at 10:31 PM  
Andrea said...

Thank you so much for this post Andrea! I am in that difficult time right now, as you know, with my premature twins and i'm finding it very overwhelming and difficult at times. It is so nice to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel and that it does get easier. I will think of this post whenever I feel like giving up...thank you, thank you

March 22, 2010 at 6:34 PM  
Alexandra said...

such a beautiful nursing picture!! and you are right...if you don't have the support it is very easy to give up. great post!

March 27, 2010 at 7:47 PM  

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