New Jersey photographer Maegan Dougherty has been photographing families for almost 10 years, but recently captured a rare moment while shooting a family’s labor and birth story last week. Wedding photographer Kate Neal was in active labor when her 2-year old daughter was brought into the hospital room for a visit. The toddler wanted to nurse as soon as she saw her mother and Kate obliged, knowing that breastfeeding has actually been linked to speeding up labor.
And no, it’s not just an Old Wive’s Tale — studies have shown that nipple stimulation can induce contractions due to the release of oxytocin. Towards the end of a pregnancy, about half of all women use some type of natural method to help induce labor, with the most common attempts being walking or intercourse. And in this case, it worked: About two hours after Maegan captured the breastfeeding photograph, Kate gave birth to her second child.
Maegan posted the powerful image on her Instagram, writing: “I love this moment. Big sister was so happy to see her mom and to nurse. And then contractions got longer and more intense.”
The photo is attention-grabbing for more than a few reasons. At first glance, I immediately thought of the flood of sheer strength it must take to breastfeed while in between contractions. But then a second later, I thought, Of course she can. Of course we can; our bodies can.
As women, we are miraculously able to simultaneously give nourishment and life to two other human beings outside of ourselves. XX>XY 4ever. And isn’t that amazing? For me, the photo made me recall the first time I saw my oldest son after giving birth to his baby brother; and it filled me with emotion.
Maegan documented the entire process of labor and birth for the family, later sharing on Facebook:
“I spent last Sunday with this really cool couple. I enjoyed getting to know them before labor got intense, and I loved documenting their beautiful experience for them as they welcomed their second baby girl into the world.”
Dougherty told the UK Daily Mail that, “As Kate’s midwife, Lonnie Morris, put it, ‘Breastfeeding while laboring is Pitocin [a drug that induces labor] at its finest, since nipple stimulation can increase oxytocin and speed up labor. Kate’s contractions started coming faster and stronger shorty after breastfeeding, and she gave birth to a beautiful baby girl about two hours later.”
But speedy labor aside, I think the best part of this story is that it captures the beauty in a loving moment breastfeeding mothers and their children share every single day; and illustrates this mom’s fortitude at the very same time.