Celebrating World Breastfeeding Week: August 1-7
August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week and to celebrate I will be sharing some of my thoughts and experiences on this very important subject. I am not an expert, and I deeply respect moms who can’t or won’t breastfeed. I simply want to share a little encouragement to new nursing moms and soon-to-be moms who are beginning to think about nursing. The benefits of breast milk are overwhelming and stand on their own. You can read about them here, here, and here. I am not here to debate scientific findings, mostly because I am not a scientist. However, in everything I have read about breastfeeding, and I have read a lot, the thing that speaks to me most directly is that breastfeeding moms need support. Family, care provider, and other institutional support are such meaningful factors in whether and how long a mother breastfeeds her children, I cannot help but give my three cheers of support to those who care to read along.
But first, I have to tell my own story, which honors those who have supported me in my breastfeeding relationship with Rachel. I am very fortunate and continue to have a healthy nursing relationship with my 21 month old.
It is tough to say where this story begins. Maybe it begins with fear. I don’t remember the first time I thought about breastfeeding, but for as long as I can remember, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. Partly because I knew my mom wasn’t able to breastfeed me, and partly because I had a few close friends who were not able to breastfeed their babies, and maybe because I’ve always been a little insecure or at least modest about that part of my body, I didn’t feel confident that I would be able to do it. I mentally prepared myself, imagined I wouldn’t be able to produce enough milk, then I told myself that no matter what it would be ok.
As my pregnancy progressed I became more and more convinced that breastfeeding was something I wanted to do and luckily my husband was a big proponent of breastfeeding too. We read up on the benefits of breast milk and shopped for supplies, but I didn’t really know what nursing my daughter would entail. Just like any other aspect of becoming a parent for the first time, maybe ignorance was bliss.
I ended up being induced into a very long labor that left me exhausted and very much in a fog. In fact, and I have never said this before, but I probably would not have nursed Rachel if Jim hadn’t been so amazing. Right after Rachel was born, they had to wisk her away to the NICU because she had meconium in her lungs (it’s one of those things that is kind of common, but no less scary), and it was Jim who made sure the NICU staff knew that we wanted Rachel to be breastfed and she received no artificial nipples for her first 18 hours.
Much sooner than expected, Rachel was breathing by her own strength and I asked the NICU nurse if I could try breastfeeding her. Serendipitously, the lactation consultant was doing her rounds in the NICU at the time and she was able to assist us through a very short but sweet nursing session. I will never forget how rushed the lactation consultant seemed, how mechanical (though helpful) her advice was, and how matter-of-fact the nurse’s direction to come back in a few hours was. It all rings dull in my mind and I remember thinking, it would have been so easy for none of that to have happened. It was not what I expected, but I was grateful.
The transition home seemed effortless thanks to Jim’s constant support, my sister Teri’s constant supply of water and food, and my mother-in-law Kathleen’s dedicated help around the house and deep respect for mine and Rachel’s privacy while nursing. I could not be more grateful for all of this. In those first weeks that we were home, I remember feeling waves of emotions, as new moms tend to do. When it came to nursing Rachel, I had a constant flow of questions and doubts. Why is she spitting up so much? Is she getting enough milk? Should I still be offering both breasts at each feeding? Is she getting too much milk? Why does this nipple kind of hurt? Why does it feel like one side is making more milk than the other? Should I be offering this side more or less? I spent most of my breaks between feedings researching and reading about breastfeeding, and in retrospect, no amount of advanced research could have prepared me for the specificity of my worries. In a desperate search for answers, I would sometimes ask Jim questions like these out loud, and his response was always a refreshing, I don’t know the answer. You’re doing great. Just keep doing what feels right to you.
I guess fear is a big part of my breastfeeding narrative. Fear and worry maybe. And I guess this is part of the introduction to parenting in general. But importantly, the fears I had about breastfeeding, however broad or specific, all sort of vaporized along the way and confidence took over. Once we got through the first few weeks at home, it was time to venture back out to the real world and with that came the fear of how will I do this in public? Then, I had to return to work, and I feared how will I get it all done and still pump and sleep and nurse?
As far as nursing in public goes, I have to say, do what’s comfortable for you. Jim was awesome in this regard because I was insistent that I would not retreat to a bathroom or car to nurse Rachel, no matter where we were. He fully supported and encouraged this and found us plenty of benches and arm chairs in tucked away corners of malls, restaurants, churches, and parks. He was masterful at providing us coverage when wardrobe malfunctions took over, and always made us feel inconspicuous, comfortable, and safe. It wasn’t long before I felt confident nursing in public and had a small handful of moms approach me while nursing Rachel and say that they found us inspirational. Those were very reassuring and profoundly appreciated moments.
When it comes to working and nursing, there are so many challenges that come with that…I can’t even go into it here. In another post I will talk more about some of those challenges and give a little pep talk to those who are working and nursing or anticipating working and nursing. Kudos to you in advance. Suffice it to say, I did it! I was very fortunate to have understanding and helpful co-workers and a surprisingly supportive boss. They always respected my time and my privacy, the latter of which I did not expect to matter so much to me, but it did. I appreciated having a little anonymity in my trips to the lactation room, without any obnoxious questions about where I was going, when I would be back, or how it was going in general.
Today, I still enjoy a healthy nursing relationship with Rachel, and I no longer worry if things are going ok. Nursing has kind of become part of who I am. I simply lactate, I like to say with a shrug and a smile. I don’t even know how I feel about toddler nursing, I simply do it because it still feels right. It is still something Rachel enjoys and it is a very unique bond she and I share. When we’ve finished this phase together I will be sure to reflect on and write about it too. For now, I will continue to do what feels natural, and I am thankful that I have support in that decision.
I would love to hear some of your stories too. If you’re inclined to link to your story, please do so in the comment section of this post. Happy World Breastfeeding Week!