Why it’s normal to have complicated feelings about breastfeeding

Many individuals who breastfeed find the experience meaningful, special, and rewarding. Just as many find it challenging, frustrating, and stressful. And a lot of folks find both experiences to be true — breastfeeding can be as wonderful as it is hard. Having complicated feelings about breastfeeding is a normal thing to experience and an okay thing to talk about. More than anything, you should know that you’re not alone.

Adjusting to the new demands of breastfeeding can be challenging for anyone, even folks who have an overall positive experience. It puts new demands on your body and it’s an investment of your time. And some folks experience additional hurdles along the way. Whether minor setbacks or major issues, these challenges can sometimes feel overwhelming when you’re trying your best to feed your new baby and reach your breastfeeding goals. Paired with the exhaustion that can come with taking care of a baby and juggling everything else in your life, it can be a lot to handle.

And this can all feel like a lot mentally. Yes, we know that breastfeeding is something incredible that your body can do, that it’s beneficial for babies and moms, and that a lot of folks find it to be meaningful. But this can lead to what feels like a huge amount of pressure: pressure to have a positive experience, pressure to not talk about the negative, pressure to exclusively breastfeed, pressure to produce a certain amount of milk, pressure to reach your goals at all costs, pressure to measure up to the experience that other people have had. Sometimes these tough feelings can even be compounded if you feel bad about feeling bad. 

When we only focus on an idealized vision of what breastfeeding “should” be, it’s easy to feel like we don’t measure up. But that “ideal” is not reality for a lot of people, and it’s okay to recognize that struggles are normal and so are complicated feelings. Everyone’s breastfeeding journey is different, but many folks who breastfeed their children have these feelings, continue on breastfeeding, and find a lot of meaning and reward in the experience right alongside those complexities.

It’s also important to acknowledge that some women feel like they “should” breastfeed, but just don’t want to. This can be for any number of reasons a lack of support, how they were raised to view breastfeeding, the history of breastfeeding in their community and this can also be for just for no reason at all. Many women find that they’re absolutely sure that they don’t want to breastfeed and have a total lack of desire to do so, and some just can’t quite put a finger on why. If you don’t want to breastfeed, that’s entirely alright too.

This is all to say that if you’re feeling complicated emotions surrounding breastfeeding, it’s okay. But if you’re struggling with breastfeeding, you should know that you don’t need to go it alone. There are a lot of specialists and communities that can help. Internationally board certified lactation consultants (IBCLCs) can be a great resource to turn to for help with breastfeeding challenges. Peer breastfeeding counselors and breastfeeding groups can be a wonderful place to talk with other moms and families who are breastfeeding to learn more about their varied experiences and share your own. And you can always reach out to a mental health specialist for support if you’re struggling emotionally. All of these options can provide you with a safe and supportive space to talk through the tough stuff. While having those complicated feelings are normal, that doesn’t mean you can’t reach out for support that might help you struggle a little less or feel a little better — you deserve that.

Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team

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