Fear of sagging breasts almost made me NOT breastfeed but I did, still breastfeeding 2 years later
When I was pregnant I did a lot of research on Breastfeeding and I saw a lot of personal stories that led me to believe two things: 1. Breastfeeding is painful and 2. Breastfeeding will destroy the skin elasticity of my already very unlike a calabash more like a mango boobs.
These breasts had brought me years of pleasure and the thought of painfully sacrificing them wasn't something I wanted to do.
The internet was full of stories of American & European women (read as women living in countries with great healthcare and low infant morbidity and mortality) who hadn't breastfed. They all more or less said that even though they hadn't breastfed their children that their children were not only healthy but also smart. In my head I was like see the babies ended up being smart too.
I told my son's father that I wouldn't breastfeed and I think there was even a point where he might have made some promise of something or another to get me to agree to do it. I still said no, I wasn't going to do it. No one, not even my mom could talk me into committing to breastfeed my unborn child. I had decided (because the Internet said so) that it was going to be very painful and leave me with sagging breast.
My son was born after 41 weeks at Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan. He was induced. I got the epidural (more about that in another post). My OBGYN Dr. J said that I had a beautiful cervix while she was waiting for the placenta to come out. There was no tearing and she was pleased, as was I.
The moment my son lay on my chest for the first time, as in moments after coming into this world, this boy instinctively found my nipple and latched. I waited for the pain to overcome me but it never came. Instead it felt like this is was how it was meant to be. It felt natural. None of the weirdness I thought I would feel about breastfeeding came upon me.
Before we left the hospital a lactation consultant came to teach me how to hand express (did not like it), proper latching (how the baby's mouth fits on to your nipple), and how to remove the nipple frombaby's mouth without hurting myself because of gums or later teeth.
The first couple months were really easy. I breastfed on demand. I had taken 5 months of maternity leave with the last three being after birth.
We left New York and returned to Ghana when my son was just a little over 2 months old. I continued to feed on demand. I bought a Medela Freestyle Electric Breast Pump and many maternity bras. The bras have snaps so you can unclasp them, feed, and replace them easily. I loved the once without any underwire, they fit me comfortably.
I went back to work when baby was about 6 months. My work is as a marketing consultant so my schedule is really flexible. I would pump and freeze and the nanny would feed him. Somewhere around his seventh to eighth month I started traveling between Ghana and Sierra Leone. I would leave my son for 7 days at a time. I was stressed that traveling would not only reduce my milk supply but also make him not want to breastfeed anymore. So I would travel with my breast pump and pre stock the freezer with milk when I knew I was traveling. Every time I traveled I was worried he would wean himself and each time I returned he was just as eager for his "bobbi" as before I left.
It has been 23 months and 1 week since I have been breastfeeding my son. In that time I have proudly posted brelfies "Breastfeeding selfies" on social media (much to the embarrassment and side eye of majority of Sierra Leoneans on Whatsapp). When I first started posting the brelfies (which the UN encourages by the way) I was judged repeatedly in that way people do when they think they're giving you "good advice". Some people said that I was attention seeking, others said that I ought to be ashamed and in Freetown last year someone actually walked up to me to say the next thing I should do is post videos of my vagina. Yes a man said this to me.
I posted brelfies for two reasons; I was proud that I was committing to doing something I once said I wasn't, and because I knew that if my Ivy League feminist GoWoman self was that ignorant and misinformed about breastfeeding a lot of my sisters probably would be too. In posting my brelfies I hoped the women who follow me on social media (especially those from Sierra Leone) would see that it was okay.
In the research I had done I had found some disparaging information about breastfeeding rates and its decline in Sierra Leone.
In Sierra Leone 62.5% of women surveyed by the Ministry of Health in 2012 were using breast-milk substitutes for infants under the age of 6 months (Source: Save The Children).
Why? Traditional beliefs that at 4 months old infants should be given local foods mixed with water, and there has been an aggressive promotion of these substitutes by importers. In the capital city 60% of moms say they bought formula for their newborns because of promotions on TV and Radio. The fact remains how ever that infants 0-5 who are not breastfed are 7x more likely to die from diarrhea and pneumonia. In Sierra Leone only 32% of infants are exclusively breastfed up. And this has got to change! I made a commitment to breastfeed my son for 2 years and to breastfeed wherever I was both online and offline.
So I've breastfed everywhere! I've breastfed at coffee shops on two continents, at Central Park in New York, on Business & Economy Class, at posh dinner tables, in hotels, at brunch, in cars, in front of romantic interests (I'm a single mom who is dating on and off again and from time to time my son will ask for bobbi into the of a man who says he is interested and I give it to him #TeamNoShame), in front of strangers, and friends and family.
Through out the 23 months the thing that has most struck me is how healthy my son has been. I used to think that all babies got sick a lot. It's what I grew up around in Freetown. Olu has had two colds, and one case of roseola and that's about all the sickness that he has had (Alhamdulilah).
My goal is to breastfeed till my son is 2 years as per the WHO recommendations. Once he is two later this month I will start the process of weaning him. I have already accepted that it might take up to 6 months to completely get him to leave the boob alone but I know he will eventually. As a toddler breastfeeding he can not only demand for his bobbi but he is now old enough to know how to pull it out. If I don't give him the boob when he is ready for it, he will try to lift my shirt.
I know that every mother will make the best decision for their child and them when it comes to feeding and nutrition. Whether you breastfeed or not it's up to you. I'm just here to say that my son's health and mental aptitude to me are a testament to the powers of breastfeeding.
If you're living in West Africa where malnutrition and infant morbidity are a concern my advice to you is to at minimum commit to 6 months exclusive breastfeeding. Working mummies in the diaspora especially in the US have it so much harder to meet their BFing goals.
The fears I had about my breast losing elasticity were baseless. The girls are hanging where they always did. With regards to elasticity and breast sagginess the two culprits are: extreme weight gain/loss and smoking cigarettes. Women most likely to lose elasticity are those who gain a lot of weight when they're pregnant and smokers. Breastfeeding is not the cause of saggy breasts but since so many women gain a lot of weight when they are expecting that is how BFing got the bad wrap. If you want to maintain your breast shape and elasticity; eat well, exercise (for healthy moms) and stay away from nicotine before, during, and after pregnancy.
Breastfeeding requires commitment and a nurturing and supportive environment. While it is up to mom's alone to decide whether they will or won't, whether the continue depends on the kind of support they have at home and at work.
Wherever you are I wish you and your baby (or baby to be) a happy and healthy international Breastfeeding Week.