My childhood was traumatic and included neglect and abuse. The older I become, the more I understand that this is, unfortunately, a very common experience. I would like to encourage other moms to consider breastfeeding and consider the healing process that can come through your breastfeeding journey.
When my oldest was born, I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I was not educated very well in the process. Further, because of my childhood, I was really uncomfortable with my body and would never nurse uncovered and rarely ever nurse in public. It is not very realistic or enjoyable to be cooped up at home or in restaurant bathrooms trying to feed my child. My in-laws insisted that I nurse in a room alone so I was isolated during family gatherings, which didn’t help my confidence either. I had recently moved to another state and was one of the first to become a mother in the small circle of people that I did know. All of these factors contributed to making my first breastfeeding journey very lonely and isolating which, as an abuse survivor, was even worse than for the typical mother. I was able to hang in there for five months. For a long time I felt really guilty and disappointed that I did not breastfeed for a longer time but now, six years down the road, I can feel proud of how hard I worked for those five months with the obstacles I had at the time.
When my second was born, I was faced with even more challenges. My second child was a crier. Cried all day and all night. One time we clocked her at 6 hours straight! I now know that she has significant sensory issues, dairy sensitivities, and possibly other special needs that are currently undiagnosed. I really struggled and because of my childhood trauma plus a high-needs baby, I slipped into significant postpartum depression. I am thankful that my husband was very encouraging of me seeking help, which isn’t something I would normally do. After several months of therapy, I was able to gain some coping tools for my current situation as well as come to terms with my past. I was able to breastfeed for six months with my second child.
When my third was born, I had a great post-birth recovery, a happy baby and growing confidence as a mother. I had a bigger circle of support with friends, family, and a great lactation consultant who was ready for my calls any time, day or night. I was able to breastfeed for 8 months with this child and would have happily done longer, but I struggled with my milk supply once I became pregnant again. My fourth pregnancy had me in very poor health and ended up with bed rest and with these challenges, I just could not keep up my dwindling milk supply.
Something I did try, thanks to the advice of a great online breastfeeding forum, was to re-latch my third after my fourth was born. She never did latch on well, but I think she enjoyed having the option and knowing that she could snuggle skin-to-skin with mommy, just like little brother was doing. She is 2.5 now and still will occasionally ask for “milkies” and I always snuggle her and let her try to latch on and I really think that has been a huge part of keeping her from getting jealous of baby sibling.
When my fourth was born, I had learned so much about myself and about motherhood so far. I knew what to do to keep myself healthy in mind and body, thanks to my therapy. I knew how to approach various breastfeeding challenges thanks to my lactation consultant, breastfeeding mom friends, and online support groups. I felt confident to breastfeed in public now. My last child really benefited from everything I had learned and now at 13 months, he still loves nursing.
I would like to recommend some specific helps if you or someone you know is a childhood abuse survivor and breastfeeding mother:
- Be patient and long-suffering. Understand that each person and their healing process is unique.
- Seek therapy or counseling specific to your needs. Find ways to gain confidence.
- Learn to be less critical of yourself. Revel in your victories, however small, and understand that no one does everything “right”
- Reach out to other child abuse survivors and understand that you are not alone
My recommendations to all breastfeeding mothers are
- Educate yourself. Have access to a qualified LC
- Take care of yourself, especially postpartum
- Surround yourself with supportive friends and family
- Don’t give up! But learn to balance that with not being too hard on yourself
I am now 7 years into my journey of motherhood and find that I am new person. I have found a lot of healing specifically thru breastfeeding. For one thing, it redefined physical touch as something that is enjoyable, peaceful and fulfilling. It helped me see that my body is amazing and wonderful and complete, just the way it is. In the past, I have coped with my past trauma by staying busy and becoming a perfectionist. Breastfeeding forced me to slow down and focus on just one thing, just one person, just one task and that was very healing to me. I also gained a healthier perspective and no longer expect anything to be perfect.
Sometimes the baby is crying and the siblings are going crazy and phone is ringing off the hook but breastfeeding helped center me on what was truly important in that moment, taking care of my child. I found that sitting down and calmly breastfeeding, helped calm the older siblings as well. I could easily talk, sing or read to my older ones while nursing as well. All my kids are comfortable with me nursing, and I hope that that will be the beginning of them embracing that part of motherhood for themselves or for the women in their lives. Breastfeeding is something that has been challenging but also something that has helped me mature as a mother and as a person.
I would encourage every survivor of childhood trauma to research how that may effect your breastfeeding journey. A good place to start is the LLL page dedicated to this topic.