6 Women Talk About What Breast-Feeding Is REALLY Like

Photographed by Sunny S.
This article was originally published on September 28, 2015.

Like many aspects of motherhood, breast-feeding is a fraught topic. Discussions of breast-feeding tend to focus on its health benefits to young children, the propriety of breast-feeding a child beyond infancy, and the politics of being a nursing mother — including the ability to nurse in public and pump in the workplace. Media depictions of breast-feeding tend to cast a glow over the practice; often, we see beautiful, softly lit portraits of new mothers cradling their infants as they blissfully feed. And this is certainly a part of breast-feeding. But what many of our discussions and depictions seldom address is the fact that breast-feeding can also be really fucking hard.

As a physical act, breast-feeding can present a host of difficulties, from chapped nipples to infections to clogged milk ducts. The rapid growth of breasts can cause women to grow several bra sizes, seemingly overnight — and with that growth often comes stretch marks and discomfort. While many of these physical issues resolve themselves over time, the early days of breast-feeding can be challenging. And beyond the physical discomfort, moms who want to or need to return to work while lactating often pump their breast milk several times a day — sometimes in closets that double as "lactation rooms."

We spoke to six women about the breast-feeding realities we don't often hear discussed: from bloody nipples to contracting uteruses.

Interviews have been condensed and edited.