Where the heck did July go? The summer has flown by and is practically over now that school is about to start again for moms of school-aged children. I know for some of the mamas out there you are thinking…
This week is actually National Breastfeeding week and the whole month of August is National Breastfeeding month (WHOOP WHOOP!!).
So of course, as a mama lifestyle blogger, I had to write a blog post in its honor. We will cover the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to breastfeeding.
I hope that this blog post is insightful, encouraging, and informative to all those mamas who have breastfed or plan to, and even to other readers who want to learn more about breastfeeding.
And to those mamas who choose other options for feeding your baby, I do not mom-shame you or want you to feel guilty. The most important thing is our babies are healthy and happy!
Back on the post, “Hush Little Baby, I’m Trying Not to Cry,” I briefly shared about my nursing experience with my son as I navigated through postpartum anxiety. To expand on this topic, I will share a little bit more about my own experience combined with personal testimonies from other mamas and of course, some research.
Over the last 25 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have been advocating for infants to only drink breastmilk until they are six months old and continue to drink breastmilk until they are one. The phrase “breast is best” has been the running mantra now adays for many physicians and parents (which wasn’t always the case) – with more infants in the US being breastfed than at any other time in the last 40 years.
Pretty amazing, right?
Additionally, a significant body of research has supported that breastfeeding benefits a baby’s immune system as antibodies and nutrients from the mother are able to pass to baby through colostrum and breastmilk (Pregnancy Birth & Baby, 2019; Jackson & Nazar, 2006). Breastfeeding may also reduce risk for disease, lower the risk of allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders, and may be linked to increase IQ scores in later childhood via breastfeeding and brain structure development and volume during infancy (Isaacs et al, 2010; Jackson & Nazar, 2006).
Breastfeeding also benefits mama too, such as increased emotional gratification and bonding with baby, reduced risk of anemia, and saves us a lot of money on formula (Jackson & Nazar, 2006). Moreover, breastfeeding is also linked to lower rates of infant morality and reduced cases of SIDs (AAP, 2012).
Obviously, there are so many amazing benefits that come with choosing to breastfeed your baby; however, only about 82% of American mothers start out breastfeeding. By six months, this number reduces to 57%. At a year, only a third of all infants are still breastfed (CDC, 2018).
Okay, breastfeeding is so great and the all doctors and medical providers advocate it, why isn’t every mother doing it?
I’m not sure if there’s an exact answer; there are so many factors that I will touch on a little bit later in the post. But I can’t speak for every mother; I can only share my breastfeeding experience and why I stopped at the 6th month mark.
When I first became pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed and made a point of adding several nursing items to my registry. I received a lot of nursing-related gifts from family and friends and also purchased a pump and breastmilk storage bags in preparation for Izzy’s arrival.
Well, breastfeeding wasn’t as easy as I had imagined it to be. Shortly after Izzy was born, I tried breastfeeding, but my nipples remained flat and made it very difficult for him to latch. I was overwhelmed from the hours of labor and the commotion of family coming to see the baby so I felt extremely frustrated by the process. The nurses were really all so helpful and coaching me to hold him like football while he attempted to latch.
l thought to myself… how many times had I actually held a football LOL? I was just so unfamiliar with any type of nursing position and I constantly had to consult with the lactation nurse while we stayed the next two days in the hospital.
Unfortunately, my nipples remained flat and it would have been impossible for me to nurse, but the lactation nurse gave me something I had never heard of- a nipple shield.
If not for that baby, I would not have been able to nurse my son at all.
I used the nipple shield during the entire 6 months of nursing. While I was nursing, I had to supplement with formula when Christian ran out of pumped breastmilk to bottle-feed Izzy. During this time, I trying to balance nursing and pumping with school and part-time work to support my family- as you can imagine I was extremely tired and exhausted. I honestly regret going back to work so quickly, but we needed the money considering I did not have maternity leave as a waitress/ bartender.
On top of all this, my work environment was not conducive for pumping and I faced a lot of challenges from my bosses and some coworkers about my pump breaks and breastmilk being in the fridge. I often felt stigmatized, but several of my female coworkers were very supportive. They would watch the bar or tables while I went to the bathroom to pump which was really nice of those ladies (yeah, I know- no provided room to nurse).
I have never really understood the stigmatization that comes with nursing (BECAUSE it’s NATURAL, hello!). No one freaks out when a calf suckles at its mom’s udders, but I definitely felt obligated to cover up while nursing in public or went into a private room to nurse. I will also say that while using the nipple shield, it became very difficult to nurse in public while attempting to cover up, because the nipple shield would likely fall off.
I often had to have a friend or family member hold the blanket over me while I placed the nipple shield over my breast. If I could have just nursed my baby without having to worry about being judged or someone inappropriately staring at me, it would have been a lot easier… So most of the time, I went out of my way to pump a bottle before we went anywhere during a feeding time.
But I am proud to say I did nurse him for six months despite all these obstacles. I eventually found my groove and trucked through the late night feedings, leaky breasts, and sore nipples. Overall, I really loved breastfeeding my son; it created such a special bond between us and really helped me connect with him. Breastfeeding also helped me shed the baby weight very quickly. Did you know breastfeeding burns anywhere between 200 to 500 calories a day? (Murray, 2019).
I hit the 6-month mark and stopped as I started a new job. I found it very difficult to navigate pumping in this new full-time position. I honestly wish I would have gone the full year, especially since right when I stopped, Izzy started going to daycare.
He started getting a lot of ear infections and upper respiratory infections shortly after I stopped nursing. When we took him to the pediatrician for treatment, she pointed out when babies are being bottlefed, we tend to lean them back and the milk drains into their ears- this doesn’t happen with breastfeeding because the position of the breast prevents drainage into the ears. She also suggested that the exposure to more children in daycare was also a possible cause.
Needless to say, whatever the reason was- I felt guilty and still feel sometimes it’s my fault Israel had/ has so many ear infections and has gotten so sick. Mom-guilt at its finest.
I believe a lot of women also have to navigate these challenges that come with nursing whether it be difficulty with latching, flat nipples, short paid or no paid maternity leave, or medical issues. I asked my community of mamas to anonymously share some of their experiences with you today for this blog post. So we could all gain more insight into what breastfeeding may really be like for a new mom and some alternatives ways to get your baby breastmilk if you struggle with nursing.
Mom # 1 – A lactation nurse who is still breastfeeding her son who’s about to turn 2. She actually donated her breastmilk!
I’m a lactation nurse, and I am still breastfeeding my son. He’s just turned 2, and I’ve loved my overall experience. I have had my ups and downs like at first, I hated it. It was so demanding with feedings being every 1-2 hours. But it got better and better after 3 months. All the feedings ended up falling on me kinda sucked and having to put him to bed every night, but I remind myself of all the positives which outweigh the negatives. For example, I was an oversupplier so I got to help so many other moms who didn’t want to feed their babies formula while still feeding my little guy. When I had to pump at work, my coworkers were very helpful and great.
They’d cover my patients for me so I could pump for 20 minutes three times a shift. If it weren’t for them, I probably wouldn’t have made it the full 18 months I pumped. All my coworkers were females and fellow moms, but I will say that men have come along way in accepting breastfeeding moms. On occasions when I was in public, men went out of their way to help me find a room to nurse in – once at the zoo and once when I had to get my oil changed.
I did have a few cases of mastitis when trying to wean down to three feedings a day because of my oversupply – which was really painful. But other than that it was a great experience. I tell all my moms I work with at the hospital that if you can make it through the first few weeks, it will all become smooth-sailing because you and and baby will begin to get in synced.
I never say it will be easy, but I tell them it’s worth it. I also stress the importance of hydration, eating healthy snacks, and taking their prenatal vitamin for the full duration of breastfeeding, because the babies take a lot of your nutrient from you through breastfeeding. I also will say lanolin cream is a must and soothie gel pads saved my nipples in the beginning. They were so sore those first few weeks. Also, I highly recommend lactation brownies and cookies- they helped me so much when my supply dipped from mastitis.
Mom # 2 – Mama of a beautiful girl who actually used donated breastmilk!
I had a double mastectomy when I was 25 due to the breast cancer gene. I actually used a friend’s milk – 150 oz. Our daughters are actually 6 months apart so my friend was pumping and freezing. She was an oversupply. The milk lasted a month or two and I mixed it with formula to make it last longer. But there are other options who don’t have a selfless friend. There’s several organizations to look into!
I have listed a couple of organizations in Louisiana to contact about receive or donate milk! You can click the links to find out more information.
Mom # 3 Mom of a toddler girl and currently nursing a newborn and who’s planning to also use formula
Breastfeeding has always been Something I envisioned for my children. I always heard how “natural” it was and I just assumed it would be an easy undertaking after having my first child. With Audrey, we struggled a lot in the beginning. She was a tiny baby and had a bad latch, and I felt helpless in trying to feed her.
There were nights I stayed up just balling my eyes out and we were both frustrated. Everything hurt and I honestly just did not know what I was doing. There are so many parts of breastfeeding that are less mentioned like the pain of milk coming in before a feeding, the blisters you get on your nipples or having to be tied down to a spot to breastfeed. I didn’t realize the commitment beforehand.
So overwhelmed with trying to make sure Audrey gained enough weight, we started supplementing with formula at 3 weeks old. As the months went on, breastfeeding got easier, but with me working full time and not keeping up with pumping, we only made it to 8 months and that was really pushing it.
Now that I am breastfeeding my second daughter, I am in the thick of the early breastfeeding struggles again. But, this time seems different, and I definitely feel more confident with feedings and pumping. I will be returning back to work in a couple of weeks so I know that will be another hurdle to conquer. There is so much planning and timing and pumping that goes into being a working breastfeeding mama, and I am going to try and prepare as much as I can.
But, I am also not going to put too much pressure on myself to keep up with pumping at work to keep the baby exclusively breastfed. I hope we can continue our feedings in the mornings and evenings because I do appreciate the bond and nourishment breastfeeding brings. I agree with so many others that breastfeeding is beautiful, but it can be HARD both mentally and physically.
I am thankful I had the opportunity to experience breastfeeding firsthand as it made me stronger and more sympathetic to what other mamas have gone through to try to provide nourishment for their child.
At the end of the day, we are all just trying to do the best for our babies and connecting with mine this way, truly has been rewarding even on the toughest of days.
Mom # 4 – Mama of a sweet newborn girl who’s facing challenges from a tongue-tie.
***caution- there is an image of a nipple shield that may gross you out. Forewarning.**
For the past 9 months, I prepared mentally and physically to welcome my first child into this world. As my due date grew close, I felt more blissful than nervous. After 16 hours of labor and delivery, my beautiful girl was finally in my arms. Soon after, the lactation nurses came in to help me nurse my new little bundle of joy. She immediately informed me that my daughter is tongue-tied with a heart-shaped tongue which would make nursing quite painful and frustrating for both of us. The next day, I was coached on nursing again, and I felt more confident that I could directly care for my baby’s needs.
However once we got home, the physical aftermath of labor hit me hard. My boyfriend and mother encouraged me to breastfeed through the pain. I cried, grabbed unto anything around me, and cursed. The natural instinct to breastfeed my baby was more overwhelming than the pain. Would I be a bad mom if I give up and use formula? Would I be letting her down?
Then I remembered I had a soft silicone nipple guard and decided that may help the horrendous nipple pain. My daughter, unable to latch properly, gnawed at the guard and sucked only blood coming from my blistered breast. Yes, little blood blisters had formed at the tip of each areola. We both cried from frustration, pain, and pure exhaustion. I promised her we would learn together, and we persisted.
Today, marks 18 days since we’ve been spending our lives together; breastfeeding still hurts after 12 feedings in day. Sometimes around 3 a.m., my boyfriend wants to let me sleep so he makes a little formula bottle for her. I sleep, but then the sheets get covered in milk from my swollen breasts. She still has some trouble latching at times, so we try different angles throughout the day. I still am in awe of being a mother as I watch her enjoy her 4th breakfast of the day.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank all these beautiful, strong mothers for sharing their experiences with us for this special post about breastfeeding. We sincerely thank you for sharing your time and value with us. We are grateful and have grown from your testimonies.
Mom # 5 – Mom of two teenagers looking back
All I have is positive feedback on breastfeeding- nothing adverse with my experience. I breastfed both of my kids till they were a year old- they never drank from a bottle! It was the best and most convenient as well as healthy/ cost-effective way to feed my children. I absolutely loved it! At first, ti was a bit of a challenge, once mother and baby get the hang of it, smooth sailing afterwards! I only wish I would have known that I could have continued breastfeeding my first baby while I was pregnant with my second. I was discreet about nursing and wasn’t the type to flip it out and stuck it in the baby’s mouth anywhere. I just didn’t want to give people something to stare at! I have never known a mother to regret it or not love it.
Mom # 6 – Mom of two sweet boys
I had two great experiences! I only nursed 5 months with my first one then stopped, because my husband and I were getting married and I didn’t want to have to pump during the wedding and on the honeymoon. My second I nursed for almost 21 months and really only stopped, because my milk supply was dwindling and people kept making comments about him being too old…
Obviously, there’s numerous reasons that a mother may choose to breastfeed or not, but research indicates that women who receive 12 weeks or more of paid maternity leave are far more likely to initiate breastfeeding with their infant and continue to nurse their infant until 6 months than those who do not have paid maternity leave (Mirkovic, Perrine, & Scanion, 2016).
Moreover, socioeconomic status has also been cited as a key predictor in initiation and duration of breastfeeding with maternal and paternal education being the most critical factor in studies examining breastfeeding initiation. Heck and colleagues suggest that maternal and paternal education may help parents understand the benefits of breastfeeding and increase their likelihood to seek out information regarding breastfeeding from healthcare providers (2006). Not to mention, a father’s role in decision-making about nursing is also equally as important. Ethnicity also been linked to breastfeeding outcomes which may be contributed to culturally norms.
I also want to stress to exclusively formula-feeding moms I think you are amazing. I fully understand how difficult breastfeeding is and why you may have decided to choose formula instead- I even had to supplement with formula!
My hope is despite whatever way you choose to feed your baby that we can work together to advocate for better maternity leave, improved healthcare options, better education about breastfeeding and childcare, and strive to normalize breastfeeding!
I also cannot thank these women who shared their stories with us enough for their contribution.
YOU ARE ALL AMAZING! WE THANK AND HONOR YOU!
Thanks for reading!
Want to share your breastfeeding confessional? Share your experience below in the comments or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 129, 3. Retrieved on July 31 2019 from https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827..info.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (CDC). (2018). CDC releases 2018 breastfeeding report card. CDC Online Newsroom. Retrieved on July 31 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0820-breastfeeding-report-card.html.
Heck, K.E., Braveman, P., Cubbin, C., Chavez, G.F., Kiely, J.L. (2006). Socioeconomic status and breastfeeding initiation among California mothers. Public Health Reports. Retrieved on August 1 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1497787/.
Isaacs, E. B., Fischi, B.R., Quinn, B.T., Chong, W.T., Gadian, D.G., & Lucas, A. (2010). Impact of breast milk on IQ, brain size and white matter development. Pediatric Research. Retrieved on July 31 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2939272/.
Jackson, K.M. & Nazar, A.M. (2006) Breastfeeding, the immune responses, and long-term health. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 106, 203-207. Retried on July 31st from https://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093315.
Mirkovic K.R., Perrine C.G., & Scanion K.S. (2016) Paid maternity leave and breastfeeding outcomes. Birth. Retrieved on August 1 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26991788.
Murray, D. Breastfeeding and the calories you eat. Very Well Family. Retrieved on August 3 2019 from https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-many-extra-calories-does-a-breastfeeding-mom-need-431858.
Pregnancy, Birth, & Baby. (2019). How your baby’s immune system develops. Pregnancy, Birth, & Baby. Retrieved on July 31 2019 from https://www.pregnancybirthbaby.org.au/how-your-babys-immune-system-develops