The effort to “normalize breastfeeding” has existed since the 70s with breastfeeding support groups like La Leche League, but in 2014, the hashtag #normalizebreastfeeding went viral when photographer Vanessa Simmons began posting photos of breastfeeding women on social media. Since then, breastfeeding in public has been legalized in all 50 states — a huge victory in the effort to de-stigmatize something that never should have been controversial in the first place.

Despite these strides, breastfeeding remains a loaded topic, not only in regards to where it’s done, but whether it’s done, and how, and why. At the end of the day, the choice of whether or not to breastfeed — and every decision made after that, from balancing pumping with going back to work to incorporating formula or using formula exclusively — is the parent’s to make. Much of that practical and often emotional process, however, remains private. So in an effort to celebrate these choices in all their manifestations and shed light on their joys and challenges, Man Repeller is spotlighting five mothers with five very different breastfeeding experiences. Keep scrolling to read their stories.


Sandie Luna

Sandie is an artist, entrepreneur, mother and birth worker. Her most recent work is Modesteat, a multimedia project taking back the images of black and brown mothering bodies while also demystifying the act of breastfeeding. She is co-founder of Punto Space, an events and performance venue that supports emerging artists. Her children, Gael and Anaissa, are three and one years old, respectively. 

Tell me about your personal relationship with breastfeeding.

I was very much looking forward to having a vaginal (a.k.a. “natural”) birth. I had a very active pregnancy where my connection to my body deepened. I was dancing and performing, so I felt ready for labor and birth. When the time arrived, things did not go as expected. I was let down by the birthing center where I was supposed to give birth. Their infrastructure was falling apart due to lack of funding, which resulted in me not knowing any of the midwives who attended my labor. After 30 hours of labor (which I must say I enjoyed!), I was transferred to a hospital. At that hospital I was bullied into a C-section by a doctor who kept threatening me that if I did not comply, my child was going to die soon. It was one of the coldest nights of the year, and I felt like I had no alternative options.

Luckily, my son was born healthy and without complications, but I was left traumatized by my birth experience. I felt so much anger and resentment, and I directed it toward my body. All my unmet expectations left me disoriented and confused. Breastfeeding became the mechanism through which I found myself again. I was able to once again relish in what my body could do and connect to my own power. Because of breastfeeding, I was able to be in awe of my body once again. Breastfeeding is a magical way to bond with your baby, but I think it can also be an incredibly powerful way to bond with this new person you are becoming once you are a mother. Breastfeeding made me feel strong — and as a Black, Latinx woman, I quickly understood how political and complex it is. It is a very personal practice with social repercussions.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to breastfeeding?

I have always been baffled by the liberties people take once a woman is pregnant or has a baby. Suddenly, everyone has an opinion. When it comes to breastfeeding, I subscribe to the saying, “when in doubt, whip it out,” which means that if my child is feeling some discomfort, I do not hesitate to offer the breast. I do so wherever I am, however I can. This means that I do not concern myself with “covering up” because if a nursing baby is making you uncomfortable, it probably means you are staring too long! I’ve been bombarded with questions like, “Would you like something to cover up with?” or “Doesn’t it feel weird to just take out in public?” or “Do you want to go somewhere else for more privacy?” or, my favorite, “How much longer do you plan to breastfeed?” which I learned to answer with a swift and innocent “just a few more minutes!”

One of my friends gifted me a hand-me-down cover-up. I was confused when I unfolded it. She explained how it worked and I remember trying it on and feeling my skin crawl. I quickly pulled it off and explained that there was no way that I, a Black, Latinx woman, was going to wear what essentially looks like an apron in order to feed my child in public! Thankfully, there are now companies making cover-ups with more aesthetically pleasing designs that don’t harken back to the 1950s.

Do you feel that there is still a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed?

I feel like the conversation around breastfeeding has become like all other dialogue in our society: partisan and void of complexities. I strongly believe in breastfeeding but only because I see it as a means to having healthy moms and babies. I think we have lost track of what the ultimate goal is. Breastfeeding should not be used as a symbol of status as a better parent. There are very strong cultural and historical reasons why some women do not choose to breastfeed (African American women have the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration). And, of course, there are biological and environmental reasons why some women cannot do it. I am strong advocate of breastfeeding and it has become a big subject in my work as an artist, but it doesn’t outweigh my love and respect for women making whatever (informed) decision is right for them. I wish that the same people who make women feel bad for not breastfeeding would be out there fighting for better ingredients in U.S. baby formula!

What do you wish more people knew about breastfeeding?

We are the only animal that tries to multitask while breastfeeding! Every other mammal stops whatever they’re doing and sits or lies down except for humans! When I am not exhausted by it, I am always surprised by what a fountain of inspiration it has been for me as an artist, and how it has led me to become more aware of the severe racial disparities in maternal health. My salvation has merged with my passions, art and social justice.

 


Karen Segall

Karen is the Head of Business Affairs and Legal at A24. Her children, Oliver and Eden, are three years and eight weeks old, respectively. 

Tell me about your personal relationship with breastfeeding.

With both my son (three years old) and daughter (seven weeks old), I had every intention of breastfeeding. Before my son was born, I made sure to order my pump, purchase nursing bras/shirts and balms/pads. I approached breastfeeding with the same Type-A zeal I apply to most things in life; however, things didn’t turn out as I had hoped or planned. In my head, I pictured the idyllic scene of a mother and child serenely bonding while nursing. In reality, I encountered issues from the start.

Oliver didn’t latch properly and my milk supply was very low, so much so that by the first pediatrician appointment (three days after he was born), he had lost more than 10% of his body weight, so we were instructed to supplement my breast milk with formula. I was incredibly disheartened but wanted what was best for my newborn, so heeded the doctor’s advice. Over the next few weeks, I saw several lactation consultants, attended breastfeeding support groups, ate cookies to help increase milk production and drank an insane amount of “mothers milk” tea — all to no avail. I wasn’t able to overcome the latch issues, so switched to exclusively pumping. But that just made it clear how little milk I was producing. At each pediatrician appointment, I would break down in tears over my inability to do what I thought every mother should be able to do without issue, and I was exhausted by the routine of round-the-clock pumping.

By the time Oliver was six weeks old, I made the difficult decision to stop pumping and to switch exclusively to formula. The decision tortured me because I felt like I was failing my son, but once I made the decision, within a week or so, I was able to see how right it was. I was able to sleep more (because I didn’t have to pump all night and could share feeding duties with my husband), got my energy back and felt more like myself then I had in weeks. Oliver thrived on formula and he was able to sleep 12 hours at night by the time he was 10 weeks old, which I attribute to our switch to formula, and he’s been thriving ever since.

When I was expecting our daughter, I approached breastfeeding with the mindset that I would give it a try but if I experienced the same difficulties as I did with our son, I would make the decision to switch to formula sooner and with more comfort knowing that it was the right decision when I decided to stop nursing Oliver. Sure enough, after Eden’s arrival, I nursed her while in the hospital, met with lactation consultants and, once again, faced the same issues. At our first pediatrician appointment, given my history with Oliver, we made the decision to switch exclusively to formula. I felt more tortured by the decision than I expected and had similar feelings of failing my child — even though I had the perspective of how well Oliver had done. With a bit more distance from the decision, though, I’m once again confident that I did the best I could and my formula-fed babies are doing just great.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to breastfeeding?

Crying at the pediatrician’s office! Cabbage leaves once I stopped nursing. The first glass of wine I was able to enjoy once I stopped nursing.

Do you feel that there is still a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed?

There is an immense amount of pressure on mothers to breastfeed. I am constantly asked if I’m nursing and every time I’m asked, I feel the need to justify my decision. I immediately describe how I tried my best, the challenges I faced, the measures I took to try to better the situation and how well my son has been doing (in spite of being a formula-fed baby — which I am too, by the way!). There seems to be such a focus on a woman’s right to breastfeed, and I commend that for those women who it works for, but it’s such a personal decision and so different for every mother that I wish more people subscribed to “fed is best” (as my pediatrician says) as opposed to “breast is best.” A mother’s mental health in those first few months postpartum is incredibly important, and a successful feeding situation (whether via nursing or formula) plays a huge role in that.

Ultimately, formula feeding was best for my family. It ensured that my kids got the nutrients they needed, which I was unable to give them via nursing, provided me with independence, which went a long way in aiding my mental health, and allowed my husband to be a much greater participant in my children’s lives early on, which he otherwise wouldn’t have been able to do if I was exclusively nursing. Even knowing all of that, I still get uncomfortable when asked about nursing or when bombarded by (what feels like) the constant onslaught of pro-breastfeeding campaigns.

What do you wish more people knew about breastfeeding?

I had no idea how challenging breastfeeding can be for many women. I was 35 when I had my first child and yet was totally surprised that breastfeeding wasn’t as simple as placing your newborn on your breast. I wish women were more aware of the challenges so they could be better equipped to reach out for help when issues arise. Having to navigate the search for lactation help in those first few days home made an already stressful time even more stressful. I think I would have also been better prepared emotionally when I made the decision to switch to formula — perhaps I would have felt like less of a failure.


Deepti Sharma

Deepti is the founder of FoodtoEat, an online food ordering and delivery service based in New York City. Her sons, Zubin and Chetan, are two and a half and six months old, respectively.

Tell me about your personal relationship with breastfeeding.

I decided to breastfeed from the beginning because I was told it was “best.” The act of feeding itself was enjoyable, especially as my kids become more alert and aware. It can really feel like you’re bonding with them. But there is still a lot of frustration, especially when it comes to production and pumping. When I’m at work or traveling, I lose hours in a day to pumping. It’s hard to actually balance the demands of pumping with work. When I had my second child, I was more aware of the process, and less frustrated by the various twists and turns associated with my production and pumping.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to breastfeeding?

I wasn’t producing enough milk, but I’m not intimidated by a challenge, so I did what I could. I tried eating everything people suggested. I binge-watched five hours of How to Get Away with Murder while attached to a hospital-grade breast pump. Nothing I did boosting my supply, so I ultimately ended up having to supplement with formula.

Do you feel that there is still a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed?

Right after giving birth, my younger son Chetan was given to me, and I was told to immediately start feeding him just like I had with Zubin. They say #BreastIsBest, but often this comes with constant external pressure that becomes overwhelming. I remember after my first delivery I had so much anxiety because nothing was coming out for the first 25 hours and I kept blaming my body. As mothers we try to do whatever we can to keep our babies happy and healthy, but we also need to remember to take care of ourselves. Even as I write this, it’s still hard for me to balance self-care and the pressure to breastfeed. It’s okay to consider other options and do what you think is “best” for you and your baby.

What do you wish more people knew about breastfeeding?

No matter what, your priority is to keep your baby and yourself happy and healthy. If you can do it by breastfeeding, that’s great. If you need to supplement with formula or use formula exclusively, that’s great, too! The only thing that matters is that you and your baby are nourished, both in body and spirit.

The other thing that helped me was just being open about my experiences and difficulties with breastfeeding by talking to my partner, friends, family and even other new mothers who I just met. Just listening to their stories and sharing my own gave me an invaluable support network.


Geraldine Cowper Greenberg

Geraldine is a broker at Douglas Elliman. Her son, Oliver, is 10 weeks old.

Ralph Lauren turtleneck, Tibi pants, Kule cardigan, Geraldine’s own necklaces

Tell me about your personal relationship with breastfeeding.

This is a loaded topic, and one that is particularly fresh for me. My relationship with breastfeeding has only just unfolded in the past two-three weeks with my newborn, Oliver, who is almost ten weeks old. I had an unconventional approach to pregnancy (I tried to not to think about it and I had no expectations for any of it), which also relates to how I perceived breastfeeding (I tried to not to think about it and I had no expectations for any of it). Deep down I was always hoping to breastfeed, perhaps because I wanted to follow in my mother’s footsteps and do for my son what she did for me. My mum had so much milk and even donated to the hospital. She breastfed my older brother until he was two years old, and me until I was one and a half. Unfortunately, I lost my mum when I was young, but now that I’m a 34-year-old adult with a child of my own, I finally comprehend the gift she gave us now that I know how absolutely crazy and difficult and tough breastfeeding is.

Ralph Lauren turtleneck, Tibi pants, Kule cardigan, Geraldine’s own necklaces

I’m grateful every second of the day that I had the most impeccable delivery, and an insanely amazing doctor. No rips or tears, and I was literally back at work full-time three days later. Oliver was doing everything he was supposed to. He latched immediately at the first try and drank my colostrum the whole three days I was in the hospital. I will always remember that time like a cocoon — I didn’t leave that hospital once, and we were in our little breastfeeding bubble all of those days together. It felt great and nice and natural. My milk poured on in. I was thrilled to know I was in some way like my mother, but also that this had “worked out” for me. I would sit down and pump eight ounces in one sitting in maybe 20 minutes — which is legit. It’s funny to write that now.

For whatever reason (in hindsight, perhaps because I also went right back to work), I started to rely on the pump. I didn’t feel a need to seek out that “gush mush boob mouth” contact or that precious bonding time so many women get from actual breast contact. All I cared about was Oliver drinking my milk, and pumping seemed like the most efficient way to get it to him, so for the first four weeks after he was born I was pumping and filling up bottles. Then I started not being able to pump enough milk, so we began feeding him two servings of formula at night (now, having done some retrospective research, I’ve learned that physical contact is important for maintaining your milk supply).

By the time he was seven weeks old, our breastfeeding journey came to an end. It just got too hard, from trying to maintain my milk supply to nipple cutting, mastitis, and crazy blisters every time the pump moved. I have massive amounts of guilt over it. It’s been very tough for me to accept that it’s really over. I regret that I didn’t do more actual boob-to-mouth to stimulate the milk instead of being so reliant on the pump. I also should have been pumping more — I mean, the list of “shoulds” could go on and on. As a woman, I’ve always been told we are supposed to do this for our children, so it definitely felt like failure to me that I couldn’t continue breastfeeding beyond his seventh week of life. I feel that I could have done better.

Ralph Lauren turtleneck, Tibi pants, Kule cardigan, Geraldine’s own necklaces

I tend to muscle through these types of things alone, but wish I had reached out to my support network sooner — my good girlfriends who might have encouraged me and kept me going. I called one of them on the final weekend of my breastfeeding journey, but by the time we chatted it was already too late. The support of your partner matters, too. My husband didn’t have a strong opinion about whether I should breastfeed or not, which didn’t help in terms of motivation. It is such a hard thing to do, and definitely requires support and encouragement. I do feel it would be different if both partners are really into the idea and working together to make it happen. In the future if I ever have another child, I will try to have more mouth-to-boob time with them, and maybe ease back into my work schedule more slowly.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to breastfeeding?

It’s sad, but I will always remember the weekend my husband was away on a bachelor party and I was alone with Oliver. This was one week after I stopped breastfeeding and I woke up devastated that I gave up on it so easily. I was so angry at myself and started reading all about re-lactation and even put Oliver on my boob and tried to get him to take it. He didn’t and cried because there was nothing there — and, well, we both cried.

Do you feel that there is still a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed?

There is so much pressure, most certainly from the hospital — big time. They really make it quite the thing, which is tough. I’m lucky that I had good milk supply, whereas some new mums get no milk at all, so how are they supposed to feel with all this emphasis on breastfeeding? I can be a bit wild, so I’m not one to really care about pressure from other people, but I most certainly felt it from myself. The pressure I felt from not being able to give my baby my milk was enormous — more so than any job I’ve ever had, or any of the deals I do now.

What do you wish more people knew about breastfeeding?

Just that it’s hard, and don’t give up right away if it’s something that is important to you.


Nicole Jeanbaptiste

Nicole is an oral historian and maternal health consultant with a focus on birth justice advocacy and activism. She provides community-based birth and postpartum doula support through Sésé Doula Services. Her children, Negasi and Zuva, are 10 and three years old, respectively. 

Tell me about your personal relationship with breastfeeding.

My history with breastfeeding began 10 years ago when I gave birth to my first child, Negasi. Back then, as young as I was and despite the fact that I did not have very many examples of people in my life who breastfed, I was determined to feed my baby his mama’s milk. But boy was it a struggle! For starters, I was recovering from a C-section, which made breastfeeding in certain positions more challenging than in others. On top of that, I was back in school the week after delivery without having a clear understanding of the supply-and-demand nature of breastfeeding. I was leaving home for hours at a time (much too soon after my baby was born) without expressing milk, which eventually took a toll on my milk supply. As a result I was only able to breastfeed Negasi for six months even though I had aimed to do so for at least a year.

My second experience with breastfeeding began in May 2016, when my daughter Zuva was born, and I’ve really enjoyed the experience. In fact, she is two and a half now, and I continue to breastfeed her. It’s been our way of bonding (as well as her sole source of nourishment for the first six months of her life) and has been a helpful means of warding off low emotional vibes for me personally. I breastfed Zuva in the wake of a tumultuous time in my life, which kicked up at the tail-end of my pregnancy (awful timing). I credit breastfeeding with restoring my sense of purpose — literally in that I was reminded of my purpose around the clock, some 8-10 times a day! She is almost three years old now and demonstrates little to no signs of ending her breastfeeding journey.

Do you have any memorable experiences related to breastfeeding?

I remember flying to St. Lucia from NYC when Zuva was about three months old and easily whipping out my breast to hush her back to sleep any time she would wake crying. Times like those made me feel really satisfied with the whole breastfeeding option.

Do you feel that there is still a lot of pressure on mothers to breastfeed?

As a Black woman whose experience with breastfeeding has spanned 10 years, I notice a stark difference in the way that breastfeeding is being promoted now versus 10 years ago. It would have been super affirming to me along my breastfeeding journey to happen upon a designated lactation room 10 years ago when I just wanted a clean, welcoming place to feed my baby. It would have also been really encouraging to have met with a lactation consultant immediately after delivery. I am personally very grateful for the shift in public perception of breastfeeding because I serve mostly Black and Brown people in my role as a community-based doula, and for so long within our communities there has existed, publicly and privately within families, this stigma around the practice, yet the highest instances of infant mortality are in our communities. This resurgence of breastfeeding and/or the use of breast milk is a positive change in my view. At the same time, I do value a parent’s right to choose how to feed their baby. If at any point an individual feels pressured into making a decision about breastfeeding that they’re not comfortable with, things need to be reworked.

What do you wish more people knew about breastfeeding?

I wish more people knew that breastfeeding has the potential to support new parents in using the first few weeks just after their baby is born to TRULY slow down to heal their bodies, bond with and nourish their babies. There are instances when breastfeeding presents itself as much trickier than simply ensuring that your baby’s latch is good, and it’s important for people to know that there are amazing professionals (certified lactation consultants, lactation counselors) who are so passionate about supporting people in their breastfeeding journeys and who will happily show up to your doorstep with a wealth of knowledge to help you troubleshoot any issues you may be encountering.

Styled by Harling Ross. Photos by Edith Young. Makeup by Olivia Barad. 

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