I have noticed a shift since the beginning of 2018. My two nurslings aren’t nursing as much any more. This is hard for me. I have looked forward weaning my children. My breastfeeding journey had not been an easy one. However, as the time nears, I also don’t want this time to end. I think as with many things, it is because it highlights that this era of my life is ending. My littles are leaving babyhood and toddlerhood behind. So to honor this time, I wanted to write about my breastfeeding journey. It isn’t necessarily happy, but it is mine.
My breastfeeding journey started in 2008, when my eldest was born. I wasn’t prepared to breastfeed. I knew next to nothing about it. I figured since it was natural, it would come naturally. It didn’t. I briefly saw a lactation consultant in the hospital. However, she came in when everyone was sleeping, and my daughter wasn’t hungry.
Looking back, we had a latch issue. All I knew at the time was that it hurt, that my nipples were cracked and bleeding, and that neither the baby or I had any idea what we were doing. I tried to seek out a lactation consultant, but my first child bulldozed me. I was totally unprepared for this shift in my life. I was caught in survival mode.
I remember when she was three weeks old in the early hours of the morning, I was sitting on the couch in the living room, crying, holding a crying baby, exhausted, and having NO idea what to do, or how to make the pain stop. My mom came and took her from me, made her a bottle, and sent me to sleep. Except I couldn't sleep. I cried because I was failing at feeding my child. If I had known that babies went through a growth spurt at 3 weeks that might have helped put things in perspective enough to keep going, but doubtful.
No one living with me knew how to help, except to make a bottle. Nursing is about supply and demand. If a baby skips a feeding on the breast, the breast will make less milk. While making a bottle would sometimes help in the moment, it didn’t help in the big picture. So over the course of a week we seriously struggled. I had made up my mind that I was going to stop. Even though, by the time I made the decision, it had gotten better than it had been previously. However, I was afraid of the experience I had just been through. So I went through with my decision to quit breastfeeding. I nursed her exactly a month. I was devastated and defeated.
In between my first and second child I learned a lot about birth and breastfeeding I gained the knowledge about supply and demand and the growth spurts, that I had been lacking with my first child. We had also moved. I had decided that to combat the pain that I had nursing my first, I was only going to nurse on one side per feeding. She could hang out at that breast as long as she wanted, but one boob was going to get a break every feeding. This worked out well for us. During growth spurts she might take in both breasts during a feeding, but pretty much for the entirety of our nursing relationship this is how she operated.
Breastfeeding isn't supposed to be painful. Uncomfortable in the beginning sure, but toe curling pain, no. Except, for me, it was painful. At her one week appointment the lactation specialist with my doctors office gave us a nipple shield. My daughter hated nursing with it and would just cry.
But I was prepared! I knew what to do! I was going to go to the La Leche League meeting and see what seasoned breastfeeding mothers had to say. So I took my one week old out to go to this meeting, and no one was there. I walked around, thinking maybe there was a back door, or maybe they had a booth at the farmers market right there, but no. I left in tears, checking the time and location on my phone several times.
Ok so local support didn’t meet anymore, and we wouldn't see our family doctor until she was 4 weeks, but it was ok! I knew what to do! I was prepared. There was an IBCLC in Canon City 2.5 hours away. I took all the money we had, and put it in the gas tank, and took my 2 week old to see her. The IBCLC told me that my daughter had a vorcaious suck and to come back if it didn’t get better. I went to my car and cried. I drove all that way, got no real advice or path forward, and I couldn't afford to go back.
At every opportunity I told care providers that nursing was painful, for months. Nurses, doctors, the ladies at WIC, I told people I was in pain, and no real help was forthcoming. I felt like because I didn't plan to stop, and I was just willing to bear the pain, I was ignored. I always wondered if I would have gotten different care if I said I was going to quit. Would they have tried to get to the source of my pain to keep me breastfeeding?
I self diagnosed that she has a lip and tongue tie, At the time, as far as I was aware, the only person of repute who was able to revise a lip and tongue tie was 4 hours away in Denver. She was never revised. I nursed her for over two years in pain.
When she was around 20 months we moved briefly to Colorado Springs. I was pregnant with her brother and had the feeling I was in this forever. We called a local lactation consultant who came to the house and had her evaluated for a lip and tongue tie. It was confirmed and I was given a list of dentists who performed the procedure to revise the ties. We saw one that took our insurance, and he told us that he didn’t feel comfortable revising her unless we put her under at the hospital. Deciding that would be more traumatic than proceeding as is, we kept on keeping on.
I had started going to the La Leche League meeting at the East Library. It was wonderful for those with toddlers. At the time there were lots of mons tandem feeding. Thinking about how painful breastfeeding was would put me into tears. What if I had two that were painful to feed?! It caused me a lot of anxiety I would say things like “I really don’t want to breastfeed another one. Can we give him a bottle from day 1? Even though I was feeling this level of desperation, I knew I would breastfeed again.
My middle child has always had a connection to nursing. My oldest and youngest loved their pacifiers. My middle wanted nothing to do with them. She didn’t take bottles. Even as a young baby she would drink maybe an ounce from a bottle in a 6 hour period, just enough to not be starving until I got home. Even now when it is bedtime she looks forward to her noms. Nursing has been her one constant. She clings to it, and I don’t blame her.
Once her brother was born, between the two of them, milk was abundant and it hurt so much less than the dry nursing during pregnancy, that the pain was hardly any pain at all. Starting about 8 months ago, except during the last week of my cycle when progesterone is high, we have been for the most part, pain free.
I will say, we deserve it. It took over 30 months of nursing to nurse her pain free. There were so many tears. I have long said that I used the relaxation I learned in my Birth Boot Camp Comprehensive series far more in breastfeeding her, than during her labor and birth. During those two years I would reach out in various groups that I was in on Facebook asking for I don't know what Information I already had? Support? Permission to quit? Which I got plenty of each, all coming from a place of love. I just kept going, one feeding at a time.
When my son was born his latch didn’t feel right. He didn’t have a deep latch. Confirmed lip and tongue tie. I was really sad. I didn’t want to deal with this again. I decided to go to the Le Leche League meeting in town. I took my newborn out, where the LLL web page told me to go, and there was no one there. The group no longer met at Rawlings, but at Lamb. Except how would you know if you were an outsider trying to find a meeting? I left again, in tears. All I wanted was to have community to talk to about this.
I definitely had reservations about my two week old having lip and tongue tie revision, but the last two years of my life had traumatized me. If there was anything I could to to have this little one nurse pain free, I would do it. My husband went in there with him. We did the stretches and he had a bit of reattachment. Overall his latch improved and I have nursed him with relatively little pain for over 16 months.
However, as he has gotten older, I haven’t produced as much as he would like at night. He would complain by pulling my hair, and slapping my face. After about a month of me pleading multiple times night to leave me alone, and in general causing a scene 2-4 times a night in the middle of the night, my husband began to give him bottles of cows milk.
My supply is dropping, I am not producing the amount per feeding I was. On one hand, I am happy not to be up as much at night. On the other, I know where this is leading and I just don't know if I am ready. Being a breastfeeding mom became a huge part of my of my identity. It is hard to realize that won't be me anymore. I am not really sure where I am going from here in the weaning process. I have just had the feeling lately that this is the beginning of the end of this chapter of my life.
It is hard for me to go through change. Change is, however, inevitable. I know in my heart that I don’t want to nurse my son the same length of time as his sister. There are new things I want to do in my life, that will be easier if my body belonged completely to me again. I look forward to doing these things, while acknowledging these transitionatory moments are still really hard.