The transition to motherhood is often depicted as joyous—and rightfully so. But postpartum depression and anxiety are a reality for many women and, for Gaby Cavins, an officer in the U.S. Navy, having a baby was “like hitting a brick wall.” Never mind giving birth—what caused the most pain for Gaby was breastfeeding.
Gaby eventually worked through her struggles and even came to love breastfeeding, but it took time and support. Her experience sparked a commitment to support breastfeeding mamas everywhere, particularly those in military families and underprivileged communities. Here are her top tips for new mamas.
Ask for help from breastfeeding pros.
Gaby was accustomed to feeling successful in everything she did, but she struggled following the birth of her son, Kenneth. “I would feed my son, then hook up to my pump, then my husband would feed him all of the 10 mL I was able to pump, and then we’d do it all over again,” she says. “Worst three days ever. I convinced myself I was the only person in the world struggling.”
Ashamed and in tears, Gaby connected with a local lactation consultant who helped Kenneth latch and taught her how to use her pump correctly. “I’d convinced myself I just wasn't made for breastfeeding,” she says. “But we’re ALL made for this!” It took two weeks before Gaby and Kenneth hit their stride and then: “I was a new person. I stopped crying, I felt better, and I started bonding with my son.” But the most important thing she learned was that she wasn’t alone.
Connect with other mamas.
Being a new mom can be isolating, so find other mamas to talk to—whether in a local group, at work, or on the playground. Gaby attended a weekly support group where she learned about resources specifically for military moms, including the website, Breastfeeding in Combat Boots. When she went back to work, she discovered a new place to meet other military moms: her workplace lactation room. “The friendships I made in that pump room are so near and dear to my heart,” says Gaby. “ Whenever you have the opportunity, make sure to ask the mama next to you how she's doing. Sharing your story, no matter how long or how difficult, could make the difference in another mama’s life.”
Let go of the mom-guilt.
Working parents have to juggle competing responsibilities and roles, but Gaby doesn’t think the phrase “work/life balance” works anymore. “I've had to come to accept that I can't be 100% mom, 100% wife, and 100% Naval Officer all at the same time, or even in the same day. It's impossible! I've tried it and failed. I just do my best.” For Gaby, it’s the process and the attempt that matter. “There are so many moms out there like me, and we all face the same challenges,” she says. “We can't do it all at once, but we can be symbols of grace, leadership, and success in doing our best.”
Be proud of yourself.
Gaby breastfed Kenneth for just over 13 months, stopping when she needed to attend a 5-week training course on the other side of the country. The very thing that had been the hardest at the beginning—breastfeeding—turned out to be the hardest thing to let go. At times, Gaby still wonders if she could have made it work, by taking Kenneth with her or flying home on weekends, but ultimately the logistics were too complicated. Overall, Gaby feels proud about how long she was able to breastfeed Kenneth, and points out that, no matter what your breastfeeding journey is, it’s important to celebrate your victories. “No matter how long you nurse/pump, be proud that you were able to provide for your little one as long as you did,” says Gaby. “You are a rockstar!”