In the coming weeks, we have a very special series of stories to share with you on a topic that affects all new parents. Breastfeeding often begins the very first time you hold your newborn baby. Shortly before giving birth, a new mama’s body begins to produce colostrum, a protein rich version of breast milk that contains antibodies to help protect the vulnerable newborn from disease. In the delivery room, brand new moms are often encouraged to give breastfeeding a try as a way of bonding with baby and starting healthy habits.
While some moms and bubs get the hang of breastfeeding early on, for others it’s not so straightforward. Some moms struggle with the production of too much milk, which can cause baby to gag and gulp and fuss. Some babies are unable to latch for a long enough period of time. Some moms experience intense pain when they try to breastfeed, especially right after childbirth when the hormones are raging.
Then there are more serious health issues that can make breastfeeding difficult, or even totally unviable. Certain conditions that some mothers suffer from, like polycystic ovary syndrome or diabetes, can limit the amount of breast milk a new mama is physically able to produce. There are also illnesses like cancer that must be treated with medications that are not safe to take while breastfeeding.
Despite all of these potential roadblocks on the journey to a healthy, stress free nursing schedule, the “Breast Is Best” effort still tends to have the last word on how mothers ought to feed their little ones. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for at least the first year. Doctors and nurses tend to suggest breastfeeding for at the least the first six months. The nutritional benefits of breastfeeding are broadly agreed upon by researchers, although there is also plenty of research that show that children who weren’t breastfed grow up to be just as strong and healthy and children who were.
Often, the initial challenges with breastfeeding are overcome with help from family and professional lactation consultants, medical practitioners, and support groups both in person and online. Usually, a baby who wasn’t about the breast at first can learn to latch as the mother’s approach and body begin to adapt. And, other times, breastfeeding is simply no longer on the table.
Still, the stigmatization of moms who don’t breastfeed, for any reason, is rife. This is odd, considering that moms are also stigmatized for breastfeeding in certain public spaces. It seems like we just can’t get it right!
In an effort to move beyond all the generalizations about breastfeeding that can be overwhelming and place a lot of pressure on parents, we decided to ask four moms to tell us in their own words what breastfeeding was like for them.
Each of our moms have very unique babies, experiences, approaches, and avenues for seeking support. The decisions they each made to persevere with breastfeeding, or to ultimately accept their physical limitations weren’t easy. What unites these four mamas is their immense capacity for love and devotion to raising healthy children.
What we learned from this series is ultimately that: when you’re in the moment, and your tiny love needs to nurse, all you can do is your best. Parents are amazing at drowning out the noise, letting go of the guilt, overcoming intense pain, and realizing that while breast may indeed be best if you can get it, the most important thing is simply to feed and nourish your baby.
Our four mamas who are featured in this series are Emily, Savanna, Brooklyn, and Jenna.