"Why is breastfeeding so difficult? I thought it was supposed to be natural!"
How many times have I heard this from new parents? Countless trillions, really. And yes, it's a valid question. After all, it doesn't make a lot of evolutionary sense that something so basic to the survival of our species would be so fraught with challenges.
The main source of parental distress is hiding under the assumption that breastfeeding is completely instinctual and doesn't need to be taught. It ain't true! Breastfeeding is a learned skill. Even chimps and gorillas in zoos don't know how to do it if they've never seen it before, so humans have come in and nursed their babies to show the other primates what to do.
New parents can be so hard on themselves (should have done more reading, should have taken more classes, should have known the unknowable). That's when I bring in the bike analogy. It's nothing original--I heard someone else talking about it and felt it was a message worth spreading.
There are many parallels between learning to breastfeed and learning to ride a bike. Both activities can be awkward and wobbly at first. Slow. The idea of falling (literally and figuratively) is scary. Actually falling hurts a lot. There are tears. But you get back up and keep practicing and trying. You may need some extra help as you find your balance (bike: training wheels, breastfeeding: nipple shield). Eventually, though, you will find your balance. You'll go faster. And after a while, you'll take off easily, enjoying yourself and feeling free.
So new parents, take heart. There will be bumps in the road, but you'll find your balance in time. Until then, be gentle with yourselves and reach out for support.