World Breastfeeding Week / by jen geigley

** Today, I'm revisiting a post I wrote for Baby the Great on breastfeeding last year. I never published it here on my blog, so I'm posting it here today in honor of World Breastfeeding Week. ** 

Breastfeeding. It's an act of motherhood that seems so simple, beautiful and natural ... and easy. And it is definitely a beautiful, wondrous thing!

But the truth is ... it's not for the faint of heart.

I nursed two babies and I learned so much. Every kid is so extremely different. It's such a unique experience for every mother and baby. Here are my stories.

I became a mom for the very first time in February of 2007 when my baby girl was born during an ice storm. I had read the books, seen the videos and taken the classes and I was ready for this. I was going to breastfeed, and my baby and me were going to be an unstoppable team! My husband and family were extremely supportive and we were all set. Off we went, on our lovely journey.

(Sort of.)

I knew what a perfect latch was supposed to look like, and my child was born equipped with the suction of a Dyson. It was frightening. We were trying. But we could not get it down. We could not get it together. A lactation consultant visited us briefly after delivery, but she did not stay long and by the time she left I was still feeling totally in the dark and pretty bewildered. I thought I knew what I was doing! I had no idea what I was doing.

I did not expect this part of motherhood to be such a challenge. I anticipated that this would be something that would come so naturally ... but it was so very hard. My tiny baby was figuring things out and so was I. She was a hungry little thing, but did not seem to be super excited or happy with the whole idea of nursing. It was a struggle. Also, I did not know that for some moms, breastfeeding can be painful. Like, deep down inside your chest painful. And that's what it was like for me, even with a proper latch. My chest felt like it was being stabbed with knives during milk letdown. It was so painful that I would sometimes have to look away from my sweet baby with tears streaming down my face for a few minutes until the pain eased. It was such a weird experience for me and this was not at all what I had envisioned. Along with the rush of postpartum hormones and emotions that come with lack of sleep, I felt sad, guilty and selfish. My breasts felt huge, hot and out of control. I felt enormous pressure to continue on, even though we were off to a rough start. I found myself dreading feedings because of the pain they caused. I wanted to quit. But pushed on.

Looking back, I have no idea how we made it through those first few weeks (and months) but somehow, we did. It got better. People gave me advice, I read everything I could but most of all, through trial and error I started to feel like I knew what I was doing. I knew what was best for my baby and me, and I trusted that. The pain eventually lessened. My out-of-control brand-new nursing breasts regulated themselves and things became more manageable. We found our groove. I took it all in ... breathing in the smell of my baby's hair, looking into her eyes and waiting for that little smile. I could breathe again. I began pumping and using pumped milk in bottles, and despite what I had been told, my daughter had no problem going from breast to bottle and back to breast again. It saved us. I continued nursing for nine months until baby girl decided that she had had enough of the nursing and gradually weaned herself over the course of a month. I had prepared myself to be a little bit sad when we were finally through, but to be honest, I was completely okay with it. No more guilt for this mom. I was just proud that we had made it this far. I finally realized it wasn't a contest to see how long you could breastfeed; nobody was keeping track of how many bottles she drank and I wasn't going to get in trouble. She was a healthy little girl and all was right in my world.

In 2012, I gave birth to my second February baby. A sweet little boy. And let me tell you ... this time, I was pretty apprehensive about breastfeeding. What was it going to be like this time? (The knives! The stabbing pain!) But you know how it goes. You give birth to a tiny miracle and you hold them in your arms, and boom – the worries vanished. This time, it was different. I would chalk it up to two things: 1) Each baby really is different. This kid was ready to nurse and took to it in a completely different way than my first baby.  2) I had more experience this time around. I wasn't quite as nervous or cumbersome or afraid. We just did it.

This time around, the lactation consultant came in for her visit and watched me feed my son. She just stood there for a few minutes and said, 'Good latch, your milk has come in nicely, breast tissue is moving ... Yup, you've got it! You won't be needing my help.' She left. I was shocked. But I knew she was right. We were going to be okay.

Since then, I have been relieved to find that the stabbing pains have completely gone away. My little guy has become a champion nurser and I enjoy our quiet moments together so, so much. I know these sweet times won't last forever, so I'm soaking it all in. I am currently still exclusively nursing my 14-month-old boy and plan to keep going until he's ready to stop. Whenever that is.

I love both of my breastfeeding journeys, different as they were. I'll never forget all the late nights I spent holding those tiny newborn bodies close. And as I look back, I realize how much I've changed along the way, too. When I gave birth for the first time back in 2007, I was extremely nervous about breastfeeding in public. Or even around family. Back then, I hadn't yet been embraced by the huge support system of mom-friends that I have now. I was so new to everything. I didn't know how to go about wrangling a tank top/cardigan ensemble in the middle of a busy shopping center to nurse a wailing baby. Some of these things come with time and experience, and some come from the wise words of friends who have been there.

With my first baby, I stayed hidden away. At family gatherings, I would hide in a bedroom to breastfeed. I don't think I ever nursed in public. Maybe once in a bathroom stall. One time. Otherwise, it was always at home.

I have no idea how I did that.

This time around, I was so much more comfortable. I breastfed in all sorts of public places on a two-day roadtrip to Florida. I nursed that baby up and down the coast and across six states. I nursed him on the beach, where a man who was on a walk shouted out 'Good job, momma!' as he passed by. I have breastfed at birthday parties and pool parties and camping trips. I breastfed at the state fair and at Disney World. I have breastfed in ice cream shops and theme parks and restaurants. I have breastfed in front of my parents and my husband's parents. And possibly most importantly, I breastfed sitting next to my daughter, who is now six years old. I didn't want to ever hide from her. I wanted her to see and learn that breastfeeding is a normal and wonderful thing. It's how babies eat, and it's how I fed her when she was a baby. She has had lots of interesting things to say about this, but I'm glad that she'll grow up remembering this time in our lives. After all, someday she just might want to be a momma, too.