Elana Meyers Taylor blog: Breastfeeding, travel, and competing

Elana Meyers Taylor writes her second sport blog for Olympics.com about breastfeeding her son, Nico, and the challenges of life on the road.

By Elana Meyers Taylor
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Elana Meyers Taylor is right in the middle of qualifying herself a place in her two bobsleigh events for the USA at the Winter Olympics at Beijing 2022. In the second of her candid sport blogs for Olympics.com, Elana recounts the challenges of breastfeeding her son, Nico, who was diagnosed with Down's syndrome shortly after he was born.

READ: The first blog about how Elana ‘didn’t enjoy’ her pregnancy.

Sport blog: Elana Meyers Taylor assesses the season so far

We just finished up two weeks of World Cups in Igls, Austria, and hit the road to a stint of three weeks of races in Germany, starting with the first week in Altenberg, Germany - one of the toughest tracks in the world.

I’ve had quite a few crashes in Altenberg, but I’ve also won and medalled here- so it’s a love/hate relationship. So, to come away from the race with a 6th place finish in monobob and a 5th place finish in two-man were great results for me and valuable points for Olympic qualification.

Nico and I at the four-man race

During the travel, I was thinking back to when I first became pregnant. I had all these ideas of what I would be like as a mother. I like to think of myself somewhere between a “crunchy” mother, who obsesses over high-quality ingredients, and being a bit more relaxed.

Nico does have his fair share of chocolate and pizza. With us travelling around the world, it’s become a mixture of trying to find foods he’ll eat but, also, ensure he’s getting the nutrients he needs. One of the best ways I’ve found is breastfeeding.

Sport blog: Elana Meyers Taylor on breastfeeding as an elite athlete

The original plan was to breastfeed for six months. This is usually around the time babies start eating food. I intended to wean him off to make sure it didn’t affect my performance. I was trying to figure out how to balance his needs and mine as an athlete. Then, much like parenting in general, my ideas drastically changed.

Just after Nico was born, he was diagnosed with Down’s syndrome. I was told that my son would not be able to breastfeed. Well - that’s one thing you don’t tell an Olympian. I was determined, to not only breastfeed, but breastfeed for as long as he wanted. Sure, we had to work really hard. But, with the help of a lactation consultant, we made it work. It’s 21 months later and we’re still going strong.

Post-race breastfeeding

Amended breastfeeding plans and finding balance

I never intended to breastfeed during the season, so when the plan changed, it was a struggle to figure out how to fit breastfeeding into a busy bobsleigh schedule. Nico is a pretty strong, healthy baby and currently weighs out around 16-17kg. He eats a lot! Coming back into training in 2020 - he was breastfeeding every two to three hours. It was complicated!

I pumped milk for him during training sessions. When I went long stretches without him being able to nurse, I felt full of milk and very uncomfortable and achy. A typical session at the bobsleigh track can sometimes be longer than six hours. Since Nico isn’t usually at the track with me, I was faced with a real challenge: How do I make it work?

It’s not like there were pumping rooms at bobsleigh tracks. It was a combination of me trying to pump as much as possible before I left and then rushing back right after training to feed Nico so both of us would be happy.

Elana Meyers Taylor competing in the monobob
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Adapting to the situation

This, as you can imagine, created some quite awkward moments. In my first race back in Winterberg, Germany, we were short-staffed so my husband Nic came to the track to help with Nico in tow. When I got to the bottom of the track after my race runs, as I hopped out of the sled, Nic handed me Nico and took over my sled.

Nico was cold and hungry - I did what any mother would do - found a warm room as quickly as possible and went to feed him. The room I found was the finish house where the athletes come in to change after doing their runs. I rushed to the room, sat down, and went to work breastfeeding Nico. Women would come in and out and, I could tell most were shocked to see me breastfeeding, but all had a good laugh about it. Everyone was very understanding. At the end of the race, Nico was fed and I was no longer engorged. We adapted to the challenge but this wasn't the only thing I had on my mind.

Stressful travel made even more stressful

In bobsleigh, we travel from track to track in sprinter vans loaded with our sleds. It’s not very glamorous, but there’s literally no better way to transport all our equipment from place to place.

Sometimes these drives are as short as two hours, others can be more than eight. Only two athletes can ride in the sled truck, while the others follow in a car. When we get to the next destination, we all as a team usually unload all the equipment from the sled truck, including our sleds, into garages in the hotels that we stay at.

Cars travel much faster than trucks! Normally, athletes are waiting for the trucks to arrive to unload - and everyone works together to get this done.

All three toys in the car to make things smoother

Car journeys for Nico were miserable. He was born with profound hearing loss and, at the time had not been implanted with cochlear implants, so could not hear very much. Usually when traveling from stop to stop, it would be dark outside, which limited one of Nico’s stronger senses - his eyesight.

He cried and cried almost the entire length of the long trip. We would stop every two hours, or so, to breastfeed. This would calm him down temporarily, and allow husband Nic and I to have some relief from the constant crying. Poor baby!

Nico and I in the car on the way to St. Moritz, Switzerland, last season. I was just trying to keep him happy.

When we finally did arrive to the next destination, we were all exhausted and stressed from trying to make sure Nico was ok and limit his crying. Nico’s frustrations would often add around two hours to an already lengthy trip.

We would miss the truck unloading process. I tried to ask the team to wait until we arrived, as I have no issue helping to unload the truck, but they didn’t want to wait the extra time it would take us to arrive.

Some of my teammates complained to the coaches about me not being there for sled unloading. We were doing everything we could to arrive as quickly as possible. Each travel day was an exercise in frustration and exhaustion and it didn’t seem like there was a solution in sight. On travel days, I don’t know who cried more - me or Nico.

The solution: Elana Meyers Taylor drives the truck

Nowadays, I drive my own sled truck. It still takes us a little longer to get places. But, now, I don’t miss sled unloading. Also, Nico is growing up. He’s a toddler which means less breastfeeding and more solid foods.

I still breastfeed Nico after races. It's a bit easier now as I can wait until I get back to the hotel. It provides both of us an opportunity to calm down and reconnect after busy race mornings. It’s become one of my favorite post-race activities and it reminds me that, win or lose, Nico is what’s most important.

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