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  • Writer's pictureThe Knapp Clinic

Why is breast/chest feeding so hard?

Most people have been told that the early days of breast/chest feeding are hard. We are told pain is normal, breast/chest feeding babies eat non-stop around the clock, and that we will be engorged when our milk comes in.

Why do we say these things are normal? Why is it so hard?

First, remember that normal and common are not the same thing.

Photo collage of breastfeeding babies
Which baby has a good latch?

What makes breast/chest feeding hard? The same thing that makes learning to walk and talk hard. Breast/chest feeding is a complex motor task (skill) that we learn from social observation (watching) and practice. What that means is that we learn what normal breast/chest feeding looks like from seeing other people do it!

As humans, social learning is pivotal for our survival. We first learn we can walk by watching everyone around us walk. We learn to talk by watching everyone around us talk. It takes us months and years to learn how to walk and talk and that is with daily exposure and many chances to practice.

We are supposed to learn to feed our infants with our bodies by watching everyone around us feed their infants with their bodies. Breast/chest feeding is hard because we don't see it being done, especially not with newborns. The vast majority of images we see of infant feeding are dysfunctional, but we don't realize that and so we think this is what normal breast/chest feeding looks like. This leads to pain, nipple damage, low milk supply, and early weaning.

Breast/Chest feeding collage
Which baby has a good latch?

Imagine being plopped down in a country where you don't speak the native language and then you are expected to just figure it out. You are going to panic, at least a little, and then try to cram decades of passive learning into hours, days, or weeks and hope you can pick it up fast enough to find food and shelter.

That is breast/chest feeding in the United States.

There are other things that make breast/chest feeding hard too: Interventions during labor, complications from delivery, medical issues, milk supply issues, tongue tie, nipple pain, separation from your baby, etc.

If we had early and repetitive exposure to infants being fed at the breast/chest it would not be nearly as hard. Being surrounded by others who are breast/chest feeding also helps to flatten the steep learning curve. All babies are born with the reflexes that they need to latch and feed from our breasts/chests. We can do this, but we need to see it more and show it more.

You are doing a great job! If you need help reach out to The Knapp Clinic.

*Only 2 out of these 6 photos show a good latch. Do you know which ones they are?

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