I guess you could say that my breastfeeding journey began in 1975 when I was born and was lucky enough to be nursed by my mom. This was pretty amazing considering back then the trend was to formula feed. When my sister was born in 1977 I observed my mom nursing her so I wanted to nurse my dolls, as seen in this photo. My mom nursed my other two sisters as well, so at an early age I was exposed to the normalcy of nursing a baby.
Fast forward many years to when I was pregnant and about to have my first child. I read several breastfeeding books to prepare myself and teach myself. I found information online. I did everything I could to educate myself so I would be successful; simply trying breastfeeding wasn’t an option – it was what I was going to do no matter what! I was confident I would have a great start to breastfeeding right when he was born since I had everything going in my favor; I was delivering at a free-standing birth center with a midwife attending, therefore I would have no epidural and lots of breastfeeding support. I had learned that babies born to moms who had epidurals are sleepier and nursing can have a tougher start. I also learned that one way to have a great nursing start is to bring the baby to the breast within an hour after birth.
My (Sort of Rough) Start
So much for plans! Despite all my preparations, after my son was born I brought him to the breast right away and he had absolutely no interest in nursing. He wouldn’t latch on and seemed like he didn’t care at all, which was not what I had learned. Our midwife listened to his belly and she said it sounded full, so he probably swallowed some mucus on his way out and just wasn’t hungry. Over the next few hours before we went home, we tried to nurse several more times and tried several more ways to get him interested in nursing but we were unsuccessful. I was disappointed that it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be and I was nervous about what would happen next when we got home.
The next day wasn’t much better; I couldn’t get him to latch on. I knew he was latching incorrectly but even though I knew the correct way from all I read, I couldn’t get him to do it. In the process of all our trying, he was wreaking havoc on my nipples; they were bruised and red and sore. I was really starting to worry. Later on in the day I started calling lactation consultants. I knew I needed help from a professional to get this nursing relationship started. One of the top lactation consultants in the area came over to help us on day two.
She was also a bit surprised that he was having trouble latching on, especially for a birth center baby. She showed us the correct technique and latch and he just had trouble staying on; he would pop on and off. It literally took him 20 minutes to latch on and start nursing. By the time she left I felt a world better about our nursing situation. It still wasn’t ideal, but I felt we were getting somewhere. Over the next few days, it did take my son about 20 minutes to get that latch, but once he did he nursed well. After a few days it no longer took him that long. Our LC stopped by a few days later to check his weight and he had gained the right amount in those few days – what a relief!
Things were moving along fairly smoothly for the next few weeks, or as smoothly as it can go with those middle of the night feedings and a dreadful lack of sleep. But nursing was great and my baby boy was chunking up quite nicely – which was a great reassurance. I think it was around the five week mark when I got my first plugged duct. I foolishly took a nap with full breasts right around baby’s feeding time (while letting my husband feed him expressed milk from a bottle). I woke up from the nap with a swollen, painful breast. I knew what it was, but I still panicked. I called my friend and asked her what to do. She told me to take a warm shower and massage the area, trying to dislodge the plug. She made it clear I needed to get rid of the plug before it turned into mastitis, an even more serious problem. I did everything she said and everything I read in my book to do, but it wasn’t going away. I had my son nurse on that side first, I pumped while trying to massage it out, nursed on all fours (lovely picture, huh?) – nothing. Finally about 5am (about 12 hours after I first noticed it) while I was nursing my son, I felt better. I felt my breast and couldn’t feel the lump. You don’t know how relieved I was! My breast was pretty sore and red for a day or so, probably from all the pressure massaging I did, but I was just so glad it was gone.
However, I got another plugged duct the next week and one every week for about five weeks. I also developed a bleb, or milk blister. I also developed what I called partial plugs, where I noticed a lump, but could actually spray milk out of the duct to reduce it. Those went away in a day or so, but were still a nuisance to deal with. My stress level always increased until I got rid of them and it was the only thing on my mind. I didn’t figure it out until much later that my recurring plugged ducts might have been due (at least partially) to the high fat content of my diet. In my intense desire to eat enough calories to produce milk I was probably eating too much, and probably too much fat (although it was good fats). I realized this much later on when I had reduced my caloric intake to just slightly above normal, instead of greatly above normal. I never had any more problems with plugged ducts.
I went back to work when my son was 12 weeks old. I requested, and was granted, a reduced work schedule and working from home. So I worked 20 hours a week, 16 hours from home and 4 hours in the office one day a week. Of course that meant I would have to leave some expressed breast milk for my son and I would have to pump at work. I am grateful that my company had several small rooms reserved just for nursing/pumping. Overall the pumping at work thing wasn’t too bad at all. Of course there were days when I was worried because I didn’t pump as much as normal, or as much as I knew my son ate. I was so hung up on pumping exactly the amount he used. I needed to just relax about it more; everything worked out fine!
Nursing in Public
I received a nursing cover up wrap for a shower gift and I was happy to have something to cover us up as we nursed. I soon found it awkward to use and just stuck to draping a blanket over my shoulder. Early on I was able to nurse my son like this while sitting at my chair in a restaurant. When he was little and nursing was new, I wanted that cloth shield for my own modesty. As he grew and I became more comfortable with nursing in general, I skipped the blanket and just discretely nursed him. This was so much easier. I now have no problem nursing in public and I no longer feel the need to “find someplace out of the way”, depending on the situation of course. Nursing on a plane – no problem! I still do it and he’s 22 months old! It’s a bit of a tight squeeze but we manage. In fact, I think of myself as a mini lactivist whenever I do nurse in public as the more people see women nursing anywhere the more it becomes normal in our society. I do admit to becoming a bit more nervous about nursing in public as my son got older, as I know people start to judge even more when someone is nursing a toddler (*gasp*). I remember one time sitting in the bathroom at Whole Foods and nursing my son, who was about 17 months old, when a mom came in with her kids. She asked how old he was. I told her his age and then held my breath. She replied that it was so nice to see moms nursing older babies and that she had nursed hers until age four. I then smiled and exhaled. How great was that!
Another difficult area for me was nighttime nursing. It’s understood that newborn babies wake up in the middle of the night and need to eat. But my son continued to wake (many times) in the middle of the night long past when I thought he “should” be sleeping through the night. I was extremely sleep deprived and I started resenting nursing him. I saw other moms who formula fed their babies getting a full night’s sleep and I thought the two were related. And when babies are formula fed the dads can help with middle of the night feeds, which is not really true for nursing. I also saw other moms who nursed their babies have their husbands do one feeding in the middle of the night (with formula) so the mom could get some sleep. Some might argue that that’s healthy as mommy needs sleep to function and be healthy, too. But I am adamantly opposed to giving my baby formula so it wasn’t an option to me, and I continued to suffer – all for the good of my baby.
I admit that this is probably the hardest part of being a mom, as my son still does not consistently sleep through the night (at 22 months). He still wakes up and wants to nurse and will scream if I send my husband in to comfort him instead. I feel so drained. I give and give and give to him and I am not making sure I am filled. This is one of the biggest reasons I am looking forward to weaning.
I recently wrote a post about how powerful I felt when choosing to nurse my sick baby at night; what a change from how I used to feel about that!
As we neared the end of my son’s first year I found myself really ready to be done nursing. I was ready for a break and the constant closeness and being the only one who can provide his nourishment was taking its toll. I had planned to nurse him completely until he was a year old and then have a long taper or weaning period and be done nursing him around 18 months old. Remember what I said earlier about plans? I can pretty much forget them!
I mentioned my plan to his doctor at his one year check up and he recommended I nurse him until he was at least two years old, especially since he’s not vaccinated. He reminded me of all the wonderful health benefits he continues to get from my milk. I chose to see this doctor because I knew he was supportive of a more “green” or natural way of life and medicine so I really valued his advice. And I took it. I then decided I would nurse him for one more year.
That sent me into a brief period of being down because I was already mentally checking out and looking forward to the break. So I had to get support from other extended, or long-term, breastfeeders on my local mommy message board. They assured me that the second year would go so fast and that as he started eating more solids he wouldn’t nurse as much as he did the first year. It took me a few days to get on board but I did and was proud of my decision. I always want to do what’s best for my son’s health and I knew this was important.
The Second Year
And while I initially might have felt some pangs of resentment and bitterness as I embarked upon an unexpected length of our nursing relationship, you don’t know how glad I am that I decided to nurse him longer than I planned. My son is 22 months old now and I can see his second birthday in the near future. And I can tell you those other moms were right; the second year was so much easier than the first year and it went by so much faster! There have been so many sweet nursing moments and most of them have happened since he’s been about 18 months old, which was when his vocabulary really took off. If I had quit nursing him sooner, like I planned, I would have missed out on all these super special moments. He now ASKS for nursing! He first started signing it and now he signs and says “nur”. (All of a sudden, “nur” turned into “newey”. So I hear “newey newey” often; it cracks us up!) And when he’s nursing and pulls off, he says “yum” and “newey yum”. That feels awesome – he loves his mama’s milk! He says “switch sides” when he wants to switch sides. And he says “boobie”, which I really don’t know where he got but it still crack me up!
We are two months from his second birthday and I really wanted to be DONE by then, but he still nurses two or three times a day and sometimes four if he wakes up in the middle of the night. I don’t think we can get from here to nothing in two months. I know I shouldn’t watch the calendar for weaning but again, I am ready to be done. And I am finding it hard to reach out for support. Most people I know were done nursing way before age two and so are thinking I am weird or crazy for going this long and have no advice to offer me. When I turn to crunchier folks, they don’t understand why I’m not doing child-led weaning and would just say I should nurse longer. It’s hard being a middle-of-the-road mama!
I guess I will try to reduce one session at a time and see how that goes. I nurse him before his afternoon nap and before bedtime. I just think those nursing sessions are going to be hard to give up.
Wendy – Parenting Tips 365