Breastfeeding: Natural Doesn’t Mean Easy

We've all seen those pictures of the famous moms looking flawless while their babies are perfectly latched on, feeding away, neither one with a care in the world. They make it look so natural and easy. Well, here's the truth about breastfeeding: It's natural, but it's not always easy.

Nicole GreeneHow you choose to feed your child is a personal choice, and what works for you may not work for another mom. And that's OK. But if you're deciding whether to breastfeed, there's a lot to consider. You may want to ask yourself these questions: Do I have the time to commit to this? Will I be in an environment where I feel comfortable breastfeeding? For how long do I want to breastfeed? If I'm planning to go back to work, will I be able to pump?

There are health benefits to consider, too. Research suggests that breastfed babies have strengthened immune systems and decreased risk of ear infections and of developing childhood obesity. It's also an incredible opportunity to bond with you. But you should also know that it's not easy for everyone: Your breasts will be heavy and sore, you'll be tired, you may struggle with getting your baby to latch, you might make too little (or too much) milk. I know, because I faced some of these challenges myself.

When I had my first son, I was very young. Honestly, the thought of breastfeeding grossed me out, and I didn't know the potential benefits of breastfeeding. By the time I was pregnant with my second son, I'd had more exposure to breastfeeding and knew more about it. I knew I wanted to do it, and I was committed to making it work. But when I first tried it in the hospital, I didn't have the full support of baby-friendly nurses, doctors, and lactation consultants. They were not available as often as I needed them. I wasn't even sure if I was holding him the right way! The cradle hold? The crossover? The football? What was going to be most comfortable for the both of us?

I finally figured it out, and things went well for about 4 weeks. Then one of my breasts became infected. I was engorged, I had a fever, I was in pain — I was miserable. But what was worse was having to stop breastfeeding until the infection cleared. Once I recovered, my son went back to the breast easily, but my milk didn't come back in. At 9 weeks, my son was completely off of breastmilk. I felt terrible and thought I'd done something wrong.

Looking back, I wish I had had three things at that time: more educational resources, a true support system, and someone to help me when I was in doubt. If you choose to breastfeed your child, you can have what I didn't have.

First the education. If you're considering breastfeeding, do your research BEFORE the baby comes. That way, once you're at the hospital, you'll be ready to go. Womenshealth.gov has everything you need to know about breastfeeding, pumping, different holds, challenges you might face, and going back to work. If you want to have all of the info on your tablet, eReader, or smartphone, download Your Guide to Breastfeeding for free, or you can print it out. Other women who have breastfed are great resources, too. Ask them about their experiences, their challenges, and what helped get them through. Ask about nursing bras, creams, pillows — all of it! And get whatever you need set up at home before your baby is born.

You can also set up your support system before your baby arrives. Share what you've read with your partner, family, and friends as you explore your options. Talk about your concerns and needs, and tell them how they can support you. When you're looking at hospitals, ask them about their policies and procedures around breastfeeding. And don't forget to ask your OB-GYN and potential pediatricians for their thoughts on breastfeeding and what resources they can provide to support you.

Keep in mind that the physical act of breastfeeding takes time, as does pumping, and you need to be in an atmosphere that will help you relax. I'm thrilled that our building is opening a new lactation suite so that we can provide that supportive environment for women in our workplace. If you don't have that where you work, talk to your supervisor or human resources department about what might work for you. After all, your employer can be part of your support system, too! If your employer isn't sure how to provide a good place for you and other breastfeeding moms to pump, we have ideas that might help.

Good resources and a strong support network will put you in a great place to succeed. But once your baby arrives and you two have to figure out how to actually do it, you will have challenges. Everyone does. Don't give up! Talk to a lactation consultant and pediatrician about your concerns, ask all of the small and big questions, and try to give yourself time to find a way that works for you. You can also call the OWH Helpline at 800-994-9662 (M–F, 9 a.m.–6 p.m. ET) to talk with one of our certified breastfeeding peer counselors. Remember, your emotional wellness plays a huge part in having success with breastfeeding. Be patient with yourself, and seek out the support you need. And if you need to stop breastfeeding for any reason, that's OK! Know that you are a good mom regardless of your choice or success with breastfeeding.