Ask any nursing mom, and she will likely tell you that breastfeeding can produce various positive and negative emotions.
Breastfeeding can be a terrific, positive experience for you and your baby; however, the motherhood title is unpredictable and complicated, as you now know. I experienced pressure as a first-time mother to not only exclusively breastfeed but to love doing it too.
Full disclosure, I did not love every minute of breastfeeding, and I know I am not the only one.
Common emotions while breastfeeding
As a registered counselor, I asked several new moms how they would describe the first three months of breastfeeding; these are some of the words they used to describe their breastfeeding experience:
Now, imagine this: the little one is correctly latched and feeding his first meal of the day, and you look down with pride. Those rolls and satisfied tummy of his is your doing, and your hard work has both satisfied and nourished your baby.
Breastfeeding is such an intimate position of close skin contact like no other.
As baby nuzzles in for his feed and, if everything is going smoothly, we are filled with love and happiness. We have Prolactin and Oxytocin to thank for that surge of joy. These hormones are happy hormones that act as a natural stress and pain reliever (thanks, Mother Nature!), so you are providing your baby with nutrients and experiencing life’s natural high. Take a closer look at your postpartum hormone timeline here.
Like many aspects of motherhood, the positive experience is often described as “the norm,” which severely downplays any experience which isn’t that. While the positive experiences are typically what we hope for, the less positive and more challenging experiences are what can occur, and too, are very typical.
Like many aspects of motherhood, the positive experience is often described as “the norm,” which severely downplays any experience which isn’t that.Sharmon Reddington, Registered Counselor and founder of Mum Well
I remember breastfeeding being a heavily emphasized topic in the antenatal classes I attended. In my last trimester, I practiced the different positions (using a makeshift baby with swaddle blankets!!) and did what I could to prepare.
However, I was far from ready for the experience. A recent Italian study suggested that out of their sample of 421 mothers, 80% experienced difficulties in their three months of breastfeeding, and 85% felt the experience was different from what they had expected.
The physiological impacts of breastfeeding
We often don’t speak of the psychological impacts of breastfeeding, usually due to stigma and not wanting to seem like a selfish mom. At times, breastfeeding can seem like a chore similar to cooking dinner after a long day at work; other days, you may look forward to those minutes of feeding.
We place an immense amount of pressure on ourselves and sometimes unrealistically.
Breastfeeding is a very personal journey that can leave us feeling less than when it doesn’t go according to our plan. However, breastfeeding is a natural process that can feel anything but natural, especially when struggling to get it right. On multiple occasions, I heard, “Don’t worry, as soon as baby arrives, it will all come naturally; it’s instinct.”
Guilt can come in like a plague, and we can begin questioning whether we are cut out for this. If you feel a lack of independence and miss the days of sexy lingerie and boobs that are just yours, that’s an okay and common feeling.
If you feel insecure around your lopsided mammaries and question whether the decision to breastfeed was a good one, that is okay. In a society fuelled by materialism, there is no wonder these thoughts cross our minds.
Another utterly normal feeling you may be having is the anxiety of being the sole provider for your infant. The responsibility of being the only food source can be daunting. You may find yourself questioning your abilities and whether or not you are feeding enough quantity or quality. This insecurity can be a significant deciding factor in supplementing formula.
Guilt then rears his ugly head again if we do supplement as we feel like a failure. But you’re not. There’s nothing wrong with choosing formula to meet your baby’s nutritional needs or to alleviate some stress on your end.
And let’s not forget about the moms that physically cannot breastfeed – those who have inverted nipples or perhaps a mastectomy – who may be experiencing judgment or disappointment that they are not feeding their baby by the breast.
As you can see, breastfeeding is a hugely psychological experience.
Other emotional considerations for nursing moms
One common feeling I come across when working with new moms is that they sometimes feel envious that their husbands evade the responsibility of public feeds or the nighttime nursing sessions.
I encourage you to try and put the feelings of guilt aside and allow yourself to feel the frustrations or the bliss or any other emotion that may be surfacing, as I can assure you other moms are where you are now.
One of my favorite invitations is to imagine a vulnerable new mom coming to you and sharing her feelings, difficulties, and fears. I am confident you would respond with love and empathy and offer her support and care. Now, try imagining yourself as that new mom, and offer yourself that same consideration and support that you would lovingly offer another mum.
Final thoughts on navigating common emotions while breastfeeding
In summary, it’s okay to have good and bad breastfeeding feelings. Neither of these affects your abilities as a mother; however, it is essential to remember that breastfeeding is a physical process and a psychological and emotional experience.
As new moms, we are always surrounded by nutrition facts, how to get the perfect latch, formula brands, and anti-colic bottles. Yet, there’s not much supporting us as mothers, especially when helping new moms through emotional difficulties in their feeding journeys, whether breast or bottle.
It cannot be said enough; by prioritizing our mental health as moms, we are more likely to succeed in being the best moms we can be.
More breastfeeding resources
- Breastfeeding Makes Me Feel Sad: A Closer Look at D-MER
- Seven Easy Ways to Make Pumping More Enjoyable
- Breastfeeding Must-Haves for Nursing Moms