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So perhaps you’re like me and sailed blithely through your pregnancy, assuming that once the beautiful challenge of labor and delivery were over, you would wend your way home with your new baby and start your lying-in with long stretches of cuddling, napping, and nursing.

Well, for me and Baby Henry the cuddling and napping went well enough, but nursing? Not so much.

Most women find breast feeding difficult. No, you’re not the only one, I promise. It can be a damned bitch, honestly. Most women also give up pretty quickly. And that’s a damned shame.

Baby Henry and I had a tough time of it. He nursed within a few minutes of being born (well done, Baby Henry), but our easy times ended there. Over the next few days in the hospital, the generous staff worked tirelessly to help Baby Henry and I learn how to breast feed. Don’t let anyone fool you–the knowledge is not innate, neither for baby nor mumma. Both of you have to learn. And Baby Henry and I gave it the ol’ college try. There was lots of crying from both of us.

We went through a great many ordeals before we came out the other side, four months later, finally nursing comfortably and effectively. I won’t go into these ordeals now, and all I’ll say is that they involved props. Lots of them. For now, I want to urge all new mothers to stick with it. It’s hard, it sucks (ha!), but it is enormously important and completely worth it.

Here’s what I wish I knew:

The Good

Breastfeeding is the best thing you can do for you and your baby. Period. 

Breastfeeding has all sorts of health benefits for both mother and baby. From cancer prevention to optimum brain development. The list is so long, I won’t even attempt to cover it here. Instead, here are some useful links:

La Leche League International: Benefits of Breastfeeding

KellyMom.com: The Many Benefits of Breastfeeding

Women’s Health (.gov): Why Breastfeeding Is Important

The Bad

It hurts. A lot. But…

It stops hurting a lot sooner than you think, and at that moment you will really and truly feel the happy-making hormones rushing through your system giving you the nursing high that so many mothers talk about.

If you have trouble at first, see a lactation consultant (find one here). The pain might be from a bad latch. Or thrush. Or simple inexperience. Or any number of things. Anyway, see a lactation consultant. They are there for a reason, and they believe in what they are doing. Our LC is the reason Henry and I are breastfeeding at all. I owe every bit of postpartum happiness, accomplishment, and relief to her.

With your baby is born guilt.

Baby Henry wasn’t gaining weight for the first several weeks of his life. In fact, he lost 13% of his birth weight (the preferred maximum is 7%). This was due to the fact that I had, and still have, low milk supply. This made me feel like a total and utter failure. The words “All I want to do is feed my baby” played on a constant loop in my head. And that’s all I wanted to do. It seemed so easy. So simple. The most natural thing in the world. And yet, it was beyond my grasp…

…For a time. But, with the help of our amazing LC, and with the addition of a whole lot of pumping (and other efforts, detailed here), I am now able to supply (just enough) milk to Baby Henry’s daycare and feed him in the evening hours with no problem. The guilt still lurks someplace in the dark, hormone-addled caves of my psyche, and on occasion still comes out to play. But the bottom line is that I am doing it. I am feeding my baby. And so can you.

The Up-Shot

The end result is worth every second of pain, fear, and guilt. 

Simply put, I am happiest when I am feeding my baby.

PS: Many women either don’t want to breastfeed, or in some occasions, can’t (btw, I do not believe that many women are not “able” to breastfeed. Given enough investment, every woman–save the rare few–can breastfeed. If your doctor tells you otherwise, get a second opinion). Whatever your decision about breastfeeding is, please know that I am a passionate supporter of it (clearly), but I do not mean to pass judgment on anyone. The mantra of “Do What Works For You” is forever on my lips, and it’s important to state here as well: Do whatever works for YOU. Other opinions be damned.