Let’s start with this: learning to breastfeed your baby comes about as “naturally” as learning how to twerk, assuming you’re not Miley Cyrus, who just took right to it. For the rest of us, there’s an unexpected learning curve. Prior to having a baby, you may have had a vague picture in your head of a nursing mother and child: sort of a discreet, subtle, hazy portrait based on a painting. Something like this:

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It looked kind of nice. It looked serene. Most importantly, it looked really easy.

And then you have a baby. It does not look like that picture.

So, why exactly is this very natural thing so complicated for so many of us? Let’s take a look at the hidden challenges to breastfeeding.

1. The Classes

Throughout history, women learned to breastfeed by watching other women. But we don’t roll that way anymore, because we’re both an advanced and spectacularly backward society. We’re funny that way. Nowadays, many an expectant mother signs up for a class led by a “lactation consultant” to learn how to do this thing that primitive cavewomen could do with no professional assistance or even the internet to help them. Going to this class is kind of like going to a bad one-woman play, in the middle of the work week, when you are super pregnant and super exhausted. And hungry. Always hungry.

My class was led by a strangely animated consultant who repeatedly showcased for us, with her own adult mouth, the guppy-like sucking we could expect from our newborns. To say it was disconcerting to watch her in action is a slight understatement. I had nightmares about this grown woman nestling into my bosom for weeks before my son Nolan was born. To kick off class, she sat cross-legged on the floor, pretending to be a pioneer woman feeding her baby in a field of wheat. She was illustrating the critical point that, if we were pioneer mothers, we too would nurse our babies as not to leave them lying helpless in the fields. This lesson was confusing for its total lack of relevance to our lives.

You’re only as well prepared as your lactation consultant. And when she is busy role playing in wheat, you’re screwed.

2. Engorgement

I took “engorgement” to mean “kind of full.” Turns out it doesn’t mean that. Nobody disclosed the sheer volume of fluids I’d be dealing with. I’d expected milk to flow when the baby was nursing. I hadn’t expected milk to fly out across the shower and into the wall. I didn’t expect that if Nolan took his mouth away for even a second, milk would shoot right into his little face, blinding and drowning him. They don’t make paintings of that, so how could I know?

If you’re engorged, it means that your boobs are about to explode–veritable milk grenades waiting to launch. You may become fearful of your own giant chest. You might need to put cabbage in your bra to calm that shit down. You may get a fever. You may feel throbbing that extends all the way to your armpits. It’s awesome.

I had also not understood what people meant by “leaking.” I thought that meant a spot or two of milk on your bra. I didn’t think it meant that I’d look like I just walked out of a wet t-shirt contest as the lone competitor. If I’d known about nursing pads ahead of time, I could have saved myself a lot of laundry and public shame.

3. The Lactation Consultants

Lactation consultants are milk magicians. They can quickly get your baby to nurse, make it look like they did absolutely nothing, and then later, when you’re left to your own devices, you cannot for the life of you replicate the results. During my hospital stay I had a rotating cast of characters examine Nolan’s “latch.” Mostly, the consultations went something like this:

Me: I don’t think this is really working right.

Lactation Consultant (LC): Sure it is. Look at him go! (LC is peering VERY closely at my nipples, and grabbing at them now and again in a confusing manner)

Me: I can’t tell, but he doesn’t seem to be on there. (Note: I’m not seeing a damn thing that would make me say “Look at him go!”)

LC: Here we go, just a little to the left. There! All set. (LC lunges to grab my nipple and shoves it into Nolan’s mouth. She then quickly exits the room, leaving me completely confused as to how she secured a “latch” and how I might be able to accomplish this on my own).

I did have one amazing lactation consultant, but my interaction with her was in a state of such total exhaustion that I think I hallucinated her. She crept into my room at night, unbidden, and told me to pretend that my breast was a taco. She squeezed until its shape did in fact resemble a taco, and Nolan latched like it was the last taco on earth. It was nothing short of spectacular. Now someone was finally speaking my language. If I know one thing, it’s Mexican food.

4. The Public Display

This is a tricky one. For the first two weeks of Nolan’s life I was never NOT topless. I was often nursing him in front of large windows with no shades, not because I was feeling proud and free, I just simply could not get my shit together to be more discreet. Wearing a shirt added a layer of complexity to the nursing equation I just couldn’t deal with. And who had time to buy shades? Being on public display as a newly nursing mother was not something I had considered, and as a lifetime non-nudist it was a jarring adjustment.

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Caption: Please note that I am completely topless in this photo. Yes, I am wearing a cover, but I am now aware that I was still supposed to be wearing a shirt.

5. Pumping

Listen. If you’re already going through the exhausting process of nursing a baby around the clock, the last thing you want to do is feed a machine on your off-time. It’s just ridiculous. The “pumping tote” does NOT look like a briefcase, I don’t care what they tell you. And yeah, you can buy special bras, because lord knows these look awesome and convenient:


6. The Kicking, Flailing Infant

This one may be specific to my baby. Nolan is a total wild animal on the breast. He flails, he gulps, he swings his arms and legs wildly. And he grunts a LOT. When he was younger he also regularly took huge shits while he was nursing, even though I repeatedly asked him not to. He took no social cues from the quietly nursing babies around him at mom groups. It’s like he didn’t even care. I’m not sure how common this is, but if you have a Nolan on your hands you know what I’m talking about. It’s like someone dressed a starving raccoon up as a baby, gave it an upper, and then let it sneak onto your lap at mealtime.

7. Teeth

Baby teeth are sneaky bastards, lurking underneath those adorable gums, ready to clamp down on your nipples like a piranha. You aren’t supposed to yell out in pain when your baby bites, because he will either think it’s funny, or get so scared that he quits nursing altogether. Instead you’re supposed to calmly stop the nursing session, or push his face into your bosom to encourage a release. This is not easy when your nipple is in a vice. You do NOT want to pull the baby off of you, because your nipple is likely to come right off your body. (Note: That last statement is not medically verifiable). Although nursing is supposed to calming, if you’re a thrill seeker you may find it exciting to introduce this element of fear into the equation.

8. The Dreaded Duo: Mastitis & Thrush

Ok, I did not (luckily) have either mastitis or thrush. I’ve never heard them called “The Dreaded Duo.” I don’t actually think that one has anything to do with the other. But I know they suck and I expect that some readers will have experience with them, and can speak to this point.


Caption: My sister took this photo of Nolan and me working on my blog. It’s nice how my boobs are so prominent here. I’ve never had any boobs to speak of, and now I can’t control them at all. Thanks, breastfeeding!

What challenges have you had with breastfeeding? Has it been harder or easier than you thought it would be? If you’re bottle feeding, what challenges are you having with that?

Written by Liz
Blogger at A Mothership Down
You can also find her on Facebook and on Twitter.


Liz spent much of the past decade as a social worker and photographer, earning very little money but having the opportunity to travel widely and meet many interesting people, including a drunk Canadian who cut her a mullet on a dare. Now a full-time mom and blogger, Liz is continuing her quest to make no money and spending her days wondering why her son so closely resembles a ham. While many, many people call her Mother Earth, she finds that cumbersome. Please just call her Liz. Liz blogs about the joy and ridiculousness that is motherhood at A Mothership Down. Her work has also been featured on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and Mamapedia, among others.


  1. “You’re only as well prepared as your lactation consultant. And when she is busy role playing in wheat, you’re screwed.”
    BAHAHHA! I was SO lucky and had not a worry in the world breastfeeding and then pumping. And it gave me luscious full A + cups. Ah, I miss them so.

    • Oh man, I would roll in wheat all day if I could lose these boobs. They are way too much for me. I’d like to go back to being mistaken for a pre-pubescent boy.

  2. All I can say is: hugest boobs ever. I don’t know how I hauled them around (and seeing as how I was a full D before, shit got REAL). I pretty much heard about all of this stuff, but until you actually have to do it, no amount of reading or preparation does any good. Wild shit. After my little Hoover blissfully nursed for about 8 weeks, she suddenly got all squirrelly and screamy to the point where I was crying and screaming with her. One of my friends was like, “ya, that happens, you have to push through it”. Whaaaaa? So there’s my nugget: push through the screaming and fussing. Easy right? Fuuuuuuuuck.
    PS: mastitis sucks. Feels like the flu except you still have to look after a little twerp and breastfeed it constantly to get rid of the mastitis. Awesome, only had it three times. …..my poor hooters.

  3. Liz great post. You’ll remember several bridesmaids pumping at my bachelorette in between wineries- definitely dedication to breastfeeding (or drinking depending on how you look at it)
    And I haven’t had mastitis but I’ve diagnosed it and it definitely does not look pleasant, especially for the moms who need to feed through it!

    • Meegan, I took that as a dedication to drinking, which as we all know is significantly more important than a dedication to breastfeeding. Kidding! Sort of kidding.

  4. I remember being in the hospital (who can forget) and asking every single nurse and lactation consultant to help me get my baby “latched”. The problem is, every single person who comes in shows you a new way and gives different (and sometimes conflicting) pointers. It’s weird when you hit the call button and the person who answers says “Yes?” and you have to tell them you can’t get the baby onto your boob, could someone come help.
    Eventually my husband suggested.. “Why don’t you try to do it yourself?”… likely the cause of my cracked nipples by the time we were discharged!

    • Yes, the conflicting advice is hard. I had a lot of that. It wasn’t until the taco demo was introduced that I really “got” it. I don’t know babies, but I do know tacos.

  5. Towards the end of our breastfeeding experience. Charlie was like a little alligator doing death rolls.

    • Ha! I love it. I’ve never pictured Nolan as an alligator but it’s not a hard leap for me, mentally.

  6. Liz's Little Sister Reply

    Liz was definitely uncomfortably topless for a FULL two weeks post birth – no judgement. I’m just happy she didn’t take her pants off too – you know, for good measure. Nowadays she whips her nipples out left & right (pun intended) and no one is any the wiser. #GotStealthNipples?

    • I believe my sister was concerned about the pants because I once took off my pants inappropriately for a facial, after clearly being asked not to. Sometimes I just like to be pants-less.

  7. Fabulous! Laughed throughout and made me SO GLAD that I am a Dad and not a MOM! Looking forward to Father’s day more than ever.

    MOM’s are the toughest sob’s in the world (at least their job is) and while I pretty much knew that already, this confirms it.

    God Bless MOM’s!

  8. Jessica Phinney Reply

    This was so funny and sooo true! You’re a great Mama! Love you’re blog! 🙂

  9. Jessica Phinney Reply

    ~~~~ Love your blog! Ahhh motherhood… No sleep = terrible grammar.

    • Thanks Jessica! Sleep deprivation excuses many things, grammatical errors being the least of it 🙂

  10. My little one has this nasty habit of biting down REAL hard when she’s about to drift off to sleep just when she’s finished feeding. In this moment I have no cares for frightening her, I SCREAM AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS AND STARE AT HER STRAIGHT IN HER FACE, she stares back for a moment…

    Then she giggles like it’s the most hilarious and entertaining thing she’s ever seen.

    • I like your intensity Angie. I was scared just reading all of those capital letters. Too bad your baby can’t read yet, if she could she’d know that you are NO JOKE and that you MEAN BUSINESS!!

  11. Seconded, mastitis sucks to hell. There was a three-week period when, every time my son would latch on to my left breast, I would yell variations of, “Fuck, why are you doing this to me?!?” Not something you ever envision yourself screaming at your newborn.

    Hilarious post!

    • Kirsten, they should start making lullabies a little edgier, so that when moms need to let our some hardcore language they can at least set it to child-friendly music. A nice harpsichord melody really softens an F-bomb, I find.

  12. Henry was also a grunter. He sounded like a wild boar when he was on the boob. He would push at them and kick me in the guts.

    And I was a reasonable size B before pregnancy and went up to DD. They have never fully recovered. I am now a solid C. You’d think that was a perk, but that’s for graceful ladies. Someone who lived their whole life sans boobies, has no idea how to carry themselves with them. They bump into and I just can’t figure out when shirts are flattering or too much, cuz I sometimes still think I’m boobless. Oh the trials of a woman!

  13. Rebecca Navarro-Vorrias Reply

    Breast feeding was a nightmare!!! I have always had big boobs so I guess I figured I’d have no problem at all -I’ll just stick him on there and he’ll get right to it…umm, yea. I wasn’t producing very much milk so I was pumping like every hour and because my boobs were so big I kept getting paranoid hat I was suffocating him to death.

    My husband says the best part of the entire breatsfeeding experience was the nursing bras (the ones with the holes for your nipples)….yeah, he thinks they are the equivalency of crotchless panties :p

    • Oh yeah, those bras are EXACTLY like crotchless panties! Both are sexy AND efficient. Like Subarus.

  14. Very funny and informative post. If I have children in my next life, I will surely benefit from your experience in this area. I think I would have made one hell of a wet nurse, back in the day. I would have been very much in demand during the Renaissance period, with their love of women with generous bellies and even more generous thighs. I might be wrong, but it feels less socially acceptable these days, in the U.S. anyway. I was a bit confused by the stuffing cabbage into one’s nursing bra reference. Surely in households with older children, you have now given them license to hide the unwanted vegetables on their dinner plate, to pave the way for dessert. That one helpful LC should get her own show, “The Milk Whisperer.” And my last random thought is I bet the mothers reading your post will have the same reaction (anger), that the model donning the pumping bra has never ever been a mother.

    • Ahh, the cabbage. It’s a little trick to relieve engorgement. I prefer other foodstuffs in general, like parmesan cheese and buffalo wings, but only cabbage is recommended for your boobs. Damn you leafy greens, always finding ways to be “healthy” in our diets, and now in our bosoms as well. It’s too much.

  15. Another fun factoid: If you are lactating and anywhere out in public and a baby starts crying, you will spontaneously secret milk! Wish I had known that one.

    • Yes! This is a weird one. Some moms also have this issue when their boobs “hear” other sounds, like vacuum cleaners. Which, come to think of it, is a really good reason to avoid housework while lactating.

  16. Courtney Preneta Reply

    Still laughing about the field of wheat. A follow up to this post should be pumping at work…

    • For awhile I was pumping in my office (at a high school)! Yeah, that’s not awkward or stressful at all. I’d be taking all of my pumping artifacts, still covered in milk, down the hall to the staff lounge to clean them up, and en route I’d talk to like 10 kids who were unaware of my cargo.

  17. OMG, the pioneer woman in a field of wheat. I still can’t get that awful image out of my head! I knew my breastfeeding success was doomed from the moment I took that class!

    • Yeah, it was a very odd choice, theatrically. It didn’t really “speak” to me the way I think she was hoping, but it’s possible that there were some history buffs in the crowd that appreciated her approach more so.

  18. One thing that surprised me about breastfeeding is that when you nurse on one side milk comes out of the other side! That’s probably great if you have twins but otherwise just makes a big mess!

    Once I was confidently breastfeeding my baby while chatting with a male neighbor. I was so confident that I went cover-less. I also incorrectly thought I no longer needed nursing pads. While I was the middle of talking to this near – stranger I started leaking hard core on the other side. I ended up with an oblong wet spot the size of Shaquille O’Neal ‘s shoe. My neighbor, though, never broke eye contact. The mark of a true gentleman!

    • Chrissie that guy must have an amazing game face, or possibly zero awareness of his surroundings. Either way, God bless him.

    • Engorgement really got me. I had no idea. NO IDEA! WTF moms, why does nobody discuss this?? Maybe they do and I just didn’t hear them because I was busy not breastfeeding.

  19. AMAZING! This is exactly what all moms and moms to be need to hear. You should not feel like a failure, apparently nursing is not like sneezing or hiccuping and does not come naturally. You would think that your new baby wants to live and feed itself but it seems they don’t. Number seven reminds me of a horrific story that my friend told me of her baby actually biting her nipple off. It had to be surgically attached…. yikkes!!

    • So true, I’ve never thought of that! One WOULD think that babies would want to live and feed themselves, yet they resist. We are a strange species. Between the nonsense babies pull and the obsession people have with the Kardashians it’s a real wonder we continue to advance as a life form.

  20. This was hilarious! My youngest just turned four and it’s been a while, but your blog brings back memories! Particularly the part about milk shooting out like a fountain! We needed tarps on the couch and my poor babies would cough and sputter and be blinded by the deluge. I had (have) no boobs except when nursing. Sadly I am left with nothing (no really, nothing) after 2 kids. Oh well, I now see why my mom always chose padded bras!
    And the taco reference? I had tears. What is it with the taco?! The LCs at Beverly loved the taco. Thanks for the laughs and good memories 🙂

    • Also, there was thrush. For 8 weeks. It felt like my boobs were filled with glass shards every time I nursed my baby. Not fun. But I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything 🙂

  21. Leslieknope Reply

    Hahaha loved this! And it’s so true BF is such a foreign concept these days no wonder women struggle. We don’t really see it much anymore. But My baby loves to flail, twist, turn, kick, and even slap my breasts during feedings. Oh and Turn his head to expose my nipple when we are in public! And lately he loves to bite! But I absolutely love breastfeeding, I had one really good lactation consultant and after a quick session with her the kid has been attached to my boobs!

    • The turning of the head in public while nursing keeps getting me! I have myself looking *reasonably modest* and then Nolan flails away from me leaving me totally exposed. He does it again and again in the course of one nursing session, until I might as well just take all my clothes off and call it a day.

  22. I was so overwhelmed after having my baby that I was barely listening to the consultants in the hospital. After 4 topless, painful, horrible days at home with cracked nipples and mungo jugs, I finally went back to the LC. From what I could gather, she had just finished up a tunafish sandwhich as my visit was peppered with fishy belches and the throat gurgles of mayo digestion. All in all, a memorable start!

  23. Hilarious! I had a few ridiculous leaking episodes with my first. Tragic at the time, but funny now 🙂

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  25. So much truth here! I think we just don’t listen when we are not pregnant or nursing… When a friend tells you these things, and you can’t relate, it’s like she’s Charlie Brown’s teacher talking to you. While I was not topless for the first two weeks of nursing my first child, I certainly whipped out my then double D’s in front of anyone in the room. Anyone, really, even including my father-in-law. Mom fog is an amazing thing. You’re like the honey badger, you just don’t give a shit.

    • And I totally had one of those pumping contraption bras! Mine was not nearly as fancy, no polka dots or anything cute. And, wow, I did not look like that in it either. It was a lifesaver, though. Very useful for pumping in the car and other crazy venues, like public restrooms. I sure don’t miss those days!

  26. My hidden challenge for breastfeeding was the dreaded tongue tie. For some reason, no doc or dentist in my area would clip it. By 3 week he hadn’t regained his birth weight, so I found myself pumping after each nursing session (every two hours!), but only if I could find someone to hold my baby, who would scream if not touching a human being every second of the day (this included sleeping times). The few ounces I could pump after nursing felt like nothing, but I gave him every drop I could wrangle out of my breasts. I have VERY few memories of the first six weeks of his life, but around week 4 or 5 we found a midwife who would clip his TT, and after working on his latch for two painful weeks, we finally hit our groove. He just weaned @ 15 months. Can’t believe we made it that long. I’ll miss being able to squirt milk at my husband from across the room.

    • I’ve heard of this tongue tie situation! Luckily we missed that one. Speaking of missing things, I too will miss shooting my milk around like I’m using a squirt gun once we are done nursing. Special memories I’m making now though.

  27. I remember while my building was under construction I was forced to pump in a bathroom, behind a shower curtain. There were many “uncomfortable” moments but my favorite was when an old clueless coworker would come in and ask repeatedly what that noise was…I think people explained it over and over and she still never understood what was happening, and she was a health teacher!!

  28. Another great one, Liz! C started clusterfeeding when he was a day old – I didn’t even know they could DO that so young. Then I spent Christmas with a screaming 5 week old and a raging case of mastitis. Fortunately things got a lot easier around 8 weeks old and I’m holding out hope that he’ll remain toothless forever. Or at least until he weans. A girl can hope, right?

    • He can totally remain toothless. Just don’t give him a ton of extra nutrients, and then enroll him in youth hockey.

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  30. Jennifer Brown Reply

    The dreaded duo is real and can occur simultaneously and yes, nursing my 8 month old is like wrestling a greased pig contortionist hybrid with talons.

  31. “4. The Public Display”

    My mother-in-law ALWAYS WANTED TO WATCH ME BREASTFEED. Please explain this to me. She would actually get marginally offended if I left the room to deal with my boob food, even if it was just to pump and I sort of felt ridiculous hooked up to what was essentially a milking machine.

    • Sarah, I missed your comment earlier for some reason, but damn! I wish I could explain why your mother-in-law wanted to watch you breastfeed! Perhaps your form was just so good she felt inspired by it. I can’t really imagine anyone wanting to watch someone pump, but I don’t know your MIL and so the depths of her psyche are unavailable for me to analyze….what a shame.

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  33. I first read this post back when I was 8 month pregnant. Now re-reading it after nursing for 6 weeks I really GET it! Especially #6. Squirmy, noisy, pooping infant. I like to change my daughters diaper before nursing so that we’re all comfortable when she inevitably falls asleep. Then 2 minutes later she promptly fills her pants.
    Also, how come nobody tells you that a lot of women struggle with pumping? I had the unfortunate experience of needing to spend 3 weeks in the hospital with a fractured hip. My husband needed to care for our daughter at home at night, but no problem, I can pump all the milk I need right? No. It doesn’t work like that. So formula was required which lead to another whole set of breastfeeding problems…

  34. loved this!!! My baby started in the NICU and so the pump and the lovely pump bra went every where with me! After being fed a bottle for the first 18 days of her life (in NICU) breastfeeding was soooo challenging! But we finally got in our grove around three months. She is 6 months now and last week two teeth made their appearance… Needless to say, she’s trying to create a new groove with those teeth 😐

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