World Breastfeeding Week is a time for recognizing the lifelong health and wellness benefits of breastfeeding and giving mothers the support they need, should they choose to breastfeed their babies.
Every mother’s experience with breastfeeding is different, and every baby is unique. Here, 11 local women describe their breastfeeding journeys, the challenges they overcame and share their advice for new mothers.
Bobbie M., Mom to Ellie
“I wanted to breastfeed my daughter because of the nutrition benefits and antibodies she would receive from the breast milk. I never really planned on nursing her for a full 12 months, which is probably good, because I would have been heartbroken.
It took five days for my milk to come in, so it was frustrating trying to figure out whether my daughter was getting enough to eat.
She nursed every two hours and then would cluster feed in the evenings, when I was trying to cook and eat dinner. (Cluster feeding is when a baby wants a lot of short feeds over a few hours.) This became mentally challenging for me.
No one in my family had ever breastfed, so I had to rely on reading blogs and calling the lactation specialist at the physician’s office. By the time I fed her, changed her diaper and drove to town, it was time to nurse again.
I was out of town with family when I decided to try giving her formula for the first time. I remember sitting in a dressing room alone for 30 minutes while she nursed. Then, while sightseeing, we had to stop at a restaurant so I could sit down and nurse her.
I had given her all the frozen milk I had taken with me, and she still seemed hungry. That first bottle just seemed to satisfy her. After that, I started alternating nursing with formula, and that worked for us while I was on maternity leave. I could nurse her around 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., and then at noon, I would need to give her formula.
Once I went back to work, I decided it was best to completely stop nursing and pumping.
Looking back, I wish I could have done more, but I’m thankful for the amount I was able to do. My advice for new moms would be to find a support group for breastfeeding, especially if you are the first in your family to breastfeed.
Also, if it doesn’t work out for you, don’t be too hard on yourself. You know when to push through and when to go in a different direction.”
Regina G., Mom to Emmy and MaryMac
“Although I had an undergraduate degree, a master’s degree, and was attending PA (Physician Assistant) school to obtain my second master’s degree, being a new mom was baffling to me. I felt completely incapable of caring for my newborn infant.
Most of my confusion centered on my perceived failure at breastfeeding my baby. How could something I was raised and trained to believe was “as natural as possible” and “best for baby” be so incredibly difficult and seemingly impossible for me? Was there something wrong with me? With her? With Us?
Before Emmy was born, we attended the recommended birth classes. I completed several months of didactic training in obstetrics and gynecology. I knew all about the process from conception to birth. Yet, no one ever told me breastfeeding could be hard.
I wasn’t prepared to have feeding difficulties. I wasn’t prepared to develop an obsession with my baby’s weight, tracking “i”s and “o”s as if I were monitoring her in the hospital 24/7. There’s nothing less attachment-promoting than creating a pseudo-clinical setting where my concentration was solely on data and numbers, not cuddles and bonding.
We weren’t connecting, and I felt totally inadequate. We would go for weight checks multiple times per week and see weight loss, or, worse yet, Emmy would nurse for what seemed like hours in the office under the direct guidance of my wonderful lactation consultant, and we still saw no significant weight change.
We bought nipple shields in every size, tried the “My BreastFriend” pillow, the “Boppy” pillow, and different positions, pumping before, pumping after, hand massage, heating and cooling packs and supplements for milk production and avoided peppermint. Everything. I felt like I tried it all. Yet still, I was bewildered by all of this.
I didn’t feel like I could “fix” this. My confusion was underscored by my lack of sleep, overwhelming anxiety and the development of serious postpartum mood and OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) symptoms.
Finally, during one early morning feed around eight weeks postpartum, when Emmy was particularly fussy and refusing to latch, I decided it was enough. I took one look at my breast pump, and never looked back. I started exclusively pumping around the clock, and Emmy started gaining weight.
My supply increased substantially. I was no longer anxious and overwhelmed by the thought of trying to latch, bothering with nipple shields, and never knowing if she was getting enough or any milk at all. Finally, I found something that worked for us.
After 11 weeks at home with Emmy, I went back to clinical rotations. I took my pump with me on every rotation. Every five weeks I rotated through a new office, a new medical specialty, a new work schedule and a new place to pump. But Emmy was thriving, and so was I. My postpartum mood and anxiety symptoms were improving. I felt my sense of purpose again.
Looking back, I can easily see a direct correlation between my decision to exclusively pump and my depressive symptoms improving. To be honest, my ability to pump and provide milk for my baby improved our attachment significantly.
Maybe it wasn’t “traditional” or “natural,” but it worked for us. Her daddy was her primary caregiver that first year until I finished PA school. But being able to pump made me feel like I played a significant role in her care. Even if I couldn’t always make it home in time for bath time and nighttime routines, and even though I sometimes left before Emmy was awake, she still received the well-researched and proven benefits of my breastmilk — a part of me, just for her. We had never felt closer.
In my opinion, we often underestimate how one’s ability to breastfeed — or not — can influence a mother’s self-esteem and, ultimately, her ability to bond with baby. As a mental health professional, I use my own experience as a platform to advocate and educate other medical professionals and individuals that take care of both moms and babies. We know from research that babies raised by depressed moms have poorer health outcomes and are more likely to develop mental illness down the road as well. And, while we know there are many incredible benefits to breastfeeding, we must stop alienating the moms who elect not to breastfeed and provide much-needed support to all moms. If we were as focused on a mom’s mental well-being as we were on how she chooses to nourish her baby, we’d likely see far fewer maternal suicides and infanticides.
I encourage all moms to do what’s best for their mental well-being, as that choice is ultimately best for baby as well. We have to start advocating for moms’ mental health. Our babies truly depend on it!”
Megan S., Mom to Charlotte and Caroline
“When I was pregnant with my first child, I knew I wanted to breastfeed because of all the benefits of breastfeeding. Ultimately, I was not very successful, mostly because I had no clue what I was doing and didn’t know who to reach out to.
Ten years later, when I had my second child, I was determined to be successful. We started out great, and she latched immediately after she was born. For the first three weeks, we were doing fantastic, and then life threw a curve ball. I ended up in the hospital for five days with pancreatitis and gall stones. I had to have two different surgical procedures during that time and was on antibiotics and pain medications.
I was determined that my hospitalization would not stop me from achieving my goal of exclusively breastfeeding my baby. So, despite the pain and medications, I pumped and dumped all my milk for the five days I was in the hospital and for two days afterwards.
The first time my baby latched again after a week, I burst into tears because I was terrified that she wouldn’t want to nurse again after taking a bottle for a week at just a month old. I was able to exclusively breastfeed her for six months. I then supplemented breastfeeding for another three months until we ended our breastfeeding journey when my baby was nine months old.
I went back to work when my baby was 13 weeks old and pumped while at work. I am a nurse, and often my schedule was too busy for me to pump as many times as I needed to during the day at work, so my supply decreased. I wanted to breastfeed for a year, but I am so grateful that I was able to breastfeed for nine months.
My advice to new moms who want to breastfeed is to seek out a support system. Find a lactation consultant and friends who have breastfed who can help answer questions and give advice if something isn’t working well.
I also recommend starting pumping early on. Take your breast pump to the hospital with you and have the lactation consultant help you with it. If you start pumping early, you will build your supply for when you are unable to feed your baby or for when your supply starts to drop off.”
Anna W., Mom to Jonah and Silas
“I breastfed both of my boys. I did this for many reasons, but most specifically because I wanted that emotional connection with them from the very start. I also wanted to continue nourishing them in whatever way my body would allow. Having Cystic Fibrosis(CF), I wasn’t sure how much my body would allow me to give while still caring for myself.
With both my boys, the experience was very challenging for me physically. Jonah had a tongue tie that had to be corrected, and then he developed a milk intolerance. I had to give up all dairy for about five months. If his intolerance hadn’t cleared up quickly, our breastfeeding journey would have been very short. In the five months I gave up dairy, I lost an incredible amount of weight, and my lung health began to decline. Though I did make it a full year breastfeeding Jonah, we ultimately ended our breastfeeding journey because I had to be hospitalized to receive IV antibiotics.
With Silas, I had a little more wisdom to recognize when my body was too drained and exhausted to offer anything else. Though things were overall easier with breastfeeding Silas, my body was exhausted from my pregnancy with him. We made it seven months before we arrived at a very emotional end to our breastfeeding journey. Very rarely does CF limit me, but this felt very limiting and I was emotionally drained.
After everything was said and done, I realized the importance of the wisdom God gave me, that it’s more important to maintain my health so I can be around as the boys grow, than to provide nourishment from my body.”
Hannah M., Mom to Conner, Jamison and Harmoni
“Hello! My name is Hannah M. and I have three little ones! Conner (4), Jamison (3), and Harmoni (two months). With Conner and Jamison, I pumped and supplemented with formula through about three months, and then I switched to exclusively formula.
I had to go back to work earlier with my first two, and pumping, unfortunately, was no longer much of an option. I also had a slight issue with the supply I was able to maintain. However, with Harmoni, I am able to exclusively pump and breastfeed. I was able to take more time off from work and knew that breastmilk would be better for her system if it was a feasible option.
Breastfeeding/pumping can be tiring, but I believe it is worth it. All of my babies have had an issue with re-flux, but I can tell that the re-flux isn’t as severe with exclusively breastmilk. Breastfeeding also gives moms such an awesome bonding experience with their babies, not to mention how much money you save!”
Meagan B., Mom to Anna Talbot and Berkley
“I had my first child four years ago. We started nursing immediately in the hospital, though we had a tough time with her latch. My milk came in fast and furious our first morning home and did not let up. I had a constant bowling ball leading me to have to pump before feeds to loosen for her latch and then pump after feeds to empty the engorgement.
I ended up with infections but continued to nurse for six weeks. After six weeks, with the amount of pumping before and after plus the time of feeds, I knew I could not function keeping up while also going back to work in two weeks.
I started to exclusively pump when she was six weeks old and pumped between 60-80 ounces a day. While this was not the journey I imagined, it worked for us. It removed the stress of three times the process, it allowed me to have more peace about having to go back to work at eight weeks, it allowed my husband to help as he so badly wanted to and it gave my type A personality comfort in knowing exactly how many ounces she was getting and when. Somehow our saint of a baby slept through the night at eight weeks and never once cluster fed, so I knew she was well fed and full!
With baby number two a year and a half ago, I thought maybe my supply wouldn’t be as intense, and I could give it another go. From the first feed at the hospital, it was one of the most painful latches.
After arrive back home from the hospital, knowing my past supply and now having a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler at home as well, I quickly returned to our exclusively pumping journey and never looked back…until I got mastitis about two weeks in.
My milk supply, again, was a constant engorgement and a hefty freezer supply already building. I spent half my days working through clogs, showering to soften the nodules and using ice packs, heat packs, cabbage leaves, mint tea…anything that would help the supply slow down, to no avail.
At week six, New Year’s Day, I got mastitis for the second time in a month and a half. My OB recommended admitting me to the hospital, cutting my supply cold turkey and fighting through the pain of the engorgement and infection. He reminded me, going back to work with a body wanting to feed an army was not ideal, and that “plenty of Harvard grads were not breastfed.”
I decided to remain home while cycling through all the home remedies, barely pumping to relieve and to do anything to tell my body to stop supplying. It took me almost a full month and a half to completely get my body to respond and stop producing milk. (TMI, I went through 400 breast pads in a three-month period) just to get my body to regulate.
In those six weeks of pumping, I was able to supply a freezer of, almost to the day, six months of breast milk. So while I accepted the pumping journey earlier on with baby number two, knowing it worked for us and she was still getting what she needed, it ended a lot earlier than I planned.
I told myself in my first pregnancy I would not be upset with what my body decided, knowing I had friends who struggled with breastfeeding and gaining an ample supply. My mom guilt came as a surprise to me, being that my body was making enough to feed quintuplets, but it just was not the path for us, I had more guilt knowing my body could produce it, but to the extreme it was, I could not handle it.
While I wholeheartedly wanted my babies to be nursed and have breast milk for a year, I accepted (and share my experience often) that my baby, her sister and my husband deserved my sanity and that my mental health and well-being was just as important as what my baby consumed.”
Gale J., Mom to Chris, Jessica, Valerie and Amanda
“Before I ever had children, I decided that I would like to breastfeed them. I was very nervous about it but was willing to try.
We had four children. The first two were formula fed because; at the time, I had to go back to work shortly thereafter. When the third and fourth babies came along, I decided that I would try to take up the challenge.
Then, I was staying home with my children. The first child I breastfed had to go back into the hospital for a few days because of jaundice. I was very upset, because the day she went back to the hospital, my milk came in. By the time she was released she was so used to the bottle that she did not want to nurse. We battled it out with me crying and her crying all day long until she finally gave in. I am so happy that I persevered, because it was a struggle in the beginning.
There are so many reasons to breastfeed. I have no condemnation for anyone who has bottle-fed their children or breastfed them. Each person needs to make their own decision depending on their circumstances.
I loved breastfeeding. I loved the time that I could spend holding and cuddling my little one. Usually I was very busy and hardly ever sat down. But that was a special time of making me rest, hydrate and cherish my baby.
Whatever your circumstances, you can find a way nowadays to breastfeed. I believe it was a wonderful experience and am so glad that I was able share that time with my child.”
Sarah G., Mom to Charlie
“I did not love breastfeeding. I breastfed my son for a year, and, although I loved the bonding time, breastfeeding itself was never something I really enjoyed.
We had a rough start with a pretty terrible infection, and I will forever be grateful to the lactation consultant I saw for weeks who helped me through it.
The best advice I can offer new moms struggling with breastfeeding is to see a professional sooner rather than later, and if breastfeeding just doesn’t work for you, that’s ok too. Don’t force it. Your child will be happy, healthy and loved, no matter how he or she is fed!”
Jessica T., Mom to Everton, John Maxon and Isaac
“I have three children ages almost seven, almost five and almost three. In 2012, I did not start out with the intention of breastfeeding, but I wanted to try. We overcame challenges of soreness, fear and misinformation to make it eight months.
After that, I became a Certified Lactation Counselor so I could help friends in my local community of Duplin County where, at the time, resources were lacking. While nursing my second (to 20 months and three months from delivering my third) and third, I still faced challenges of soreness, anxiety, and even oversupply. But, I never gave up.
Thanks to Nola at Goldsboro Pediatrics for her knowledge and compassion, my third still loves his “beeboos,” and I love the time snuggling with him just as much.
My advice for mothers would be to find your resources ahead of time, reach out for support when it’s tough and never quit on a bad day.”
Michelle P., Mom to Sutton, Brayden and Marlowe
“Breastfeeding has been one of the most mentally challenging jobs I have ever done. It’s been beautiful, hard, rewarding, intimate and exhausting, all wrapped up in one.
What I have learned after breastfeeding all three of my babies is that you have to mentally prepare yourself. It’s hard and exhausting being the sole person feeding your baby. The days are long and the nights are longer. I knew it was something I wanted to do for my children and myself, and I was determined. I gave myself goals: make it to two weeks, then four weeks, and, before I knew it, the year mark was there.
It’s an experience I am so thankful I have had and special time I’ll always remember with my babies.”
Alaine S., Mom to Isaiah, Hannah, Jeremiah and Gabrielle
“I was born the oldest of four children, so I saw my mother breastfeeding my siblings. From watching her, I knew that the only way I wanted to feed my children, once I had them, was breastfeeding.
I am a mother of 4, and, collectively, I breastfed for just over five years. I loved every second of it. The shortest span of my breastfeeding legacy was four months, and the longest span was two and a half years. I knew that breastfeeding was the best for our family, because of the health and brain development benefits. Above that, what was also important to me was the bond and healthy attachment I developed with our children by breastfeeding.
The thing I miss most about having infant and toddler children is breastfeeding. Only 61% of black mothers initiate breastfeeding and maintain breastfeeding for 6.4 weeks compared to 78% of white mothers for 16.5 weeks and 91% of Hispanic mothers for 17.1 weeks, according to American Academy of Pediatrics 2016 study.
I support all mothers who have the ability and the will to breastfeed.”