If I could offer just one piece of advice to breastfeeding moms it would be this: don’t have goals. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse your child until 6 months, or 9 months, or a year, or two years. Don’t tell yourself you will nurse in public, maybe with a fancy cover/boob tent until you get brave enough to ‘NIP’ (as the mommy boards like to say) without it.
Instead, assume that your breastmilk will nourish your child with the same unconscious and total confidence with which you assume you will wake up in the morning. Assume you will breastfeed your child in public, because often you will be in public, and often your baby will need to nurse while you are in public, and it is really just a no-brainer. Assume that you and your sweet nursling will have your struggles along the way, and do not hesitate to seek out support for challenges such as nipple pain, poor latch, strong let down, dip in supply, nursing strike, plugged ducts, or mastitis (IBLCs, La Leche League, and peer support groups are all great resources to help get you through any hard times) .
Assume that you will continue on with this essential relationship until your child’s nutritional needs are fully supported by healthy, whole foods, your emotional bond is strong enough to support the transition, and you no longer feel they need you in that way. I’ll let you decide what that means for you; for me, it meant around 18 months with my son, after a couple of attempts to night-wean where it was clear to me that he wasn’t yet ready, and one final attempt where I could simply tell that he was. With my daughter, who knows? maybe we will be done at one year, maybe 18 months, maybe 3 years. I have no goals.
There is a lot of energy out there in support of breastfeeding, and breastfeeding in public, and of course I understand why. It is my belief, however, that this does in some way detract from the more important message, which is that breastfeeding is not only the most normal and natural thing in the world, but a completely necessary and inherently engrained aspect of child-rearing. Human babies survive on breast milk. This milk is produced by a mother’s mammary glands for this purpose (hence “mammals”). Why on earth would you not give this to your baby? What discussion is really necessary? I don’t feel the need to advocate for breastfeeding in any way, or celebrate my own breastfeeding relationships, because I really do think it is a very simple part of life that deserves little to no attention. I do realize that some women have been harassed, but this has never been my experience. I honestly don’t think I would even notice if someone did look at me funny while I nursed my child in public, because other people — and the utterly ridiculous possibility of somehow upsetting them — are not even on my radar during that moment.
My personal stance, then, is that we need to respect mothers, and babies, and the simple act of breastfeeding as the essential building block that it is by just completely getting on with it. There is absolutely no way of knowing what minute percentage of mothers are actually physically unable to breastfeed because this determination is so muddled in misunderstanding. Sadly, far too many women are unnecessarily confused and deterred by the terrible advice and scare tactics of misinformed physicians. Forget the growth charts. Formula doesn’t exist. Of course you will make it to 6 months! Of course you will nurse in public! And one day, when you are in the car with your family on a spontaneous road trip, or lazily nursing your child in bed, or during a power outage, you may marvel at the simplicity and ease and miracle of it all. But you won’t congratulate yourself, because you never for one second expected anything different.
(I love this photo of me and my son. I look so confused, bordering on a state of shock, and the milk spot on my shirt, general surrounding mayhem, and perfectly blissed-out & oblivious baby are so illustrative of the fourth trimester for new moms~!)
If I could offer TWO pieces of advice to breastfeeding moms, it would be the above, and also this gem: learn to stop leaks by applying gentle counter-pressure to the entire nipple/areola area during let down. Just cover the baby-free breast with your forearm or the palm of your hand and press down until let down sensation subsides. Voila! Discrete, fool proof, dry. No bra or stupid nursing pads necessary… or receiving blankets shoved down the front of your shirt if, you know, you’re as ‘together’ as me. It took me two children and a combined two years of breastfeeding to figure that one out. Don’t make fun of me.