Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Jessica Halley, Julia Watkins, Samantha Griffiths, Hayley O’Dell, Arabella Smith
Five mothers each share five things discovered by breastfeeding.
Jessica Halley, Oklahoma City, OK, USA
Before I became pregnant I didn’t know anyone who had ever nursed their baby, or at least I had yet to see them do it. One of my only goals upon my first child’s arrival was to listen, to him and to myself. When I welcomed him into my arms, I was ready to accept that whatever he had to teach me, I would be willing to learn. Here are five things that mothering through breastfeeding has taught me.
- No one knows my baby better than I do.
I learned to anticipate my baby’s needs through breastfeeding and gained confidence in my mothering abilities. I learned when he wanted to be close to me, he would root at my breast or snuggle in close. I knew when he wanted to stop eating, he would unlatch himself and rest his sweet little face on my chest. By keeping my baby close to me throughout the day and night, I was given the chance to know his every cue, sound, and movement like no one else could.
- I can breastfeed and stay active.
In the beginning breastfeeding took time learning the new dynamics of our relationship. Once we got things worked out and I was feeling more comfortable, we got out of the house more often. I gained confidence in nursing in public view and I took my baby many places. We could pack light! We visited the zoo, museums, parks, family and friends, and, of course, La Leche League meetings, where I made many supportive friends. I never had to pack a bottle, worry about keeping my milk at the proper temperature, or have to clean up after we were done.
- It’s okay to take a break.
In the early postpartum period I would tire easily, even while at home. Nursing my baby taught me that it is okay to take a break. Having a carrier or sling and nursing on the go can be great, but just as powerful for me was slowing down and giving my body a needed (and deserved!) break. When I learned to balance the ‘going’ and ‘resting,’ I found I could enjoy life’s journey with my little one along too!
- My sleep can be maximized.
In the early weeks when learning the new rhythm and workings of breastfeeding, I did find myself waking often through the night. I had to sit up and turn on a light to see exactly what we were doing. As our mechanics improved and we started to get the hang of the steps to this new dance we were learning, I was able to figure out how to nurse while lying down. This was a huge game changer for me. I could sleep all night with minimal waking, no more than the interruption to sleep I experienced needing to use the bathroom while pregnant! In fact, I didn’t even have to sit up except to get my baby, if he was in his bassinet that we kept near the bed. I would nurse him on one breast and when he’d done and wanted more, I could hug him to my chest and roll to the other side.
- Knowledge is power.
I learned that after working over the bumpy parts of newborn life with my son that I not only had the knowledge to nurse my baby but that what I had learned could be passed on to other new moms. Before nursing my baby I didn’t know any other breastfeeding mothers. I didn’t have a support network in which to share my ups and downs. I found a ‘home’ filled with support, locally in my La Leche League groups. There I could learn more about what was to come, as well as share what I had learned myself. I know now that my experiences are powerful and that by sharing them they reach way beyond my own family. I inherently knew more than I ever imagined was possible about my baby, and that I could encourage other moms to realize they too are capable of being the best mothers that their babies could ever need.
Jessica will receive a free copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
Julia Watkins, Lafayette, Indiana, USA
- I’ve discovered that breastfeeding is way more than just satisfying a baby’s hunger. It’s how my son connects with me. Suckling away, he feels safe and secure in my arms. That is how he feels loved.
- My breast milk changes depending on what my baby needs. If he’s fighting off a cold or he’s extremely hot … whatever he needs, my body changes the milk to meet the need. I think that’s amazing!
- It is all about supply and demand. I go by his demands for my body to know how much milk it needs to supply. Going through his growth spurts, my body will up my supply to meet his demand! Don’t let others teach you to watch the clock … watch your little one; he knows best!
- Breastfeeding has taught me to listen to my baby. He can tell me how much he wants and from which breast for any particular feeding.
- My baby is just four months old but already I have learned that breastfeeding is beneficial even beyond the first year! I hope I can carry on our breastfeeding journey until my little one no longer needs to nurse.
Samantha Griffiths, St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
I gave birth to my son last year when I was 19 years old. I am still surprised at my determination to breastfeed, as I had no idea what it was really like to have a baby. I read lots and attended prenatal classes. But nothing prepared me for the actual experience of breastfeeding.
It wasn’t until day two, when my milk came in and I started coming down from cloud nine, that breastfeeding became freaking painful. I would cringe every time my baby cried and wanted to latch on. “That’s normal,” the nurses said. Normal? I was envious of formula-feeding mothers, but I couldn’t give up this early. In those first few days I learned that although natural, breastfeeding was not turning out to be easy.
The first growth spurt at week five certainly didn’t help my still-burning nipples. I sought help from emergency room doctors, my general practitioner, public health nurses, and lactation consultants. Since my baby was gaining exceptionally well, my pain was brushed off. “Maybe it’s thrush,” or “Hm, I’m not sure why you’re still having pain.”
He was constantly popping off, getting frustrated, and a feeding would take roughly an hour. He would get so tired that he’d fall asleep trying to get enough milk, but when I put him down to sleep, he would wake because he was still hungry. That made me feel helpless, like a bad mom, because he couldn’t get enough milk out to satisfy him. It wasn’t until I looked at a picture I’d taken of my little boy that I noticed he was tongue-tied. His restricted tongue movement made it difficult to remove milk from my breast. I was confident that this was what was wrong so I acted, getting a referral for revision. Sure enough, all of our issues disappeared soon after the procedure to revise the ties. I learned that health professionals are not always well informed about breastfeeding issues and how best to manage the challenges.
Although I’ve never encountered any discrimination while breastfeeding in public, covered or uncovered, I have learned that some people feel it is disgusting, immoral, immodest, something to be done in private.
And there are those people who act like breastfeeding is a breeze. I cannot empathize with them. I have always believed it is a woman’s right to feed her baby wherever she wants, covered or not, when her baby is hungry. People who think moms should “just pump” before they go out, like it’s an easy task have no idea. “Just” pump! It took me upwards of 45 minutes to get a measly 2 oz of my milk with a pump and who has time for that with a newborn? With my boyfriend working away for weeks at a time, I certainly didn’t. It took me two hours to get me and my baby ready whenever we needed to leave the house, without spending extra time on pumping to make another person comfortable, especially when it was uncertain my baby would even take a bottle. Why should my baby’s comfort and my own come second to the comfort of a stranger? It was easier on me, a young, first-time mom, to avoid the stress of worrying about how I would feed my baby in public: I learned not to over think it.
I have been breastfeeding my baby for more than a year now and am 20 years old. I have learned more in the last two years becoming a mother than I have in my entire life. The most important thing I’ve learned is that mothering through breastfeeding is the best decision I could have made. How lucky am I to have all of our breastfeeding issues solved and corrected, how lucky am I to be able to fix boo-boos with some “milkies,” and how lucky am I to be able to experience this bond with my baby, which might even have made me less susceptible to postpartum depression? I can’t imagine not nourishing my baby with my own body and am so grateful that my mother breastfed me and normalized breastfeeding when everyone around her was formula-feeding.
Hayley O’Dell, South Africa
Breastfeeding my baby has been one of life’s most important, inspiring journeys of self-discovery. If it means so much to you, nothing can stop you.
I’ve learned that not all support is supportive, not all professionals are legitimate, that breastfeeding comes in many shapes and forms and sometimes not everyone accepts your version of breastfeeding, regardless of how hard you try.
- Not all support is equal.
My daughter was born at 34 weeks and spent her first two weeks in neonatal intensive care. Unfortunately, the breastfeeding support at the hospital was not helpful and no one told me about La Leche League until my baby was five months old, so I missed out on a lot of support.
- If it matters, nothing can stop you.
Despite my daughter’s inability to suck effectively, restrictive lip tie, and severe reflux, she has had my breast milk for over four years without ever having a top up or any other milk or milk substitute. She has been fed expressed breast milk from day one and she still receives at least two bottles a week of my stored milk. It has been difficult, lonely, and taken a lot from me as a woman, wife, and sometimes even as a mother to meet my daughter’s nutritional needs, but even with her pediatric feeding disorder she is a picture of health, thanks to my milk.
- Not everyone is going to accept you, but that doesn’t make your breastfeeding relationship any less significant.
My daughter couldn’t breastfeed. There were a lot of factors involved, perhaps with better support, more knowledge or hands on help in those first few weeks we could have gotten it right. But we didn’t. That doesn’t mean that the 52 months I spent exclusively pumping make me any less of a breastfeeding mother. I often felt touched out, stressed over milk supply, exhausted from frequent pumping sessions and tending to my baby. I dealt with mastitis, thrush, blebs, and other pains, physical and emotional, that other breastfeeding mothers deal with, but on top of all that, I had to wash bottles and pumps several times a day too.
- Breastfeeding means something different to everyone.
Some moms only breastfeed for a few weeks, some moms supplement, and some end up having to exclusively pump, every breastfeed is a success.
I have been made to feel lacking by some, but they won’t ever understand the pride I feel for what I have accomplished in my difficult situation.
5. Sometimes your path leads you to your calling.
I don’t know why things happened the way they did, why my baby came early, why she developed severe oral aversions that still plague us today, why she couldn’t suckle or why no one picked up all the issues that contributed, but I do know that exclusively pumping has made me stronger, that it has ignited a flame and inspired me to help, support, and encourage moms to get the right help, to help them through the difficult stages, and be there as moral support through the highs and lows.
I pray every day that I will be granted a second chance, to have a second child and breastfeed successfully to natural term since I have been so fortunate to make milk for so long for my daughter. I want to support other mothers to meet their personal breastfeeding goals with ease.
Arabella Smith, Glasgow, Scotland, UK
The five things I have discovered are as follows.
- Patience. When my baby latched on to breastfeed, I might have to wait a half-hour before I could do whatever it was I was just about to do before sitting down to nurse.
- How to see things from another’s (my baby’s) perspective. When he needed me, he really did need me. When he gurgled with joy, his pleasure was mine too.
- To be flexible and change pace. Sometimes days would be so slow, filled with snoozing and breastfeeding while other days would be full-speed frantic with sandpits, paint, swinging and sliding, and splashing.
- How to be healthier. I became more conscious of the need for eating wholesome foods, both for feeding to my baby and to me and my family, a continuation of the good start by breastfeeding.
- Confidence in myself as a mother. I looked at my baby and how I’d grown him, all through my own efforts, and that made me feel good about who I am and what I can achieve.
*Katja Leccisi has five copies of her book How To Feed Your Kids to give away!
For a chance to get one:
- Send your photo of a family mealtime or cooking with your kids to: firstname.lastname@example.org (subject How To Feed Your Kids) with your address and
- Like Katja’s Facebook page and
- Like Breastfeeding Today
by December 10th 2015, when the lucky five will be notified by email.