**If lactation makes you squeamish... don't read this post. It isn't graphic at all, but some people are squeamish about breastfeeding. Of course at the same time, maybe you should read this post so you have a better understanding of something that is normal and good and... NORMAL. Just sayin'. Anyhow...***
This week is World Breastfeeding Week!
While I'm not as passionate about this as babywearing, it is something I feel strongly about for a multitude of reasons, mostly because I have gone from one way of thinking to the other in the past 10 or so years of my life.
I'm no expert on it, just a normal mama who likes to learn, so I won't be dropping any knowledge bombs on you, but I do want to share my particular experiences for those who are bothered by it, on the fence or needing some support.
This is a long one, feel free to take a nap.
So, I didn't grow up in a culture of breastfeeding, which is pretty much the norm for my generation. With that in mind, I was very bothered when I saw women nursing in public, to the point I remember once going to my manager at work and asking if we could remove the lady feeding her baby at a booth. My manager, being a mother and probably a nursing mother also, gave me a pitying look and told me to get over it and clear a table. Well I did, but I was still totally skeeved out.
A few years later I was married and expecting my first baby. Oh my goodness, so many choices as a new mom and so many opinions. Epidural or not (everyone around me was pushing for an epidural and I wanted to try natural--- another story for another day), what kind of diapers to use (I wanted cloth and everyone, husband included thought I was an idiot--- who had the last laugh on that one, hee hee!), work or stay home (I had no idea and everyone had... too many opinions. It all worked out), and of course... bottle or breast.
The only people who did give an opinion were all for breastfeeding. The husband, the relatives, everyone who had an opinion pretty much agreed it was the way to go for sure.
I, on the other hand was pretty apprehensive about the idea. How was I going to ever go out in public? What would I do on trips? How in the world does it work?
And frankly, I didn't feel comfortable asking anyone in particular for help. But, when it came down to it, it was the cheapest option and so it became my option.
The day arrived, my dear girl was born and the nursing began.
Wow. Ow. Oh dear.
The hospital lactation consultant came by once and told me I was doing fine, but it sure didn't feel fine.
People kept coming and visiting at the hospital and staying way too long and I was terrified to try and figure out what I was doing in front of them.
I remember one group of friends in particular. I kept saying I needed to feed the baby, they kept saying okay and sitting there smiling away. (I should have just passed them a bowl of popcorn for the show... but instead I let my baby screech for an hour until Sam saw I was moments from losing my Schmidt and made them go away.
Then we went home. And the blistering and bleeding began. And the crying and the engorgement and while the baby was happy (she gained weight like nobody's business) I was suffering.
We went to visit family and I was so uncomfortable I would go to another room to feed her and all I could think was that everyone knew what I was doing and it totally stressed me out. I think in an effort to ease my discomfort they tried to talk about breastfeeding a lot really openly which just made me feel more on display and vulnerable.
I tried to feed her at a church setting and freaked out a few people by being totally covered in a blanket and ended up going home almost in tears.
I was doing great technically speaking, decent latch (which with a bit of knowledge behind it wouldn't have caused the bleeding, but more on that in a bit), great supply and a happy baby... but I was miserable.
So, I quit.
I couldn't quit. Honestly, I was too cheap and a part of me felt I would be letting down my baby girl when I was physically able to feed her. But emotionally it was just too much for me to handle.
Luckily, I had an incredible obgyn who wasn't judgemental, only understanding and supportive. When I called him in tears and told him about how I felt and how exposed I was and how I just couldn't do it, he prescribed a breast pump for me and told me the point was to feed her, the delivery method wasn't vital. What a relief!
So, the pumping began. Every 3 hours for SIX months. The baby and husband slept through the night. I woke up and pumped. I was exhausted, but I was in my comfort zone. Baby got the bottle and I wasn't so uncomfortable and I felt like I was still doing a good job.
Perfect? I guess not. But it was all I was capable of at the time. And frankly,I did it and that was the point.
Then came kiddo number two.
At first I figured I would just do the same thing.
Until I wrapped my head around the logistics of chasing a toddler, caring for a newborn, using the pump, doing the cop wife thing and eventually leaving the house.
That wasn't going to work.
But, I couldn't sit and feed the baby all day either and again, formula was just too expensive and after experiencing the after 6 months of breastmilk poop going to formula poop with kiddo #1, I knew I wanted to not deal with that if I could help it.
This time I went to my trusty pal the internet for guidance.
Did you know the internet has nearly every answer in the world? I found this webiste, KellyMom, and it had such a wealth of information on breastfeeding... why you need to do it, how to do it, troubleshooting all sorts of issues, it was amazing! And there were other websites full of information too.
It was through these sites that I found there were baby carriers better than the ones I used with Belle (kiddo 1) that I could actually nurse a baby in discreetly with my hands free. I was intrigued. But again, another story for another day.
I was still uncomfortable, but I had resolved to use this as a growing experience and move past my apprehension and do something scary for me. There was just no other option (though I had that pump ready to go just in case).
So, baby two shows up (Buddy).
And, it was different. Harder and yet not.
Again, we had no issues with supply. And, there was minimal bleeding and blistering because I had learned from the internet if you simply switch positions you can fix that problem! Who woulda thought!
And I learned from my first go round to limit visitors until I was good and ready so I could actually learn how to feed this boy. I felt selfish for doing it at the time, but now I know that was one of the best ideas I ever had. It really did a lot for my confidence level.
Then came the test.. going out in public.
That was really hard. Really really hard. But I did it. It nearly gave me a nervous breakdown every time and looking back I am pretty sure that is why Buddy instantly became a fussy eater when we weren't home (he could sense my anxiety, anyone in a 20 mile radius could!), but we made it through.
There were moments, one in particular was his nursing strike at 7 months old. Had I not had an online support system (thanks you Kristi Hayes-Devlin for being my personal La Leche League Leader in that moment) I would have given up right then. But I asked someone I trusted for help, she gave me help and we made it through.
For nearly 2 years. No bottles. And I did learn to nurse hands free in a baby carrier.
I did it.
Then came baby 3. Mr Xander.
This time I knew I could do this and do it well. But I wanted more. I wanted to stop being afraid in public. I wanted to not be nervous that I was offending others. I wanted to be able to move freely and still feed a kid.
No amount of knowledge could help me here. This was all me.
So I gave myself a challenge.
I asked to help teach the babywearing and breastfeeding class at the 2008 International Babywearing Conference in Chicago. And they let me help teach it with my now beloved friend Darien Wilson.
I had 6 months to be ready.
First, I mastered newborn nursing with nary a blister, not a drop of blood. Hooray!
I credit a lot of this to the fact that we didn't have a single visitor at the hospital. I wanted that time to rest, get to know this new baby and really figure out how to nurse him. For the record, each baby is a new learning experience.
I remember one nurse came in to talk to me about how the breastfeeding was going. I told her it was great, we had it under control and thanks for checking in. I happened to sneak a peek at what she wrote in my chart after that conversation and it gave me a laugh. She wrote, "very confident about breastfeeding... perhaps too confident."
If she only knew!
We really took our time sorting out the nursing relationship until we were comfortable with each other. Then it was challenge time.
I took every baby carrier I owned and forced myself to master breastfeeding in it hands free... in public. I would go out at times I knew X would need to eat and I would toss him in that carrier and troubleshoot until it was good. Week after week after week.
There were rough moments. I remember hearing that some people were offended at church by it. There was even an announcement once on being more modest at church and someone told me it was because some people were bothered by my nursing clothes (look, my life is easier when I have necklines that give baby easy access, deal with it) and some were just bothered by the nursing. But I didn't quit. Their problems, their discomfort wasn't my fault, that was their issue to deal with.
Over the months I became really great at nursing hands free, discreetly in any baby carrier worth its salt. And I'd had some interesting experiences along the way.
I even had the ultimate embarrassing breastfeeding moment on the plane to the babywearing conference (click here to read that train wreck, hee hee), but I took it and used it to laugh at myself during the class.
Again, I did it. It went awesome. And Xander nursed a little over 2 years and still gripes at me about losing his "night nights" as he calls it, on a daily basis.
Each time I've taken what feels like a mountain for me and climbed it. And while it may not seem like much to some, for me it is a personal accomplishment.
With this baby, I have set a new challenge. I want to be brave enough to help other mamas. I want to make a point of letting other know that breastfeeding isn't special, it isn't a big deal, it isn't anything superhuman.
It is normal.
Yes, we need help to learn and yes, sometimes it can be tricky, but the truth is that is and should be viewed as a normal way to feed a baby. In any location. At home, on a bus, at church, at a wedding, on a beach. It is not offensive, even when a woman opts out of wearing a giant blanket over herself that just screams "lookit what I'm doing!"
I know what it is like to be bothered by it.
I know what it is like to be the one bothering others.
And I know no one should ever be bothered either way.
But here in this conservative area, attitudes need to change a bit. We should all be respectful of each other.
That includes respecting a baby's NEED to eat whenever and wherever he wants.
So, if you see me patting a mama feeding her baby on the back, if you see me sit by someone who looks nervous trying to feed he baby in public, if you see me nursing away hands free in a carrier while I play the piano or lead some music or talk to someone, just know I'm trying to climb my latest mountain.
Feel free to come along for the climb.
Happy Breastfeeding Week.
(As my friend Jan said, "Lactivists... LACTIVATE!")
PS. Because I am keenly aware that we are all at different places in our parent journeys, please know that I completely respect those who choose not to or are unable to breastfeed for any reason. We all have our own mountains to climb and this one isn't for every woman out there. The fact is, it isn't how you feed your baby, it is how you LOVE your baby that really matters. And don't let anyone tell you any different (or tattle on them to me and I'll straighten them out).