Today is the final day of World Breastfeeding Week, and I wanted to share a little bit about my breastfeeding experience.
With my first baby, I breastfed for 15 months. I really hated it in the beginning and was shocked at how time-consuming it was. I felt enslaved to my rocking chair with barely enough time to feed myself in between nursing breaks for the first few weeks. It was painful, it didn't feel natural, and I wanted to quit so many times. I was using a nipple shield and went to lactation groups to try to transition off of it but never really got the hang of it.
Nursing in public or when traveling was extra challenging because of the shield -- placing it discreetly, keeping it sterile, and trying to prevent it from slipping off. I was always entrenched in sweat from the heat nursing caused naturally and the anxiety it produced when I was out and about. I would pump and pack a bottle right before leaving, just to try to avoid having to deal with it when we were in public.
I didn’t give up on nursing because of the health benefits for my baby that I had learned so much about and grew to eventually love the quiet time with my daughter to just soak each other up. Towards the end, she was only nursing briefly one to two times a day, and I felt like I was really the one holding on. She stopped nursing on her terms, and I cried that day...
With my 2nd, it has been soo drastically different! I decided this go 'round that I wouldn't let my fears of public opinion or judgment get in the way of how I wanted to breastfeed.
My son started out similar, on a nipple shield, and I assumed he would stay like that just like his sister had for our entire nursing journey. But a lactation consultant really encouraged me to try without it, and I had much more determination and confidence this time so I went for it. The biggest difference was that I trusted my son to inherently know what to do, and as soon as I relinquished most control, it gave him the space to work with me, and he did!!
I was elated to be able to nurse him without the nipple shield. For the first time ever I felt like my body truly was made to do this job that had seemed so difficult for me the first time. My son being my last baby has also helped me lean into the experience even more so, soaking up each moment, even the exhausting or frustrating ones.
My son is over 16 months old now, and I have no plans to wean him (he doesn't either). He loves nursing to sleep, to calm down, to re-connect, and probably as a cure for boredom. In the middle of a pandemic, I have no problem with giving him the natural antibodies he needs for as long as he wants. It gives me a little more peace of mind to know that I'm able to protect him in some way when the outside world can seem so scary for so many reasons right now.
I am proud to say that I have nursed my son anywhere that he has needed me to. I pumped only when I needed to be apart from him for work and that was pretty minimal. I have nursed him standing up in the middle of a crowd during the fireworks show at Disneyland, on the beach in Hawaii, while hiking (literally) with friends just a few weeks ago, and countless other public places.
If I could say what changed for me the most this second time around, it was confidence. I made the decision to empower myself to try harder because maybe I really didn't know all I was capable of the first time. And some may think that it may have been my daughter who didn't know how to nurse with me "naturally" the first time, but more than anything, I think I prevented her from truly finding out.
All this to say, if you are a mom who wants to breastfeed, is in the beginnings of trying to figure it out, or want to do it differently with your second child, you CAN! There are challenges - supply, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, mastitis (the worst!), tongue-tie, the list goes on...but if you really want to breastfeed your baby for the long-haul, it's worth struggling through all of these setbacks. And of course, if you don't want to breastfeed, then that's the right choice for you too! You have to want to for it to work (and I also realize that some women who really truly want to, can't, and my heart does ache for them).
So hang in there, mama! No one can understand what it is to be a nursing mom, especially when it's for years and not just months. Your commitment is incredible. Happy World Breastfeeding Week!