Laila Ali shares her personal breastfeeding story and how different it is for her second child, daughter Sydney, who was born on April 4th. She also shares her motivational tips and how she communicates with her husband, former NFL receiver Curtis Conway, about breastfeeding. Laila is doing a weight loss challenge celebrity video blog for People.com Moms & Babies, and shared in the first video that she is nursing! Thanks, Laila, for helping to mainstream and normalize breastfeeding and for sharing your story with Best for Babes. (Click here to read how she prepared for birth!)
BfB: What made you decide to breastfeed?
Laila: When I first started educating myself about being a mom, reading books and everything, and I learned how important it is to breastfeed, the bonding with the baby, the nutrition, I realized, this is something I have to do, whether I wanted to or not. I thought of it as this is what strong women do; that’s me, that’s what I have to do. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, I had heard some negative stories, but I felt like there are women out there who have been able to do it and be successful than so can I. That’s what made me decide that I wanted to breastfeed.
About a week into it I made the mistake of giving my son a bottle so my husband could help, and then the baby started liking the bottle, and I ended up having to pump, so I ended up basically pumping the whole time, and that was annoying, it takes away all the not having to clean the bottles and all that.
Laila: Yeah, I didn’t like that at all. But I still did it, I was one of those people who wasn’t getting a lot of milk, so I had to pump forever to just get two ounces of milk. But, you know, I wasn’t going to give up or stop. I’m going to do it again this time, it’s not an option to me not to do it, unless there was some reason why I couldn’t, just knowing the reasons why. I feel like God gave us as moms our own custom formula, specifically for our child, why would I want to go buy something from the store instead, that’s made in a factory? If you’re able to do it, it’s the best thing to do.
BfB: Well bless you for doing all that pumping. Did you do things differently this time?
Laila: Oh yeah, I didn’t offer the bottle too soon! Like I said, with my son that came from me not knowing, I felt like oh, he’s still getting the breastmilk, but it was just too soon, he hadn’t really latched on well enough to the breast to be switching to a bottle.
BfB: And nobody educated you, nobody told you. A hundred years ago, everybody knew this information and passed it on to each other, now, we’ve lost a lot of that information.
You have a great big extended family, with eight brothers and sisters. What was your exposure to breastfeeding growing up?
Laila: I didn’t have any. I don’t think my mom breastfed either. There are different kinds of women. There are a few that can’t breastfeed, there are other ones that are worried about their breasts, there are those that go back to work, and feel that it’s just too much for them, I met a woman the other day and I asked her are you going to breastfeed? and she said “no, no way, I’ve heard too many bad stories, all my friends weren’t able to do it, and their nipples were hurting.”
BfB: She was booby-trapped! Breastfeeding is like working out–sure you may get sore at first, but usually it gets better pretty quickly and then you realize it’s so rewarding.
Laila: I was like, you need to get some more positive friends! There are women who don’t want to cook anymore, they don’t want to do this, they don’t want to do that, this woman was almost speaking like this baby was going to be a hassle, and I’m like glad I don’t feel that way about my child.
BfB: That’s exactly why we need to fill the universe with positive stories, because it’s not true that your nipple will fall off, but if you get bad breastfeeding care and bad breastfeeding advice as you do in most hospitals in the US, and in the doctor’s offices where they hand you a formula bag, it’s no wonder your nipples feel like they’re going to fall off, because you had a bad latch and nobody showed you.
Laila: Exactly. I did go to the Pump Connection when I needed support. In the beginning I realized, obviously I’m not doing this right because it’s not supposed to be painful. If people are not educated about that, they wouldn’t know to get help.
BfB: Did you turn to anyone else for help?
Laila: I’m not one of those people who asks other moms a lot of questions, I’d rather go to a professional. Every mom has their opinion and their experience and I don’t have time for that.
BfB: We see that all the time, moms who ask their friends for advice and their friends have not been successful, yet they take their advice anyways. Our advice is to find women who have what you want, are successful at what you are trying to accomplish, and do what they tell you.
Laila: Exactly. The only time I’ll ask somebody who happens to be a friend is if it is somebody that has succeeded, because I’m the type that doesn’t necessarily believe what people say, I’ll be like “that’s just your opinion, give me the facts. ” My husband even says, “you never trust me, you always feel like you have to go do your own research” and I say, “just because you’re my husband, doesn’t mean you’re right!” (laughs). I’d just rather go to a professional. Every woman has their own experience, and I want to have my own, so I try not to listen to the next woman, because she doesn’t necessarily know more than me. A lot of women feel like “oh I’ve raised kids, and I’ve had babies” . . . ok, but what type of mother are you? What type of woman are you? It doesn’t necessarily mean, just because you have more kids than me, that you’ve gone about doing things in a way that I would want to model. And that’s always my advice to mothers, because they always ask me for my advice: it’s don’t listen to a bunch of other mothers, unless they are successful at what you are trying to achieve!
BfB: You mentioned earlier that you did things differently this time, and didn’t introduce the bottle quite so early. You also mentioned that your husband is very hands on and wanted to feed your son. Have you talked to him about other things that he can support you in breastfeeding and how he can bond with the baby other than feeding her?
Laila: That’s not an issue for us. He knew that I didn’t want to introduce the bottle too early with Sydney, but it wasn’t like I had to say “Honey, you’re going to be able to help in other ways”. It wasn’t just that he wanted to feed our son, I had wanted him to help, and asking friends to help just made sense to me. But it’s not an issue. He already knows, when it comes to the baby and feeding the baby and doing things the best way, I’m in the lead as far as that’s concerned, so we don’t have an issue with that. I didn’t feel pressured in the first place.
BfB: It’s so important that you’re sharing this because partners are so influential in a mom’s success, and too often, moms are taking direction from their partner instead of being empowered enough to say, this is the way it’s going to work, I’m going to feed the baby, there’s lots of other ways you can help–dads can be diaper dude, bath dude, napping dude.
Laila: Breastfeeding is a job made for moms to do. I don’t see arguing with that, though I am sure people will. It’s such a short period of time in a child’s life that you are going to be breastfeeding, so let mom do her thing.
BfB: You know, you are such a strong person, and we love your attitude . . . do you think being a boxer gave you any of the kind of endurance and fortitude to empower you to do this?
I think we all have more strength and power within us than we know and that we have to trust and have faith, and that’s what I do. I know a lot of people are not very religious, and neither am I, but I’m very spiritual, and when I feel like “how am I going to do this,” I just pray, and just say, “please give me the strength to get through this”, and then I trust that I will have it. I put it out there, I ask, and then I remind myself how many have done it and so can I. I’m one of those people who if someone says, it’s never been done before, you’re the first, I would be a lot more nervous! I’d be like, oh damn, maybe I’m not going to be able to do this, but when there’s proof that it’s been done before, I’m like, okay, I can do it!
We love Laila’s “can do” attitude. What did you tell yourself to get through the learning curve of breastfeeding? What mistake did you make with your first baby that you won’t or didn’t make again?
Best for Babes Notes:
If you ended up exclusively pumping, you are not alone! First of all, feel proud that you are giving your baby your breastmilk, and join us to fight the “Booby Traps” — like poor advice on when to introduce the bottle. Check out resources like http://www.exclusivelypumping.com/about, created by Stephanie Casemore, author of Exclusively Pumping: A Guide to Expressing Breastmilk, and Breastfeeding, Take Two: Successful Breastfeeding the Second Time around. Also see our guide on bottle-feeding like you’d breastfeed . If you’d like to try to get the baby back on the breast, (and there are lots of benefits!) see an excellent IBCLC (go to www.ilca.org and enter your zip code).
 For help with going back to work, pumping and continuing to breastfeed, see www.workandpump.com.
 The truth about breastfeeding? It’s challenging, just like working out or planning a wedding. If you take that mindset, you are likelier to be more successful! It gets much easier and tremendously rewarding! See The Learning Curve of Breastfeeding
 For more on How to help your boob man become a breastfeeding fan, see our 5 Tips in the June issue of The Family Groove!