I often joke that if men had to breastfeed, everyone would starve or they would have figured out the problem a thousand years ago. Men will not accept the notion of prolonged pain and suffering without giving up or wanting to do something about it. But women are different. We can (and do) take almost anything. While more and more mothers want to breastfeed, we accept the confusing and often contradictory advice given by everyone from the labor and delivery nurse to the on-call pediatrician. Even well meaning lactation consultants tell us it’s our fault when breastfeeding sucks. However, it’s not just a problem with the health care providers. In some ways, we are our own worst enemies.
Women absolutely salivate at the notion of martyrdom. True, we are primed even before giving birth to expect suffering. We are told that our nipples will hurt, bleed even, and we accept that.
I mean, childbirth is painful, right? And as women, we can take pain. But even if it is “supposed to hurt,” there is huge difference between uncomfortable and toe-curling agony. But no one seems to differentiate. And when we question the severity, we are told to just deal with it, or we are blamed for doing something wrong. And we accept that blame, as if suffering makes us better mothers.
Having worked with breastfeeding mothers for over 13 years, I can’t tell you how many times moms have said they don’t want to do any intervention on their baby if it is only causing them pain. I am astounded that I have to convince mothers that their suffering is not only unnecessary, but it means the baby is suffering as well because they are struggling to get food they can’t get to.
The resistance to accepting help is also physiologic. By the time a new mom has endured even a week of painful nursing, she is at risk of postpartum depression for up to 6 months after she stops nursing. This is because the pain creates physiologic depression and a feeling of hopelessness. With too much cortisol and too little oxytocin, bonding is affected as well, creating even more shame for new moms and less desire to get help. So what are suffering mothers to do?
Mothers need to understand that breastfeeding is the reward for giving birth, not another opportunity for pain. Through normal, pain-free nursing, both mom and baby heal and bond. There is no replacement for that. So the earlier moms understand to go with their gut, identify that something is wrong, and refuse to put up with it, the better.