I always knew I would breastfeed my children. Literally, always. I remember being very young, around 5 years old, and finding out that my boobies were meant to feed a baby some day. I was absolutely amazed, couldn’t WAIT for that to happen, and would hold all of my dolls up to my chest to ‘nurse’. I remember very distinctly going to bed at night and praying that when I woke up in the morning, my dolls would become real babies so I could take care of them. So I could breastfeed them.
When I became pregnant, I also became determined to succeed. I talked to friends and co-workers who had breastfed, got advice, tips and tricks. I read books, websites, watched videos. I wanted to know SO much about breastfeeding that nothing could stop me, there would be no booby-trap to get in my way.
I was lucky. I had a very easy breastfeeding journey. Ronan was born with a great latch and a strong desire to suck. It took very little work on my part to position him properly, to where it wouldn’t be painful for me. I also was blessed to have my milk come in less than 12 hours after delivery, which meant very little questioning of whether or not my child was getting enough to eat, whether he was growing, etc. Born at 7lbs 4oz, we left the hospital at 6lbs 13oz. 2 days later, at his first checkup, he was back to 7lbs 4oz already. So many people; nurses, lactation consultants and pediatricians alike, told me it was unheard of for milk to come in that fast, but my mom assured me she was the same way.
My path on the road of nursing continued to be wonderful, and enjoyable. Ronan was a very quick eater, which meant ten minutes or less on the breast. I had enough supply that he only nursed one side per feeding. When offered the other side, he would make it known that he was no longer interested in eating, thank-you-very-much. I absolutely loved every moment of it. I loved holding him, feeling him near to me. I loved watching the intensity with which he ate, his little fists pulled furiously up near his face in hunger and then slowly falling down to his sides as he became sated. I adored his little post-nursing milk coma – he looked like he was enjoying pure bliss. The way his sweet head smelled, the roundness of his tummy – it’s all so strong in my mind, and yet faded like an old photograph. I can see it clearly, but the reality of it is drifting away. I wish I could hold on to it forever.
Side-lying nursing was one of the greatest things I ever figured out how to do, as it meant getting a few extra precious moments of sleep, rather than spending minutes at a time positioning pillows and trying to get comfortable. I remember the first few nights, trying to sit up in order to nurse, with my head lolling over to the side, or slamming back into the wall. Side-lying changed the whole situation for the better, and I no longer detested night wakings.
Further along in our journey, things didn’t stay so smooth. Ronan cut his first tooth at 3 months old, and had all 4 of his fronts within 2 weeks. Holding my hand up to the sky, I am thankful that he only bit me twice after his teeth came in. Those two bites were enough for me to know without a doubt, I could not continue if he continued. He didn’t, and we survived.
I also had less support from family members than I would have liked. It seems to be the common opinion that children only need breastmilk for the first several weeks, and then do just fine on formula. Perhaps that’s the case, but honestly? We enjoyed it, both him and I. It was easy, and quick, and required no preparation. I didn’t have to pack or sterilize bottles, measure out formula, wonder where I was going to warm up his drink. And best of all? It was FREE. I don’t know how well you know my husband Brock and I, but the cheaper choice is always the better choice. And spending 20-60 dollars a week on formula did not strike us as the most logical option, when breastmilk, which is more nutritionally fit for our child, is also less expensive.
I continued to brush suggestions and comments like, “How much longer are you going to keep breastfeeding that child?” and “Are you STILL nursing him?” aside, and continued to nurse. Ronan never became terrible about popping off, or being too distracted to nurse – he was such a quick eater (5 minute nursing sessions were enough by now) that he never got bored.
Our most difficult phase occurred during night time feedings, while side-lying. Ronan had begun a habit of latching on, and then pulling back as far as he possibly could from me, stretching out boob and nipple very nearly to their breaking point. As you can probably imagine, it is nearly impossible to have a “correct” latch when pulled so far away, and he would suckle merely on the very tip – it was incredibly painful, and terribly frustrating. If I pulled him towards me, he would arch his back and pull away with a jerk, causing me tremendous pain. If I moved closer to him, he would simply inch away. If I forced him to stay close, he would stop eating and cry. We were both angry, upset, and unhappy with the situation. Many times in those few short nights I told him I was “done”, that he was getting a bottle and I couldn’t take it any more. Many tears were shed. I suspect that my hot natured boy simply didn’t like the forced proximity, as it caused him to sweat and become uncomfortable. However, very soon after I figured out that if I prepped him to nurse with his head in the crook of my arm, I could simply keep it bent, and he could not pull his head away. This allowed him to move his body as far away as he liked, but included no pain or discomfort for me.
We continued nursing like that for weeks, and happiness quickly returned to our partnership.
After many happy months of nursing and pumping at work, I saw my supply decline. Ronan was only about 10 months old, and I was scared, as I wasn’t ready to quit nursing and didn’t want to start Ronan on formula. Instead, I took some fairly drastic measures to increase my supply, and was thrilled when they worked. But the success was short lived… Ronan wasn’t nursing as often during the day because he was eating more and more solid foods, and I wasn’t able to pump often enough on the weekends because work was so busy. There were entire shifts, whole 12 hour nights where I didn’t even get to pump ONCE. My supply took a hit, and so did my confidence. I had a hard time pumping enough milk while I was at work to even feed Ronan the next day. Brock had to start giving Ronan solid meals in place of bottles every now and then just to make up the difference.
As an aside, I would like to point out here that I had no ‘frozen supply’ stored up. I had something called “Overactive Lipase”, which was finally diagnosed after weeks and weeks of trying to figure out why my milk spoiled so quickly. We were told, as a general rule, milk could be left out warm for 7 hours, in the fridge for 7 days, and in the freezer for 7 months. My milk? Spoiled within an hour. Went bad in the fridge over night. Frozen? We were lucky if it lasted a week. I tried EVERYTHING to figure out what caused it – stopped working out, cut whole food groups out of my diet, stopped using ANY and EVERY beauty product with a name I couldn’t pronounce in case it was causing a reaction. In the end, a lactation consultant brought up the lipase issue, which basically means that my body produces too much of the enzyme that digests fat; literally, my milk would digest itself as it sat. The only ‘cure’ for it is to scald the milk, bringing it to the temperature right before boiling, which deactivates the lipase. I tried it once, and burnt the milk, wasting the WHOLE batch. Eventually we decided to use milk management, and not worry about saving up any milk bank. But it meant that I had no back up option. If I didn’t pump it, it wasn’t there.
Then, we introduced whole milk. Just one bottle a day. One little, simple bottle that gave me so much freedom, such release from stress that I cried with relief. Just that one bottle of whole milk meant that I didn’t have to sweat not having enough breastmilk, I didn’t have to cry over how much I had pumped. I didn’t have to worry that he wasn’t getting enough to eat. And if I made even a little less, it was okay… because we could give him a second bottle of milk. It very seriously saved my sanity, and my heart. He was still getting enough breastmilk for it to be worth it for me to continue, but I didn’t have to constantly worry about “not enough.”
As the months crawled on, and Ronan got older, he continued to nurse less and less. Most of his feedings were during the night, when he was waking 5 and 6 times to eat. He nearly never nursed during the day any more, and would continue playing despite it being offered. When 13 months hit, and we walked the path of sleeping through the night, nursing changed forever. He no longer woke in the night to eat, so he very nearly no longer nursed. When I would get him up in the morning, he would ask to nurse, and that was it for the day. No evening nursing, no bed time snack, no nothing.
One morning, I brought a cup of milk with me upstairs and gave it to him instead of the breast. He didn’t complain, didn’t fuss, and that was the end of it. We never nursed again after that day.
Ronan was 13 months old, and I admit very strongly that I feel like we stopped too soon. I miss nursing with all of my heart, and while Ronan doesn’t seem to be any worse off because of it, it hurts to let go of something so easily that you can never get back.
I have a video of Ronan taken just a few short days before he weaned, where I am playing with his toes while he nursed. When I watch it, it makes me cry.
I’m proud of myself for nursing as long as we did. I’m excited for the opportunity to raise and nurture another child in the same way. I love the bond and beauty of breastfeeding so much, I wish I could help others have an experience like mine. I support moms who breastfeed, moms who nurse in public, and moms who don’t get much support anywhere else. I never once felt like a cow, or hated having to have Ronan close at hand to feed him. I wasn’t resentful that no one else could feed him. I was happy that something I did, some part of my being a mother was done right… that something I did was good enough.