The Power of Breastfeeding Role Models

Nine years ago today, I met my firstborn babe and breastfed for the first time in my life. After the wild ride of a three-day labor fraught with unplanned interventions, it felt surprisingly natural. Or at least once the team of nurses got my babe latched on, broke huddle, and gave us some space.

There I was, the girl who had slouched for years because she was shy about her chest, suddenly skin-to-skin with her newborn, and witnessing what breasts are all about. But how did I get there?

What or who planted the breastfeeding idea in my mind? Was it an article or book touting the benefits of breastfeeding? A favorite celebrity who breastfed her baby? The influence of my midwives? A breastfeeding-friendly workplace? No. It was mainly a handful of mothers I know – close family and friends – who made it a no-brainer for me.

I am so grateful for the women in my life who modeled breastfeeding and encouraged me, directly or indirectly, to plunge into the wonderful world of breastfeeding! Plus, their influence did not just make me think breastfeeding would be worth a try for a few days or weeks. These women breastfed their babies for at least nine months and some for years, demonstrating a longer-term commitment (and ability) to breastfeed. Thank you to:

  • My mom for breastfeeding my siblings and me. I love this picture of you breastfeeding my younger brother and am sure that, because of such moments, my three-year-old mind and heart were imprinted with the awareness of how natural breastfeeding is.  (And thanks for sharing with me how much your breastfeeding friend influenced you to overcome the breastfeeding-unfriendly attitude in your family.)

My mother breastfeeding my younger brother.

  • My sister for breastfeeding her daughter. I was honored to be by your side as you birthed dear Avery into this world and first nursed her. I love how in tune you are with your earth-mama side. Thank you for sharing it with me during my pre-mama adult years.
  • My girlfriends for discussing breastfeeding with me and nursing their sweet little ones around me while I was pregnant. Katy, Mina, and Juliet – I am eternally grateful for your sisterhood, as you prepared me for motherhood by rockin’ your roles as mothers.

And finally, thank you to my husband for being by my side every step of the way on my path to motherhood. Your support made even the rough breastfeeding times sweet. I will never forget the first week of parenthood, when you poured drops of my breastmilk into our newborn’s mouth until he could latch on properly.

This week’s Breastfeeding Blog Hoppers share why they first breastfed their little ones. It’s a fascinating question because there is so much research out there about why women choose not to breastfeed or about factors that predict breastfeeding initiation (such as level of education, socio-economic status, race/ethnicity), but precious little that I could find in the way of women voicing what influenced them to breastfeed.

Many of my fellow breastfeeding bloggers reinforce the idea that a breastfeeding-friendly world begins with one mama breastfeeding her baby, whether it was her own mother, an aunt, or friend. Some were fueled by knowledge. And you? (For first-time pregnant mamas not sure if they want to breastfeed, check out this helpful BestforBabes post.)

What or who influenced you to first breastfeed your newborn?

This post is part of the weekly Breastfeeding Blog Hop, hosted by The Slacker Mom, and co-hosted by The Gnome’s Mom and Happiness Redefined. This week’s theme is what first influenced you to breastfeed. Please visit The Slacker Mom to see the linky list and read everyone’s entries, as can’t show it here.


7 thoughts on “The Power of Breastfeeding Role Models

  1. This post was so beautiful, it made me tear up! A supportive community around us can make such a big difference in breastfeeding success. I absolutely love the photograph of your mother breastfeeding. What a great legacy she gave you, and I love that it’s recorded on film. ~Melissa

  2. I love this so much, Emily. You are right. Those of us who comfortably breast-fed our little ones had strong role models to help us feel how right it would be to breast-feed. When I was pregnant with Jaden at age 43 I cringed at the thought of breast-feeding. I never ever wanted to do it and I actually hated the idea. I was dreading the birth and labor and the breast-feeding and felt a mixture of fear and distress about having to go through these experiences. My mother never breast-fed me or my four siblings. But then, some wonderful girlfriends changed the way I viewed it. I saw you breast-feeding so naturally. I saw Katy proudly breast-feeding and sharing the different positions she liked to hold her baby in while she nursed. I saw my friend, Huyen, nurse her daughter until she was over 3 years old. I saw Hediyeh and Kate and Nooshin nursing their little ones so easily and comfortably. When Jaden was born the breastfeeding began very very awkwardly. I had a team of three nurses straddling me in the hospital to show me how to do it. I got to the point where I didn’t even cover my breast and didn’t care that every nurse, doctor and family member was watching me figure out how to nurse. And after I got home from the hospital, Katy came over and layed down on the bed next to me and literally showed me how to position my body so I could nurse Jaden while lying down. And you and all my other friends would come over and nurse in front of me. All these experiences, now that I look back, were absolutely essential in my formation of a healthy breast-feeding experience with Jaden. I can’ t say that I became a “lactivist”, but I became so incredibly comfortable with breast-feeding that I nursed EVERYWHERE! I nursed Jaden in the aisle while shopping at Michaels. I nursed on the bench at the park. I nursed in waiting rooms. I nursed in the mall. I nursed at parties. I even nursed at my parents house and showed my mom all the different positions I liked to hold Jaden to nurse him. I was fortunate to have positive reactions 95% of the time. The only negative reaction I ever received was from my father who thought it was really embarrassing and who would make comments like, “Are you still nursing him? Isn’t it time for him to stop all that?” I nursed Jaden until he was two years old, and only stopped because my milk dried up. I now look back at that time as one of the most precious experiences I’ve had as a mother, and I have you to thank, along with these other dear friends I mentioned. I thank you, and Jaden thanks you!!!!!

    • Wow, Laura! Thanks so much for sharing how much positive breastfeeding role models affected you. Your story is beautiful. I’m so happy and honored to have been a part of your support network and am sure that you, in turn, impacted other mamas! If you don’t mind, I’ll share your amazing comments with some of those other mamas you listed, as I’m sure they’d love to know how they helped you and Jaden in this way.

      • That would be wonderful. I’ve never really had a chance to thank them, so please feel free!

  3. I loved reading this, Emily. Really a beautiful tribute to your nursing role models. I wish I had had a positive first time experience with breastfeeding, but I didn’t. Complications after giving birth with my first child, knocked me out for the next 24-hours, during which I was given a blood transfusion and was mostly asleep the whole time due to weakness from internal bleeding. As a result, the hospital had already given my husband bottles of formula to feed the baby. I didn’t get a chance to breastfeed until the third day, and by that time the baby had nipple confusion and I had lost my confidence. It didn’t feel natural, it didn’t feel intuitive, especially not with the hospital lactation specialist grabbing my breast to try to get the baby to latch on right.

    Within the next few days, it got worse. I developed a high fever and mastitis (infection in the breasts), probably because my milk had come in full on, but we were still skipping nursing sessions here and there to give the baby bottles. My doctor gave me antibiotics to clear up the mastitis, this then lead to a yeast infection in my breasts and thrush in my baby’s mouth, which was really hard to clear up. I felt defeated. I had only been a mother for three weeks and I already felt like a failure and was overwhelmed with feelings of guilt. Why was something so natural so complicated and difficult? I got the answer two years later. I’ll come back to this.

    I was ready to give up on nursing, but still wanted my baby to reap the benefits of breast milk. I starting expressing milk every three hours, which was basically like a part-time job, especially if you’re using a hand pump like the Avent one, and expressing from only one breast at a time. For the next month, I fed her breast milk only through a bottle. I was just a few weeks away from returning to my full-time teaching position, and I wondered, “Is it worth it?” When I return to work, would I be able to keep expressing milk every 3 hours? Was all this work really worth it? Here I was “breastfeeding” but never from the breast. Something had to be done. I wanted to experience the peace and serenity I imagined when holding my baby and breastfeeding her.

    I found a lactation consultant and paid a pretty penny for a private session. She came to my house and spent three hours with me (unlike the one at the hospital who spent about 15 minutes with me before moving on to the next patient). She found the problems with my baby’s latch and showed me how to correct it. She was patient and so kind. She told me not to give my baby any bottles for the next few weeks while I was still home. I followed her advice and within a week, my baby was nursing like a pro. I finally felt it! That connection, that peace, that sense of “I can provide for my baby,” and it felt really really good. I felt more confident as a mother and the guilt and stress just disappeared.

    When I returned to work, I expressed milk by day and nursed by night for the next two months before quitting my job. I nursed her until she was 16 months-old, when I discovered I was pregnant once again.

    With my second, I wanted things to be different, so I read a lot more about breastfeeding before the birth of my baby. I finally got an answer to the question, “Why was something so natural so complicated and difficult?” When my second baby was born, I let her start nursing within minutes after birth. I never offered her a bottle during the first month. She knew how to latch on from the very beginning. I never skipped a nursing session. No mastitis, no yeast infection, no nipple confusion…only the good stuff that you hope and wish for. Hospitals everywhere are complicating things by offering formula and making mother’s doubt from the very beginning whether or not their milk is enough. Eleven years later, I’m really glad I stuck with it. It was totally worth it!

    • Oh Gisou! Thank you so much for generously offering your story. What a heart-wrenching experience trying to breastfeed your first baby during those first several weeks! And what great determination you had to figure things out! I’m so glad you had a complete turn-around with the help of a gentle and patient, knowledgeable and kind lactation consultant. What a gift to experience a smooth breastfeeding relationship finally with your first and the whole time with your second. Will be in touch about sharing your story in an upcoming blog post…

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