This week is World Breastfeeding Week and you’ve probably seen lots of images and posts streaming by on Facebook and Twitter. You would have to live under a rock to not see all the press about Olivia Wilde and her Glamour shoot while nursing her new baby. It happens that this big celebration of breastfeeding is all going on as my own journey is starting to come to an end.
I decided to calculate how long I had been nursing when I was out for a run. I find that running is always a great place to think through complicated situations, like math, as it distracts me from the actual running. So, as I ran, I counted months. 10 months for the first, 10 months for the second, but I pumped for eight more weeks after that so really 12 months, the third nursed for 15 I think and now number four … no one goes to college still nursing right? I jest, but he’s 17 months and still nursing so that puts me at a total of 52 months, or four-and-a-half years.
I am the mom that didn’t want to nurse for more than six weeks and I have now nursed for four and a half years. That’s the time it would take to earn a degree. That’s a long time.
I have frequently looked back at some of my nursing failures, particularly not making it to a year with my first and been sad. When I look at the whole picture though, wow! I did this thing that I didn’t want to do and I succeeded and I ended up really loving it.
So to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week, here are four things I have learned while nursing for four years:
1. It’s not possible to be successful without a support team. I never would have made it through some of my hardest times nursing without my husband. I mean, honestly, he was the reason I even said I would try for six weeks because he was so educated and passionate about how this was what was best for baby. Beyond his help and support, the support of my hospital’s lactation department made all the difference with my second child who had a difficult time latching. They helped me through tears (hers and mine) and assured me we would get this and everything was going to be okay, even while the nursing staff pushed formula again and again.
2. Your level of comfort will change, and is most important. When I first started nursing my first, I always left the room, I always covered up in public and would always have a blanket near by to grab if there was anyone around, even in my own house. I had family that were uncomfortable with me nursing and I would get up and leave, in my own house. I nursed in bathroom stalls and corners or restaurants because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. My third and fourth have nursed everywhere and anywhere including in an Ergo carrier while walking around Target shopping with my other children. As I gained confidence in my abilities, I grew more comfortable doing it around other people. I was able to do it discretely; many times no one even knew. Even with this comfort level there are places where I will still excuse myself and choose to nurse on my own. People will ultimately take their cues from me and if I am ashamed or shy or in their face about what I am doing, they are going to be uncomfortable or in my face in return.
3. Breastfeeding is beautiful and I love snuggling my child, but I will never look like Olivia Wilde or Pink while doing it. We always see these idyllic images of a mother and baby nursing in a calm and loving manner, and it does happen, until around nine months. My son has nursed with his feet on my head, while trying to stand up and frequently forgets that they are attached and he cannot take them with him. Nursing a toddler is not beautiful or idyllic as much as it is a lesson in patience.
4. I had no idea my body was capable of this. Pregnancy is a pretty amazing thing — to grow an actual human being inside of you. To be able to nurse your child, to feed them and watch them get bigger and bigger on nothing more than what looks like skim milk coming out of your deflated breasts (I have had four kids nurse!) is truly something else. Also, it doesn’t work anything like you would think. When your milk comes in for the first time and baby pulls off … I was cleaning up milk spray on the other side of the room. It’s crazy!
I know breastfeeding is not for everyone. It wasn’t for me, at least I thought it wasn’t. But here I am. I have nursed four babies for over four years (total) and I still kind of can’t believe it.