I have been a certified breastfeeding counselor for a few years now, and have noticed that some people have the perception that breastfeeding has always been easy for me. This isn’t true at all! Like other mothers around the world, I have had my share of difficulties and triumphs. During our birth and infant care classes, I often say that our children turn us into the best versions of ourselves – and for me, my breastfeeding journey has been a huge factor in this transformation. Here are some of the valuable lessons I have learned along the way:
1. Breastfeeding isn’t easy.
I had always known that I would breastfeed. Nobody had to convince me. It was one of those things that I didn’t think too much about, even though I didn’t have a support group yet when my first baby was born. And so I did. I brought my first son to my breasts and had him latch on just like I had learned at birth preparation class. The nurses and doctors cheered me on and were even surprised that I seemed to be doing it without difficulty… until it started hurting. A lot.
To cut the long story short, I spent around three long weeks struggling to breathe through this excruciating pain each time my baby latched on. My nipples had started bleeding and I was feeling the torture of engorgement. Even just wearing a shirt felt torturous. I started to dread feeding but soldiered through it, biting my lip and practicing my labor breathing skills. And then one day, while E was feeding, I pulled him closer and shifted his weight a little bit when I realized that there was no pain at all. Hallelujah! It felt as though the angels were rejoicing! I thought I had no latching issues, but I was wrong. From then on, each time I would encounter a challenge, I looked back at those weeks of literal blood, sweat, and tears, and was able to assure myself that my baby and I could get through anything.
2. For every breastfeeding challenge, there is a solution.
Problem-solving and getting help were things that breastfeeding was able to train me in, as a mom who had breastfed two children, the first for 26 months and the second for 42 months. As a counselor, though, I was able to really hone my skills in identifying the issues and solutions. The deciding factors are now the availability of time, resources, willingness, and resolve not just of the mother, but of everyone around her. Of course, there are circumstances that make the goal seem more daunting, but not impossible.
At the end of the day, I think the people I have to thank most for teaching me this lesson are those moms who struggled with issues such as separation from their babies at birth, premature babies, low milk supply, maternal illness, mastitis, incorrect information, unsupportive family members, and even postpartum mood disorders who bravely asked for help and just kept pushing forward. There would be times that I myself would just stand back, amazed at their persistence and incredibly proud of how they had managed to find the solutions that worked best for their circumstances.
3. There is something beautiful about being in the moment.
Prior to having kids, I was always the type of person who was up and about, working full-time at a corporate job while also engaging in activity after activity and then after, partying like there was no tomorrow. Having had to slow down, first, due to pregnancy and then having to take care of a new baby caused me a lot of distress and anxiety. You can just imagine how having a baby latched on to me for what seemed like forever got me feeling restless and wondering if I was missing out on life.
But I wanted this! I had always wanted to be a mother, deep in my spirit. And this child, so beautiful and dependent, grew inside me. On those nights that seemed so long, I would gaze at my baby and realize, over and over, that I wasn’t missing out. That this is Life and I was participating fully in it. I didn’t need to be up and about all the time, trying to get ahead in the endless rat race. Surely, there would be opportunities and time for those things later on. Letting go of those stressful thoughts as my baby breastfed and just taking as much time as we needed to be together gave me a deep sense of peace. I learned how to say to myself, “This is where I need to be, right now, with my baby.”
4. We have to surround ourselves with the right people.
While I may not have had a lot of support when I was starting out, I did have an OB-Gyn and a pediatrician who were both very supportive of my breastfeeding goals. I also eventually found my tribe of breastfeeding mothers and advocates who would pull together for me and my baby whenever I encountered bumps along the way. I also have a husband who, while not as gung-ho as I was about exclusively breastfeeding, has given me the space and opportunity to make these decisions and even train as a counselor. I thank all of them for helping me find my strength to make it this far.
I have seen the same factors affect the journey of many of my counselees. In many cases, breastfeeding struggles they encounter may not be biological or physiological in nature, but are brought about by lack of proper information from their care providers and, perhaps more unfortunately, a very unsupportive atmosphere among friends or in the home. This is why I encourage my pregnant friends to seek information and support from reliable sources, as well as find medical care providers who are breastfeeding advocates. Breastfeeding support groups such as Breastfeeding Pinays can also provide the much-needed boost of confidence for those who are feeling discouraged. By learning how to ask for help and by taking charge of decision-making for our children, we embark on a journey of becoming more empowered and confident parents.
Breastfeeding has changed me, so gently and yet so deeply. I am glad that I opened myself to these lessons as I sought to nourish my children in the best way I possibly could.
Doula Noelle Polack is a fertility, birth and postpartum doula. She is also a Certified Breastfeeding Peer Counselor of Breastfeeding Pinays, Inc., with special training on lactation massage and caring for sick or premature babies.