Breastfeeding – it’s one topic I haven’t discussed here on my blog. Not because it’s controversial, but because it’s a little out of place now that my breastfeeding days are sadly past. You can bet I would have been blogging about it, had my youngest daughter not weaned last year before I started blogging.
I had to post about it, because as I was cleaning out my digital photos on my computer, I came across a beautiful picture (well if you disregard the not so great hair) I’d long forgotten about and because I just had recently retold my story on another breastfeeding mother’s blog.
There was a comment left on Ph.D. In Parenting’s blog post about when to give up on breastfeeding. Kelly commented,
What I’d like to see is some acknowledgment that for the women who struggled for so long that they did so because succeeding at breastfeeding was important to them, to their identify as mothers, to their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. It wasn’t just so that their babies would receive breastmilk.
I just was momentarily transported back 7 years to when I struggled to breastfeed my firstborn daughter. I had everything go wrong – poor latch, cracked nipples, mastitis, undetected thrush, low milk supply. Breastfeeding meant everything to me for the reasons Kelly stated. I couldn’t even begin to comprehend why I was given a baby I couldn’t feed with my body. I visited IBCLCs,a suck/swallowing specialist, La Leche League, scoured kellymom.com, and Jack Newman’s site for any shred of advice. I pumped, used finger feeding, SNS (well, attempted to anyway, but occasionally I just wanted to throw the damn thing across the room because the tube fell out of her mouth or leaked when it was in her mouth more often than not), I poured my heart out to the mothers on two attachment parenting message boards. I was the first woman in 2 generations on both sides to breastfeed, so of course, I had no help and no sympathy from my own mother and mother in law. They just couldn’t empathize or help.
I remember being terrified to change her diapers, afraid I’d find the uric acid crystals (the “red brick” dust), and when I did, I was devastated. I could not believe my body let me down and could have starved my baby. But I would not give up.
I had read once on a breastfeeding support website board that mother’s milk was like liquid gold, and even if I could only provide one teaspoon of it a day to my baby, it would still do my baby some good. While it would not make my baby grow, it would still provide valuable antibodies, just in a concentrated way. I clung to that idea. I was able to keep my baby to the breast for 4 months, and I pumped for 2 more. Most days I only brought home barely 3 ounces of milk a day when I pumped at work, but I faithfully brought that home. As little as that was, it was something I could give her. No matter how much formula I had to give her, I still gave everything I could. It connected me to her when I had to be at work (a medical genetics laboratory at a private university hospital).
Still, there were many days I felt incredible rage about it – the way I felt cheated out of a wonderful experience and the fact my babies got cheated out of my milk.
In talking to a friend recently about it… I know why I had a lot of bad feelings around breastfeeding as a low supply mom. I felt “defective”. No matter how my husband or any website tried to make me feel okay about it, the bottom line was that many times I was reminded that I was defective and no matter how much I wanted it to work, it just wouldn’t.
There’s no way to get past that…except to put some distance between me and breastfeeding. I couldn’t feel better about my “failure” until I was no longer reminded daily that I couldn’t do it.
With my second child, things were better (and I once read a study that said you produce 33% more milk with each subsquent baby, but I can’t find the reference), but not much. I lasted 7 months on the breast with that daughter, but had to give it up when pumping at work was becoming a problem for my boss (also a woman).
With my third child (who was conceived on the day my husband had a vasectomy scheduled but that got canceled – she was truly an unexpected joy) I had problems again. I was tired, bone tired, but at least I was a stay at home mom. I was tired of the struggle, tired of the devastating feelings of inadequacy with breastfeeding. At two weeks, I was planning on giving up and started supplementing more. At three weeks, I read something inspirational (don’t remember what now) and changed my mind. I dug in my heels and decided I was going to make it work. My goal was to make it to a year, though I thought in the back of my mind I could always give it up if I wanted to. This time I tried herbs with very little success (even domperidone didn’t help that much). I read Mother Food: A Breastfeeding Diet Guide with Lactogenic Foods and Herbs. I made barley water and ate tons of oatmeal. I drank one India Pale Ale every afternoon. I made sure I slept. I pumped after every feeding. I gave myself permission to quit, if I felt like it. But I didn’t. Something kept driving me forward.
Because I stayed at home, I could keep my daughter to the breast any time I wanted. By then I had a nice reclining couch, and was on it most of the day with my baby in the early months. I had bought a Maya wrap sling and used that to NIP everywhere I went (even the County Fair and NIPed while watching the piglets nurse). One great thing by doing all this was that I did manage to almost exclusively give breastmilk. It wasn’t until about 10 months that I introduced solids.
There were a few very nervous weight checks, but my daughter was doing all right. When I got to 11 months, I rejoiced, but I planned on hanging up the horns. I returned the pump and let nature take it’s course. I figured, if I was going to dry up, I could eke out a few more weeks and then by 12 months it would be over. I stopped the herbs and the domperidone. I waited. I was ready to let go. At 12 months, she was on 2 meals of solids a day. I figured if I needed to supplement, it would be with cow’s milk, not formula.
And then, something amazing happened. 12 months came and went and I didn’t dry up. My daughter not only didn’t stop nursing, but she nursed even more. She wanted no part of cow’s milk either (I really did try). So I continued to nurse her as long as she wanted, free of the worries about weight checks. I still waited for my milk to dry up. At 13 months, I started to realize she gulped and choked at times. I was shocked. I do not know where the milk came from. I realized then that it was nursing as it was meant to be, blissful and care-free. I cried – I reached not only reached the goal I set out for myself, I reached the place where it actually worked as nature intended.
At that moment, I realized I wasn’t going to stop until she stopped. I breastfed on cue whenever she wanted until she was mostly ready to give it up. When my husband occasionally asked when I’d stop nursing, I kept telling my him I’d wean next month. My daughter weaned (with a little gentle nudging) when she was 3 years, 1 month old. It was a remarkable thing for me and I’m so glad I didn’t give up at 2 weeks. What I would have missed!
I would never, ever in a million years tell another woman to give up. I would however tell her to do what her heart told her she had to do and I would support her either way. And I have (my SIL and my younger sister had breastfed their babies – my SIL gave it 2 months, my sister made it to 11 months – I’m proud of both of them).
This is me (at 36) nursing my youngest when she was 18 months old while I was studying for the one class I had the energy to sign up for (I’d already gotten my undergrad degree in biotechnology – this class was just to get my feet wet after being out of school for so long). Wanna know what I was studying that day? Human Development Through the Lifespan. Pretty neat, huh? My littlest was always begging to sit in my lap when I was studying, so I figured I’d give her something to do to occupy her while I took notes. I managed to take care of her needs and still get an A in the class.
You’d think this was pretty ironic too if you knew me before I got married. I had a plan: never getting married, having a string of affairs, and definitely never having kids. Who knew back then what the future was going to hold? I certainly didn’t, but I’m very pleased with the way my goals had changed over the years.
I’m updating to include the link of one of the most helpful and comforting breastfeeding issues website: