Mastery Takes Time: Learning to Breastfeed As A First Time Mom

grayscale photography of baby holding finger

I want to note that although I have chosen to breastfeed my children I do not think formula or bottles are evil. 🙂 This post is about my own experiences and thoughts. I cannot write about what I do not know, so I write about breastfeeding. Thank you for reading!

I write this post not because I have all the answers, but because reading the experiences of other women was supremely beneficial to me, and I’d like to add my thoughts to theirs.

I hope that this brings some encouragement or insight to new mothers who feel they are struggling. I felt that way once, too.

When I was a first time mom, I discovered like all mothers before me, that the newborn period is tough.

In fact, it is probably the hardest thing I have ever been through.

One of the hardest things about those first few weeks of motherhood is that it all hits you at once!

You have to learn how to feed, clothe, change, wash, comfort, hold, and protect your new baby all at the same exact time. There is no way to master one skill before moving onto the next, and there is no manual.

The only way to figure it out is to jump in and figure it out.

To add fuel to the fire, mothers must learn how to care for their little one while recovering from a physically demanding birth, or perhaps even major surgery, all while running on extremely little sleep and high amounts of stress.


No matter how you feed your baby, it will be hard at first.

I remember those early days with my first child. They were simultaneously the most blissful and most stressful days of my life.

I had never before felt so much LOVE and concern for another creature. I imprinted on my baby like a duckling imprints on its mama. (but backwards I guess…)

But I was tired and my baby had interesting sleep patterns (until she was 3, actually!), and so I was struggling. Call me anxious and in love.

crop anonymous black mother holding hand of baby lying on bed

I remember learning how to breastfeed and sometimes wishing that I could just give up.

There were days I felt like a champion, and days I felt so discouraged and upset. Every time I had engorgement or nipple pain or milk that leaked through my clothes I felt like I was failing, even though I had successfully exclusively nursed a baby for several weeks.

Why didn’t I focus on my successes?? I don’t know… It sounds like a mom thing.

Mothers sometimes have a funny way of making their faults loom largely, while diminishing their achievements. I did that when I was learning to breastfeed.

From my vantage point almost 4 years later, I can see now that breastfeeding went mostly great for me, despite its initial challenges (I had a painfully overabundant milk supply which took months to correct).

I learned the skill, built the relationship, jumped the hurdles, and learned to manage all the new sensations and occurrences that breastfeeding introduced to me.

It was hard at first. But now, 4 years later, it is the most easy, natural thing. It has become second nature.

The major lifestyle changes I made to breastfeed, are now habitual ways of living that don’t even cross my mind any more. And nursing my second child was a breeze, since I already knew how! (She still had to learn, though!)

There were some nights I asked my husband if I could quit breastfeeding. He of course supported any decision I wished to make. For some reason, this made my resolve to learn to breastfeed even more powerful. (stubborn…)

In my rational moments, I knew that it was better for my baby’s health and development. I hoped that if I just powered through the learning phase that I would master it. I asked people for help. I read a lot of books. I cried a lot. I went to La Leche League Meetings. And eventually…. I did it.

I mastered it.

Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean you are failing. Some things just take time to learn.

Woman Babywearing

I imagine it would be easier to learn to breastfeed if us women were better at giving ourselves grace, and acknowledging the fact that we are in a period of time where failure and trial and error will predominate. That is, until we have practiced enough to finally be able to say “I can do it!”

If we had sticker charts for our motherhood successes like we did when we took piano lessons, maybe we would realize that we really were improving, no matter how bad we ‘played’ at first.

The more I think about it, the more I realize it really is the same concept as learning a language, learning to play an instrument, learning to walk, learning to drive, learning everything! Breastfeeding takes effort, time, failures, and growth.

Breastfeeding takes learning.

Can you imagine a baby who desperately wants to learn to walk? He can see his friends walking. His siblings and his parents all walk with ease! Even dogs can walk!

So why cant he walk?

Why does he keep falling?

Is it because he is a failure?

What would happen to that baby if he got so upset and frustrated at the learning-to-walk process that he just decided to stop? What if the baby’s mother told him “Its okay baby, don’t worry, you can just crawl for the rest of your life.”

That is what breastfeeding was like for me. I knew I had the ability inside me to figure it out. I knew that it was what I desperately wanted. But I had shaky legs and a wobbly center of gravity, and it took me weeks to find balance and months to finally master it.

But now, it is muscle memory. I can run now.

Breastfeeding is intimate. It is raw. It is self-sacrificing in the most loving way. It is deeply tied to our own and our baby’s emotional and physical self perception. It is natural, yes, but that doesn’t mean it comes without pain. It is instinctual, but it is not a science. It is an art. It is different for each woman, and each woman must learn it on her own. Most of all, breastfeeding is a relationship.

Mama kissing baby

Breastfeeding mothers need cheerleaders. They need to realize that challenges can be overcome, if they wish to overcome them. They need support. They need time. They need to understand that the grass isn’t always greener, even when they are in the throes of difficulty.

The newborn period is difficult no matter how you choose to feed your baby.

Even with its perks, bottle feeding doesn’t magically whisk away all of breastfeeding’s initial problems.

Think about it.

  • If you choose to feed your baby with a bottle, you will still have long, sleepless nights.
  • If you choose to feed your baby with a bottle, you may still have sore nipples from your breast pump. And you will still have a week or two of engorgement while your milk supply settles, or dries up.
  • You will still leak milk, and your baby will still “only want mama”. You will still be tired, and you will still be healing from a birth.

Yes, bottle feeding does allow the father or another caretaker to take turns with the feeding, breastfeeding obviously can only be done by the mother. To breastfeed, you will have to stay physically close to your baby, and you will be their primary source of nourishment and comfort. That will be hard.

(These two factors may be difficult for women to comprehend or manage in our fast paced world today. But with certain lifestyle changes these two “Cons” to breastfeeding can be turned into “Pros.” They have for me.)

For all feeding methods, there will be a time period of struggle and difficulty that is natural in the immediate postpartum period. Over time, in both cases, difficulties ease and the mother gains confidence and familiarity.

In the case of bottle feeding, bottles must always be prepared or pumped, held, and washed. Those facts remain.

For breastfeeding, infants must stay close to mom for most of the day, and no one else can nurse her. Those facts remain.

Realizing that both feeding methods will take time, effort, practice, and sacrifice during those first few newborn weeks, the question then needs to be asked: “Which method will be better for me and my baby in the long run?”

For me, the answer was breastfeeding.

That doesn’t mean breastfeeding came extremely easy for me, it didn’t. It does for some women. It just means that I realized that yes, breastfeeding is hard. But it isn’t necessarily breastfeeding’s fault.

All of motherhood is hard, especially the newborn period.

(But of course breastfeeding has its own special challenges. I know, I’ve experienced them!)

Hard things beget wonderful things.

mama nursing toddler

In all troubling times in motherhood, I turn to the savior and hear His words: “take this cup from me”, echo in my own mind.

I wish I could quit.”

But I know I can’t quit. And yes, this IS what I signed up for!

Ultimately, I hope that through all of motherhood’s trials, I learn in some infinitely small way to be like the Savior, that is, doing what I know and feel is best for my children and myself as a mother even when it is extremely difficult.

I think that’s what all good mothers do. And the answer to the question “what should I do?” will be different for each mother. Each woman needs different things to support her journey to becoming a good mom.

That is the reason I chose to breastfeed.

Because I wanted it terribly, so much that it made me cry every day. And because I knew that it would ultimately make me a better mother.

The point I am trying to make through all this rambling is that mastery takes time. Time passes, and mastery can come! But you will have to endure.

Motherhood is not easy. And often, you don’t realize how hard it really is until you actually do it!

But hard things are almost always so worth it in the end.

Those early weeks of motherhood seemed so looming and long to me, like they would never end. They also brought joy I never knew I had. But now I recall them fondly. Now, I look at breastfeeding like an investment that I made. It was painful and difficult to learn the new skill, but I did, and once I did a weight was lifted off my shoulders.

In summary, I want to say have hope. Give yourself grace. Think positively. Take time. Slow down. Practice. And realize:

The newborn period is hard no matter how you feed your baby.

And the newborn period is hard no matter where your baby sleeps.

Why is it hard?

Because its not only the newborn period. Its the new-mama period, too.

new mother yellow shirt

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