It's hard. And then it's not.

This applies to so much about motherhood: Diaper changes. Bath time. Solid food feedings. At first it seems like such a production -- Exhausting, sometimes overwhelming. Like, I have to do this every day? Every night?

It's hard.
And's not.
The same thing goes for breastfeeding. So why didn't anyone tell me that? I feel like there's such a movement to get more women to choose the breast that we're all fed the same lines: It's natural. It's convenient. Oh, and my favorite: If it hurts that means you're doing it wrong. But when a new mom suddenly finds that the baby won't latch, her nipples are scabbing and her thoughts are anything but natural -- she chalks it up to failure and quits.
So let me be honest:
  • For something that is biologically natural, it sure doesn't feel that way in the beginning. Believe me when I say that we're not born instinctually knowing how to do this. I imagine the first generations of mothers sitting around their caves, nipples bleeding, breasts engorged. There had to be a trial and error process in figuring this out, then passed down from daughter to daughter. The problem? So many of our mothers didn't breastfeed. So many hospitals are skimming over the tutorials. I mean, there's always formula to fall back on. For pregnant mamas who want to breastfeed, I strongly recommend:
  1. Taking a prenatal breastfeeding class. While we skipped Lamaze -- I was unusually confident in my pain management ability -- I wasn't about to mess around with breastfeeding. So about two months before my due date, my husband and I went to a free prenatal breastfeeding class that our birthing center offered. My husband, always the trooper, was the only man in the room. He watched movies where baby after baby after baby latched on to breast after breast after breast. Then, after learning all of the breastfeeding positions, watched as I mock breastfed a doll. An ugly one at that. But I'll tell you what, I left with not only new information but a sense of confidence.
  2. Research the process and pitfalls. If you know the hurdles are coming, you'll know when to jump.
  3. Locate a local lactation consultant and/or La Leche member. Find out if your hospital or birthing center has a lactation consultant in the building (many do) and INSIST that you meet with her (or him, I guess) before you're released. I can't tell you how critical this is. Also, call whenever you have a question. I called my lactation consultant at least four times in the first few weeks. Even when there wasn't a simple solution to my problem (So much milk! It's coming out of his nose! One is two times the size of the other!) it was helpful to know I was on the right track. That it was normal and manageable.
  • Yes, breastfeeding is convenient -- meaning there's no bottles to wash, formula to buy, late-night bottle warming. But in the beginning? Let's get something straight: There is a baby attached to your body around the clock. Can we just be honest about this fact? You have to work to make sure he/she is latched on correctly, positioned correctly, and it can take around an hour for a complete feeding. And then an hour later: Oh yeah, you again. I remember there being times when I would go upstairs to take a nap (I was producing such an over-abundance of milk that I would wake up in a puddle of milk, having leaked through my nursing bra, nursing tank top, T-shirt and surrounding sheets) and just as I was about to fall asleep I would hear this sing-song: I think someone's huuungry. I wanted to throw puppies at the wall. The mere thought of this lasting for a month, six months, A YEAR, was utterly overwhelming. Good thing it DOESN'T.
  • If it hurts you're doing it wrong. What a crock of shit. HONESTLY. Getting a baby to latch on correctly is tricky; a learned process. Chances are your baby will misjudge the latch or improperly pull away or suck just a bit too viciously and OH THE PAIN. Cracking, scabbing, bleeding -- yes, these can happen. Here's a hint: Lansinoh Lanolin is an absolute must-have. But to be honest, your body has and is going through so much: Cramping, bleeding (buckets!), engorgement, and oh yeah, a baby pushing its way through the slit that was your vagina. Sore nipples? Why not. Add it to the pile.

I understand the logic in denying the pain in the beginning: Why deter someone away from breastfeeding because of something that is so brief, so insignificant? But knowing about the turbulent beginning just might prevent ill-prepared, sleep-deprived, insecure and overwhelmed mamas from throwing in the towel.

It took about six to eight weeks for my milk supply to stabilize -- and I know this sounds impossible when you're in week one. But honestly, before I knew it the breastfeeding positions were second nature, the pain completely gone. Now, at six months (a BLINK away from the birth day) I can lift up my shirt and he'll perfectly latch himself in pitch black. He eats for maybe five minutes, three or four hours apart. Yes, the first month or so is hard, but then...
It's a natural, convenient, pain-free experience that I wouldn't trade for all the formula in the world.