March 22, 2016

My Breastfeeding Journey

My breastfeeding journey went nothing like I ever expected. Going into my pregnancy and then motherhood, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed and would do whatever was in my power to make it happen. As someone who grew up with IBD and Ulcerative colitis, it was really important to me to exclusively breastfeed for at least the first six months. While the research isn't entirely conclusive, I felt strongly that I needed to do what I could to positively effect my baby's immune system. (This doesn't mean I'm anti-formula, or anything like that, it just means that in my situation, I was going to breastfeed no matter what it took.)

My Breastfeeding Journey of two years via A Slice of Brie

First of all, breastfeeding is hard. And painful! At least at the beginning, anyway. Everything the books and learning materials tell you about breastfeeding is wrong! Your baby isn't born and just naturally latches and nurses away and all is right with the world. It's so much more complicated than that, and manoeuvring your itty bitty newborn into the correct position to properly nurse definitely didn't come "naturally" to me. I mean, I had an idea of what I was supposed to do, but it's not like I had any experience with it. And add to that, extreme exhaustion, pain from childbirth, a revolving door of visitors and nurses, and a feeling of "what the hell am I doing?!", breastfeeding was very overwhelming in those early hours and days.

Luckily, we did get the hang of it quite easily, but I still was not prepared for the pain. Everyone always says, if you're nursing properly, it shouldn't hurt. Well, I call bullshit on that! How can this possibly NOT hurt? Your beautiful, hidden away nipples, are all of a sudden a 24/7 all you can eat buffet for a ravenous little human being. In those first few weeks, you're lucky if you get an hour or two in between feedings. That is not enough time for your nipples to heal. I remember nursing on the couch, gritting my teeth and holding my breath when I would latch Sully. I would wiggle my toes to get through those first few seconds of suckling, and then the pain would slowly dissipate. I didn't want to put a shirt or bra back on in between nursing sessions because my nipples felt like they were on fire. Seriously, there is nothing in you life that prepares you for someone being so hard on your tender breasts, so it's no wonder it hurt!

My Breastfeeding Journey of two years via A Slice of Brie

Eventually, the pain does go away all together, and nursing, for us, did turn into a beautiful, calm experience. I don't remember when that exactly happened (after the first month maybe?), but one day you realize, "hey! This doesn't hurt anymore!".

Those first few months, you feel like all you do is nurse, because all you are doing is nursing. And I'm not even exaggerating. On a good day, with set up, nursing would take about an hour (20-30 minutes each side). But on a bad day, i.e., a cluster feeding day, I would literally nurse for hours with barely a pee break. Sometimes I miss those days of setting up camp on the couch with my baby, my snacks, and a show on Netflix. Sully was always a frequent nurser though and even as he got older, it was tough to go more than 2 hours between sessions.

I always felt confident that I was producing enough milk to feed my baby, but I definitely wasn't an over producer. My breasts never leaked, save for a few mornings when I had woken up and it had been several hours since Sully's last feed, and I was one of those lucky few who never had to wear nursing pads in their bra. I was also a terrible pumper and it would take me a good 40 minutes to get an ounce of breast milk from each side. So naturally, I despised pumping. (In hindsight, maybe I had the wrong size of shield for my breast pump? Something I will consider should we have another child in the future).

Anyway, pumping and I were not friends. I had to pump days in advance if I knew I was going to need a bottle for Sully. I took Motilium to increase breast production with some effect, and I tried fenugreek as well. I even took my paediatrician's advice and started having half a glass of Guinness beer an hour before nursing to increase production! I ate oatmeal everyday for breakfast. I did what I could to increase my milk production, but for the most part, I still remained a crappy pumper.

My Breastfeeding Journey of two years via A Slice of Brie

Since my goal with breastfeeding was to make it to the 6-month mark, I was clearly happy once we hit that milestone. From there, I aimed to make it to 9-months. That goal also came, and so then I said, "ok, let's shoot for one year!". Around the 10-month mark Sully seemed to lose some interest in nursing and became easily distracted. I wasn't confident that we would make it to one year. Around this time, he also started refusing bottles and it was a miracle if he would drink one if I was out.

Once we hit the 12-month mark, I knew that I wanted to take Sully's lead. Since I wasn't returning to work, I didn't need to worry about weaning him. I loved breastfeeding by this point - it was easy, convenient and quick - and I was hopeful that he would continue for at least a few more months.

When Sully was about 14 and a half months old, he was still breastfeeding 3-4x per day and wasn't interested in any other form of milk/milk products/formula, not even pumped breast milk. At this point, I even tried milk in a straw and cup and he still wasn't interested. Some days I really just wanted a break and I went through a love/hate period with breastfeeding and almost threw in the towel. This was also around the time that I went to NYC for a whole week without him. I pumped my little heart out for a month leading up to the trip, thinking that if I wasn't there and he had no choice, he would at least accept my breast milk from a bottle. I also bought a big can of formula and some hemp milk (high in protein) for other options. And guess what happened? My little nursing fiend refused any and all milk/milk products the entire time I was gone. He wasn't upset about it, he just wasn't interested. Go figure.

I pumped for the first two days while I was gone to try and keep up what supply I had, but I quickly lost interest in that, not to mention I didn't really have the time for it. And when I returned home, Sully easily resumed nursing! He had to work at it for a few days to get my milk supply back (it wasn't completely dried up), but it was like no time had passed. I had told myself while I was away that I would be ok if our nursing journey was over when I got back home, but when he made it clear he wanted to continue nursing, I was actually really glad.

My Breastfeeding Journey of two years via A Slice of Brie

The rest of the year, I just followed his lead. We mostly nursed in the morning and at bedtime, with the occasional nap time feed. Feeds were short, but I treasured all of them and all of the extra snuggles I got because of them. If I happened to not be home for bedtime, then Sully easily went to bed without nursing or a bottle. He still remains indifferent to milk to this day. He will drink a small glass of milk most days, but it's definitely not a staple and it doesn't worry me one bit.

Over the past two months, we were nursing less and less, but I didn't refuse him if he wanted it. Bedtime sessions were the first to go as Jim often puts Sully to bed. Morning ones took a bit longer to wean, but eventually he just stopped asking and I stopped offering. And that basically brings us to present day. I can now say that we are officially done nursing as the last time Sully nursed was the morning of March 14.

I never imagined I would nurse my child till after he was two years old, but then again, you just don't know how some things are going to play out once you actually have a baby. I feel really good about our nursing journey and the decisions I made, and I'm not sad at all that it's over now. I feel incredibly fortunate that we were able to nurse for as long as we did. Sully will never remember this time we had together - where it was just the two of us, just a momma and her baby, feeding and bonding without a care in the world - but it's a memory that I will forever hold close in my heart and continue to be grateful for.

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