Breastfeeding is a marathon and women’s bodies pay the price

In the pit of my stomach, I knew. I knew he wasn’t getting enough. Call it intuition or postpartum anxiety, but my heart just knew it wasn’t enough. 

I’d prepared for months, taking classes, reading articles and books, buying accessories and finding tools to use for a successful breastfeeding journey. I’m a planner, I always have been. I also knew, as a couple IBCLCs told me, that statistically being prepared along with having support were the biggest predictors of successful and sustainable breastfeeding. I had big goals and planned on breastfeeding exclusively for the first year. Isn’t that the gold standard in society these days? At least it’s what the doctors tell us, the social media icons and all the experienced “good” moms. 

Turns out, that wasn’t in the cards for me.

We’re sold this idea to try hard enough, learn enough, set up a full support team of professionals and peers and loved ones to root you on. But none of that can change something biologically off with the body. Nor can it predict a physiological issue an infant is born with that prevents them from effectively transferring milk.

We can never predict if our body will only produce 10 ounces a day stead of 30. How could we, if we’d never done this before? Lactation consultants are notorious for telling us it’s rare to have a low milk supply. Don’t worry. Get more sleep. Try to power pump. Are you drinking enough water? Try this herbal supplement or prescription. I’ve heard and tried it all.

Here’s the thing, women are not meant to operate like machines. We can’t always increase production in these factories our bodies suddenly turn into after giving birth. And there are two in the breastfeeding relationship, but we’re taught as if it is all up to us. 

Not a single day goes by that I don’t think of quitting. It can feel so dehumanizing, being hooked up to a machine for 30 minutes at a time and expected to produce x amount of milk each day. You still don’t make enough, so you supplement and cringe each time you pay for processed powder that costs an arm and a leg. All I can think of some days is why me?

Lest we forget, breastfeeding moms are human. We operate imperfectly and no two days are the same. Breastfeeding is so often romanticized in online spaces, and honestly I still believe it can be beautiful. I want you to love it and wholeheartedly stand behind it if it brings you joy. But no one shows the grueling hours of physical labor. The emotional and mental turmoil it can have on a woman. Believe me when I say we are proud of what we are doing, but we are also sometimes so miserable putting in all the work 24/7. We love our babies more than anything, and sometimes we feel like we have to sacrifice ourselves in order to prove our devotion.

If you’re feeding your baby a single bottle of breastmilk a day or even “just” one ounce I see you. If you were forced into exclusive pumping, setting your body on a constant time clock with 10 alarms on your phone day and night for weeks and months, I know you. If you’re three months in and ready to throw in the towel but don’t because the guilt would kill you even more, I feel you. If you’re supplementing or switched to formula, believe me, I understand you. I am all of you. 

Breastfeeding is natural, but it is hardly ever intuitive. It’s a full-time job we aren’t compensated for and if you’ve done any of it I’m so damn proud of you. It is the hardest, longest marathon.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please click here.

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