Actress Kaitlin Olson & Her Mom Swap Breastfeeding Stories

This month, in honor of Mother’s Day, we’ve focused on “Rebuilding the Broken Circle of Breastfeeding:  Helping Our Mothers Heal“.   We wanted to close out the month with this inspirational interview with Actress Kaitlin Olson and her mother, Earth Mama Angel Baby Founder Melinda Olson.   Kaitlin and Melinda share candidly about their very different breastfeeding experiences, and how it has impacted their relationship with each other.

Photo courtesy of Patrick McElhenney

Did your mom (Kaitlin’s grandmother) breastfeed you? You have said that you breastfed Kaitlin, what influenced your desire to do so?

Yes, my mother breastfed my two brothers and me — for the full six weeks that was considered acceptable at the time. Back then breastfeeding was generally considered a choice made by underprivileged women when they couldn’t afford to feed their babies revolutionary doctor-recommended, medically advanced, society-preferred formula.  My mother is not here anymore to clarify, but I do remember thanking her for making the effort – I know neither her peers nor her mother supported her choice to breastfeed but I’ve always admired her for doing it anyway.

Kaitlin was born at home in the 70s. It was a time when I was wearing tie dye, going barefoot and reading about The Farm and Ina May Gaskin’s revolutionary new concept of birthing babies at home, surrounded by loving, knowledgeable midwives. Breastfeeding was a part of my dawning realization that pregnancy isn’t a disease; that gentle, peaceful birth was possible; and that babies are best nurtured by breastfeeding. I was already breastfeeding Kaitlin’s older brother.  To be honest, I never considered any other option.

Was breastfeeding a topic you and Kaitlin had covered before she had Axel? Did you share any precious memories or information with her?

When I had Kaitlin, her brother was 18 months old and was still nursing. We tandem nursed[1], although at the time I had no idea that there was a term for feeding both of your babies at the same time. I was very fortunate to be surrounded by accepting peers and a supportive husband, and was essentially protected from negative or disapproving opinions. I have no memory of encountering any resistance when I fed either of them at home or in public. I think I was very lucky in that way.

Kaitlin nursed for longer than most babies.  It was our time together and I absolutely believe that the closeness we shared during breastfeeding is the single most powerful reason we are as close as we are now.

Kaitlin and I talked about breastfeeding before Axel was born – of course we did! But it was mostly about confirmation and logistics, it was never a discussion about whether or not she would breastfeed. I would have supported whatever decision she made, but it just wasn’t an issue. It was more a conversation about how she would manage the logistics of her career with nursing and pumping.

Do you think your having breastfed helped Kaitlin when Axel was born?

Yes, I certainly hope my having breastfed babies for so many years allowed me to be helpful. Because it was so normal to us, it’s never been something we question. And because of my work I know about the normal discomforts of breastfeeding, and also when to worry a bit. But I also think my job was to be Kaitlin’s cheerleader, not the technician. When you deal with this every day you realize that every new mama has bumps and obstacles, but when it’s your daughter you still want to move heaven and earth to help. We were both very fortunate to be able to turn to one of my respected industry friends, Shari Criso.  She was able to give Kaitlin practical, functional help which allowed me to just be her encouragingly supportive mama, standing by with pom poms!

What is it like to watch Kaitlin breastfeed Axel? Does it bring back fond memories?

This question brings tears to my eyes. Watching my daughter nurture her baby from the minute he was born[2] is one of the most powerful, precious moments I’ve been blessed to share with her, second only to being there when Axel took his first breath.

How has helping Kaitlin breastfeed deepened your bond with her? With Axel perhaps?

I feel like I’m uniquely blessed for many reasons. My husband and I were there when my daughter-in-law gave birth to her babies. To this day, I marvel at her willingness to let me help her with her first latch, get right in there and help her in the first few days of breastfeeding. I feel like our relationship and the relationship with her children, my grandbabies, is supported by those moments. When you are trusted to help someone nurture and bond with their babies, that’s a real honor.

Sitting beside Kaitlin as she nursed her newborn, I was immersed in sharing the experience of such a profoundly intimate, life-giving experience. It was amazing to watch and it was like my bond with Kaitlin was somehow supporting her bond with Axel.  Believe me, I don’t take any of that for granted. I really do know how blessed I am.

Kaitlin Olson

Before Axel was born, did you ask your mom questions about what it was like breastfeeding — what she liked about breastfeeding you?

I didn’t really have to ask, I’ve always known that my mom breastfed us and that she considers it one of the most important things she’s done as our mother. Not only does she believe that breastmilk is the most perfect food for a baby, she attributes our closeness, in part, to the countless hours we spent snuggled together with her literally giving us everything she had.

Those first few weeks can be challenging, did you encounter any booby traps that your mother was able to help you with?

They were extremely challenging! My mom’s breastfeeding experience differed greatly from mine. She never used a pump, and pumping is part of my daily life. I hate the pump and so do my boobs, because it’s not nearly as efficient as the baby  (BfB says:  Get help with pumping here, if you’re worried about low milk supply, click here) . I have dealt with way more than my fair share of engorgement and ended up with mastitis five times in eight months. My mom’s support and encouragement has been invaluable.  Every time I got mastitis my milk went away. Or way down. I feel so grateful that her company has products to help with engorgement, clogged ducts, let-down and milk supply. I have Booby Tubes all over the house. But what kept me going was the ability to relax and hang in there, knowing my milk would always eventually come back, the baby would always eventually try again, and we’d be back on track in a few days. She’s the person who helped me remember that. I called her crying one day when Axel was frustrated and refusing to nurse and she told me that breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world, and I didn’t need to force it any more than I needed to force the sun to come up in the morning. She told me to take a deep breath and try again. What a smart lady.

Has your mom been a touchstone for you as you continue to breastfeed and now juggle work and a busy schedule?

Absolutely! It’s been an interesting transition from full time mom to full time mom with a 60 hour a week job. I love it, but it takes some planning and apparently some quick breakdowns from time to time. My mom is the safest place for me to complain/whine/cry to, pull it together/come up with a plan/ and move on with.

Has sharing your breastfeeding with your mom had a positive effect on your relationship?

I didn’t think it was possible to appreciate her more, but I do. For as wonderful and rewarding as it is to nurse a baby, it can also be difficult and painful. Clogged ducts are no joke. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I would do anything in the world for him and I know that’s how my mom feels about me. I’ve always known that. She’s taught me how to be a mother to my son and I’ll never be able to thank her enough for that.

It was your first Mother’s Day, how has mothering Axel changed or inspired you?

It’s made my heart feel like it’s always going to explode. It’s made me do that thing I said I’d never do and show baby pictures to strangers. It has also expanded me, in a way. I want to do everything now, and do it well. I have somebody to be the best for.

For more on Kaitlin Olson, read what she had to say about her homebirth plans and breastfeeding intentions in our exclusive interview!   Also don’t miss Kaitlin’s hilarious interview with Conan O’Brien in which she talks about her homebirth and how her fans want to eat her baby (!).

[1] Tandem nursing is a wonderful way for siblings to bond with each other, and some say it eases sibling rivalry.  Actress Kelly Rutherford tandem-nursed her children Hermes and Helena, see our interview with her.   A cute and very useful book on the topic is Adventures in Tandem Nursing, by Hilary Flower.  http://www.amazon.com/Adventures-Tandem-Nursing-Breastfeeding-Pregnancy/dp/0912500972

[2] Kaitlin had a home birth, just like her mom!  See  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/03/kaitlin-olson-rob-mcelhen_n_704611.html

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