I’m not sure I had a specific influence when it came to deciding to breastfeed my baby. I knew I was going to do it, and I’m not sure I ever truly consciously made that decision. But where did that knowledge come from?
I certainly had a lot of positive influences in my life when it came to breastfeeding. I grew up around half a dozen aunts who all nursed their babies. It was normal at any family gathering to see a woman with her shirt up, a baby contently drinking away and no one made any mention about it. Not the men, not the children, and certainly not the other women!
My father always told me it was just the way babies ate. And when I was pregnant with Wolf, he gave me a very fatherly speech about it. He took me aside, and with his typical dramatic flair told me breast were made for babies to eat from. There was no shame in it, there was nothing wrong with it, and it was the best thing I could do for his grandson. He told me not to be intimidated to feed in public, not to be discouraged or put down by anyone who wasn’t smart enough to think well of it. I actually think he gave my husband the same speech!
My grandmother (my father’s mother) is a breastfeeding advocate. She is in her late 70s now, and she still hands out pro-breastfeeding pamphlets in front of the health department. She’ll walk right up to a nursing mother (a complete stranger) and start praising her and telling her how good breastfeeding is. She called me nearly every day before I had Wolf to make sure I was planning on breastfeeding and to extol it’s virtues and when he was born she called nearly every day to ask how the breastfeeding was going. She was very encouraging. Wolf was born premature and she was very keen to encourage me to pump and keep trying to breastfeed. Every ounce he gained she would celebrate with cheers of “See!! Its that good ole Tittymilk!” (I should mention she lives in Mississippi). When he got seriously ill during the first 3 weeks she kept saying, the breastmilk will fix him!
My Oma (my mother’s mother) was also supportive. She was quietly inquisitive when I was pregnant about whether or not I would breastfeed. Once she learned I was planning on it, the flood gates were open. She talked a lot about her experiences breastfeeding her three daughters and how good and natural it was. She was also a bit suspicious that my doctor might try to talk me out of it. When I told her it was the accepted recommendation these days she threw her hands up in the air, made a face, said some swear words and started cursing the doctors she had. From what I could make out of her angry German, they had called her a stupid immigrant woman for breastfeeding her babies. They pushed formula on her and encouraged her to spend whatever hard earned money she could eek out to buy the stuff. She said people always looked down on her for breastfeeding and even within the family, the more affluent family members that could afford formula looked at her with pity. But she knew, she knew! she was right all along .
When Wolf finally arrived and we made our first visit to Oma and Opa’s, she gave up Her recliner chair for me, nested me with pillows and told me I was to breastfeed. Every little whimper, every little cry, she told me to breastfeed! I’m pretty sure she would have breastfed Wolf herself if I had left him alone with her!! Her recliner was right in the middle of the room. We were having a party of some sort that day and she escorted every family member, personally, to the chair to meet her new great-grandson and beamed with pride that I was nursing. For me, as a brand new mother, it was a little awkward at first, but she was so proud. Proud of her great grandson, yes, but also proud that I was breastfeeding.
Of course my nursing background had influence as well. In nursing school they really hit on the fact that breastfeeding was best for babies and all mothers should breastfed. That probably helped make the decision as well. Though I must add, as pro-breastfeeding as they were, they didn’t really equip us with the tools necessary to help mothers to breastfeed. I remember being completely at a loss during my maternity rotation when it came to breastfeeding. I didn’t know how to help mothers feed their new babies, and I didn’t know the words to give them when it came to support or encouragement. Man, would I be outstanding in that capacity now!
My mother & father in law were also both very supportive of breastfeeding. They live overseas but I got more than one email encouraging me to breastfeed. When they came to help out during the first few months, they were both very vocal about their approval of breastfeeding and that I shouldn’t go to another room or feel embarrassed or anything. They even slept with Wolf a few nights, and, as promised, they brought him straight to me when he woke, I fed him, had a glass of water (brought to me by my father in law) and they spirited him away again to be rocked back to sleep. That’s the best support a nursing mother can get!! I did get a little outdated bad advice from my mother in law, but it was definitely a good intention.
So really, the only unsupportive advice I ever got was from one person. My mother. She didn’t breastfed me because “it felt weird”. She told me, “Don’t breastfeed at family parties. Once they see your breast, they’ll be thinking of it everytime they look at you for the rest of your life.” (ugh!) She also encouraged me to wean early and kept talking up formula and how it wasn’t that bad. She uses me as an example (by the way, I’m lactose intolerant, had an earache for 3 years as a child, catch a cold when I talk to someone who’s sick over the phone and have terrible digestion problems, just saying). She also kept asking when I was going to “take a break from breastfeeding” so that I could have some time to myself. And the old standby, “How is Wolf ever going to spend the night at our house if you’re breastfeeding him all the time?”
Sometimes her words still haunt and annoy me, but I think of all the strength and encouragement I’ve received from everyone else in my life and I smile. I look at my son, so happy and healthy and I think of those that were supportive toward my breastfeeding.
So I don’t know that any one person influenced me. And as I said, the decision was made before I even thought it over…but I’ve been so blessed to have these people in my life.
Who were your biggest influences when it came to breastfeeding? What inspired you the most? What support do you turn to?