It's been two months since Hunter McGrady became a mom — she and husband Brian Keys welcomed son Hudson Tynan on June 26 — but in that short time the model has already become something of an expert on the highs and lows of breastfeeding.
With National Breastfeeding Month coming to a close, the first-time mother opened up to Yahoo Life about her journey so far as a nursing mother, an experience she initially expected to go smoothly, assuming that her large breasts would help her build a strong supply of breastmilk.
"I was actually leaking colostrum [the antibody-rich first milk] about two months before giving birth," she says. "So I thought, God, my breasts are raring to go. And then when it didn't happen, I was like, OK, they just totally let me down. What happened here?"
According to McGrady, "my breastfeeding journey has not been what I thought it was going to be." After giving birth, she expected to effortlessly start nursing.
"He was going to latch immediately and it was going to be beautiful," she says of her expectations. "And like, that was not the case at all."
McGrady — who has been candid about her struggles as a new mom on social media, cracked nipples and all — admits feeling "really, really, really sad" that the reality of breastfeeding didn't live up to those expectations. Like many nursing women, she has one breast — she calls it her "underachiever" — which produces less milk. And in the process of trying to boost her supply, she developed mastitis, an inflammation of the breast tissue which can be brought on by a blocked milk duct.
"I was pumping so much and feeding so much and doing the lactation cookies that I actually got mastitis," she says. "I had a really bad fever and I was really, really sick."
Her experience has highlighted the need for mothers to have more support and education about the nursing process, she says.
"I truly think that moms do not get enough information about breastfeeding, especially in the hospital," McGrady tells Yahoo Life. "You're sitting there and you're like, something's wrong with me. This shouldn't be so hard."
Reaching out to loved ones — her mom, friends who have breastfed — and other moms in her Instagram community helped. McGrady also sought the advice of a lactation consultant, who coached her on establishing a routine and assured her it was OK to supplement with formula when needed.
But some of the issues she's encountered as a nursing mother aren't necessarily physical ones. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model says that she's been sexualized when she nurses in public because of her curves.
"Having a larger bust, a lot of people just sexualize it," she says, likening it to how photos of her posing in a bikini are often flagged because she's "bustier."
"We rarely ever see plus-size women represented in any regular [everyday] life, let alone breastfeeding, pregnancy, none of it," she adds. "And I noticed that when I have my baby and I am breastfeeding out in public, I get the most disgusted stares, like I am doing something so wrong and unnatural. But when I go out with my girlfriends who are smaller-chested, they don't get those stares as often. They still do [get some], because I do think that there is a stigma around breastfeeding that needs to change 100 percent."
These days, McGrady is giving herself grace about supplementing with formula, despite pressure from society and pleading DMs urging her to keep up exclusively nursing.
"The truth of the matter is he wasn't gaining the correct weight, because he wasn't getting enough from my breast," she says of giving Hudson formula. For now, she's taking the process — and whether she'll stop nursing — "day and day."
"I think there's absolutely nothing bad about stopping breastfeeding," McGrady says. "I really, really don't. If I give it the next few weeks and I'm like, you know what, this is still really hard... I'm totally OK with saying formula is the way to go."
She adds, "I do really, really love the bonding experience overall with Hudson. I love that time... although I will say I do also get that with bottle-feeding, too."
She sums it up this way: "Whether you're doing breastfeeding, you're doing formula, fed is best."
Video produced by Stacy Jackman.
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