Breastfeeding is Hard.

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breastfeeding is hard. breastfeeding is hard. breastfeeding is hard.

if you’re a man reading this, you’re married to a woman and you plan to have a child some day – keep reading because your wife needs you to understand…

breastfeeding. is. hard.

this post is going to get personal so if it makes you uncomfortable…well…breastfeeding is natural and normal so buck-up (or close the browser and catch me next wednesday all the way from england)!

one of my very favorite classes we attended while pregnant was the breastfeeding class. it was so fascinating to learn how amazing a mother’s milk truly is. did you know that the milk changes based on what the child needs? if your kid is getting a cold, her or his saliva passes through the glands and lets your body know it needs certain antibodies so the milk changes to meet the baby’s needs. isn’t that absolutely, incredibly, astounding?!

during that class we talked about how although it’s a very natural thing our bodies are capable of doing, it can be challenging for some. we practiced different feeding holds with the practice doll and looked at photos of healthy nipples vs. injured ones due to a bad latch from the baby. we went all in.

on our drive home from that class, i looked at my husband and declared, “i will breastfeed our child and i know it will be hard but i need you to support me. encourage me to keep it up even if it’s hard, okay???”

he readily agreed.

fast-forward 1.5 months later to me surviving insanely painful back labor to bring our sweet daughter atlas into this world. she did the ‘newborn crawl,’ which is an inherent response after a child is born to find her milk source! a newborn literally figures out how to root around to find the mom’s nipple to latch on (and her little feet press against the mama’s belly helps to shrink the uterus back down). our bodies are amazing.

atlas basically came out sucking her fingers. she found her thumb right away (she now prefers to suck on her two left middle fingers). remember how she also came out asynclitic? that didn’t help our feeding journey.

breastfeeding is hard

cassie rosch photography

moments after her birth, she latched and while it didn’t feel wonderful, it wasn’t the worst thing either. i had the nurse check her latch because i knew that was one of the biggest predictors in nursing success. she said it looked decent but to watch out because it looked like she might be getting her tongue positioned wrong so keep working with atlas to train her how to do it right.

breastfeeding is hard

cassie rosch photography

when we went in for our 2 day check up at the birth center, our midwife weighed atlas and found that she had dropped 8% of her bodyweight (normal range is between 5-10% in the first two weeks. it’s totally normal and expected). because i was on the higher end of that scale, she said she wanted me to meet with a lactation consultant and i was more than game because breastfeeding the past two days hadn’t been going well.

when we met with the lactation consultant, she could tell atlas wasn’t latching right. part of it was due to the fact that she couldn’t turn her neck both directions because of hanging out in my pelvis forever in one position. she also identified a tongue tie, which made it hard for atlas to get the latch right. she recommended a pediatric dentist to explore that further as well as a pediatric chiropractor to help with the neck adjustment.

she gave us new tools to try including a nipple shield, a little tiny cup that she would try to sip out of, a syringe with a small feeding tube and suggestions on how to pump more comfortably.

*time out* – i am now four days postpartum so my body is still very much in pain, my pregnancy hormones are exiting my body so i feel insane and my baby isn’t getting enough to eat from my own body, which is supposed to be like an “easy” and “natural” thing that happens.

to say i was overwhelmed would be an understatement.

breastfeeding is hard

cassie rosch photography

we moved to triple feedings. this means that about every two hours (through the day and night) i would try to get her latch correctly for a few minutes (miserable), then i would pump my milk using my spectra pump (would have loved this pump if i didn’t have to use it 12x a day) and then feed her the pumped milk. oh and my milk supply dropped every now and then thanks to stress.

(oh and thanks obama for making this $300 electric pump FREE because of what you did with the affordable care act. it is how i sustained my child for months).

breastfeeding is hard

we booked an appointment with the pediatric dentist who could barely even exam her mouth because her face muscles were so tight from being in a posterior position for so long in my pelvis. he discovers that not only does she have a tongue tie, but she also has an upper lip tie and two side ties on her cheeks that never separated while she was being developed.

the dentist said he couldn’t release these ties (via laser) until her muscles relaxed so he sent us to the baby chiropractor for adjustments. thankfully the same woman i used while pregnant and she was specifically trained in chiropractics for babies.

i will spare you the play-by-play but in the first three weeks of atlas’ life, we had 5 chiropractor appointments, 3 private lactation consultations, 2 breastfeeding support groups and 1 dental procedure involving blood. after a tongue tie release, then you have to at-home exercises which involved us rubbing the four spots in her mouth with a finger that were just zapped, 6 times a day.

oh, and my husband left for a previously arranged keynote he couldn’t cancel on when she was 8 days old so i had my mom come with me to a good portion of those appointments.

i do believe that our breastfeeding situation contributed to my intense postpartum depression. everything felt so much harder and i couldn’t be gone more than hour because i had to pump. i couldn’t go out to eat, i couldn’t sleep for long stretches and when friends came from out of town to visit, everything was planned so that i could get back home to pump.

i joined multiple breastfeeding support groups online and in person. i kept seeing people post about their difficulties with it and then it finally resolving around 6 weeks…8 weeks…10 weeks…<insert new number here from different person>. i so desperately wanted this to work for us. formula is not only expensive but i kept remembering how much better, almost magical, breastmilk is for a child.

my husband was an unbelievable support. we bought four feedings of donor milk (at $40) so i was able to be ahead a few feedings for atlas. this meant that while i pumped my own milk, ryan could be feeding her what i pumped earlier. he supported me 100% with my wishes, the doctor’s appointments and encouragement.

breastfeeding is hard

both my mom and mother-in-law were also essential during this time. they would spend the night with me whenever ravery went out of town. i would wake up every 2-3 hours during the night to pump and they would wake up with me to feed atlas. i will forever be grateful for this.

the few times i was alone in the beginning, holding a shrieking newborn while being attached to a pumping device was horrible.

breastfeeding is hard

we poured a lot of money into trying to get this sorted out. we poured most of our energy into this. it took a toll on our marriage, my happiness and the bond i had with atlas. i would get so frustrated with her tiny mouth for not doing it right that i dreaded feeding her. i could feel resentment build up (this was also due to PPD). i very rarely felt joy or happiness. it was hard for my husband to see this and he talked about feeling very helpless of how to support me.

ravery and i met with yet another lactation consultant to see what the hell was going on. she talked about a small mouth, keep up with the chiropractor, go see a craniosacral therapist (we had) and then figure out why i wanted to breastfeed so badly.

the main reason i wanted to breastfeed so bad was because i knew the superior nutritional benefits to it. then came the ease of traveling with a nursing baby – pop her on and off and we are good to go. finally, i can think of a lot more interesting things to spend $120 a month on besides formula. traveling with a hand pump, electric pump and then all the bottles was an absolute pain especially for how much we travel.

breastfeeding is hard

then my husband looked into my tear-streaked face and said, “if atlas needed a wheelchair to help her with her quality of life, would you let her use it?” well, of course – no brainer. he followed up with “then she may need formula to help her with her quality of life as well as yours. it’s the same thing – her little mouth can’t latch on to you and it is not your fault or her fault.”

i cried harder. i knew he was right but this small glimmer of hope kept me hanging on to breastfeeding even though it was breaking me.

breastfeeding is hard

we made a plan for me to continue to try to nurse her once or twice a day, give her breastmilk from a bottle for most of the other feedings and then a formula bottle right before bedtime. formula takes longer to digest than breastmilk so in theory, this might help her sleep slightly longer before waking up throughout the night. sidenote: newborns aren’t supposed to sleep through the night FYI.

formula. fine. i’ll give it to her (even though i felt like every other mom who would see my shake it up would be judging me). naturally i started researching which ones were better and let me tell you – queue another complete meltdown. the shit that’s in all formula is disgusting and disgruntling to read. i had to talk to many friends that used it, both supplementing or fully, to hear that they have healthy kids despite the crap. we ended up using enfamil for her and it seems to be working well.

if you are looking for other authentic stories around what worked for certain women, The Honest Company has a great piece on their blog featuring women talking about ‘honest feeding experience’ (#notsponsored). they have also started ramping up their Pinterest board full of goodness!

i exclusively pumped for atlas until she was 3 months old. i can now say that sentence with more pride than disappointment because pumping is such a pain in the ass.

not only do you have to wash all the pumping pieces (8 pieces) multiple times a day and also wash the bottles multiple times a day but each time i pumped was for 15-20 mins. then i had to keep track of how long the milk had been sitting out, when i had to be home to hook up to the electric pump. if we were at a doctor’s office, then i had to bring my hand-pump and more than once i hand-pumped while someone else was driving 65 mph down the freeway. i hand-pumped on airplanes, in bathrooms at restaurants and in the park.

hated doing this at the airport and on airplanes.

breastfeeding is hard

when we were house shopping, i bought a car adapter for my electric pump so i could go sit in the car for 20 minutes and get a better supply out. it was miserable but i did it.

breastfeeding is hard

i last pumped for her on 12/6/2016. i had enough frozen breastmilk to supplement her with two feedings a day of my milk and the rest formula for another 2 months after that.

she’s now on formula full time and i am much happier. i make it a point to kiss her forehead every time i feed her. it was the right decision for us both. it is also great because i can leave her with my husband or family for the day or even overnight without having to pump or nurse.

i do wish it had worked out for us but we literally did everything within our power and it wasn’t in our cards. now breastfeeding isn’t this miserable for everyone but the majority of women i talk with do express how hard it can be in the beginning. if you haven’t had a baby yet but plan too, i wish none of this on you but if it happens, know you aren’t alone!

it took me a long time to accept that.

through motherhood, i am being shown how vital it is for me to be healthy in order to provide the best life for my daughter. a fed baby is the goal. how she gets those nutrients, whether from my body or from a can, matters less when it’s making lives miserable. she is healthy and we are both much happier.

ladies, do what is best for you and your individual situation. gentlemen, please support your ladies through this often difficult process. fill up her water glass, bring her snacks, wash the pumping parts/bottles and tell her she is an incredible mother.

breastfeeding is hard and we are strong.

if this article spoke to you or you know someone who may be experiencing hard times with breastfeeding, please feel free to share. there is much benefit to know we aren’t alone!


  1. Jennifer Haston

    May 31, 2017 at 7:05 am

    Oh Chelsea, my heart broke for you reading this, I am so happy that you wrote this. I know somewhere someone will read it, maybe not comment but feel justified in their decisions because at the end of the day, all you can do as a Mom, is choose what works for you and YOUR family. I am proud of you, Mama! You are doing a great job, this job is hard, this job is hard, this job is hard. Having a great support system is vital and it’s still hard even with an amazing support system. I can’t IMAGINE what it would be like to do this without support. Hugs you to you, Mama!
    Jennifer Haston recently posted…Don’t cry over spilled Pepsi…

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:04 pm

      thank you jennifer for your kind words of encouragement. they are so very much appreciated. totally agree that the support system is vital and i will forever be grateful to everyone. hugs to you too!

  2. Courtney {Alkeks Abroad}

    May 31, 2017 at 7:18 am

    So many emotions reading this. Mostly I am just proud of you. Most women (myself included) wouldn’t have made it that long exclusively pumping. I honestly think that is the most difficult. I spent so much time at the beginning of Leighton’s obsessing over milk supply and pumping and why my body couldn’t do what it was supposed to. Finally, I realised that a happy mom is more important to leightons well being than wether she has 2 or 3 or 4 bottles of formula.

    I wish that I could have breastfed her exclusively but obviously that was not in the cards for us. And honestly mixed feeding worked for us and I like that I can leave her with someone else or if we’re out I can give her a bottle. I am down to only nursing once a day and I know our journey is literally days from being over. Was it the way I pictured it? No, it was 100 times harder. But I am so proud of both of us for doing what was best for our little girls! Thanks for sharing your story. I’m sure it’s made someone hooked up to a breast pump or crying over latches or milk supply feel less alone.
    Courtney {Alkeks Abroad} recently posted…A Day in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      thank you courtney. i appreciate you sharing with me too about your journey. this shiz is haaard. pumping is totally rough. i sat for countless hours alone in my room doing it. you are so very right that happy mom is so very important! glad you realized that earlier on!

      i feel you on that 100x harder but i am glad you have been able to! i bet that will be plages once she stops but we are doing this and raising happy and healthy little girls!

  3. Elyse @ Just Murrayed

    May 31, 2017 at 7:57 am

    You are an amazingly strong woman, Chelsea! I hope everyday that mom guilt goes away because you’re a rockstar! Lots of babies grow up to be fine human beings without health problems even on formula. You can only choose what’s right for you and for your baby! As always, thanks for telling your story.
    Elyse @ Just Murrayed recently posted…Marriage Resources I’m Loving Lately

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      thank you elyse! my mom guilt does get better each day so thank you for hoping that too <3! motherhood is sure a trip.

  4. Audrey

    May 31, 2017 at 8:10 am

    Chelsea! I think it is SO important that you wrote this and shared this. I think that breast feeding vs. formula feeding is such a HUGE (and widely judged) topic in the realm of motherhood. There are so many people who struggle with feeding their babies and not nearly enough support or advice or resources for them. What a great post!
    My best friend’s babies both had lip and tongue ties that needed cut. I had no idea that was a thing until Elliot and Tobin did it. And I know it helped immensely with nursing for her.
    Audrey recently posted…You Drive Me Crazy

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:13 pm

      thank you audrey! i remember when you shared that your best friend dealt with the ties and it helped her sooo much! it definitely helped us some but not enough.

      right you are about formula feeding being a huge and widely judged topic. i am guilty of quietly having some of those judgy thoughts previously.

  5. LaMesha

    May 31, 2017 at 8:20 am

    Hello! Congratulations again on your new baby. Holy hell you did A LOT of work to feed her those first few months. I had no idea that babies could go to the dentist and to chiropractors. Wow. Breastfeeding is totally hard and I’m on my third kid. One breastfed for three years, one we struggled with and supplemented with formula and one does some nursing and probably 75% formula. Each of them was different. One bites a lot (he’s one) and I’m kinda over it to be perfectly honest. Thank you for writing this and telling your story. No judgement here. You’re a great mom and your baby is growing and healthy and you grew a baby and that is major. Also aren’t those night time bottles the best? That tiny little bit of extra sleep is glorious.

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:15 pm

      thank you LaMesha! it really was a lot of work (like too much dammit).

      thanks for sharing your story too about how different it was for each of your children (congratulations to you too)!

      i think you’re allowed to be over it too. happy mom is so important, i am finding. no judgement here either 🙂

      oh once she slept for her first 4.5 hour stint, i felt like i could take on the world (at least for 1 hour) hah

  6. Rose S.

    May 31, 2017 at 9:06 am

    Wow. Very tough stuff. I commend your strength and love for Atlas. You are one tough lady. I am learning so much from you. I will never be a mother but I want to understand all the ways women mother and raise children. Thank you for sharing.

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:17 pm

      thank you rose, your kind words go quite far so thank you! thank you also for seeking out different ways women mother and raise children. i love that! i am doing that too. thank you for your comment!

  7. Amberly

    May 31, 2017 at 11:04 am

    LOVED this!!! pumping and breastfeeding came so much easier this time around, which is funny because Emmy was early, and I last 7 months?? 5 months?? I honestly can’t remember. After I went back to work, it got so difficult. It was so frustrating to me that my body that was pumping out milk like a champ during the three most stressful, chaotic weeks of our lives, was all of the sudden producing half of what my baby needed a day and my freezer supply was slowly diminishing. (I later realized that it was because of the crappy quality of the pump that I used for a month after bringing Emmy home and returning my hospital grade. We upgraded to that same Spectra, but it was too late.) So many moms say how much they love breastfeeding and how easy it is to feed their child, but while I am so grateful for the time that I was able to breastfeed, I haven’t regretted quitting one bit and formula feeding my baby is so much easier for me.
    Amberly recently posted…Date Your Mate Month is Coming to an End, but You Shouldn’t Stop Dating

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      thank you amberly! i am so glad to hear it was easier with emmy! yay!

      so sorry you had a crappy pump – no good at all! how frustrating.

      i think that was what was hardest for me too – what so many women say about breastfeeding being so wonderful and bonding. i wanted that so bad.

      so happy to hear YOU are happy with your decision too! that makes me happy 🙂

  8. Penny

    May 31, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Chelsea you are an amazing mother. Ryan you are an amazing husband. You both are great parents. I really enjoyed reading all this about your nursing issues. I am so sorry it was so difficult. I am happy it has all worked out.

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      thank you for saying that, penny. ryan truly is an amazing partner through it all. i am also happy we are allll happier with the situation now 🙂

  9. chelsea jacobs

    June 1, 2017 at 8:07 am

    YES. We had very similar experiences. I love what Ryan said to you with the wheelchair analogy.
    chelsea jacobs recently posted…Spending June: A To-Do List for Adventuring Through the Month.

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:23 pm

      ugh i’m sorry you had a similar experience (but it does help to know we aren’t the only ones).

      the wheelchair analogy is what turned the corner for me. it was very helpful reframe it

  10. Montana mama

    June 2, 2017 at 9:09 am

    Wow. I’m enamored at how similar our experiences are. We just found out about lip and tongue tie at 8 months and are now having to travel to a specialist to have it remedied. I’m still torn about doing it. We’ve had so many challenges with breastfeeding also. Did the revision seem to help Atlas?

    I’m considering buying the pump you rave about. How does health insurance cover it? Do you just buy it online and use your health insurance number somehow?

    I love how honest you are with your story, thanks for sharing. I am also a writer and admire your style. I hope to be brace enough to share mine someday also.

    • chelsea

      June 2, 2017 at 9:33 pm

      thank you for sharing that you have had a very similar too. i am sorry you just found out about the tongue tie at 8 months – that’s a long time for not great nursing! you are amazing!!

      the release did help her open her mouth bigger and even latch onto the bottle better. i know multiple people that have had those done for their kids and it has made a complete world of difference. also see audrey’s comment above about it helping her BFF’s kids a ton.

      our dentist also said it can potentially impair speech down the road. hopefully the specialist will be able to tell you more about your little one’s situation.

      for the pump- call your insurance company (unless the current administration already messed that up too). they will give you a list or website of pumps they cover! not all cover spectra S2 and if mine didn’t, i would have gone Medela.

      i am looking forward to reading your stories and writings in the near future (you should too share!)

  11. Lauren

    June 3, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I had a very similar experience in a lot of ways. It’s so important for us to share stories like this so that it’s not just the “highlight reel” that is seen, so thank you! That damn pump – I hated it in the hospital, in the car, in public bathrooms, at friend’s houses, and in the dark dusty pump room at work. But dang, we are badass mamas. And thank goodness for frozen stashes in the end. 🙂

  12. Suzanne

    June 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    After Charlie came 5 weeks early because of my eclampsia (which lead to congestive heart failure), he went straight to formula but the hospital encouraged me to pump and dump in case he could nurse after I went off the heart medication. To be honest, I was fighting for my life and in retrospect, it seems really insane that I was pressured to add one more thing to a very stressful time which continued after I was released from the cardiac unit. I suppose the good news is that he returned to nursing three weeks later (perhaps a preemie thing) but I feel like there is undue pressure and judgment on women who choose not to or can’t breastfeed. I learned a lot during that second birth–the sideways glances from women when I pulled out formula in the Nordstrom ladies room. It was a good lesson for me that we should never judge another woman’s choices–whether it comes to at-home vs. hospital births, vaginal vs. C-sections, breastfeeding vs. formula or work vs. stay-at-home. There is way too much we don’t know about another person’s journey to their decisions.

  13. Kyle heath

    June 10, 2017 at 1:01 pm

    That’s a tough journey for you all, my wife breastfed both our girls and I know it has kept them healthier, happier and more content. Breast milk is amazing stuff, bi directional, brand new everyday, it is a marvel of nature. The day Cat showed me the blue stick and we knew she was pregnant I signed an invisible contract in my mind. To do everything to make my child’s life all it can be, to know that I am not first in my life, to always love them no matter what happens. We are two years foiu months into the wild ride that is being a family. It is perhaps natures greatest gift.

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  15. Nicole

    July 6, 2017 at 8:05 am

    Oh Chelsea, thank oh for writing this. I too experienced many struggles with feeding my son. His latch as so intense it would leave milk blisters after almost every feeding, I was hardly producing enough milk to sustain him, and in order to keep producing milk I had to eat an uncomfortable amount of food (which did not alllow me to drop my baby weight very quickly). I felt so defeated. Thank you for sharing your story and please know your experience has brought a lot of comfort to at least one other mama out there!