Monday, November 15, 2010

Nursing and Body Image

I am a self-proclaimed expert in poor body image and self-esteem. It has affected my nursing relationship with Aiden, and to a lesser extent it affects my nursing relationship with Chase. it also affects my ability to go in for annual lady appointments, get sized for bras (a recent issue I need to address) and change my clothes at the gym.

I am a lactivist, and I am a supporter of nursing in public (obviously) but I cover up. Always. I think I must be letting my less modest, nursing in public, power mama sisters down by hiding what is so normal and natural to do: nursing my baby. Except, i'm not hiding the fact that I'm nursing. I'm hiding my breasts. I don't care if people know/see that I"m nursing a baby under my little blanket. That's not my problem. I don't even care if the IDEA of me or anyone else nursing a baby, covered or not, offends or bothers others when I am in public. What I care about is the image I have in my head about my breasts, my nipples, and my body. See, it's not about others seeing my breasts, it's about how I view my breasts.

Some women worry about what pregnancy and breastfeeding will DO to their breasts. Perhaps this is a concern if you've EVER had nice breasts...but I kid my audience not...my breasts came in saggy and at my waist...even when they were little a-cups...they were saggy: \o/\o/  <---those are my boobies, ladies. I wish I was kidding. When I'm not nursing, they resemble a tube sock with tennis balls in them...really...can't picture it? Put a tennis ball in a sock...and staple it to your chest...the tube part may be a little long...but you're getting the idea. When I'm nursing...it's like a tube sock still...but with a SOFTBALL in it now. I'm also not blessed with lovely nipples. They're mostly flat and at the bottom of my breast...seriously they do NOW and have ALWAYS pointed the way to my toes...in case I wasn't aware of where those were, helpful during pregnancy when I actually lose track of them...but sure makes for unattractive breasts.

Another huge factor for me when I was nursing Aiden was MY size. When I got pregnant with Aiden I was was 252 pounds of stuffed sausage. I lost 20lbs during that first pregnancy, but I was still a big girl, my breasts were 38DDDs, totally unweildy, heavy, and nearly impossible to hide while nursing in public...I had trouble getting him latched on under a cover cuz he was so little...and my boobs were so big...it's hard to do blind. I was also extra-sensitive about people seeing my belly or fluffly hips spilling out so I was always wearing weird layers (bra, nursing tank, shirt...that's a lot of clasps and juggling) to try and conceal the fluff overflow. I was just NEVER comfortable nursing in public because it was just too difficult for me and my crappy body image. When Aiden was only one week old I attended a doula training...in a room full of breastfeeding gurus...I waited until the lights were out for a film to try and get Aiden to nurse...by this point I was engorged as hell and we both ended up covered in milk! I was still weird about the doula sitting next to me...that she might see my breast in the glow from the film...silly, considering I was sitting at the BACK of the room.

My pregnancy with Chase, however, has wielded a 40lb weight loss. I've dropped over 2 pants sizes, and even at less than 2 weeks postpartum, I think I look GOOD! The boobs are also more manageable. I'm not sure what size I am now (please refer to description above of crappy self-esteem keeping me from getting sized) but I can tell the difference nursing Chase. I'm somewhere around a 36DDD (isn't that an F or an E in some brands? I don't know), but that's smaller than what I was before, and I don't have to struggle to NOT suffocate my baby anymore. I've even been able to nurse him in the cradle hold...something I was NEVER able to do with Aiden, even at 8 months. Shoot, last week at the Pregnancy Center I was nursing and chasing my toddler at the same time! What a difference my weight loss has made both on the logistics of nursing for me, and on my general body image. I got Chase situated on my boob in front of a roomful of women I don't even know.

My problem still remains that while I"m a lot happier with my body in general...my boobs are still tube socks with softballs in them, and I have big flat, dinner plate nipples. I still insist on covering, but it's MUCH easier to do this now, and I'm not as obsessed with no one having even the possibility of catching a glimpse of what's under my little blanket. Yesterday I sat at an indoor playground, reading Henci Goer's, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth right in front of some strange man and his wife and a bunch of other people and nursing my littlest man-child right in my lap. I do have a tendancy to sit and think "I wonder if people are bothered by this...gosh I wish someone would come say something...what would I say back?" and then I have a whole internal dialogue. But the internal dialogue USED to be "gosh I hope no one can see my love handles, or my breasts, or my fat rolls..." It's incredibly freeing to have an improved, albeit still pretty shitty, self image.

Tell us, how has your body image, positive or negative, affected your nursing relationship(s)? If you are a proud and "whip it out" kind of mama, what advice do you have for moms who are more apt to cover...are you bothered by nursing mothers who cover? Why or why not?

12 comments:

  1. Bravo for your willingness to talk about a touchy subject. I too have a pretty dismal feeling about my body. I lost weight during my pregnancy, gained it back plus some, had the babies, lost a TON of weight, then gained it all back plus some. I can't even figure out how that happened. I'm nursing twins and I'm on a restricted diet. I'm guessing stress and lack of exercise are doing me in. Anyway, the only thing I cover when I NIP is my belly/back/hips. I frankly don't care who sees a little peek of boob because it's functional and necessary. I'm not titillating anyone on purpose, so if there are issues, they belong to the observer, not this nursing mama! I don't mind seeing a covered mama nursing in public... I'm just glad to see her at all. It does make me sad, though, to think that our society makes "mavericks" out of the women who don't.

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  2. loved your comment about feeling you're letting other nursing mommas down by covering up. I too have poor self image and cover up in public because #1, my husband prefers that I do, and if it means he'll support my continued bf'ing, then I'll do it and #2 I don't want anyone checking out my fat...as if they are, lol. But I have this guilt that I not part of the "normalizing nursing in public" league by covering up. But the simple fact is that covered or not, we're doing the best for our darlings in a society where it's not the norm. so for now I am content to nurse with a cover up and I tell myself I am contributing to the "cause" because covers tend to draw even more attention to the fact that you're breastfeeding...which is fine by me, I'm proud of it!

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  3. I find myself using a cover because I don't want people to see that parts that I myself have trouble looking at! Having my third child has made this process much more managable, but when I had my first baby, I was 19 years old and body image was at its peak. I had grown up with no breasts and suddenly had huge (for me) D's! At first I'll be honest, I like them! It was fun to see how the "other side" lived, but then after two years of nursing, my milk dried up and I was left with a droopy pair of cows udders. I was disgusted everytime I bent over in the shower, and would find myself mooing in the process. My lovely hubby was and still is so supportive and said he loved them all the same :) On the flip side, hvaing just had my third baby and now at the age of 30, I couldn't give a hoot. Mostly because of pages like this and the passion that I have for provding my babies the BEST possible start in life. I wish when I was 19 that someone would have sat me down and explained to me all of the things that would happen to my body AFTER pregnancy.! I felt utterly alone, and dumped by the system. This time I felt empowered, and good. I went to see a lactation consultant and learned a million new things, I thought I knew it all! So much so that I am thinking of ditching my plans of music, and becoming a lactation consultant. I want others to know that while they might lose the perky 19 year old boobs, they will gain a whole lot more! And I embrace my saggy udders, because they have been in service now for about 5 and a half years! I am proud of myself for that.

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  4. I have not gone through all of the changes sure to come- though I have had image concerns. When I first got pregnant I was so worried that I wouldn't be able to breastfeed. (Silly, I know) I was so worried that my nipples were too small, and when I heard about inverted nipples, I was worried about that, too. (Though I am relieved to say I do not.) My husband has been nice and assured me throughout that my breasts will make the necessary adjustments for nursing. (I am always 'checking their progress' though) Currently my concern is that one leaks more colostrum than the other. LOL
    Other than that, there are these very apparent veins I have partially on my upper breasts/chest. They have gotten more noticeable since I've been pregnant. Sometimes I wonder how bright they will get. I don't know if this will bother me when nursing; Since, obviously, this part of my body isn't normally visible.

    This is a great topic to be discussed. Sometimes a lot of insecurities are shared by women- that they aren't even aware of. And it can be great to know that you're not alone in how you feel.

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  5. I'm a lactivist, no doubt. I LOVE seeing women BF in public and I know I'll do it...but only if I can cover up my belly. I'm horrified by my belly...especially now after gaining 56 lbs with my last pregnancy (about 25 of which was water weight! ew!). If I don't have a nursing tank top on, that I can pull out and smooth over the fat rolls, you'd better believe that I wouldn't be NIP. Even when the doctor or nurse at the hospital would see me pumping without anything covering my belly I'd think OMG are they looking at my fat rolls?? How disgusting, I'm so horrified that they can see them!!! My brain revolves around how I feel about my body, it's really sad.

    As for how I'll NIP, I don't know. The person I was when I was nursing Olivia is much much different then the person I am now. I actually nursed her in a public bathroom before. Gross, I know. I always covered, but I DID NIP a few times with her. With Ella, I'm very different. I have beautiful pictures of me nursing her on FB, here and my personal blog that I've let the world see. So I think I'll be more comfortable...as long as you can't see my belly!

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  6. As the leader of the NNIPL (Normalizing Nursing in Public League) let me just say that breastfeeding in public even with a cover is still normalizing because everyone knows what you are doing under that blanket. :) You are a part of the group! :)

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  7. i don't think it's "unnatural" to want to cover up during breastfeeding... after a while it just became too much of a hassel for me and i gave up using covers, but that had less to do with my body image and more to do with the inconvenience of it all. even though i'm very "average" looking i still have issues with my body image. and i'm one of those people who used to have stellar boobs and now i have the saggy boobs with dinner plate nipples and blue veins covering my chest. :( not even that but my boobs are uneven! one is MUCH saggier than the other. i wonder if i'll ever look good again...

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  8. @Iktomi, I can guarantee you... you are the most beautiful person in the world to your nursling! Being a mama means being beautiful. Our babies haven't been influenced by society yet, and their unclouded eyes know beauty when they see it. When you're feeling down about your body image, don't look in a mirror, just look into your baby's eyes. You'll see your true self reflected back.

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  9. aw Mama Mo, what beautiful advice!! Isn't it the truth too? I have a picture of my tiny 29 weeker breastfeeding at 33 weeks and the look in her eyes.....it's so lovely. (It's actually on this blog too, on my post about nursing her!)

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  10. I just came across this post and I love that you wrote it. So, So many mama's have bad body image post baby. Well, actually, so many women in general have poor body image, now compound that with a rapid weight increase, no clothes that fit properly, stretch marks, etc...YIKES! Recipe for disaster. It sounds like I have the same boobs as you do. When my boobs came at age 13 they were saggers from the get go. Long and skinny, bulbous at the bottom and skinnier where they attached to my chest. I hated them from high school till my early twenties when I took a class that included some positive talk about body image in it. I practiced some of those exercises at home (looking in the mirror, complimenting the parts of my bod that I DID like and NOT saying anything negative about the parts I didn't). It took a while, but it turned me full circle. I ended up being a burlesque performer and showing my boobs on stage in nothing more than pasties. And you know what? People cheered for my boobs! Well, for me too, but my boobs were on display. I stopped doing that years ago and recently had my first child. My breasts were a 36FF BEFORE I was preggo, now that I'm nursing, I'm into a size J. The woman at the bra shop lovingly referred to my breast shape as "tear drop" shape. Nice huh. Just because our breast shape isn't the popular shape in mass media, does not mean that people don't find them attractive. Have you seen the Playboy article about breast shape through the years? There is a link to it in this article: http://jezebel.com/5561224/when-your-breast-shape-goes-out-of-style So if you don't want to go to the playboy link you can read about it on Jezabel instead, but if you want to see the pics, the link is right at the top of the article. So, my $.02 is just love yourself and what you got as best you can. If you say hateful things to your body, you believe them, and then you express that to everyone around you. If you say loving things to your body, you will believe them and express that to those around you. And truth be told, sexy is more in the attitude than in the curves. I have met some DAMN sexy women with big big big tear drop sized boobs and rolls and rolls and they know they are sexy and people who look at them know they are sexy too. Oh, and here is my tip for big boobs and not showing off your belly when nursing Long strappy tank top under shirt. Pull it down under your boobs on the side you are nursing on. Your belly will always be covered. You just have to lift your over shirt a little bit. Good luck mamas! You are all beautiful! If YOU believe it, everyone will believe it.

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  11. As I said on FB, i hate that I'm 23 and need to wear a good push-up bra to look decent. Weight isnt an issue, fortunately i weigh less now after 2 kids than i did before i ever got pregnant and i have no stretch marks. I am very lucky for that. I avoid nursing in public bc im uncomfortable with it. It doesnt bother me if others do it but i dont think my close personal relationship with my kids need to be displayed in public, more of a private thing for me, but everyone knows I bf, the fact isnt hidden at all.

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