In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I felt compelled to share my journey with breastfeeding. I want to start by saying that whether you never nurse at all, you nurse for one week, six months, or six years, I (nor should anyone else) would never judge you for your decisions. I do, however, think that the more stories that we share with one another, the more camaraderie we will have as women and mothers – and that can be a truly amazing thing.
My breastfeeding journey
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I truly do not remember thinking much about nursing. My only real memory was when my Bradley Class teacher told me that nursing mothers burned 500 calories a day simply by nursing. I was SOLD!! I’m not sure how accurate this number is, but it definitely made nursing appealing to me.
Maybe I didn’t think about nursing that much because I was never really exposed to it. I do not remember my mother nursing my sisters, and I don’t remember any family members or friends nursing their babies. Up until I was actually pregnant, I guess I was just completely oblivious to nursing overall.
Once my beautiful daughter was born, I started nursing in the hospital. The lactation consultant said she had a great latch and I was so relieved. I don’t remember it being painful at that point, either. All seemed well.
And then came the pain
When we got home from the hospital things became a little different. I’m not sure if it was medicine wearing off, or the realization of becoming a mom really started hitting me. Nursing started to hurt. Badly. I remember having to mentally prepare myself to nurse. “Take a deep breath. 1, 2, 3, go!” I asked my sister-in-law how long it took her friend who just had a baby to have pain-free nursing. She replied, “two weeks.” That seemed like an eternity to me. I didn’t know how I was going to get through it.
They say you can’t remember (or re-experience) a specific pain, but I remember very clearly the pinching and how sore I was. I mean, this baby had quite the suck! She was being fed, she was happy and healthy, so I kept on.
One day the pain just went away. It was when my daughter was five weeks old. I know that sounds like forever, and it felt like it at the time. I wouldn’t change it for anything though, and here’s why:
- Once I got through the transition of learning to nurse and the pain went away, nursing became second nature. I could nurse in almost any position, it could be quite laughable at times.
- Supplementing formula was a thought that never, ever crossed my mind. Even through all of the pain, it just didn’t even come into my head. It was like my maternal instinct just kept me determined enough to get through it and feed my baby. The pain didn’t even amount to the necessity that my daughter needed me to nurse her.
- At her newborn photo shoot, I asked my photographer if she had to go through this learning curve of nursing again with her 2nd and 3rd babies. She said “nope!” What a relief! And you know what? With my son, I didn’t have a learning curve at all. He started nursing immediately and there was zero pain for me. It was as though I had never stopped nursing.
- I’m sure you’ve heard that breast = best. I do not think this was a saying created to make anyone feel bad about using formula. I think it’s just a reminder that formula was created to mimic breast milk. So, of course, the original is going to be ideal because it is made naturally.
- If I would have stopped nursing, I would have missed out on sixteen wonderful months of nursing my daughter, and twenty-four incredible months nursing my son. This is something I miss most about having a little one. The ability to calm your child in a way that no one else can is priceless. You are giving your baby this truly incredible source of nutrition. I felt an amazing bond with both of my children through my nursing experience and my wish is that every mother can as well.
Things I would have done differently
Nursing can be hard. I now know that it shouldn’t have been as painful as it was for me. There is obviously a learning curve with breastfeeding, but it just didn’t occur to me to get help. I didn’t know who to ask. If I were to go back, these are things I probably would have done differently:
- To help when becoming engorged, I probably would have pumped a little to alleviate that pain.
- La Leche League. I didn’t even know that this awesome organization existed! This organization was created solely to educate, support, and encourage nursing mothers. I wish I would have gone to a meeting so they could tell me if I was nursing correctly, if I could have done anything differently, etc. I don’t know about you, but becoming a mother was much more of a transition than I had anticipated. Having a group of women to support me would have be invaluable. The La Leche League of Charleston is incredible, check it out here.
- Ask others moms! I felt like I should have known everything about being a mom the instant my child was born. Well, that’s ridiculous. There is so much to know and to learn; no new mother should be scared to ask for help. Let me reassure you of this: we’ve all been through being a new mom. If you ask another mom for help, she’s going to understand what you are going through and support you. There is no need to be miserable and scared by yourself. Ask someone for their advice, or even just to listen. I don’t know a mom who wouldn’t be happy to help you.
I mentioned before that I nursed my daughter for sixteen months. One thing that was difficult for me once I got the hang of nursing was nursing in public. I’m sure you have heard, “I wouldn’t want to eat my meals under a hot blanket, would you?” when referring to a nursing cover. This is judgmental and not supportive. Every time I nursed my daughter in public, I covered her. This is simply because I was not comfortable nursing without the cover. If you see a mom nursing with a cover, please don’t say anything rude to her. Let’s build each other up, not make them feel worse about themselves . You never know what battles that mom is fighting.
By my second child, I was no longer uncomfortable to nurse in public. This time around, I was more confident as a mother and with nursing in general. I’m sure I got curious or shocked stares, but it no longer bothered me. So if you see a mother nursing without a cover, please do not ask her to cover up. Nursing is one of the most natural things in the history of humanity. Again, let’s just support each other as mothers and women. Saying something rude can crush their soul. But saying something kind and encouraging can make their day go from bad to incredible.
I want to end this by stressing that I would never judge a mother, whether they nurse or not. This is my personal story and it will be different from yours. But I wanted to share my story because so many times you only see the shiny part of motherhood, and not the hard parts. Nursing was very hard for me in the beginning, but it is one of my proudest and happiest memories of my entire life. I would go through those five weeks over and over again to be able to have that connection with my kids and to be able to give them that nutrition.
I want to let you know that if you are having a hard time nursing and you want to switch to formula, then do it and be confident in your decision. Be proud of yourself for giving it your all and knowing that your child’s health is most important. If you are feeling forced to stop, and you don’t want to, if there is even an ounce of guilt or hope or desire to keep nursing, follow your heart and your gut. Reach out to one of the resources listed above and get the support you need. I don’t know one mother who has regretted nursing, you can totally do this!
*If you are looking for support beyond nursing, check out Postpartum Support Charleston. They are a wealth of information and offer support for mothers beyond nursing.