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Most of us head into motherhood with a lot of expectations, especially when it comes to feeding your baby. It doesn't help that everyone seems to have an opinion, even though there is no more personal decision than how to feed your baby. Breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or combo-feeding — only you can decide what is right for you and your family.
Our opinion? You're doing great. And we're proud of you, no matter how you choose to feed your baby. But in case you need a little more inspiration, we've partnered with Enfamil to share the very diverse feeding journeys of some very diverse parents, from breastfeeding to bottle-feeding, and the very blurred lines in between.
Beauty blogger Larisa Courtien had her heart set on breastfeeding, but an emergency C-section threatened to derail her feeding plan. Supplementing with formula helped her get through those first few days with her newborn and laid the foundation for a successful nursing journey. Seven months later, she's exclusively breastfeeding -- at busy restaurants, on airplanes, at Ikea and every place in between. Below, she talks about her personal feeding journey, and why it's so important to share images of women feeding their babies, no matter how they do it.
What did you envision your feeding experience to be like when you were pregnant?
I tried really hard not to put a lot of pressure on myself about breastfeeding when I was pregnant. There were certain things I really liked about breastfeeding, that it is wonderful for the baby, provides a mommy-baby bond, and that it's “free." So in my heart, I knew I wanted to nurse exclusively. I told my husband, and he was on board from the get-go. However, I was worried it might not work out, and I did not want to be disappointed, so I was not going to be “against" bottle-feeding.
After a birth story that wasn't anything like I imagined, I was so relieved that my daughter latched immediately. After 3 long days of laboring and a C-section due to my body's failure to progress, I finally felt like I was doing something right.
Once she did latch well, it became clear to me that I wanted to nurse exclusively. And even then, the goal was to get to just 3 weeks. Then 3 months. Then 6 months. As each milestone has passed, I get more and more shocked with how well we've done.
Tell us how formula played a role in your breastfeeding plan.
My milk did not come in right away, which is fairly common, especially in first time moms who have a C-section. The baby lost too much weight, and we were told we had to start giving her the bottle. I felt sad, but not defeated, because I was never against formula to begin with. I did, however, make sure that we continued to practice nursing. So I did as the doctor recommended: nursed for 5 minutes on either side, then gave her a bottle. I also would put some of the formula on my nipple to encourage her to keep sucking. When she regained enough weight and my milk finally came in, we got the go-ahead to stop the bottle and start exclusively nursing again. We got so lucky because she still took the breast and didn't look for the bottle once we stopped using it.
What have been some of your biggest challenges breastfeeding?
The biggest challenges of breastfeeding have honestly been dodging weird questions about it. If you don't breastfeed, everyone tells you that you need to try harder because the baby needs your milk. But once you get the hang of it, people are all “don't become that mom who is obsessed with it and nurses until the baby is 8!" I find that the biggest issues with breastfeeding are not my issues or my baby's issues.
How important was it to have a breastfeeding community?
I'm so lucky because my husband was incredibly supportive and actually really strongly wanted our daughter to be nursed exclusively. So anytime I was tired in those first few weeks, he would remind me of our goal to exclusively breastfeed, and then give me the mental strength to do it.
Why do you feel it's important for you to share images and experiences of breastfeeding?
I think it's just important to share all images of motherhood, no matter what they look like. Everyone's experiences are different, and I think sharing them creates an awareness and a broadens people's worldview. Specifically for breastfeeding, I think it is so important to share images through online media because it helps to normalize what is a truly normal act. There was a lot of embarrassment that has surrounded breastfeeding.
When women share their images of nursing it takes away the embarrassment that has previously been associated with it. It allows mothers in the same situations to feel more comfortable about how they feed their baby, and it allows non-mothers and the general public to become more accustomed to seeing nursing so that if and when they encounter it in real life, it isn't a shock. It's normal.
What are some of the craziest places you've breastfed?
I've breastfed while walking through an Ikea, at a Starbucks, at a busy restaurant in midtown during pre-theater hour, in my husband's office, and on an airplane. But the craziest places I've ever breastfed are in front of my in-laws and my family! I know that “traditionally" most people would hide away in a room somewhere, but I don't like having to lock myself away if we don't need to. We're still a part of the family so we stay out and feed in front of family no matter what.
Have you ever felt uncomfortable or shamed about your feeding decision?
I've truly never felt uncomfortable with my body being slightly exposed, therefore I never really feel uncomfortable when I'm nursing. Only now that she is getting a little bit older do I ever feel that I get shamed for still nursing. The APA recommends you nurse until the baby is 12 months old, but a lot of older generations will quiver and make a face at me when I mention that fact! It's so crazy - I got praised for nursing when she was a newborn but now that she is crawling around everyone asks me when we plan to stop.
How can breastfeeding be positive, empowering emotional experience?
Breastfeeding is a continuation of the miracle that childbearing is -- it is a magical experience that feels so incredibly normal, and yet so incredibly majestic and jaw-dropping all at the same time. It is empowering to know that my body knows just what my daughter needs and how to provide it. I love that my body continues to nourish my child and put her nutritional needs above my own even after she has left my womb. It is a powerful feeling knowing that only you, a mother, can provide such a specific food that is tailored to your baby.
Being a new mom in general is an emotional experience, so although breastfeeding is time consuming and draining, the positivity it has brought in my life and the bond it has helped create between my daughter is so worth it. I am so incredibly blessed and never forget how privileged I am to be able to stay at home and nurse exclusively.
What kind of encouragement or advice would you give to a new mom struggling to figure out how to feed her baby?
Find the support you need to be able to feed your baby the way you want to. Share with your partner your truest goals, whether it be to exclusively nurse or bottle-feed. Make sure your partner is on board, have the name of a lactation consultant just in case, and lean on your partner to help you follow through or remind you of whatever goal you may have had.
And mostly, don't beat yourself up about anything. Motherhood is hard enough without you being hard on yourself - we have to nurture our hearts and our souls just as much as we are nurturing our newborns. Take care of yourself and remember that no matter how you do it, fed is best.
Photography by Belle Savransky of Augusta Belle.