Spotlight Stories: Kitty Douglass-Harris

Image of Kitty with her youngest son as a baby.

Spartan Spotlight Stories

This series highlights Spartans through the Spotlight Stories around issues that are important to the MSU WorkLife Office. The series is starting with new parents raising infants and breastfeeding. Other topics to come will include building community at MSU, eldercare, flex schedules, raising teens and more. The goal is to build community at MSU, show people they are not alone, bring awareness to important stages of the lifespan and promote a family friendly policies and workplace. 
 

Topic: Breastfeeding

Kitty Douglass-Harris is a mother of two sons, age 8 and 2, a Fiscal Officer at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities (JCMU), and a Ballet Instructor at the Group Exercise & Recreational Fitness Program; below she shares her insights on breastfeeding.

What led you to your decision to breastfeed?

I knew that I wanted to breastfeed as soon as I learned I was pregnant with my first son in 2011. I was a formula baby myself – I’m actually allergic to the fat in milk, including human milk, so I was worried that my children would also share that allergy. Thankfully, both are allergy-free and were/are champion nursers! 

What is the most important part about breastfeeding to you?

Knowing that my children are sharing my immunities through my breastmilk, and sharing the bond during breastfeeding has been really important to me. There’s this incredible thing that happens when you’re breastfeeding and your kids are sick – your milk actually changes to respond to their needs, and the comfort of breastfeeding helps them to feel better. So it’s about so much more than just feeding the baby. 

What was the most challenging thing about breastfeeding?

Since exclusive breastfeeding (without using a bottle) can only be provided by the mother, it can be challenging and sometimes quite isolating for the father. On the flip side, exclusive breastfeeding means that mother is the only person who can respond to needs such as night feedings, so there’s more sleeplessness for mother. I’ve found that it is easier to co-sleep about half the night with my youngest when he wakes up (typically around 3:30 AM) and wants to nurse – everyone seems to get more rest if I stay in the nursery, especially as he is typically the first one up at dawn every morning, school day or not! 

What type of support helped you in your breastfeeding success at home or at work?

Since my mum didn’t breastfeed, I really didn’t have a maternal guide the way some new parents do. With my eldest son, I relied a lot on the lactation consultant at Sparrow, and I also took the breastfeeding education series at MSU before he was born – that was very helpful! 

Did you breastfeed when you returned to work?

Yes. That was a challenge – neither of my boys would accept the bottle (my youngest still won’t!), so I had to work out a schedule with my colleagues and my sitter to allow me to come home after short intervals to feed the baby. As each grew older, the time between feedings grew longer, so that now I can go for a longer day at the office and not worry. 

Were there any barriers or challenges that you had to overcome?

I think the biggest challenge was the scheduling aspect – I had originally planned to pump and bottle feed as well as breastfeed directly, so when that didn’t work out as I hoped, it meant sitting down and figuring out a schedule that would both feed the baby and keep me working. I did reduce my appointment during the 18 months of my eldest son’s childhood to 75% time, and I’m currently only 26 hours a week. I’ve discovered that having that reduced schedule is really helping me to better support my family, even with a reduced income. 

Some people have been very critical of my choice to openly breastfeed in front of my eldest son, but I want him to understand what it means when mother says “I’m feeding the baby.” That way, if he has children of his own someday, he understands breastfeeding and can provide support. Breastfeeding is a normal and natural thing, and I don’t feel that it’s anything to be ashamed of.  

What advice do you have for new breastfeeding moms?

Learn to roll with the changes, because they’ll come at you when you least expect them. My eldest decided he was done with breastfeeding literally overnight! That was a shock to my system for sure, but it was his body telling him that he was ready to move on, so I needed to let it go, too. It’s hard, but it’s also rewarding when your children have grown out of breastfeeding and are ready to be fully self-fed. 

Did you go to breastfeeding classes?

Yes!

(Editor's Note: Learn more about the breastfeeding series and private rooms)

Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently if you could?

I was better prepared with my second child for my breastfeeding schedule, though he’s a very differently personality from my first, so the experience doesn’t absolutely match every time. Every kid is different – even if they are all your kids! 

How did your coworkers or supervisor support you and your efforts to breastfeed?

My colleagues have absolutely been the best – I count myself very lucky that they have always supported my needs for a flexible schedule and to make family my first priority, even when things were busy at work. I could not have had such a successful experience without their support. 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

That saying about long days but short years is absolutely true! It’s hard to think that way when you’re in the thick of things (especially in those early months when you’re getting up in the wee hours to feed a crying baby), but it will all pass by much quicker than you ever expected. And your children will grow in leaps and bounds – they’ll be able to do things today that were impossible yesterday. Children are astounding! 
 

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