Below is a collection of the stories I received from some of the mamas who participated in the Public Breastfeeding Awareness Project 2015 | Northern Virginia. I would love for you to take a few minutes to read the unique and incredible journey each of these women has been on and be inspired by them. This year’s project took me everywhere from a creek to local businesses (hello, Bean Bar!) and all the way to the Supreme Court in Washington DC.
Updating to add that I have also added a second post which has my favorite photos from all of the #PBAP2015 sessions I did this year – you can find that here. Please also follow our blog circle to check out Kristin Bell’s photos!
“I set into breastfeeding blindly, only armed with the opinion “I’ll try it, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll move on!” No research and no classes; I went in on a wing and a prayer. Well, I spent the first couple weeks after my boy was born floundering. I constantly questioned myself, and in turn drove my husband crazy… “He could not be hungry again… could he?” “Dr Google says that my body will make as much milk as he needs…so why does he still seem hungry??” I was so lucky to have a friend prod me to attend my hospital’s breastfeeding support group; I entered into a room chock-full of HUNRGY babies and it was the first time I felt at ease and confident that we were doing all we could and to just keep on. I wish I had gone sooner though because I do often wonder whether trying to space the feedings as I did in the beginning (thinking, “the hospital told me he would eat every 2 to 3 hours”) perhaps adversely affected the establishment of my supply during those precious 8 weeks of maternity leave that I had.
That support group was what really taught me the value of mommas encouraging each other. It inspired me to begin the petition advocating for a family space in Nationals Stadium, and the positive response from that lit the fire for future breastfeeding advocacy. I’ve had some discerning conversations with people on the topic of breastfeeding, some on the importance of an accessible and accepting workplace pumping culture, and a lot about nursing in public. I try to tread lightly in knowing that everyone is entitled to their personal emotional responses, but every conversation is an opportunity to teach someone an aspect or side to the story they may never have considered. And that’s why this is important. My baby turns one this upcoming week! He was born last year at the start of World Breastfeeding Week and we’re so excited to be honoring it again, much more confident and relaxed than we were a year ago.”
“The first few weeks of nursing were super hard. It was painful, and I felt like all I did was nurse and pump. I kept telling myself “let’s keep trying until this week is over”, and then the same thing the next week. I would not go anywhere without my nursing cover. I did not want to nurse in public. But over time, the pain disappeared and my baby started refusing the cover, pushing it away and wiggling until I took it off. It was summer, and I don’t blame her! I finally gave up on the cover and realized that nobody seemed to mind my nursing in public. I nursed anywhere and everywhere. I sometimes got thumbs up from other moms. Three years later, I am nursing my second baby. I’ve only had a three-month break between the time my daughter weaned herself at 21 months and the moment my son was born. I have supported several friends on their nursing journey, have pumped for 4 other babies via Human Milk 4 Human Babies – Virginia , and I feel immensely blessed. We ARE normalizing breastfeeding. One nursing at a time. Even here, on the steps of the Library of Congress, the oldest federal cultural institution in the United States.”
“Being in St. Dominic’s Church in Washington, DC takes me back to a very special place in time. My oldest son was baptized here, at only 6 days old. He was brand new, and so was my nursing journey. I nursed in public for the first time during that service. However, I didn’t nurse among the congregation; I opted instead to sit on the staircase in the back of the church. Why? I think it was because I was still getting the hang of this nursing thing. I felt vulnerable as a new mother and had this preconceived notion that women didn’t nurse in church. Why would I think that? Maybe it was because I had never actually seen a woman nurse in church. It wasn’t because breastfeeding in public was wrong. In fact, the Pope affirmed later that year that mothers should nurse their children in church, without question.
My oldest nursling is now over 2, and my youngest is now 1. I have traveled many roads in our nursing journey, and I no longer seclude myself from the congregation (unless my children show me they would prefer a quiet place). To all of the mothers who have told me, “I wish I could be as strong/bold/confident as you while nursing”, know that my nursing-in-public journey started on the back steps of my church. We all start somewhere. It is with time and practice that I grew as confident as I am today.”
“Every time I nurse my son in public, there is a part of me that worries someone will ask me to move or cover up. When my first born was 6 weeks old, my father passed away. I had to go to orphan’s court four states away to take care of his estate. I had to bring my son along and my aunt came too. It was just me, my aunt, and the female clerk in an office when my son started to get fussy. The clerk told me I could feed him in the bathroom. I was shocked and speechless and unaware of my rights. So I went and feed him in the bathroom feeling sadden and angry. When my youngest was 3 months old, our family of 4 went to an amusement park. I was nursing my son when an employee asked me to cover up. I asked if someone had complained and he said no but there are children around and he didn’t want to explain to them what I was doing. Four years separate these two incidents. The public still needs to be educated when it comes to breastfeeding in public. Breastfeeding is natural and new parents, whether it is their 1st child or 2nd child or 10th child, have enough to deal with. Asking a nursing mom to cover up or nurse in a bathroom puts the mother in a stressful situation at a time when she, most likely, isn’t sleeping well. If seeing a woman feeding her baby makes you uncomfortable, the problem is not her’s but yours. When I see a woman nursing in public, I was to give her a thumbs up. If you can’t do this, just look away and keep walking.”
“For me breastfeeding was never an option, it was the only option. When I was pregnant I had this picture of my ideal birth where I have my son naturally without fear, my favorite music playing in the back group and my partner there sharing in our moment. Well Henry had a different plan and had to come sudden and much earlier than expected. There was panic and excitement and we made it through although no where near what I had in visioned it was still a beautiful moment. Due to Henry being so early I got to hold him a few moments and then both of us had to receive extra care. I was devastated to know that my son had been given formula from a bottle in my absence. I felt so cheated and betrayed. During his two week stay in the NICU I was able to be with him a lot. I would hold him as much as I could and eventually I was able to try breastfeeding him. An epic failure. I couldn’t have felt worse about my ability to nourish my child. Being a new inexperienced mom with no one to guide me on how I should handle this I gave up after only a handful of tries. I would pump and refused to have the hospital staff give my son anything but my breastmilk. My nights at home without baby were spent researching. I googled and read blogs on everything I could find relating to latching, nipple confusion, lip ties, tongue ties, you name it I read it. Once Henry came home we started our journey of weening him from the bottle to the breast. Nipple shields are a life saver! I was able to finally get him to breastfeed successfully! Cue tears of joy. I soon realized my son was not able to keep down much and contacted our pediatrician. They suggested I put him on a reflux medication… Thankfully I had done my research before hand and knew this was not the right choice for us. I declined the medication knowing that it would just mask the actual problem. Instead I changed my diet, cutting out all dairy after following a strict elimination diet to figure out my son had a dairy sensitivity. So after quite a few speed bumps I can save for certain breastfeeding is not easy but it is worth it. My son and I just celebrated our one year anniversary of breastfeeding and I can’t believe we made it this far. I will continue to nurse Henry for as long as he chooses, wherever and whenever he is comfortable.”
“Between my three children, I have been breastfeeding for 54 non-consecutive months. It didn’t start out easy, and there were many tears in the beginning, but nursing has been such a blessing to me. It allows me to slow down on even the busiest of days, enjoy a few minutes of peace and stillness, yet still feel productive for nourishing and bonding with my child.”
“My piece of advice would be don’t give up on breastfeeding if it doesn’t work out exactly how you had envisioned. It probably will take some tweaks to find out what works best for you and baby. Stay relaxed and open minded about it, your baby will feed off of how you handle it. For me with baby #3 I’ve had to pump a lot more than I would like because I had a huge oversupply that my baby couldn’t handle. Even though its more time consuming to pump and bottle feed, it’s worth my baby getting breastmilk that way. I love it!”
“My journey to motherhood was a bit rockier than my crunchy-natural-birth-plan-breastfeeding-obsessed-self expected when I delivered my eager baby boy quite early at 31 weeks. He is now a healthy 16 month old and still breastfeeding – but it has been far from all flowers and sunshine throughout this past year plus. I always knew breastfeeding wasn’t just a natural, easy process as many perceive it to be, but given his prematurity and NICU stay; it was so much harder than I ever could have imagined. I came into motherhood much more educated than the average woman on lactation and infant feeding as I work in global health communication on infant nutrition. Breastfeeding is so important to not only my son’s health, development and wellness but also our emotional connection. That said, you can know everything you think you do on a topic but nothing compares to experiencing it for yourself.
I can honestly say that I find myself worried about milk supply, feeding timing, and technique issues at least once every hour of every single day. Perhaps I’m neurotic, over-informed and overly concerned based on our early difficulties in breastfeeding, but a quick poll of my mommy friends tells me I’m not alone. This is truly an incredibly difficult job, providing total nourishment for another human being. There are so many intricacies to navigate and by looking at the latest breastfeeding message boards and facebook groups I’m on, I can assure you the list of issues, questions and concerns goes on and on as the baby grows. I’m well aware that there is often a simple answer to a lot of these questions/concerns and I know that simple answer all too well from my work in nutrition, but practically speaking, it’s never that cut and dry. I’ve found the best support and sources of information are not experts or doctors, but rather, other mothers dealing with similar issues and experiences to my own. It really does take a village and I’m so thankful for mine everyday.”
“I have always wanted to be a mom, and I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It wasn’t a question to me. What I didn’t know was how nursing a baby does not always come easily or naturally. I struggled so much while nursing my first daughter. She didn’t gain weight and her doctors were concerned, she didn’t have a great latch and I was raw and sore, and I was exhausted from her colic and from not knowing what to do to calm her. I felt defeated that my lifelong dream of motherhood was not starting out as beautifully as I had hoped. I had friends who had their first children around the same time, and everyone else looked so at ease and so natural. I felt the complete opposite. I stopped nursing my first daughter earlier than I had planned, and I am so thankful that formula was an option. My second daughter was the complete opposite; she was a total breeze. She nursed easily and beautifully. I wish that every mother could experience such an easy and wonderful nursing experience. I’m now nursing my third beautiful daughter. She is 11 months, and my breastfeeding journey with her has been more similar to my first than my second, except now I have the experience to know that this time passes so quickly. Knowing that allows me the freedom to really savor the fact that I’m feeding and growing my baby with milk that my body produced. It’s truly amazing and I am proud of my choices. Whether a mother exclusively breastfeeds or formula feeds or does a combination of both, this is a beautiful and short-lived season of life to be cherished.”
“When I was pregnant, I decided firmly that I wanted to arm myself with all the tools, resources, blogs and social media, on all things breastfeeding. But I wasn’t prepared for my emergency cesarean section. In addition, I didn’t bond with my baby right away. I was all over the ‘spectrum of sadness’, and I didn’t know how to overcome my birthing woes. Breastfeeding saved me. I can’t explain it. But I knew I had to do this…that I had to take back what was mine and take control. Breastfeeding helped me bond with my son. And it helped me shift my perspective about his birth from a single-moment, to an all-encompassing miracle.”
I am a first-time mom who is exclusively pumping breast milk for my 14 month old son. My son was born full-term and healthy, but we had problems with his latch from day 1 which led to a lot of pain, tears and frustration. After multiple visits to several different lactation consultants and use of a nipple shield for the first month of life, I decided that it was in my and my son’s best interest to pump and feed him breast milk from the bottle. It has not been easy but I am very proud that I was able to give him only breast milk until 6 months and only breast milk and solids until 1 year of age. He is still getting breast milk at 14 months and I hope to continue for as long as possible. To celebrate this accomplishment and to increase visibility for exclusive pumping, I wanted to do a breastfeeding session that is uplifting and empowering, focusing on how it is possible to pump long-term and to show that the bond between me and my son is strong and loving, despite me not being able to nurse him directly.
“Nursing both my children has been a priority to me, and I have been so fortunate to have a boss who has let me work from home as much as I need to in order to be with them in their first year and beyond. An immense blessing, for which he has earned my profound gratitude and respect.”
“Breastfeeding was something I grew up believing that most moms did until their baby was 12 months old. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned that I was wrong. Not only do many moms choose not to breastfeed, but many who try fail well before their baby’s first birthday.
It took several years to bring each of our children into the world (infertility sucks!) but I knew once they were born that I would breastfeed them. With my first and second babies, we battled thrush and painful latches that multiple lactation consultants told me was perfect or perhaps a little shallow, but since my babies put on weight, I was told the pain would go away. They had lip ties, but I didn’t discover this until much later. My first never had her ties reversed and my second had hers revised at 6 months old.
I was short of my nursing goals with both of them due to health issues I developed with my first (made it to 8.5 months, goals was 12) and being touched out after the death of my mother with my second (made it to 21 months, my goal was 24).
Then we lost baby after baby after baby and I developed PTSD and anxiety and wasn’t even sure if I could ever be normal and strong again . . .and on March 31st, 2014, our first son was stillborn at 21 weeks. We were devastated, but unwilling to give up if there was a doctor who could help me carry to term.
In June, just 62 days after our son’s stillbirth, I was shocked beyond measure to find out I was pregnant. I had met with a new specialist who started a new protocol and hope grew with every week that passed. My miracle baby arrived via induction at 37weeks + 1day gestation and my labor was under 3 hours. Her nickname is Dash because she came so quickly into our lives after over a decade of struggles.
When Dash latched on while still in L&D, I knew something was very wrong and within a few minutes I was bleeding. It took weeks and some major tongue and lip tie revisions to get us to where we are today, still nursing strong at 7 months.
Along my journey, I decided I had been through enough and was going to nurse my miracle whenever, wherever, and however it was convenient to feed her. This was a drastic change from my first two, where I almost always nursed with a cover or behind closed doors!
My goal is to nurse Dash until her second birthday but I am hopeful that our nursing relationship will last until she is ready to wean naturally on her own.
This photo is a celebration of the journey we have been through and the healing that Dash brought with her when she joined our family.”