Breastfeeding is stressful. Let’s just get that out there. While there are a TON of benefits to breastfeeding – both for moms and babies – I’m fairly certain “a stress-free feeding experience” is not on the list.
When my youngest daughter, Dylan, was 6 months old, I had a meltdown about my breast milk supply. In a tearful conversation with my mom, I told her I just wasn’t sure whether I was producing enough milk for the baby, and I couldn’t get my milk supply to improve. I was so stressed about what to do. My mom said, “Katie, you’ve given her 6 months! If you want to keep trying and you’re not ready to stop breastfeeding, that’s ok. But if you want to be done, that’s ok, too.” A weight lifted off my shoulders that I didn’t even realize was there. I relaxed. It’s probably not a coincidence that my milk supply bounced back once my stress levels decreased, and I was able to breastfeed her for another 5 months.
There’s SO much to stress about when you’re breastfeeding. What is stressful, you ask? Here are a few things that caused me stress:
--It hurt (at first). Infants have a shockingly strong suction. I felt like I had a Dyson hooked up to my nipples 23 hours a day. Plus, Mae had a tongue tie, so nursing was that much more painful. For the first 6-8 weeks, the pain of breastfeeding was very stressful for me.
--Fear of the unknown. I know a lot of moms struggle with this – not knowing how much milk your baby is getting. Is it enough?? Is it too much? How much IS it, exactly?!? I would Google "how many ounces of milk should a 1 month old baby get at each feeding" and then try to guesstimate roughly how much she might be getting from each breast. This was a waste of time, for sure, but having no control or insight into the amount you’re feeding your baby can be stressful and can lead you to do odd things.
--Got milk? Related to the above point, it caused me a lot of anxiety when I felt like my milk supply wasn’t keeping up with my baby’s demands. And the more stressed you are, the more it can negatively impact your milk production, so it’s a vicious cycle.
--It’s all on you. If you’re not pumping and giving the baby a bottle, then you are solely responsible for every feeding. Whose turn is it to feed the baby? Oh, it’s me again! Every. Time. I didn’t consider this to be stressful all the time, but every once in a while, I could have used a break.
--Strings attached. Mae started refusing to take a bottle around 3 months old, which meant I could never leave her for more than 2-3 hours, tops. This led to a lot of frantic Target trips racing down the aisles, trying to make it back home before she needed to eat again.
And I didn't even face any of the really stressful and painful things that can come with breastfeeding, like mastitis, clogged milk ducts, or low/no milk supply.
You’re probably wondering why I (or anyone) would breastfeed if it’s so stressful. The answer is simple: It’s also MAGICAL and so fulfilling, in so many ways. But that’s for another day and another article; we’re talking about managing stress right now.
The good news is this: For me, the amount of stress changed over the course of time (for the better). With both of my daughters, I noticed a similar pattern of stress related to breastfeeding. Here’s a recap of my stress levels while breastfeeding:
Days 1-5: Very stressful. 9 out of 10 on the stress scale. First of all, I just delivered a baby, I’m in pain, and I’m exhausted. I’m not sure if I’m doing it right, not sure if the baby is getting anything, and not sure if it should hurt this much. Also, where is my milk? Is it ever going to come in???
Month 1: Extremely stressful. 10 out of 10. My milk finally came in, and boy, was that painful! Engorged breasts are no fun (except I looked like Jessica Rabbit for a few days, so that was kind of cool). The baby is feeding around the clock, my nipples are super sore, and I’m pumping at night to try to build up a milk stash. I had to give up dairy because the baby couldn’t tolerate it in my milk (with both of my girls!). I understand why women say they feel like a cow when they’re breastfeeding, as it seems like the only purpose I serve in life right now is to produce milk.
Months 2-3: Things are improving. 7 out of 10. Breastfeeding is finally less painful for me. The baby is still nursing a lot, but she’s growing well, and with my dietary changes, she’s a TAD happier.
Months 4-5: So much easier. 4 out of 10. The baby eats way more efficiently, so there’s much less time spent nursing and much more time spent playing and giving kisses. I have no pain when breastfeeding at this point, and she’s still growing well. The only downside is that she stopped taking a bottle, so I have very limited freedom.
Months 6-12: The best! 2 out of 10. It’s so very easy and fast to feed her, and I never have to take a bottle with me when we leave the house. The only reason for any stress is because she doesn’t take a bottle, but I figure out ways to have some freedom now that she’s eating solids.
The point is this: In my experience, the golden era of breastfeeding is 6 months old and beyond. If I had stopped breastfeeding my girls around 5 or 6 months, I think I wouldn’t have nearly as fond of memories as I do. It was during this time that I was most relaxed and most enjoyed the closeness and bonding that come with breastfeeding.
If breastfeeding has been stressful for you, and you’ve put in the hard “work” for 6 months and are considering ending your breastfeeding journey, you just might want to give it another month and then see how you feel. You may find that, like me, you’re finally entering the golden period.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-from-home mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding an easier and more enjoyable experience.