August is National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my own breastfeeding journey. I come to this post with no agenda other than to share. How a parent feeds their baby is a highly personal choice and many factors go into it. Breastfeeding is simply something I’m committed to and it’s been a wonderful experience, even when it’s been tough.
There was a big campaign to have all breastfeeding mothers nurse their babies out in public on August 1st. Honestly, I’m a big shy about breastfeeding in public; the thought of it gives me anxiety, not so much over the actual act or the possibility that I may expose part of my breast (after nursing two babies, modesty about my breasts is pretty much nonexistent), but more about how other people are going to react. So many people get squeamish about seeing it (even those near and dear to me), and there are even those who are downright against breastfeeding in public and are rude or belligerent about it.
However, I did actually breastfeed in public on August 1st. That evening I attended the CT Free Shakespeare’s outdoor production of AS YOU LIKE IT. We hadn’t started the baby on bottle yet (just to be clear, the bottle contains pumped breast milk, not formula), so my choices were to take the baby with the possibility of having to nurse him there or don’t go at all. So I went and I nursed him, and it wasn’t a big deal. It was pretty dark out and everyone’s attention was on the show. I don’t even think the people around me (even the ones I had come to the show with) knew I was doing it.
Once again it was a case of me needlessly having anxiety over something that turned out fine. And though this time was uneventful, I still try to schedule our outings so I won’t have to nurse the baby in public (or so I can at least do it in the car or somewhere moderately private). I know other breastfeeding moms would tell me to get over my worry and just do it, while others would agree with my strategy, and others still would never breastfeed in public. Again, it’s a personal choice and this is where I’m at with it.
Because frankly it’s nobody’s business how/when/where I feed my baby. I strongly believe women should be able to breastfeed where ever they want or need to do it. And no one can really tell me how to do it best. I know my body best and I know my baby best. I’m proud to have been able to exclusively breastfeed my older son until he was 6 months old and to have continued breastfeeding him until he was 20 months old. I plan on breastfeeding my younger son exclusively for six months as well, and we’ll see how long I continue once he’s on solid food…at least until he’s a year old, I hope, and maybe longer.
Nursing my babies has been one of the most personal, emotional, wonderful, and difficult things I have ever done. The bond truly is like nothing else. The time I’ve spend with my boys nursing them is time to be treasured. It has created so many special moments. But it’s demanding on my body and my time. Even when the baby can get the milk from the bottle (and someone else can feed them), I still have to pump around that same time to keep up my milk supply, especially in these early months.
It’s hard to describe the demanding nature of breastfeeding to someone who hasn’t done it. You literally have to drop everything when the baby needs to be fed. This has been particularly hard on my older son (The Boy), who for 2-1/2 plus years had mommy’s undivided attention. He’s been known to say about his younger brother, “I don’t want to keep him anymore.” Because, yeah, it stinks to have to share mommy! This from the child who stopped taking a bottle at five months old, before he was on solid food, and while I was still working full time. Some days I didn’t want to have to share myself with anyone else, but that sure as heck wasn’t happening! I gave up many a lunch break to drive home and nurse The Boy.
Overall, though I’ve been lucky. Breastfeeding has come somewhat naturally to me and my boys. I know other mothers who have had to struggle to keep up their supply or whose babies weren’t able to latch. I’ve been through mastitis (a nasty and painful infection that many breastfeeding moms experience), the aforementioned bottle strike, soreness, engorgement, feeling like I’d never have my old body back again (What are these huge things on my chest? Where did my tiny mosquito bump boobs go?) and that my body no longer belonged to me, and baby acid reflux (which is much more common among formula fed babies, but both my boys were afflicted with it and had to be medicated for it). But through it all I’ve been able to breastfeed very successfully.
See breastfeeding is full of contradictions. Great feelings of accomplishment that my body alone can sustain another human. Great feelings of inadequacy when things aren’t going right and overcoming the huge learning curve that is nursing a baby who has his own ideas about how things should be done. Great feelings of freedom because I don’t have to worry about toting around extra feeding supplies; I’ve got all I need right under my shirt. Great feelings of being trapped because no one else can really take care of the whole feeding the baby thing without me (even with bottle feedings, I have to supply the milk).
For me, it’s all been worth it. Nursing my babies has been made up of a million little special moments that no one else can or will ever experience. The moment when he first latched. The little half smile he gave me while still numming (that’s the word we use for the sucking motion the baby does when latched) away at the breast. The little songs and games we play to keep him awake during feedings. The boob drunk look of fulfillment and contentment he gets after a good feeding. The first night he didn’t nurse and he was fine but I cried after I left his room.
And now that I’m nursing baby #2, my older son has provided even more entertainment over nursing. He loves to point to my wet shirt and say, “Uh oh, Mommy. Your booby is leaking.” Or ask his grandmas whether they have milk in their breasts (or his father or grandfather or any random stranger for that matter). Or very wisely observing how his auntie (who has a baby girl) does in fact have milk in her boobies. Then there was the time he called the breast pump the “milk fountain” or when he wanted to play with me and insisted that Daddy could nurse the baby. Endless entertainment!
Admittedly, my boobs–much like my stomach with all those lovely stretch marks–will never be the same again. But I’ll take saggy boobs in exchange for what I’ve got with my boys and having breastfed them because my heart will never be the same again either.