We’re keeping breastfeeding real around here… the triumphs, the tribulations and the late nights all wrapped up in to one sweet little baby. And who are we kidding? None of us would have it any other way. It’s the joy and love we all share as moms. I recently sat down with Mom of 3 and Nook all-star fan (she literally has pebble all over her house), Helenita. We got down to the nitty gritty about breastfeeding and how it is widely different with each baby. Read along- I hope you enjoy it and can relate. Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month, Ladies!
Nook: How many kids do you have? What are their ages? And how long did you breastfeed each child?
Helenita: I have three kids, two boys ages 5 and 2 and a baby girl who is 9 months old. I nursed my oldest, Oliver, until he self-weaned at 15 months. My second son, Stellan, self-weaned at 14 months after I unknowingly was pregnant with my daughter. My daughter is just about to be 9 months old and has slowly been weaning herself for the last month or so, much to my heartbreak.
Nook: How has breastfeeding changed from child to child?
Helenita: I think everyone’s first experience breastfeeding is a challenge, even if it may come naturally or easily. It’s so foreign because it’s something you’ve never done before. With my first son, I struggled with figuring out the right positioning...my arm would get tired trying to get him to latch correctly, my back would hurt, he wasn't high enough, etc. He would nurse for 45 minutes on each side every 2 hours for the first month of his life so I was a walking zombie. He loved to nurse and found a lot of comfort from it.
It wasn’t as challenging for me the second time around because my second son was incredibly efficient. As a result, I was much more rested. He wasn’t in it for the comfort like my first was. He knew that’s where his food came from and then he wanted to be on his way.
My daughter has been very similar to my second in that she, too, was an incredibly fast nursling. She, however, is also incredibly particular. She’s impatient at the breast so when I don’t have a letdown quickly enough, she gets bored and then is disinterested and it can be a battle to get her to want to nurse, which can be disheartening. In the last month, she went from nursing from both breasts after each nap to occasionally nursing from one breast to not wanting to nurse at all. Suddenly in the last week, she’s gone full days without nursing at all. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, to say the least. She’s our last baby and I would’ve nursed her until she was 4 (kidding, but not really) if she wanted to.
Nook: Did you nurse in public? If so, do you mind sharing your experience?
Helenita: Absolutely. With Oliver, I was very cautious and aware of eyes watching me. I always remembered my nursing cover and used it religiously. I’ve definitely gotten more relaxed and open about it with each subsequent baby. I think that’s partially because mommy brain results in me forgetting my cover but another part is because I just don’t really care. They’re my babies and they need to eat. I’m a big advocate for doing what works for you. My babies have always hated nursing under a cover…I’d hate having to eat with a blanket over myself in 90 degree heat too! While I don’t just whip out my boobs to the whole world, I've never had any problem sitting on a bench at a park and nursing my baby without a nursing cover if my baby was hungry.
Nook: When you first started breastfeeding, what was the biggest challenge you faced?
Helenita: Not sure if I should admit this, but I think my challenge was the size of what I like to call my “porn star boobs.” I woke up on Day 3 after Oliver was born and my boobs were about 3 sizes larger than they were when I went to bed. I literally went from a B to an E. They were heavy and painful (oh, the stretch marks I had!) and I didn’t know how to handle them, let alone how to get a baby’s tiny mouth perfectly latched on. I struggled with how to hold him – cradle or football – how to get the right height from pillows stacked on top of each other and the right support for behind me.
Nook: What was one of your favorite nursing moments?
Helenita: My very favorite thing about nursing is looking down at my baby and making them smile. That half smile, half sucking face they give you is just the best thing in the whole world. The bond I felt when I did that with all three of my babies was overwhelming. Coming in at a close second to that is the indescribable sweet milk breath smell of a newborn. At the end of every nursing session with my newborns, I’d always smell their mouths. I know it sounds totally weird and my husband looks at me like I’m crazy, but I think other mamas out there can agree that there’s just something magical about it.
Nook: How did nursing change you as a woman/mom/person? Or did it not?
Helenita: As a woman, it made me fully realize what my body is capable of. As a mom, it made me feel like a provider. I felt so empowered because my milk was the life force for this beautiful little creature I had just brought into the world. Being honest, as much as I love nursing and as much as I’m missing it already, as a person/wife/friend, it was, at times, a little paralyzing. I couldn’t make plans until after I nursed the baby or had to make sure I was home when my babies woke up from naps so I could nurse them. I wouldn’t change it for the world but I think if there’s one thing I’m looking forward to, it’s the freedom that comes with being able to exercise however much I want and not having to make sure I’m drinking enough water or eating enough calories for milk production.
Nook: What are your three nursing must-haves or go-to items to make it easier?
1. For sure my Niche Nursing Pillow. I used the Boppy, My Brest Friend and pillows stacked on top of each other but when Nook came out with the Niche right before my second son was born, I was sold the minute I tried it. I loved how much taller and wider it was. I used it for nursing and for sitting on in the early postpartum days. :)
2. For sure, a comfortable AND supportive nursing bra. I learned the hard way after my first son was born that a supportive nursing bra is crucial. There are so many to choose from and it’s truly up to each woman because we’re all different shapes and sizes, but I live in my Cake nursing bras.
3. My Medela on the go pump. It’s small enough to fit into my Mary Poppins mom purse. I’ve taken it to weddings, rehearsal dinners, business meetings, etc.
Nook: Did you wean each baby or did they wean themselves?
Helenita: They have all weaned (or are starting to wean) themselves. From talking to a lot of my friends, this seems to be much easier on the heartstrings than having to tell your child "no" to something that has given them comfort since birth. All three of my kids suck their thumbs and it’s hard enough for me to tell them "no" to that, so I can only imagine how hard it would’ve been to tell them they can't nurse anymore.
Nook: How do you feel about your nursing journey coming to a close with your daughter?
Helenita: Honestly, it’s been so unexpected and I’m still processing the emotions so this question comes at a really raw time. My pediatrician and lactation consultant say it’s incredibly common but it doesn’t make it any easier. It’s hard to not feel like my daughter is rejecting me when I offer it to her and she literally arches her back and pushes me away in protest. I’m trying to take it all in stride and I think having the support of my husband, family and friends has been so crucial. I’ve been allowed to feel all the feels and am telling myself that she’ll come back around while also being realistic that she may not. She's definitely proven how fiercely independent she is, which is making me terrified for her teenage years. :)
Nook: What advice can you give other moms regarding the life cycle of nursing? (We all know that we aren’t going to be nursing our kids into elementary school, but what happens when the nursing journey ends sooner than anticipated or wanted by either mom/baby?)
Helenita: In the beginning, don't forget your water! I think one of my biggest challenges was to remember my bottle of water. I swear every time I sat down to nurse, it felt like my mouth was the Sahara Desert and my water was nowhere to be found. My poor husband made so many water runs for me in the early days. (I’m ashamed to admit this did not get better with each child.) In all seriousness, though, it may sound cliché, but the best advice I can give is to expect the unexpected. I remember telling people about my birth plan and they all said, “It’s great to have a plan but just know nothing goes according to plan when it comes to babies.” It's not only true for labor and delivery but it's true for every major milestone and stage of our children’s lives. It’s really helped to keep that in the back of my mind, especially on those challenging parenting days. Finally, I truly believe one of the most important things moms can do for themselves (and for each other) is to show a lot of grace and forgiveness. Breastfeeding isn't easy. Parenting isn't easy. Mom guilt is very real and we’re all in this together, learning as we go and a little grace goes a very long way.. Motherhood is what unites us and it’s important for us all to remember that we each have our own journeys—and none of them goes according to plan!