August 8, 2014
Sheesh, Olivia’s beautiful alright, and Otis is pretty cute himself. I think we all saw the viral picture of Olivia Wilde breastfeeding her son for the latest edition of Glamour magazine. If you haven’t, read her interview here. As a pediatric nurse practitioner and breastfeeding advocate that works in the trenches with lactating moms every day, I was especially interested in the story. The editor in chief of Glamour said that the picture captured “a very real situation“.
I really appreciate that Olivia said, “I certainly don’t really look like that when I’m typically breastfeeding.” Thank God. We can all take a deep breath and feel better about our lives. Personally, I have never strolled in to a shabby diner wearing Prada shoes and a Cavalli dress that is falling off of me with a naked infant. Have you? Add in some photo-shopping and an entire entourage of assistants, and we have created a breastfeeding piece of art, not necessarily reality.
Breastfeeding is absolutely beautiful, and while this picture is encouraging to some, it also gives many moms a false expectation of breastfeeding and leads them down a path of feeling as though they aren’t measuring up as a mother.
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So for all the mom’s literally working their nipples off to breastfeed out there, this World Breastfeeding Week, we need to get a few things about breastfeeding straight. Expectant mommies – listen up. Breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your newborn, but let me encourage you about what a real breastfeeding situation actually looks like. Having correct expectations about breastfeeding will lead to your success. Here’s what Olivia said and my response.
“Breast-feeding is the most natural thing. I don’t know, now it feels like Otis should always be on my breast.” In a majority of the new moms I work with, breastfeeding is NOT the most natural thing. Breastfeeding is HARD work. You should expect that it will take most of your time and more energy than you even knew you had. It is like learning to ride a bike. It involves two inexperienced people working together to learn how to make it work. That process is not immediate. It takes time, not just a few feedings. Expect that it is going to take weeks and a whole lot of encouragement. Surround yourself by encouraging, supportive women. Oh yeah, and that new little baby probably will want to constantly be on your breast, but please, resist the urge! Moms are not supposed to be human pacifiers. This leads to a whole lot of pain and fatigue. Mom’s health is just as important as baby’s health. Healthy moms are the most successful when it comes to breastfeeding. Do not completely forget about yourself for the sake of your baby.
“You can be someone who is at once maternal and professional and sexy and self-possessed.” No. Not true. Your baby coming into this world is NOT going to immediately make you feel maternal, professional, sexy and self-possessed all at the same time. Please don’t believe that, because if you do, you are going to immediately feel like a failure. All you need to focus on is the wonderful new experience of becoming a mother. Besides the fact that being maternal is far better than being professional, sexy or self-possessed, it is all consuming. Allow this new experience to take center-stage and relish the time. Set that as your standard and expectation. You don’t have to be everything. Be free to just be a mom of your newborn. That’s the best thing you can ever do.
Breastfeeding a naked baby… I have to add in a practical note. As any experienced mom will tell you, breastfeeding a naked baby on a Robert Cavalli dress is the equivalent of dress suicide. Even little Otis couldn’t resist the call of nature on his mom during the photo shoot. But beyond the urine, oh the poop. So. Much. Poop. New parents – you will be amazed. Before feedings, during feedings, after feedings. First, you will probably feel an overwhelming inability to even keep up with the necessary diaper changes. Then, you will watch your once anticipated diaper budget go through the roof. Finally, after being christened several times, you will probably make a competition of how fast you can actually change your new little angel’s diaper. As you watch your laundry pile grow, the idea of breastfeeding your diaper-less baby will vanish before you even knew it was there. Oh yeah, and promptly after lactating it, breastmilk will once again adorn your body via spit up. At this point, you will probably visit your pediatric health providers and then we will try to reassure you that this is normal and to be expected. I like to fondly refer to it as the life cycle of infant feeding; constantly out one end and up the other. Welcome to parenthood. But no matter how much body fluid your new little baby can produce, it will pale in comparison to the amount of love you feel. You will learn to quickly reach for the cleanest baggy t-shirt, and forgo the Cavalli dress.
“I wasn’t going to sacrifice myself because I was becoming a mother.” The very act of motherhood is impossible without sacrifice. It is a sacrifice to be pregnant for 9 months. It is a sacrifice to bring another life into this world. It is a sacrifice to use your body to give this newborn life-sustaining nutrition through breastfeeding. You will continue to make sacrifices for this child for the rest of your days as a mother. The sacrifice of motherhood is beautiful. The art of putting someone above yourself is amazing to watch and truly the glory of motherhood. Embrace the sacrifices you will make during your journey as a mother. Some days you will be tired, your body will change, you will give until you don’t think you have anything left, but I promise being a mother will be the most rewarding sacrifice you could ever make.
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Happy World Breastfeeding Week! It won’t be easy, it may not be glamorous, but breastfeeding your infant will be totally worth it!
What was your experience with breastfeeding? Let me know in the comments below!