Updated: Jun 11, 2020
Every day I wake up grateful that I am surrounded by people who not only encourage, but also support my baby and me during our breastfeeding journey. My husband, relatives, friends, colleagues, labor and delivery hospital staff, lactation consultants and sometimes strangers have all contributed to my confidence as I continue to mother through breastfeeding. I always knew I wanted to breastfeed, but never imagined that it would become the most rewarding and educational experience of my life. I was certainly not prepared to deal with the pain that would accompany such a beautiful practice. Even after interviewing what seemed to be hundreds of mothers, no story could have braced me for this ride because each experience is exclusively personal. My favorite piece of advice came from a colleague turned friend who once told me: “if you really want to breastfeed, you will”.
“When women support each other, incredible things happen.” -unknown
Friends have shared with me that they wish they had continued to breastfeed for longer than they did. My heart breaks every time I hear of a new mother who ended her breastfeeding journey sooner than she would have liked to. Too often we read headlines or personal stories about breastfeeding mothers being targeted or attacked by the public. I sometimes wonder why I was fortunate enough to find exactly what I needed in order to pursue my mothering dreams, but others were not so lucky. Each and every mother deserves the support and guidance needed to continue her journey as she pleases. It is extremely difficult to remain confident in our decision to mother through breastfeeding when it is not the societal norm. There is always an underlying fear that someone somewhere will say or do something to harm the breastfeeding mother and her child.
Women need assurance to find their inner strengths and trust their motherly instincts. My ultimate hope is that mothers who are feeling alone are able to stay motivated through reading and acquiring knowledge in order to achieve their breastfeeding goals while trusting their magical milk-making bodies. The art of breastfeeding is challenging enough in itself and all new mothers should feel empowered, especially at such an emotionally sensitive and vulnerable time.
A year has passed and sometimes I still find myself in predicaments in which I am uncomfortable and uncertain about openly nursing my baby in public places. You would think that after all of the practice I’ve had and progress I’ve made, I’d be a superstar breastfeeding Wonder Woman. Last month I was at the pool at the resort we were staying at. I was unfamiliar with the area and the people surrounding me, and so I was extremely nervous to breastfeed. I frantically threw a towel over my baby and had my husband stand in front of us holding another while I maneuvered in every which way to get comfortable on the lounge chair. I felt so ridiculous that I decided to leave the pool and head up to our room. As we were leaving, I walked passed not one, but two women breastfeeding their babies, without covers! They greeted me with warm smiles and suddenly I felt pathetic for worrying in the first place. I cried on our way up because witnessing those two babies nurse was absolutely beautiful.
Another time I wasn’t feeling quite like my confident self was over the summer at an aquarium. We were enjoying the seals and sea lions while they sang and danced, but my baby was thirsty on such a hot day. I struggled a bit to find a position that allowed my baby to nurse comfortably while blocking the view for most of the crowd. Eventually I managed to get the job done and wasn’t too concerned about covering up. Towards the end of the show, I noticed that the mother who had made eye contact with me upon entering, started to nurse her little baby too. It was so beautiful, naturally. The same magic happens every time I am in a restaurant and realize I’m not the only one breastfeeding my baby... what a sense of relief. This is exactly why we need to support one another. We need to normalize breastfeeding by being examples ourselves.
“Empowered women empower women.” -unknown
Breast milk is much more than liquid gold, as it is often referred to. A mother’s milk is truly magical. It contains live cells, including stem cells, and is constantly changing in order to fulfill her child’s needs. The antibodies and live white blood cells protect our babies from infection and also lower their risks of common childhood illnesses such as ear infections and respiratory infections. Breast milk is especially beneficial to premature infants as it contains exactly what the baby needs for optimal growth and also enhances brain development. In addition to the many health benefits, breastfeeding also contributes to the baby’s mental, social and intellectual development, helping him to find comfort and connection during the daily struggles of early childhood.
Baby is certainly not the only one who benefits from breastfeeding! The hormones produced during lactation help mamma to relax and create connection with baby while reducing her risk for postpartum depression. A breastfeeding mother’s cycle is often delayed for months or years at a time, acting as a natural birth control so her body can heal until she is ready for another pregnancy. Breastfeeding also decreases mamma’s risk of other illnesses and diseases such as breast and ovarian cancers, heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
Breastfeeding is one of the most natural life processes for mammals, however, it is also among the most challenging tasks for women today. In fact, breastfeeding is so misunderstood in our culture that our own personal doctors are regularly providing unreliable information. Some of the most common distortions we are told include: breast milk causes cavities and tooth decay, bedsharing is not safe and will ruin marriages, and we cannot take prescribed medications or enjoy an occasional glass of wine while breastfeeding. If these misconceptions were actually true, no one would ever breastfeed! One day soon, we will look back and laugh at the parenting advice that is suggested by many medical professionals today, just like we do when reviewing what was prescribed 50, 40, or even 30 years ago.
Natural parenting practices greatly benefit those involved, but do not generate a profit for others and are therefore often dismissed.
Bottles and pacifiers have essentially become representations and symbols for babies in all aspects of our popular culture and can be seen everywhere such as on apparel and in the media. A breastfeeding mother, however, is not as commonly presented in these instances. While bottles undoubtedly save lives, we need to be mindful that they are not the only means of feeding and soothing our children. Before my baby’s arrival, I stocked up on all different types of store bought feeding supplies because although I knew I planned on breastfeeding exclusively, I assumed that all babies would eventually need bottles at some point in their lives. Bottle-feeding is so normalized in our culture that I unconsciously rushed to buy all of the parts without even considering that I may not even need them. I share this one scenario not because it’s right or wrong to bottle-feed or breastfeed, but because those of us who are in the minority of breastfeeding for the long term need to understand that we will not follow the common practices of our fellow mothers. Even our dearest friends and family members will have completely different styles of mothering, making their useful purchases useless for us. We will have our own paths to follow and they may look very different than what we are accustomed to seeing. We need to support one another on our unique adventures of motherhood, wherever they may take us. Now is the time to normalize breastfeeding and be inclusive of all of the ways mothers feed their babies.
According to the CDC and the UN, no country is achieving the World Health Organization’s recommendation of breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months and then continuing to breastfeed for at least two years. In the U.S.A. less than twenty percent of infants are exclusively breastfed at the age of 6 months. Although the majority of new mothers struggle to breastfeed, most women can produce this magical milk and enjoy the many benefits with the proper assistance and guidance. Aside from transitioning into motherhood, there are many factors working against women who wish to begin their own breastfeeding journeys. The lack of education and support new mothers receive from the community certainly contributes to the low rates of breastfeeding. Many people have no access to valid information or facts about breastfeeding and are completely unaware of the major benefits it provides to both mother and child. Breastfeeding may even be the solution to various issues that a new mother experiences.
Another leading cause contributing to low rates of breastfeeding is that new mothers and their newborns are not spending enough time together, and the importance of feeding on demand is often overlooked. Both mother and child are getting to know one another on so many levels and it takes time for their bodies to sync. Mamma can also enjoy the much needed rest and relaxation alongside baby while maintaining skin to skin contact, which will consequently aide in milk production. Many mothers who desire to nurse their babies are often unable to find the proper help they need in order to focus all of the necessary energy towards breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is anything but simple and is extremely demanding on a new mother’s body. A new mother’s only concern should be bonding with her newborn child and adjusting to find comfort and confidence in her new role as a parent. Everything else is secondary.
A new mamma near you needs her meals prepared, laundry done, and house cleaned. Go help her so she can take care of herself and her newborn baby by making magic, naturally.
“10 Facts on Breastfeeding.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 2 Aug. 2017, www.who.int/features/factfiles/breastfeeding/en/.
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“Breast Milk's Circadian Rhythms.” La Leche League International, 25 May 2018, www.llli.org/breast-milks-circadian-rhythms-2/.
“Breastfeeding.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 2 Aug. 2018, www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/.
“Breastfeeding: the Numbers • KellyMom.com.” KellyMom.com, 8 Mar. 2018, kellymom.com/fun/trivia/bf-numbers/.
Malo, Sebastien. “Rich or Poor, All Countries Fail to Support Breastfeeding: U.N.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 1 Aug. 2017, www.reuters.com/article/us-global-health-breastfeeding-idUSKBN1AH480.
Medela. “14 Fascinating Facts About Breastfeeding.” Medela, www.medelabreastfeedingus.com/article/123/14-fascinating-facts-about-breastfeeding.