World Breastfeeding Week is here!
This has always been a special week of reflection for me, even when I wasn't nursing any babies. In my time between nursing little ones, I have always taken some time to think back on the challenges I have faced (there have been quite a few!) and rejoiced in the triumphs. This year has been a little bittersweet for me because my biggest breastfeeding cheerleader isn't here earthside with me any longer. My sweet grandmother passed last July, but this is my first WBW without her and a nursling.
In this blog post, I would love to share some stories submitted to me about their breastfeeding experiences.
And I'll start with mine.
I guess I had never really thought about breastfeeding too much in the beginning. I figured I would do it because formula was expensive and my grandmother had talked so fondly about it. And I don't remember making a solid commitment to breastfeed before my first was born. However, all of that began to change a few weeks before she made her appearance. I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia (a very dangerous condition related to pregnancy) and suddenly, I wasn't in control of anything anymore. Nothing was really up to me because pre-eclampsia had taken over my body and was threatening the health of myself and my baby. The day I needed to be induced to have her, my motherly instinct had kicked in full force and I was doing everything in my power to give her the best start at life. She was 5.5 weeks early and wouldn't latch. The nurses had given her a pacifier and encouraged me to use formula until my milk came in. Not much was mentioned about colostrum and the importance of as much skin to skin as possible. The lactation nurse was little to no help. I went home with no idea what I was doing, but I kept trying. My grandmother and mother tried their best to help me, but I ended up pumping 90% of the time. By the time she was 4 weeks old, I was at my wits end. I wasn't pumping enough, I was supplementing with formula, and I was pumping every 2 hours for 30 minutes. It was awful.
I found a private lactation consultant who worked with me quite a bit. Things were improving. My baby had finally latched with the assistance of a breast shield.
And then, finally, a turning point. The lactation consultant had told me about La Leche League. Back before I was on social media, I emailed the leader. She emailed me back a time and a place. I will never forget pulling up to her home and being enthusiastically welcomed at the front door. I cannot express to you what those meetings meant to me. I cannot tell you that I owe my breastfeeding relationship to that LLL leader. She helped me have the confidence to nurse my baby- without the shield. She fostered a confidence in myself as a mother. In that living room with those ladies, I found my way into motherhood. It was so much more than breastfeeding.
Within a few weeks, my firstborn, preemie baby was nursing at the breast, without a shield, without a pump, without cracked and bleeding nipples, without pain. And we continued until shortly before her 2nd birthday.
** I will also add here that she helped me from hundreds of miles away via the great technology of Facebook with #2 and also with #3 as he dealt with tongue and lip ties. She's literally a saint.
One thing that has always amazed me was tandem nursing and/or nursing throughout a pregnancy. I was able to meet with this incredible mama in their home and do an "afternoon in the life" session with their family. She was 9 months pregnant and still nursing her toddler. I asked her specifically what her thoughts were nursing throughout this pregnancy and I want to share her beautifully encouraging words with you:
"Nursing while pregnant is certainly not my favorite thing to do. But like motherhood, so much of what we do is not for us. We sacrifice day in and day out for our children. Now just because it is not easy and it is a sacrifice doesn’t mean we can’t find joy in it. At near 38 weeks pregnant with my fifth child I am reminded that we have to choose what we focus on. We can choose to focus on the positive. We can look past any discomfort and see the glow and joy in our children’s eyes. We can focus on the laughter and miracles happening right in front of us. Nursing while pregnant for me is hard. But when I choose to look into her sweet face and focus on how much she still needs me and nursing, then it is all worth it. I can offer her part of me that is invaluable to her! Nursing while pregnant is like many other parts of motherhood... challenging, sacrificial, exhausting and yet amazing and so worth every moment!"
One thing my grandmother told me a few years before she passed away was, "I know I'm old and I forget things. But one thing I will never forget is looking down at my baby and remembering them looking up at me from the breast."
She would tell me often that in the 1950's, she didn't know many breastfeeders. In fact, she said she was the only one she knew who nursed her baby. A look in back in history will tell show us that in the 50's, formula became very mainstream and even thought to be better than breastmilk, so, it was pushed on new parents. Not that there is anything wrong with formula, but even those parents that wanted to breastfeed were being told that there's no need for it anymore- formula can do the job and do it better! Studies show that by the 60s-early 70s, less than 25% of babies discharged from the hospital were breastfed. You can read more about the history of infant feeding in this article. This means that women were no longer nursing their babies and that young mothers had likely never been around other breastfeeding mothers- the art of breastfeeding was being lost. And I strongly believe we are still trying to come back from that more than 40 years later.
She told me this story several times, that she was in the ladies bathroom/lounge around 1956 and she was nursing her baby (my dad) in a chair. A woman came up to her with a little girl around 6 years old or so and said, "Ma'am, are you nursing your baby? Can my daughter see? She's never seen anyone nurse a baby before." And she eagerly agreed, invited the little girl to sit next to her and removed the blanket from her shoulder so that she could watch. She said the little girl was absolutely amazed and that it made her (my grandmother) feel so good to be able to share that with her.
I wish I had a picture of that.
Stay tuned for Part 2 in the 2018 World Breastfeeding Week series where I'll share more stories and images documenting this sweet season of Motherhood.
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Jess is a photographer serving families located in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. She specializes in documentary and storytelling photography.