The saying goes “breast is best” but it’s not always that easy for everyone for numerous reasons, and often mamas don’t get to make a decision about their breastfeeding experience. Women are often pressured and shamed before they’ve even begun their passage into motherhood when what they actually need is love, support, and guidance from those who have traveled the journey before them.
For me, after what can only be described as a traumatic birth experience and not getting that ever so important skin to skin contact during the “golden hour” after delivery, I feared my greatest desire to be able to breastfeed my baby would be met with many struggles – if I was even able to get started in the first place.
I was still coming around from all the medication my body had been pumped with during labor when I heard the soft voice of my son’s pediatrician saying, “Emma, I know you’re sore, but I’m putting baby on your chest now. He’s looking for you.” I could not have been filled with more love and gratitude than when my son was finally placed at my breast. As he found his way to my nipple, I began to feel that gentle tugging and he was nursing. I remember seeing my baby here for the first time and realizing that the one thing I really wanted to be able to offer my baby, my breast, was finally coming true. This was part of my birth plan, a part that I was actually able to go through with!
I don’t remember everything from that morning but I do remember thinking how fortunate I was that I had a very supportive team around me, encouraging and supporting my breastfeeding journey.
When baby boy arrived, he just got it. He knew I was his mama and I was there to continue to nourish and provide for him and his fragile little self, now outside of my womb. My areolas had darkened for him to see them more easily. I gave off the scent of my amniotic fluid that he had been so familiar with to guide him in the right direction to my nipples and my breasts were filling with that magical, milky elixir. Grateful just doesn’t seem a big enough word for it all. It was finally all working out.
The one thing I wish I had known back then, however, was that even though this was something I really wanted to be able to do, I wasn’t prepared for just how hard it could be.
As thankful that baby and I now continued to share this sacred bond of nourishment through my body, my breastfeeding journey has been met with many complications and difficulties that no one really gives you the hard truths on. Poor latching, uncomfortable feeding positions, engorged breasts, baby refusing the nipple, blocked milk ducts, and of course the sore, cracked, bleeding nipples! Thankfully no mastitis – but that was enough!
There was plenty I didn’t know, I was uneducated and ignorant of just what a feat it would be to continue to provide my body to the tiny human I had just birthed. How complicated it could be to encourage a wide latch from your baby and for them to continue this for each feed to decrease the risk of getting sore, cracked, bleeding nipples. How unbearably painful it could be trying to unblock a milk duct at 2 AM when you’re sleep-deprived, emotional, and baby is calling for you again. The hardship of trying to find the most suitable feeding position when you’ve already got an aching back and shoulders from leaning over your baby and a sore incision site from your recent c-section. The dilemma of trying to feed and soothe a screaming baby out in public that is refusing your nipple. And just getting used to feeding out in public, worrying about stares from people and those judgmental looks.
But, my journey has also been met with an enormous amount of support, kindness, and love and this is what I choose to focus on.
There is my doula friend who organized a free breastfeeding workshop before my son was born, sharing tips and advice on how to get started breastfeeding. My son’s pediatrician who has 4 children of her own showing me a variety of the most comfortable positions for me to feed baby in. To the tech woman who provided my son’s first hearing test showing me how to get a better, more sufficient latch. The kind server in a coffee shop who passed me extra napkins with a smile as I awkwardly fed my son out in public for the first time as he spit up all over me. The two elder women on a recent flight I took with my son, who really encouraged me to breastfeed during take-off and landing to aid my baby’s ears and soothe him. My online community who provided me with tips for coping with sore cracked nipples in the early days and the use of balms, silver nipple cups, and cold compresses. To all the men and Dads in my circle who visited us and never once made me feel uncomfortable having my breasts on display or that I had to stop nursing my baby for their insecurities. And finally to my husband, who continuously encourages me to do what feels right for me and my son. For always taking my photo out in public any time I feed my son normalizing it for me. For supporting me on my journey of breaking the stigma associated with breastfeeding in public.
222 days in and we have no plans of stopping our breastfeeding journey. We have a great village of support now and are not afraid to ask for guidance when we need it. And just as these women and men have supported me on my journey I support you on yours. Go ahead mama, whip out those boobs and nourish your child. Be free and nurse your baby. To all of you fabulous people, I am grateful, I feel safe, I feel seen and I feel loved and I can only hope these feelings are being passed onto my son during each moment of bonding we share through all of our nursing sessions.
And if you do need a reminder, although it’s breastfeeding month, any way you end up feeding your baby is the right way. Breastfed, bottle-fed, formula-fed, a mixture, and everything in between! We all have our own stories to tell and as long as Mama and baby are healthy, safe, nourished, and loved then that is all that matters. You do you.
Emma Love: As a certified coach, Doula and Reiki Master, Emma uses a range of techniques and her background as a qualified mental health nurse to offer everything from mindset, pregnancy, and postnatal coaching to more alternative treatments such as Reiki, meditation, and crystal therapy; guiding her clients into a life filled with more love and happiness for themselves. She also now runs her own online, virtual breastfeeding workshop to support new mothers to be on their breastfeeding journeys worldwide. Originally from the UK, Emma now lives in the beautifully sunny, Caribbean, Cayman Islands with her husband, son, and Italian greyhound.