Breastfeeding is one of those aspects of motherhood that you just expect to come naturally. We’re mammals after all, right? Do mama bears and lions really struggle with low supply, sore nipples, and mastitis? Obviously our animal counterparts are spared the emotional and lifestyle dramas and sacrifices that come with choosing to breastfeed their young — the stigma of feeding in public or breastfeeding a toddler, the limits on alcohol and potential dietary restrictions, the feeling of being totally tethered to your baby at all times (especially if, like mine, they have no interest in drinking pumped milk from any receptacle). Even with those particularly human challenges aside, it just seems like it should be easier to do something our bodies were built to do. But it isn’t. At least not for many of us mamas.
I want to share my story not as another vehicle of mom-shaming mothers who chose to (or were forced to) formula feed, or as a tisk-tisk for mother’s who’ve decided to wean their littles. Rather, I want to share my story for those mamas who want to keep nursing past 6 months, a year, even into the second year, but feel overwhelmed by the sacrifices, the stigma, and the lack of support that can come with that choice.
My breastfeeding story is not one of Earth Mother ease. My journey has definitely been a struggle from the get-go… I’ve been hit with everything from plugged ducts and cracked nipples, to latching issues, thrush, and chronic low supply. We’ve had not one but three lactation consultants, and my choice to continue breastfeeding until my little is 2 (or even beyond) means a daily ritual of milk supply building teas, tonics, and foods (more on that here). Nearly all my mommy friends have weaned, or are in the process of weaning, and it seems like that supportive air of “you go, mama!” that I got early on from friends, family, and perfect strangers has morphed into a bewildered “oh wow, you’re still nursing?” now that she’s 16 months old.
To top it all off, I have one of those body types that holds on to a pretty substantial amount of extra weight in order to maintain milk supply, so nearly a year and a half out, I’m still walking around carrying an extra 20 pounds of weight. This is the least of my breastfeeding struggles, but I’m not going to lie — it sucks feeling like an overstuffed sausage whenever I pull on my skinny jeans.
Faced with these challenges, to keep on breastfeeding my now 16 month old, I have to remind myself every day why I’m doing this, why it’s the right choice for me and my little boo, and why I’ve totally got this, even in the face of all the drama. Here are my top motivations that keep me going:
1. The Bond: Even at just 3 times a day now, our nursing sessions are the absolute sweetest part of my day. It’s a time when we cuddle up close and share some quiet, calm, loving time in an otherwise typically hectic day. Little M loves it and looks forward to our nursing sessions (she would nurse way more than three times a day if I let her), and so do I. This special bonding time is something only she and I have, and in the grand scheme of things, it’s so short-lived, that I try to savor every moment.
2. The Comfort: When she’s hurt, when she’s tired and overwhelmed, or when she’s scared and out of sorts, little M will often ask to nurse (she says “Nayyy!” while doing the sign for nursing.. so cute). I don’t necessarily give in every time (depending on the circumstances — where we are, proximity to mealtime), but if she’s persistent and I know the request is more than just a knee-jerk reaction, I love that I can offer her that ultimate source of comfort, security, and calm. She usually just nurses for a minute or two in those cases, but it’s enough to help her feel all better, and I love having that in my back pocket when she needs it.
3. The Health Benefits: Yes, yes, you know all about this, so I won’t bore you with all the statistics. I will say this: little M has been sick maybe 4 times in her whole life, and each time it hasn’t lasted more than a couple of days (with the exception of a persistent cough she had once, that turned out to be due to dry air in her room). I know there are other factors that contribute to her great immunity (an awesome diet that consists nearly entirely of organic, whole, plant-based, home-cooked foods; targeted supplementation of probiotics, vitamin D, and omega-3’s; and my treasure trove of natural healing tools like homeopathics, essential oils, and herbs), but I honestly feel like the biggest factor is her daily dose of breastmilk, which adapts at every feeding in response to her body’s needs at that exact moment. Amazing stuff, really.
Whenever I have to pass up a pretty new dress or top because they’re not breastfeeding-compatible, or when she looks up at me with frustration when my supply dips, whenever she bites me or asks to nurse at the most inconvenient of times, whenever I’m traveling and freak out because I ran out of Mother’s Milk tea and need to Amazon Prime it to some remote cabin in the woods or hightail it a Whole Foods that’s 45 minutes away — I think of these three amazing gifts (and all the innumerable others) that I give my baby every time we nurse, and it all feels worthwhile.
So my message to mamas who want to keep on keeping on, in the face of all kinds of struggle and drama, is this:
Think about your WHY. Write down your top reasons for why you want to, and are choosing to, keep nursing. Connect with other mamas in your community that are committed to nursing their littles (support is so key). Pick up some cute v-necks and button-down blouses, and just spring for a great pair of jeans that actually fit your body right now. And rest assured that the sacrifices you are making are beyond worth it, even if you never get a thank you or any recognition at all for all you’re doing. You’ve got this, mama. And I’m right there with you!
What’s Your Why?
I’d love to hear about your WHY in the comments below!