As of almost a week now, Meredith is no longer nursing. She is 31 months old, so I’d say we gave it a good go.
This post might be TMI for some of you in lots of different ways, especially if you’re not a woman or a mother, so read at your own risk. I also want to disclaim that although I love breastfeeding and think it is wonderful, my #1 parenting philosophy is do what works for your family. And you won’t find any kind of deep breastfeeding philosophy here. It’s just our story and my feelings, as usual. Also, it’s really, really long. Warnings complete.
Before having Meredith I was very nervous about how breastfeeding would go. I heard from most everyone that it was really hard, especially at first, and lots of things could go wrong. So I expected problems right away, but to my surprise everything was fine. Eventually we did encounter some bumps in the road, but for us it was mostly just easy. I say this not to boast but because my body had let me down in many areas: getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and giving birth, but in this area it came through and I was proud. So the first thing I want other people to know is that it’s not always hard. It can be, but it can also be easy.
As a brand new mom I wasn’t ready for the frequency of nursing. I felt like Meredith was constantly attached to me and it got tiring. In the hospital they told me that I should nurse her for thirty minutes on each side per session, which seemed like overkill, but I tried. I quickly learned to pay attention to her cues though, and to just nurse for as long or as short as she wanted to.
After a few weeks feedings spaced out. She began sleeping through the night. Keep in mind that we decided to cosleep, so when I say “sleeping through the night” I am including night feedings here; I barely had to wake up to nurse her so it wasn’t a big deal and it saved my sanity. We mastered the side-lying position and got to a routine where she would nurse lying down to go to bed and nurse in bed in the early morning.
Then came the huge adjustment: going back to work. I was soooo stressed out about it you guys. Not only the most overwhelming idea of how on earth I was going to leave my baby girl in the hands of a stranger, but what about all the little details? Do I have enough milk pumped? How much should I send with her? How many different bottles? Will she even take a bottle? Am I really going to be able to keep up with pumping at work with patients depending on me? Let’s go over the budget again…do I really have to go back to work? Yes. Sigh.
So I started pumping in earnest a couple weeks before I went back. I decided to buy my own double electric pump because I was going to attempt to keep Meredith on breastmilk only. I chose this one (only the older model) which was recommended to me by a trusted friend. The first time I pumped it was before nursing, and I got 5 ounces. I began pumping once a day (most days) in the morning a little bit after nursing and froze the milk for daycare. I thought I had a good freezer supply and it was enough, but looking back I wish I had done more.
On the first day of daycare I sent six 4-oz bottles of different types. Before this she had only drank out of a bottle 2 or 3 times and only a few ounces at a time. That day she only drank about 9 oz so after that I sent less. After a few days she got the hang of bottle drinking and began eating more. One day she drank everything I sent and was still hungry, so I began sending more.
Pumping at work became a chore but I was committed to it and it was working. I never had problems with cracked or bleeding nipples until this. I tried to pump at least twice a day and that was enough to provide milk for Meredith for the next day, but sometimes because of my job I could only take the time to pump once or I wouldn’t get enough milk for whatever reason. On those days I’d have to use milk from my freezer stash and it began slowly dwindling. I did worry about my supply dropping with only pumping once a day but it didn’t seem to be happening.
THEN, when Meredith was about three months old, I got mastitis. It came on so fast, like within an hour, and was super painful. I mean I felt pain akin to labor. I had a 103 degree fever and it felt like the worst sickness of my life. I’ve never had the flu but I can’t imagine it being worse. I missed 2 days of work while keeping Meredith home with me to nurse since I had a huge blocked duct. I got on antibiotics right away but it was three days before the fever finally went away for good and it took almost a week for the breast to get back to normal. After that I redoubled my efforts at pumping more frequently. I started pumping three times a day at work and all of a sudden my supply went up because that’s how it works! I was able to begin building up a freezer stash again.
When Meredith was five and a half months old, the teachers at daycare thought she needed to eat more. I didn’t know better and didn’t think to look into it – they are the experts on children, right? – so I began sending more milk in bigger bottles. She was eating 6-8 oz per feeding and I couldn’t keep up and went through almost all my freezer stash. Finally I did some research and discovered she only needed 2-4 oz per feeding because breastmilk changes as she grows, unlike formula. All of the other babies in daycare were drinking formula, so that’s what the teachers were used to. I had a discussion with them and as it turned out, Meredith was fine with the reduced amount of milk. I did start sending some small “snack” bottles for when she was fussy (I learned that if they pull out a bottle they can’t reuse the extra which is why I sent multiple bottles with different amounts). This was a big learning experience not only as far as breastfeeding, but as far as standing up for myself and my child.
The next big hurdle was starting solid food around 6 months. I hated it, delayed it, and didn’t make it a priority. I just wanted to keep nursing my baby! I didn’t want to have to worry about feeding her actual, nutritious food! (For the record, this is still a struggle.) We didn’t have a feeding philosophy. We just gave her some baby food out of a jar, and we also let her feed herself. As it turned out she ate mostly jar baby food for awhile, and for several months she still had three 4 oz bottles a day. Around nine and a half months she had transitioned to mostly table food and dropped a bottle, but still nursed the same amount in the evenings and on weekends. My body adjusted so that I only had to pump once while at work.
When Meredith was 13 months old I ventured to give her cold whole milk in a sippy cup (which she had been drinking water from easily). She spat it out and threw the cup across the room. Two weeks later we tried again with cold breastmilk, and let her drink it while walking around. She drank it all. At 14 months she went into the toddler room at daycare and was given a sippy cup of breastmilk with lunch. After a few weeks she didn’t always drink it and I decided to wean from pumping. Good riddance!
We fell into an easy routine of nursing in the morning, after work, and before bed. My milk supply dropped but whenever Meredith got sick she’d nurse more and my body adjusted quickly by producing more. At 21 months she was going strong breastfeeding and was still teething so she was nursing a whole lot on the weekends and evenings. It was obvious that she was a huge comfort nurser. It was at this time that I got pregnant with Liam. I had heard from friends that a lot of nurslings wean when their mom becomes pregnant because hormones change the experience for them, but that wasn’t the case with Meredith. It didn’t seem to phase her.
At 27 months she was nursing mostly just in the morning and at night but sometimes after work and on weekends too. If she was in a needy mood she would nurse 6-7 times if I’d let her, just to quickly calm down. Around this time I left her for the first time overnight (for two nights) and she did great with her grandparents. She would joke about nursing and ask to nurse everything. “Nurse daddy? Nurse Mimi? Nurse Grandy? Nurse doggie?” When I came back from my trip I was halfway hoping and expecting her to be done with it…but then she had a marathon session where she stayed attached to me for an hour and fell asleep early. She didn’t nurse the next morning though.
By the end of my pregnancy I really didn’t have any milk left but Meredith was still asking to nurse at night and would throw a fit if I tried to refuse. At this point I was ready to be finished and was pretty overwhelmed at the thought of nursing a baby and a toddler, but it also seemed like too much to force her to wean. By the way, my doctor encouraged me to wean her because it can cause preterm labor, but I didn’t start feeling any contractions while nursing until about 34 weeks and they were mild.
So…Liam was born and my milk came in super fast and when I went home from the hospital she wanted to nurse all the time, basically anytime she saw him nursing. At first I let her nurse a few times a day to ease the transition for her and also to increase my supply, but after a week it was just too much. I was able to get her back to just bedtime nursings by explaining that she is a big girl and has teeth and doesn’t need to drink my milk but baby brother does. She was surprisingly okay with it.
Tandem nursing, even just at night, was strange. There were a few times, out of desperation, where I was lying down nursing Meredith and Liam would start crying so I would plop him on top of me so he could drink out of the other breast. I seriously felt like a sow and I had to close my eyes and take deep breaths to get through it. Honesty about to happen here – I began to dread nursing Meredith. It made me cringe, and I didn’t feel that way with Liam. I began to cut her nursings really short and sometimes she would cry but I found that singing songs with her at bedtime would calm her the way nursing used to. One day last week I had just had enough, and I told her she wasn’t going to nurse because she was a big girl. She cried for a minute or so, but then we started singing and she got over it. Since then she hasn’t cried again about it, and although she asks for it every now and then, a simple, “no, you’re a big girl,” and then a distraction is enough.
I thought I would be sad when Meredith weaned, because it was such a huge part of our relationship. I’m not though. Maybe it’s because I’m nursing another baby now so that part of my life isn’t over, or maybe it’s because Meredith and I bond in many other, different ways now. I am grateful that she didn’t wean herself before I was ready, because that would’ve been hard. The way it happened was hard in a different way, but I feel good about it.