This is my marathon picture.
My daugther will be TWO in two weeks. She has been night-weaned since 16 months and by about 22 months, she was down to just a morning and an evening feeding (wake-up and go-to-sleep feed).
This morning she didn’t think to ask for milk. She may tomorrow. I don’t know. But, I think we are going to drop this one and continue with her evening feeds until she decides she doesn’t need that one.
I feel joy for having my body back and I feel sadness for getting closer to the end of this particular part of our journey together.
So. Yes. This is my marathon picture.
I know. I’m not sweaty with skin glistening in the sun as I dash over a finish line…a crowd cheering me on. No. Women do this work behind the scenes. In more private spaces. No medals are awarded. No band kicks into high-gear as we cross the line.
But, I tell you, I have been running a marathon and I’m almost to that finish line.
I have always advocated for breastfeeding in my classes on the microbiome. I always did my song and dance about beneficial bacteria, oligosaccharides, healthy saturated fats, antibodies, lauric acid, and nutrition… And now, I realize I did this song and dance without realizing how difficult it is to breastfeed in this country.
Here’s my opinion why it is so difficult:
1. Due to the formula movement in the 50s and 60s (industry-led, no surprise), many women shifted over to formula a couple generations back. This means that many women and family groups simply didn’t have the knowledge and exposure to breastfeeding anymore. As well, there were less advocates in family systems for breastfeeding.
2. Women typically get 2 weeks to 3 months (3 months is super, super rare) for maternity leave from their work (paid, that is). So many women are incentivized to return to work well before a good weaning period. It is incredibly difficult to pump, work and breastfeed. The women that accomplish this are nothing short of Olympic stars of breastfeeding.
3. Breastfeeding is sensitive to life stress. Prolactin, domperidone, and dopamine are in this curious dance within the body to ensure milk production. Life stressors definitely inhibit breast milk production.
4. Breastfeeding is very isolating in modern society. Many women just find themselves on FB, Instgram, streaming movies, etc. All this is fine. But, what women really need is each other. I don’t want to idealize village life, but it seems that village life was built for and by women. Many hands to help with little ones and new mothers…… Women could talk to each other and share new motherhood morsels of wisdom and usher new life into this world with sisterhood.
5. Breastfeeding in public weirds people out. Of course, we can have boobs all over billboards and movies…and an entire porn industry can be fueled by them. But, when you try to do the most basic, human thing — which is breastfeed your child — you have to shield and hide yourself as if your breasts were the most unnatural thing. So, society says…your breasts are ours to do whatever we want with…and…they are not yours to nourish with and to steward life with.
Ok, those are some reasons. I’m sure there’s more.
Then, there are so many other issues with breastfeeding. There are TOUGH decisions new mothers make all the time about breastfeeding and formula and weaning and solid food introduction. Holy Mother Of All Breasts. It is intense.
With that said, I want to share with some details of my own journey.
To be honest, I didn’t even think I would make it past 3 months. It was not the cuddly, breast-feeding experience I had imagined.
At first, my nipples were just sore and worn out from all the aggressive early feeding (which an infant needs to do to set the pace of milk production for the mama). I had some hysterical outbursts around 2 am when I thought I couldn’t do it anymore (thank goodness hubs was there and encourage us to watch Mr. Bean — yes Mr. Bean is a life-saver).
I also had blocked ducts a few times and mastitis at least twice (all before Zoe turned 1 year old — super stressful time for me). Mastitis is PAINFUL, by the way.
I wondered if she was getting enough milk (she was). I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders because I was her only food source (I had a friend or two with extra milk in their freezer so that eased my mind).
I watched her poo like I was reading the most entrancing mystery novel, flipping the pages furiously to see who the culprit was. I am an herbalist. I talk about poo a lot. I talked about (and researched) poo AN ENORMOUS AMOUNT OF TIME for Zoe’s first few months of life.
It wasn’t really until Zoe was about a year old that I started to enjoy breastfeeding. I just had no idea my journey was going to unfold that way. And, I know it is different for every woman.
As well, I decided to feed on demand. I tried to use a manual pump once and I didn’t get anywhere. It just stressed me out. And, I didn’t want to deal with bottles and such. So, I fed on demand which created a rhythm and dynamic with Zoe that fit with our lifestyle.
This choice afforded me freedom from bottles and pumps but a sacrifice of personal space for that first year as I always needed to be near to feed her. It was difficult, but I’d do it all over again this same way…it worked for me.
So, here we are now. Almost ready to wean.
I’ve been running this marathon. And, so have thousands of other women.
I now understand the effort, challenges, highs, lows……. I’m sharing this to be seen and to also see those women out there that have done this work.
I emphasize the word WORK, by the way. It is not valued by our culture so I feel it is some of the hardest work.
Those who are able to do this work dig deep to find the intrinsic value in their efforts based on bonding, nutrition, and some seriously primal instincts. Any, in every family system that is able to allow the mother to breastfeed, someone is often footing the bill for her to do so.
I think it should be the other way around. Culture/society should support and value women during their breastfeeding time. Period.
I decided to share this post to emphasize the importance of creating a world for women, of any background, to pursue breastfeeding if that is what she wants to do. Breastfeeding is a BASIC HUMAN RIGHT.
We can’t just toot the horn of the benefits of breastfeeding women. We have to ALSO SUPPORT THOSE WOMEN who decide to breastfeed.
Links to support soon-to-be-breastfeeding or breastfeeding women: