Ask me about chestfeeding and I will tell you that it is just as natural as any other bodily function. And in the same breath, I will also tell you that many people struggle with it.
My journey with chestfeeding began in 2005, with the birth of my first child, Skylar. I was 18 years old and determined to exclusively chestfeed my son. I failed miserably. My child was losing weight, falling asleep at the breast, and just not eating enough. Despite my insistence on chestfeeding my child, the hospital offered me no education, and instead loaded my partner and I down with pre-made formula bottles before discharging us on our way. Concerned about my son’s poor weight gain, my mother and partner insisted that I feed Skylar the formula we had received from the hospital. They told me that my chest milk was not enough, that my baby needed the formula.
And there it was, the planted seed of doubt in my natural ability to nourish my baby’s body from my own.
I chest and formula fed Skylar for about 3 months, before I transitioned solely to formula feeding, much shorter than the 18 months that I had planned to chestfeed him. I had set an 18-month goal because that is how long my 19-year-old mother chestfed me. I could not understand why my body could not do what my mother’s could. However, that did not stop me from trying again. When my second child, Ivory, was born, just a couple of days short of Skylar’s first birthday, I was yet again determined to exclusively chestfeed my son. And I was, yet again, unsuccessful.
If my story had ended there, it would be like that of so many others who are made to believe their body doesn’t make enough milk. Thankfully, this is not how my story ends.
We were blessed with 3 more children, Kameron, Ava, and Jessika, all of whom I not only exclusively chestfed for the first 6 months of their lives, but whom I chestfed for 17 months, 22 months, and 22 months and counting respectively. You may be wondering what changed, and the answer is simple. Education. I read a chestfeeding book, I attended a free chestfeeding class offered by the hospital, and I joined chestfeeding support groups on social media. The knowledge that I gained from those resources was enough to unearth the self-doubt that I had allowed to grow inside of me. I was now just as motivated to chestfeed as ever before, but this time I had the education to see it through successfully.
I came to the realization that I was not a failure with our first two children; I was ignorant. I simply lacked the basic information that is pertinent to maintaining a sufficient milk supply. I did not know what a “good latch” looked like, so that my babies could transfer my milk to their bodies sufficiently. I, like so many others, just simply lacked the knowledge.
Approximately 71% of teen and young adult parents, between the ages of 14 and 21, initiate chestfeeding. However, 84% of them stop chestfeeding by the time their babies reach 6 months of age, with the average chestfeeding duration being 5 weeks. Those who exclusively chestfeed, meaning that breastmilk is the only nutrition that Baby receives, tend to have longer chestfeeding journeys. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both recommend chestfeeding each child for a minimum of 2 years; exclusive chestfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months.
My personal chestfeeding journey, along with stories from so many other people who had experiences much like my own, led me to become a Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC). I decided to help others empower themselves in the ways that I once did not know how to do for myself. As a lactation professional, I know that the answers to some chestfeeding issues are not as simple as my own. However, most lactating people can produce enough chest milk to feed their babies, and with proper support and education, teen and young adult chestfeeders can have greater success.
If you are interested in publishing a blog, email Alondra at Alondra@txcampaign.org