Happy World Breastfeeding Week!
Usually, I seem to find out this is happening (it’s an annual thing) about three days into the week when the celebration is almost over. I finally was clued in early this year, so I’m excited to celebrate it with you all this year.
We had a team meeting with most of the people who work with us yesterday, and some brought their babies. We sat outside after our meeting and nursed our babies. I have my 13-month-old son. Another mama has her 9-month-old daughter. And, the other two mamas? One is nursing her (almost) 3-month-old twin sons…and the other mama is nursing the other (almost) 3-month-old twin daughters! Yes, milk sharing was happening. It was all so awesome.
I wanted to share with you, today, a little about some of our breastfeeding journeys. Because they weren’t all smiling down at sweet nursing babies while it all went perfectly. At all.
There’s a stark reality about breastfeeding that we need to share here. A reality that mamas need to know. And what better week to share that, than World Breastfeeding Week?
Why Community Matters in World Breastfeeding Week
First, I want to share Emily’s story (with her permission). Many of you have already “talked” to her, as she’s our social media person and often posts to our Facebook page or responds to comments there.
Emily is a mama to three girls, who are almost 9, 4, and 9 months.
When her oldest was born, she was just 21, and was a full-time student and also working. She had no desire to breastfeed her baby…and so she didn’t. She had one person in her life who mentioned breastfeeding to her, but didn’t say much.
By the time Emily’s second baby came along, she wasn’t working full-time anymore and had finished school. She had recently learned that formula wasn’t always safe or healthy (and unfortunately, there were some serious formula recalls around that time), and she wanted to breastfeed her baby. Unfortunately, she had no support system and no knowledge about breastfeeding. She waited two weeks to try because she’d had a repeat c-section and wanted the drugs to be out of her system before nursing. Her baby didn’t know how to latch, and the lactation consultant she saw wouldn’t help her, so she gave up and formula fed again. (The birth stories are for another time!)
Emily got pregnant with her third baby early last year. At the time, in our group of friends, almost everyone was pregnant — so we joked that we had “gotten her pregnant” — lol. This time, she was thoroughly steeped in the ‘natural’ parenting world and was surrounded by mamas who breastfed their babies and toddlers, as well as mamas who had natural births.
Community honestly plays a huge role in this stuff. It truly does.
Anyway, Emily had a VBAC with this baby! We all encouraged her and knew she could do it — and she did. (I was so excited when I heard the baby had arrived via successful VBAC, because I knew she wanted it.) This time, there was no medication barring early nursing, and Emily was determined to do it.
It still was not an easy journey. The baby had a lip tie, didn’t latch well, and this caused pain while nursing. She also wasn’t gaining weight well. Several of her friends encouraged her, answered questions about breastfeeding, and helped her through. Today, she’s successfully breastfeeding her 9-month-old!
I asked her how big a role community played in her success. She told me, “It was so important. Without you girls, I would have given up and [been] giving her formula.”
Sometimes Breastfeeding Isn’t Everything
Next, I asked Chelsea to share her story with us. Chelsea is a mama to 5 — four boys and one girl.
When her oldest was born, she didn’t breastfeed. She was young and didn’t know anything about it, really, and no one around her breastfed, so she didn’t.
By the time her second was born, she had learned about the benefits of breastfeeding, and she had a supportive community of women. Her husband was in the military and was deployed, but she had a lot of women surrounding her who cheered her on — and she successfully breastfed both her second, and her third, well into their toddler years.
And then there were the twins.
Chelsea chose a c-section for her twins, even though she is a big supporter of natural birth and had had a home birth previously. Her twins were born 5 weeks early and were very small (around 4 and 5 lbs.). Their mouths were tiny, and both had tongue and lip ties that made latching extra difficult. This led to a lot of pain for Chelsea, and bleeding. It was not an easy journey.
It came to a point where Chelsea knew that she needed to supplement with formula. She had seen lactation consultants and knew how to breastfeed, but the twins’ mouths were just too small and they were not latching well. She does a mix of formula feeding and breastfeeding now, but is fighting through it and hopes to fully breastfeed them again when they’re a little bigger.
She told me that she’s fighting so hard because she knows the benefits of breastfeeding are worth it, and that these are also her last babies and she wants to be able to do this for them.
For Chelsea, it’s a fight between what she knows about breastfeeding and wants to do, and the reality of her situation right now — that exclusive breastfeeding just isn’t there yet, despite all that she has tried. That’s where she is, and despite some of the judgment she’s received, it really is okay. She’s made an informed choice and is doing what is best for her babies.
Community support is still key — as I mentioned above, one of our other team members and friends nursed one of her babies yesterday. And it’s not her first experience with milk sharing, either. Her older babies have been nursed by other moms, and she’s nursed other babies too. That’s a truly hands-on form of support! But sharing pumped milk, answering questions, or even just being a shoulder to cry on is awesome too.
Community is Key
What these stories highlight is that support and community are absolutely key in breastfeeding success.
Are there moms out there who just put their baby to the breast, and away they go? Sure. That was my experience with my second baby. (Not so much my first, where it took us 6 weeks to even get her to latch, and another 4 after that for the aching to go away. It was hard and it was painful, at first. But we made it.)
When you’re struggling with breastfeeding and feeling like your baby never stops eating, and every feeding takes forever, and you’re sleep-deprived and possibly in pain… Why would you keep going?
If you’re told formula is “fine,” or “equal to breastfeeding,” or “easier or better than breastfeeding,” there’s simply no reason to go on. If you’re given bad advice about breastfeeding that causes more pain or reduces your supply, continuing becomes almost impossible anyway. If you’re surrounded by people who are telling you “Just give up,” or “Breastfeeding is weird anyway,” or “Seriously, it doesn’t even matter, why torture yourself?” then, of course, you are going to give up.
It’s almost impossible to succeed under these conditions!
There will be the odd mom who fights against everyone and everything who succeeds anyway. Some of those moms will later tell others that if they didn’t succeed, they didn’t fight hard enough. (Don’t do that. You don’t know someone’s story.)
But, mamas? Community matters.
If you are surrounded by mothers who breastfeed, who can answer your questions like “Is this supposed to hurt?” or even “Does her latch look okay?” (and you can feel completely okay about showing your breasts that way), then you can succeed!
Having correct information matters too, of course. Being healthy enough to breastfeed matters (healthy = not having metabolic disorders that stop you from producing milk). But if you have all things going for you…then support is what it comes down to.
Can we support breastfeeding mamas better? Can we be that community for them?
I think we can. I think we should. And this week, we will. Hopefully, after this week, we’ll keep it up.
The most important things we can do is encourage mamas and support them. This means telling them they can breastfeed when they express a desire to. It means not shaming them if they need to use formula at some point on their journey. It means telling them that if they want to keep breastfeeding, despite supplementing, that they can get back to it and nothing is impossible.
Ready to join me in being that community? Keep reading during World Breastfeeding Week and sharing, because we’ll be posting some awesome breastfeeding information, including some cool things you didn’t know about it over on Modern Alternative Health, how to prepare for it on Modern Alternative Pregnancy, and more stuff right here.
How do you celebrate World Breastfeeding Week?