“You’re so lucky to be able to breastfeed.”
Stop. Saying. That.
I am not lucky to be able to breastfeed. It is hard, hard, hard work. Completely, utterly, 5,000% worth it, but hard work.
Luck tends to indicate that by some miracle, milk spouted from my body into my baby’s mouth, with no pain, no discomfort, no struggles. And if you’ve ever breastfed, you know that is completely not the case. It’s the farthest thing from the truth.
Breastfeeding is something that, during my first pregnancy, I was so desperate to be able to do. I had recurring nightmares for the entire 39 weeks that I would need an emergency c-section and be separated from my baby for weeks, missing out on those critical early days of establishing the breastfeeding relationship. (Interestingly, a much less dramatic version of this story did end up happening, but thankfully, I exclusively breastfed my son for 21 months.)
I am grateful that I have been able to breastfeed all three of my children without giving any of them a drop of formula – but that is something I fought for. It’s not something that I was given, or something that was easy or without challenges.
It had nothing to do with luck.
I spent my entire first pregnancy reading about breastfeeding. Researching how to do it, how to be successful, how to overcome obstacles, how to avoid mastitis, how to breastfeed in public, how to handle biting, how to deal with meddling family members and naysayers. If there was an article or book or blog on breastfeeding, I read it. I took the obligatory breastfeeding class at the hospital. My sole purpose was to make sure I was as prepared as possible, but I had an overwhelming fear that it wouldn’t work out.
When my first son, Benjamin, was born, I quickly learned that this journey would have nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with figuring out how to deal with the challenges. With the first challenge being – terrible advice from medical professionals.
Here’s the thing. People who work in the medical field – yes – they do have a lot of schooling. But do you know what percentage of that schooling is in infant nutrition and breastfeeding? Virtually zero percent. The amount of incorrect, non-science and non-evidence-based information that is spewed at breastfeeding mothers is astonishing.
I had a nurse in the hospital tell me that it was pointless to breastfeed on one side for longer than 15 minutes because, after that time, the breast will be empty. Wrong. Apparently she felt that breasts have internal stopwatches that humanity has not discovered yet. Breasts are never fully empty, ever.
I had our first pediatrician tell me that my exclusively breastfed infant was overweight, that I should try to extend the time between his feedings, and cut his feedings short. Wrong. You cannot overfeed a breastfed baby. Again, for the people in the back, it is impossible.
I was also told by the same doctor that I needed to give my son infant cereal at 4 months, as well as iron drops, otherwise he would be anemic. Wrong, and wrong again.
Aside from all this, can we discuss nursing in public? I was so terrified about this with my first, that I never did it. I kid you not, if we were out shopping and he was hungry, I would haul our butts back to my SUV, which was parked far away from other cars, climb into the backseat where there were tinted windows, pull out my nursing cover, and carefully feed him. All while praying no one would see me.
In a society that crows, “Breast is best,” how is this logical? You cannot spout that breast is best, and then simultaneously scorn women for feeding their babies by breast. You can’t throw them out of restaurants, public pools, medical facilities, playgrounds, and shopping areas, simply because their babies were hungry and they dared to feed them in public. Our society has it totally backwards. And guess what? That makes breastfeeding hard.
Many women are so nervous to breastfeed in public that they start toting around bottles of pumped milk – a huge inconvenience to them – and a possible supply-hurter. If a mama is using bottles of milk without pumping simultaneously to accommodate that “missed feed,” her supply could tank. This is yet another way our society undermines breastfeeding mamas, and their goals. And if a mama is scared but still breastfeeds in public, her baby may fuss more than usual at the breast, because he or she can pick up on the mom’s anxiety (this was absolutely me!).
So, yes. Breastfeeding in public? Hard. Hard. Hard. It does get easier with time and a lot of practice, but I’m on my third baby, with 68 total months breastfeeding, and it still makes me nervous. When I had my second baby, a daughter named Julia, I forced myself to figure it out. I was so anxiety-ridden about nursing in public that I had a revelation.
A long time ago, I thought #breastfeeding in public was wrong, rude, gross, and inappropriate. Old Me would be appalled at New Me, but New Me is pretty proud of overcoming this previously misinformed mentality and proud that I’m pushing myself to grow and do what I now feel is normal, right, and wonderful for Miss J. It still makes me nervous each and every time, but it gets easier. Here’s to hoping that our daughters will never have to worry or feel uncomfortable nursing in a public place, because of the ground we are making for them now. #breastfeedwithoutfear #breastfeedingselfie #bfing #nursinginpublic #powertotheb00bies #beautifulbfing #beautifulbreastfeeding #normalizebreastfeeding #normalizenursing #NIP #breastisbest #humanmilkforhumanbabies #mothersmilk #lactivist #EBF
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I don’t want it to be like this when Julia is a mother. I don’t want her to face the dirty looks and hushed judgmental comments when she nurses in public. And the only way we’re going to change the perception is by fighting through and normalizing nursing in public. Did I love doing it at the time? No. I never made eye contact with anyone, blushed a hot red, and prayed so hard that no one would harass me the entire time.
Breastfeeding is handling endless nighttime cluster feedings on your own, while your partner snoozes away with his useless nipples. It is the agony of spilled breastmilk. Breastfeeding is the misery of pumping. Breastfeeding is chapped nipples, clogged ducts, and mastitis. It’s scratched breasts and nipple twiddling (the horror!). It’s leaking through your clothes. It’s lip ties and tongue ties and revisions. Breastfeeding is not being able to take certain medications and supplements, and scraping by with the ones that are safe for nursing mothers. It’s evaluating your entire wardrobe and new clothing purchases by, “Can I nurse in this?” and if the answer is no, then it’s a no-go. Breastfeeding is not being able to leave your baby for more than a few hours without returning home for a feeding, or pumping.
But you know what else it is?
Breastfeeding is an incomparable, unshakeable bond with your baby. It is warm snuggles, milk drunk comas, and the best smiles. It is your baby’s first “vaccinations,” and the greatest immune system boost on the planet. It is all of the oxytocin – those feel-good hormones that make you both feel deeply in love and like you’re floating on a cloud. It’s portable, and free, and you don’t need to bring anything with you when you leave the house, besides diapers. It’s tiny fingers happily resting on your chest, while your little one dozes off, with a little smile, still latched on.
For me, full-term breastfeeding of all three of my babies is my greatest accomplishment. It is a goal I set for myself, and one that I fought like hell to achieve. Not a single ounce (pun intended) of it was luck.
Breastfeeding is not always easy. But it is always worth it if you’re able.
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