Dealing with the conflicting feelings when your baby weans.
Ah, breastfeeding… The ultimate conflict of emotions. If you are currently nursing your baby, and you have spent time with a mom that has a toddler, then I am sure she’s said something like, “Aw, I miss nursing!” But. Does she really?
I believe, for many of us, that it is one of those things that you look back on with yearning, but while in the moment, you just wish baby would get off your boob so you could eat your sandwich or drink your coffee before it gets cold. Come on Mamas… It’s okay, you can agree. There is no one here to impress! I for one, do not think you are any less of a mom for feeling this way, and you shouldn’t either!
Let’s get real.
Some, if not most, breastfeeding journeys are not blissfully lying next to your baby while she gently gulps down that liquid gold. Especially at the beginning. At the start, it’s downright difficult! And tiring! You feel like baby just finished eating, and then she’s chewing on her hands, crying, rooting around your chest, and you almost break down in tears. “Is it seriously time to feed AGAIN?! But my nipples hurt, I’m so hungry”, or “I was just falling asleep!”
Since each feeding journey is yours and yours alone, I’ll focus on my two, very different, experiences.
My firstborn, had the inconvenience of, well… being the first born. I was a lost little puppy, trying to navigate through motherhood for the first time. Unsure of every move I made, and ridden with anxiety. I was also blessed with nipples the size of a house, which made it difficult for her little mouth to latch onto. But, it’s never usually one thing that makes it difficult. It’s a slew of things. Viola was a scheduled c-section as she was upside down. Or right side up if you ask her now. She still wants nothing to do with her head being below her heart, and demands her two feet remain planted firmly on the ground, at all times. Ha!
So let’s see… surgery, mega pain meds, lethargic baby, lethargic mama, pain, SO MUCH PAIN AFTER SURGERY (I’ll have to write a separate blog for that). Inexperience. I mean really. How the heck is this supposed to feel? Is she sucking properly? Is she getting enough? Why does she keep falling asleep? Nurse ten minutes per side? Every three hours? No wait, two hours? Crap, it’s been four hours! I should nurse now, but I have visitors, and it hurts. And she’s asleep… I’ll wait until she wakes up. WHERE is that nurse with my pain meds?!
You feel me?
Then you get home, and the reality of this new life hits you like a ton of bricks. Baby is starting to look scrawny, and your doctor and everyone around you is adding to your anxiety by telling you that maybe you should give her formula. So, you do, and then she stops nursing even more, because that bottle is way easier, or she just prefers it for whatever reason her little brain has decided.
It was a slow downward spiral for me. I cut night nursing when she was just a couple weeks old, as she would just scream and not latch. I was engorged and tired, and I dumped her in my husbands hands a few times, so I could go have a cry and take a few deep breaths. I was exasperated. So, for night wakings, I began to offer formula, and things settled down emotionally, a little bit. I counteracted the lack of night time breastmilk by nursing her before almost every day time feed until she refused it completely at five months old. I pumped for an additional month and bottle fed her, until I began to feel like our relationship was suffering. I would desperately be trying to pump every last drop as she was fussing away on the floor, desperate for my attention. I would feel myself getting frustrated with her and even go as far as telling her to “shush so mommy can finish!”. Because, you know, a newborn listens to those demands so well… (insert eye rolling emoticon here). So, at six months postpartum, I called it quits. I decided to focus on my relationship with her, and say “sayonara” to my relationship with breastfeeding.
Now, my son. He had the benefit of being second born. I went into it knowing the struggles, knowing what a good latch felt like, and just overall more confident and experienced as a Mother. But, I also believe he was naturally more inclined. I mean, they are who they are.
Weston was an emergency c-section after labouring for 12 hours. I’ll write a separate blog post on my birth stories, or this blog will be 800 pages. So, just like his sister, he came out dopey, and had to wait for me to come out of recovery to nurse. But, as soon as he was near me, he latched on like a suction cup. The first few weeks, like most newborns, he wanted to live on the breast. But as he got older, he would latch, suck HARD for 5-10 minutes, pop off, and be content for a few hours. I constantly thought, “Is he getting enough? He can’t possibly.” But, then he gained 100lbs, and I let that concern go. So, you could say my experience with him was “easy”, except for the fact that NOTHING ABOUT BREASTFEEDING IS EASY. It’s planning your outfit so that you can sneak a boob out at the coffee shop. It’s not having that glass of wine at the end of a long day, (unless you’re one of those people comfortable with the new research out there that states one glass of wine while nursing is totally safe,) then maybe it’s not having that second glass. 😉 It’s waking up in the wee hours of the night even though you think you may die of exhaustion. It’s nourishing another life — using your energy, your body, your life. It is the ultimate sacrifice… and yet, the ultimate gift.
I was an avid pumper with both of my children. … obsessed with keeping my supply up. But with Weston, I pumped EVERY DAY for nearly a year. A YEAR. No matter where I was, or who was visiting. Let’s just say my father in law kindly averted his gaze many a time. At the beginning, it was multiple times a day. But, as we became more established, I would pump just once, around 9pm. Every. Single. Night. Even when he started to self-wean around ten months, I kept it up, scared my supply would diminish, and damnit… I really wanted to nurse him for a year!
It took me a few weeks to accept that my breastfeeding journey was coming to an end. What really jump-started things, was a family trip to Hawaii. I couldn’t get my hands on a small pump, so I didn’t bring one. When we came home, we decided to cut out night feeds completely, including nursing him to sleep, which at this point, was the only time he wanted to nurse. So, it didn’t take long for him to be completely uninterested. I would pump once every few days to make sure I didn’t get a blocked duct or something. But by 12 months, Weston was walking, and sleeping better, and well… ready to part ways with the ol’ boobies.
I felt sad. And relieved. I would sit on the couch at night, both babies asleep, and think “I should pump,” having to remind myself, “No! You can just sit here and relax. What is life?”
As Moms, we often feel we should always be doing something. So, learning to just sit, and watch a show, was very much something I needed to train myself to do. Train myself to relax! Oh, to be 21 again.
Now Weston is over a year old, and these milk jugs are all dried up, and yet, some days I still reminisce. I think about his sweet little face… desperate for milk, cradled in my arms. Mouth open like a baby bird, his need for mama so apparent — and I feel the tears well up in my eyes. But, eight months ago, I dreamt of this day. When I could have a drink, and not have to worry about when I was going to feed next. No one needing my body for anything… other than love and cuddles of course… but not for survival. That is a weird thing to wrap one’s head around. For so long, these little humans depended on me for nourishment, for life. And while our babies always need us, it’s a different need. A different path to journey down.
I think it’s important to be kind to ourselves. To be okay with feeling sad, and missing that precious time. To feel happy, and relieved that we got through it. To be excited for the new adventures of toddler life. Just feel whatever it is you need to feel, mama.
Now, if only I could find time to make a trip to the mall to buy some new bras. Because yep… I am wearing a nursing bra as we speak. Do they make real bras this comfy though? If not, I’ll make sure I cover that clip down strap with my shirt at his second birthday party.
So, to you Mama, whatever your feeding journey was like, I salute you. Because I can bet, it wasn’t easy. Give those boobies or those bottles a high-five, and have a glass of wine., or three.
You earned it.