Our Stories of Breastfeeding
A raw re-telling of Motherhood from many different moms and the journeys of breastfeeding they experienced.
This Month of August has been another beautiful National Breastfeeding Month! So many moms have reached out and shared both their highs and lows of choosing and not choosing to breastfeed their little ones, all over the world. This month we acknowledge both the sacrifice and celebration of choosing to breastfeed and also honor the moms and families who were unable to breastfeed or who’s choice was not up to them. During August we have both International Breastfeeding week (August 1-7) AND Black Breastfeeding week (August 25-31) which are both amazing weeks where we shine a little light on the needs in our community for breastfeeding mothers and moms-to be!
In my own little corner of the world I connected with my community of followers to talk a little more about the stories we all carry about breastfeeding.
I think so many of us hide our experiences in the shadows. Whether it’s Because we couldn’t breastfeed, didn’t love breastfeeding or didn’t have the support needed. I also know many moms who Loved breastfeeding but haven’t yet been given the confidence to share their positive experience either. Each story is beautiful and unique and that’s something I’m trying to express in all of my art. It’s the realness that we share that makes our stories beautiful, not the perfection or easiness of the season but the truth.
So I collected just a handful of stories from the women that surround me. Written in their own words with their own emotional inflections. Honoring the long, hard and beautiful seasons of breastfeeding, the journeys that ended sooner than expected and the moms who are still on the path of breastfeeding who need our listening ears now, more than ever.
We are not alone in
Mastitis, Thrush, Lip Ties
Nipple Confusion, Low Milk Supply,
Having to go back to Work,
Premature Births or Breastfeeding journeys that ended too soon.
If you breastfed for one day or 3 years, you are celebrated and your story deserves to be shared.
If you wished you could have one more day or were glad to put that season beyond you.
These are the stories of motherhood, the stories of late nights and painful breasts. The stories of emotional lows and bonding highs that are easily forgotten or ignored by a “perfection seeking” culture. I hope that the diversity of stories and experiences both inspire and encourage you wherever you are in the journey with breastfeeding.
My first thoughts about my breastfeeding journey would definitely be that it’s hard but so beautiful. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done. I’m so thankful for that time.
My greatest support came from my husband and my sisters. My sisters and mom answered every question I had and my husband was gentle and kind. He brought me food, he listened to every little thing that my body and brain was going through, and he would encourage me every step.
I think the hardest thing for moms and breastfeeding is recognizing that the experience can be very different for every mom. And that’s really ok!
I breastfed two of my three babies. My first had complications and some delays so I started breastfeeding only with my second. Those first few months were so hard I was determined to succeed and I after time fell so in love with breastfeeding. It got easier as I went but the whole thing was so beautiful it made the process a wonderful time that put us in a precious bubble.
But I think it’s really important to say the time I spent with my first was just as beautiful and bonding as the time I spent breastfeeding. I fed my children the best and most healthy way for them. I am so thankful for the nine months I had breastfeeding my second and third little ones and I wouldn’t change that for anything but I do think it’s important to recognize and validate the bottle feeding mamas and the work they do too.
I also believe though without full support from family and friends it becomes increasingly more difficult to breastfeed. Not impossible just different
The wisdom I would give to expecting moms or moms struggling through breastfeeding is definitely COMMUNICATE. Talk to your partner talk to your friends. Tell them how you’re feeling. Then find someone who’s going through it too. If you’re struggling I guarantee some one else is too
I was honored to capture both of Alison’s breastfeeding journeys and the postpartum season of all three of her babies in one way or the other.
This is of my own mothers breastfeeding journey!
She breastfed from 1986-2000 on and off with 4 babies, she is a strong believer in the power and bond of breastfeeding but also a true realist on the struggles that come with it.
So my first thoughts on the concept of breast feeding is to relax. In fact, I feel breastfeeding is one of the only times in my life that I was forced to let go of all my plans, the things that needed to be done, the indulgences I wanted and stop. To give completely my time, my comfort, my mind and my nourishment to someone else.
I breastfed babies in the 80’s and 90’s so there wasn’t any internet or smart phones, but I had distractions. Putting aside the time that is for you and baby and no one else will be the most valuable time you will ever have with that little person. Ironically, they probably will never remember one second of it, but if you relax and experience it the way God made it to be you will never forget it.
I have vivid memories of a quiet, dark house, the snuggling and gurgling sounds, the warmth and the smell, but above all the intimate bonding. Every person is different and every baby is different. However, babies are born knowing what to do and how to do it.
I remember the hardest times being when I would try breastfeeding when I was focused only on the discomfort and didn’t take time to get into the mental state. My first baby was like that although I managed about 3 months. Baby 2 was so different. I just let go and it happened with literally no effort from me. Babies 3 and 4 were easy because I learned to relax and enjoy the experience. My longest breastfeeding was with number 4. By that time I was completely convinced that the experience and health benefits far outweighed any other issue. I went about 19 months with that one.
My mother was a great resource for me (having breast fed all her kids in the 60’s) she always encouraged me and reminded me of how next to giving birth this was the ultimate example of unconditional giving. I also had a great friend who was breastfeeding at almost all the same times as I was, who encouraged me to relax and freely breast feed in public. I think if you feel overwhelmed or anxious you just need to tell yourself over and over, I can do this, billions of women before me have done this and I am the best at doing this right now. Even if it hurts! ❤️ warm tea bags are the best remedy and the pain WILL go away.
Along with sharing her words above, I put together a very short (30sec) film from my own 1991 birth video! Yes they did do a video of my birth (or at-least the 30 minutes after I was born)
My first thoughts about my breastfeeding journey would be nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster. Specifically one of self doubt, alienation, bouts of joy, stress, anger and fighting to live up to being a perfect breastfeeding mom. My failures were ones that I created by not taking the time to trust my body, baby, living up to family members views and guidelines to breastfeeding or not and lastly not embracing my leave time with baby.
The hardest thing would be believing in yourself as a provider for your little one. I was always worried that I wasn’t doing it right or that they weren’t getting enough or I wasn’t doing all that I could. And this was through sleepless nights, bouts of mastitis, going back to work, being an Army wife where the hubby was gone often and dealing with babies that were pre-term. Breastfeeding was one thing that I fought so hard to be good at yet the struggle was real. It was much harder than I thought and what I saw on brochures and commercials. It was work and some days it was just so hard especially out in public where I had to cover up and be afraid that someone else was uncomfortable with me feeding my baby. I once had a flight attendant throw a dirty airplane blanket over me as I was nursing. Mind you, I already had my baby covered. But because someone could see my daughter feet wiggling and hearing sounds of nursing, she figured the extra cover would dull the sounds and her feet.
The most support I got was when I got mastitis. I had no clue what I was doing with my premature baby. I delivered 5 weeks early, my milk did not come in for 2 weeks. She was on donor milk fed through a feeding tube syringe. When my milk finally came in, my body was just in shock and my little one could not empty the breast so I never got relief. Turns out her sucking complex was ineffective during my breastfeeding session. And thus, mastitis. When this happened the support started pouring in from the doctor, the NICU staff and even my husband who felt bad for me.
My mom did not breastfeed so I did not have a wealth of knowledge about it. But my mother-in-law successfully breastfeed three children. So she was eventually my sound board(my help) . And even she too, admitted it is a beautiful bond with your baby. But the journey to get to the point of joy, is hard one. Also to not give up if it is what you really want for you first and then your baby.
I have breastfeed four babies.
Baby 1- Born preterm at 33.5 weeks. Struggled a lot to even breastfeed. Only lasted 2.5 months. The stress and the realization of failing my baby took its toll on me (emotionally). Not to mention she was not thriving and so I took the option of formula feeding her. She bounced back and I was just happy that she was okay. I had a lot of tears trying to understand the issues and needs of a premature baby.
Baby 2-Born at 35.5 weeks still deemed preterm. Baby latched on immediately after birth which was great. But I suffered some damage to the breast based on her latch and actually had to nurse her through a breast shield for about 3.5 months. I stopped breastfeeding at 4 months due to supply issues and returning back to work. She was born in June and I went back to work August 1st. I felt redeemed a little with my second time around experience.
Baby 3- Rainbow baby. My saving grace for motherhood. Nursed immediately after deliver born at 36 weeks. I felt the most comfortable with him nursing. And I learned by then that everyone can butt out of my breastfeeding journey. I no longer was going to let every little thing bother me. I was going to do it my way. And this included nursing in public as well. He nursed for 5 months and then it stopped due to him being hospitalized for RSV. He had difficulties nursing and the hospital staff had to inform me of the true realities dealing with my nursing abilities with him. I struggled with harsh reality that it was over and not on my terms.
Baby 4- We are two months in and I have already gotten double mastitis and have been placed on medications for it. Of course, I had to fight for breastfeeding approved meds which are few and far between by the way. I currently have my good days and bad days. Not sure where my journey with her will be. She is my surprise baby and my last baby. My kids are now 6, 4, 1 and 2 months.
What wisdom can I give moms?
Well wisdom is funny. Funny because it has to be learned. I guess I would say it’s more of wisdom in the since of active and positive support as well as realizing you know what’s right for your baby. Don’t let others push your feelings and views aside to agree with them, to give up or in for them. Your breast, your story. Advocate for your breastfeeding journey!
I was honored to capture the birth of Courtney’s third little one and first baby boy, including their first latch! You can see the full story HERE.
I have breastfed all five of my children and I’m currently still breastfeeding. Most of my boys I breastfed for 18 months give or take a month or two. I’m hoping to make it two years or more with my fifth. I have been pregnant and nursing before, but I’ve never tandem nursed. I was never against tandem nursing, but I didn’t know anyone who did that and I wrongfully assumed baby would need to be weaned before the next baby came along, so that’s mainly why I weaned. Weaning was never really hard for me or baby. We always did it very gradually.
I began breastfeeding in 2007 before I was on Facebook and really had no support other than the midwives who helped me at birth. I knew lactation consultants existed, but thought they were only for moms who needed help on learning how to breastfeed. My first baby was diagnosed with a mild tongue-tie, but seemed to be breastfeeding fine, so we never did anything about it.
The hardest things I’ve experienced in my breastfeeding journey were PPD and a nursing strike. Less than one month after giving birth to my third son, my grandmother passed away. I became very depressed and was definitely struggling in many areas of my life, but too proud to ask for help. My baby sensed my stress and went on a nursing strike, refusing the breast. This was a breaking point for me because I felt like a failure who couldn’t even feed my own baby. It was a vicious cycle that caused more stress, therefore stressing the baby, and not being able to breastfeed. I was able to pump through this time and did go and talk with my midwives who were able to get me though this bump in my breastfeeding journey.
I’ve also had a baby who decided at 9 months old he would only nurse from one side. Again, I just wanted somebody to tell me that it would be okay. I was so worried that if I stopped pumping my other side, my supply would dry up and I was not ready to wean. I finally gave in to one-sided (AKA lop-sided) nursing and baby was much happier this way, and nursed for more than a year after that on just one side!
Now that I’m nursing my fifth child, I have much less worries and much more support than I did when I began my breastfeeding journey 12 years ago. When I first began nursing I was a new mom who didn’t know any other moms, much less any breastfeeding ones, so there was nobody I could turn to for questions. Now I have many mom friends and know several breastfeeding moms I can reach out to day or night when anything comes up with me or my baby. Finding your breastfeeding village is definitely the best thing you can do for yourself and your baby if you plan to start/continue your own breastfeeding journey.
I was honored to capture a full Year in the Life of Lindsay as she brought her 5th little one into the world capturing her breastfeeding journey from first latch to 3 and 6 weeks postpartum.
I love nursing my daughter. I love the snuggles and the quiet moments together. I love how now that she’s at a more interactive age, we have a moment to reconnect, make eye contact, and even play little games. I love how it calms her when she’s upset and is able to lull her to sleep (which means I get to sleep too!).
I’m currently breastfeeding my 12 month old daughter with no end in sight. My husband and the breastfeeding mama community I built got me through those crazy early months. It was smooth sailing for us from then on!
But It was so hard for us when she was first born. It took us a while to get a comfortable latch so I had some very raw, painful nipples and engorgment that led to mastitis. I wanted to give up.
Honestly, I knew very little about breastfeeding before my pregnancy. I did hear from moms that the early days can be difficult. When I was pregnant I went to a local La Leche League meeting. I wanted to meet the leaders and other mamas. I built a community that I could reach out to during those crazy cluster feeding days and nights and when you are worried that something isn’t right. I think that was what helped me survive. I knew I wasn’t alone and what me and baby were going through was normal (or not normal, in regards to mastitis and painful latch).
But I got the most support from my husband. Without him I wouldn’t have made it through those early days.
I definitely think you need support and education to make it through the breastfeeding journey and I see a lack of education a lot of the time . For example, a lot of mamas and families are shocked when babies cluster feed. It makes them believe that their breast milk isn’t enough for baby or that their milk supply has dropped. None of that is true! But since most don’t know this, the mom may be pressured to switch to formula.
Just remember first 40 days are definitely the hardest, but it truly does get easier! My advice for moms starting/continuing to breastfeed is, “Don’t give up on a bad day!”
I captured the powerful day that little Ayara was brought into the world and got to capture all the joy that came along with her first latch!
The first thoughts that come to mind when I consider my breastfeeding journey are Pride! And gratitude.
After a really difficult pregnancy and birth, including a NICU stay, I was so grateful that breastfeeding was something that came fairly easily to us. We still had our fair share of issues: oversupply, engorgement, mastitis, and plugged ducts but with the right support we were able to navigate all of those obstacles without any trauma. I’m incredibly proud of the time, energy, and nourishment I have been able to give to my daughter through our breastfeeding relationship. I’m grateful for the ways it forced me to slow down and be more present with her.
I am still breastfeeding my 2.5 year old and as of right now plan to allow her to self wean whenever she decides she is ready.
But I only got here with the support from my doula, my sister, la leche league, and my intuition! (when I could quiet my fears and insecurities down enough to listen to it)
I think the hardest thing is this expectation to do it all (and do it without education or support). There is an expectation to breastfeed for at least a year while jumping right back into work. As a culture we do not recognize and honor the toll breastfeeding can take on our sleep, energy, and time. We don’t give birthing people space to heal from birth and time to learn how to breastfeed. We expect others and ourselves to jump right back into life but just with a baby on the breast. That’s not a realistic or fair expectation.
What helped me get through those hard first months started with practicing mindfulness and meditation while breastfeeding. Setting limits when I needed to honor my mental/physical health and respect my own limitations. Celebrating and loving my body for all that it was doing for me and my baby. Taking self care very seriously - nourishing myself with healthy foods, getting as much rest as possible, and staying hydrated.
The wisdom I would share with expecting mommas or mommas working presently on their breastfeeding journey would be,
Learn about breastfeeding in pregnancy. Read up on the science behind it - understand the benefits you are giving your baby but also recognize and learn about just how much it requires of you physically and mentally. Always allow yourself the freedom to stop if you feel that the stress of it is negatively impacting your mental health and ability to connect with your baby. Don’t just ask for help - DEMAND help and support. Although in an ideal world you wouldn’t have to do this - educate those around you on why breastfeeding is important, why it requires so much of you, and why you need their help. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and your baby.
I’ve known Maggie and her husband, Zach for more than 15 years and they’ve walked with my husband and I through some of the biggest parts of our journey from capturing our wedding and recent maternity photos. Maggie herself is an incredible Birth photographer in Asheville, NC and I was honored to capture her journey of breastfeeding with a family session earlier this year!
I never planned to breastfeed. In fact, I just thought it was weird. But when I was pregnant with my firstborn I lived in the middle of the Appalachian mountains and was perceived as the weird one in birthing class because I planned to have an epidural and use formula.
Then my husband was laid-off. It was the crash of ‘08, I worked for the same development company he did and my job wasn’t exactly stable. I breastfed because my milk was free.
And I think because I didn’t have this self-imposed pressure on myself, like so many in my birthing class did, it came relatively easy to me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all fairytales - when my milk came in the very first time it was as if my breasts were a foreign extension on my body. Then there was the leaking and engorgement. With my second baby I had mastitis in two quadrants that I nursed him through instead of taking meds and with my last baby, her suction was so strong that she sliced one nipple wide open.
But I nursed for 22 months, 26 months and am still going at 12 months. I also pumped to feed my child when I was working and have donated hundreds of ounces of milk to WakeMed. My breasts have shrunk a cup size with every baby and there is no buoyancy left in them, but I’m proud of the “work” they have done.
And it truly is a personal experience because no one - not even your baby - will ever understand or appreciate the effort it takes. And when your kid walks into kindergarten, no one except you and your partner, will know if s/he was breastfed. So while I support breastfeeding, I ultimately support mamas feeding their babies in whatever capacity that works for them.
I got to capture all the first latch joy as little Lainey made her epically fast entrance into the world and you can read the full story HERE.
Anonymous Stories and Shorter Story Shares
I thought I’d share my breastfeeding experience since I haven’t heard it voiced before but I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Breastfeeding was the right thing for us, rather than switching to formula, but I never fell in love with it. It wasn’t until I stopped at one year that I even felt like myself again. It’s not something I look back on with fond memories, it was just part of early motherhood for me, and one of the things I’m happy to leave there.
I don’t think you have to love breastfeeding to choose it or persevere in it, or to have a valid experience, or to love your child, or to treasure those moments.”
With my firs,t she was too immature to latch due to being 34weeks so I pumped for three months. For my second, also 34 weeks they never even had me try in the NICU. But one day at home I found she latched and so I nursed her a bit but mostly pumped. Having preemies makes you concerned about how much they are eating, gaining, etc. With my last I was able to carry to full term and breast feed. He's been a trooper and is in love with boob. He was small too but gained weight like clock work so no concern. I also pumped with him so that my husband could take a midnight feeding or times when I wasn't able to feed him. We are starting to supplement formula for him cause my supply is just not keeping up with demand. He'll be nine months soon and is currently nursing as I type. I truly love the saying fed is best.
- Carlene’s Story
Breastfeeding has been a saving grace in my postpartum journey with all 3 of my babies. I get terrible PPD and PPA, and those endorphins from feeding babe help so much! I’ve been very lucky to be able to nurse my babies as long as I did!
- Kait’s Story
I vividly remember leaving the hospital after my oldest was born, expecting to feed "every 3 hours," just like the nurses told me I should.
Eight years and three babies later and I look back at poor new mama me and want to hug her and say, "it's ok! She's eating every 40 minutes because she's hungry/tired/sad/lonely/scared or just wants to be near you! Feed her mama. Feed her and enjoy this time
- Bri’s Story