Yesterday I went to a mommy and me yoga class and I couldn’t believe my eyes. Every single mother undid her bra and nursed her baby at some point during the 60-minute class. My baby lay on my mat in front of me, and as I did my Chaturangas I became unexpectedly emotional. Breastfeeding can be quite lonely and challenging. And for the first time in seven months, I felt a sense of community as a breastfeeding mama.
NEW LIFE AS A BREASTFEEDING MAMA
When I got pregnant with Gemma, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Yet everywhere I turned, I heard more stories about how it didn’t work out for mothers. For most of my friends, complications or different priorities led them to quickly move to formula or bottle-feeding. As a health coach who strives to ‘live well,’ it was important for me to try my best to nurse my baby. So I needed to make a decision. I had to create my own story.
Breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, is a beautiful bonding experience. But also, quite challenging. How do I know if my baby is latching correctly? Am I producing enough? Is my baby growing? I found myself preoccupied with so many unknowns. A good friend reminded me that just as I was learning how to breastfeed, my baby was learning how to eat. On top of which we were meeting each other for the first time! Naturally it would take time to develop our own special rhythm together. So in those early moments filled with uneasiness, I took some deep breaths right before she was about to latch. I had a feeling we could do it, I just needed a moment to center myself, stay calm, and focus on it working out.
COPING WITH SORE NIPPLES, BREAST ENGORGEMENT AND MILK PRODUCTION
Thank goodness for Mother Nature’s remedies, because holy moly did my nipples hurt those first few days. I lathered on coconut oil, olive oil, and nipple cream before and after every nursing session—I found it extremely helpful to keep a little jar in every room of my apartment (I live in NYC, so all three of them!), so I’d always have something on hand when I was about to feed her.
Once my nipples started feeling better I became preoccupied over when my breast milk would come in. Our pediatrician advised that I would need to start supplementing with formula if Gemma didn’t gain weight by our next appointment. The pressure was on. My husband ran to Babies “R” Us and rented a pump. I breastfed every couple of hours and pumped in between, as frequent pumping helps boost milk production. To my relief, after a few days of this breastfeeding/pumping marathon, it was very apparent that the milk was indeed flowing—my breasts were ginormous!
Nipples feeling better? Check! Milk supply in? Check! But it then became a question of how much Gemma was actually consuming. After a few pumping sessions, I learned that as long as I nourished my own body, got as much rest as possible, and took care of my breasts, I would produce the amount of milk my baby needed to grow. I definitely had trouble resting those first few days, so I made sure to drink lots of water, bone broth, and mother’s milk tea.
To keep my energy up and the milk flowing, I snacked all day long on coconut flakes, raw almonds, eggs with grass-fed butter, and even some gluten-free chocolate chip cookies. Oh, and to prevent an upset stomach for baby and me, I made sure to limit my consumption of dairy, gluten, and cruciferous gaseous veggies (like brussel sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower). I also spent a few extra minutes in the shower to massage my breasts and armpits, and let the warm water run over to soothe them. Heated flax seed breast pads were my saviors, too.
BREASTFEEDING IN PUBLIC
Gemma and I got into a good groove about six weeks postpartum. Once the milk was flowing (and life started to feel like it was flowing too), I got used to breastfeeding in places other than in my bed and on my couch. I found it helpful to keep a breastfeeding cover in my stroller bag so I was always prepared to feed her when I was out and about.
We went to a new mom support group every week and I would meet other mommy friends for “nursing playdates” at the park or each other’s apartments for lunch. I grew up in Manhattan, so the always-on-the-go lifestyle is a part of who I am, and the freedom of being able to feed her anywhere at anytime was key for my sanity. Life can feel chaotic for me at times, too, so knowing that I would never leave her food at home or need to warm up a bottle while on the go was a total plus, as well. After a few more weeks, most of my mommy friends went back to work. I found myself nursing Gemma on the couch and park benches on my own, so the next chapter of breastfeeding life started to feel new again.
FINDING THE EASE
Gemma is now seven months old. I breastfeed her every three to four hours, so I typically have to be with her all day or stay close to home. When I’m at a meeting and unable to feed her, my mom or babysitter will give her a bottle of pumped milk. Since I still need to set aside that time to empty out my breasts to pump, I really don’t get a break. Some days feel physically exhausting, so I have to find ways to learn how to appreciate the breaks that I do get. Each feeding/pumping session is now a chance to take a relaxing break from the hustle and bustle of life.
Some of my friends didn’t have the choice to breastfeed or weren’t able to for as long as they wanted. And they have a ton of mom guilt about it. In my case, I have guilt that I am able to breastfeed and others aren’t. Even when I posted a photo on Instagram of me breastfeeding while sipping a glass of rosé last month, some people were up in arms that I was sipping on wine while nursing her. There’s so much mom guilt and mom shaming in the world. Since becoming a mother, I’ve learned that I have to tune out what other people say and stay focused on what feels best for me, my baby, and my family.
FIGURING IT OUT
Breastfeeding takes time, energy, and tons of commitment. Some people are so surprised that I have continued to breastfeed for so long. Of course I often think how nice it would be not to have to rush home from a meeting to breastfeed or go on vacation with my husband and not have to worry about schlepping my pumping supplies along. It would be so, so nice to take a break from breastfeeding and pumping even for a day! When it comes down to it, though, I am in absolute awe of Mother Nature and my body’s ability to nourish my child. I am beyond grateful that I have been able to maintain my milk supply and that I have a schedule that allows me the flexibility to be able to breastfeed, too.
I haven’t thought about stopping (yet), and I really haven’t thought about how long I’m going to continue, either. What I have decided is that I’m going to continue to breastfeed while it still brings me and Gemma joy.
I look forward to continuing the conversation of breastfeeding and shining light on it in a positive way. Breastfeeding definitely ain’t easy, but it sure is an incredible chapter in the book of motherhood, and life!
Wishing you all ease (and fun) on your journey of parenthood. Lots of love to you and your baby/babies (and your breasts too).
Photo provided by Madeline Wulf Photography
Arielle Haspel is the driving force behind bewellwitharielle.com, where she shares her passion for healthy living, eating, and helping other feel fabulous. She’s a certified health coach and host of “Treat Yourself” for Glamour Magazine and “Clean Eating” for Healthination. She’s also appeared on national television shows and in national magazines, including The Doctor Oz Show, NBC’s Today in New York, ELLE, Glamour, People, Seventeen and Women’s Health.