I nursed Alice just over a year, I think the last time was two or three days after her birthday in August. I always knew I would breastfeed, I didn’t give it a second thought. The facts are there, it is by far and away, the absolute best thing you can do for your baby in terms of health, growth, immune system, bond and comfort. I’ve known this forever, but had it further instilled while taking a Newborn Care course before Izzy was born, and from general research during my pregnacy.
I recall one day around the age of 5 when my then 8 year brother asked me if I knew where babies came from, I said “Yeah! Mommy’s boobies!” My mom who had been listening from the other room (must have been a surprising conversation to overhear!) shouted “No they don’t!!” and then explained what they are really for, I’m sure she avoided Jeff’s original question all together. In my mind I knew that there were two of “them” an two of “us” and that they had something to do with babies, so I imagined that we had come from her chest, easy logic! What this conversation did do was teach me from an early age, what I’m sure most older siblings already knew, but what nursing is, how babies eat and what breasts are for.
Alice and I were very lucky that nursing came pretty easy for us. Aside from needing shield the first two weeks or so while the swelling went down from birth, it was a rather pain free experience and came pretty naturally. The first few days of her life I did have to feed her with an adorable little syringe that the hospital provided, I pumped and nursed but she was having a little trouble latching and we needed to make sure she was getting enough.
I had joined all kinds of breastfeeding support groups while I was pregnant in preparation. I also seemed to be having my baby right during a time where “Free the Nipple” and the fight to “Normalize Breastfeeding” (by exposing yourself to the public while you nurse, or at least that’s what it started to feel like) were popular social movements. While I did get some good advice and insight from these groups they did seem to create the expectation that breastfeeding your child is supposed to be this big dramatic feat that must be broadcasted and celebrated and every mother who chooses to nurse deserves an award for every month of hardship she faces while undergoing this painful “journey” full of difficulties. It made me feel like with every dip in supply I faced was going to be “it” one of those horrible times I’d read about, my baby was going to be screaming with hunger, my coveted freezer stash will begin to dwindle, I’d never get it back, my nipples will probably just fall off altogether, how would my baby survive??? It wasn’t like that at all. I’d just eat some oatmeal, drink a ton of water, pump more and nurse more, and everything would go back to normal. Sure, I hated pumping, the lactation teas I tried were really gross and I think wound up having the opposite intended effect, the vitamin supplements supposed to boost supply gave me so much gas that I couldn’t even blame it on the baby any more because my husband was beginning to think something was wrong with her, and it was a little frustrating having to nurse her constantly on the days she needed more than she was getting, but I just did it, I had to, it was just part of the process, I knew it was all temporary.
Everyday on the support groups I’d see posta about freezers full pumped milk, I thought I was supposed to have that too, but I despised pumping. I did after every nursing session in the beginning and then gradually pumped less and less. For awhile Dennis was giving her a bottle a few nights a week just so he had a chance to feed her too, I just pumped whenever he fed her to make up for the bottle he used. I would sometimes bring a bottle if we were going somewhere, I’m not a fan of nursing in public, I’ll get to that. I did also have to get rid of the majority of my stash I had accumulated her first four months when we discovered her allergies, so this idea of an overflowing freezer full of the magical liquid of Mother Earth and all woman kind quickly became unattainable. I stopped stressing about it, our situation didn’t require her to have much back up, I actually still have half a dozen bags in the freezer that haven’t been touched in months.
The only thing I’d really consider a “hardship” in our “journey” was the discovery of her allergies. It was through nursing that I first noticed that if I ate certain foods she’d have reactions. Before I even saw an allergist I stared to do elimination diets because I had read that a mother consuming dairy and soy while nursing can cause eczema in a sensitive baby. This escalated rather quickly, after a few weeks of cutting dairy with no improvement I started cutting more and more out of my diet. At one point I had cut out dairy, wheat, nuts, soy, eggs, anything acidic, nightshades, artificial dyes and flavorings, rice and red meat. I was terrified to eat in general and this did of course impede my supply and the baby was slow to gain during those times. Formula wasn’t an option either because most formula contains dairy and the hypoallergenic tastes awful and is incredibly expensive. After a few allergy tests, prescription creams and the realization that starving myself was not helping anything, I reintroduced everything except dairy, eggs and peanuts, and her skin has been great.
One thing I could never get behind and fully support is this generation of mothers’ desire to flaunt the fact that they nurse their babies and the need to be celebrated for doing the right thing. Nursing uncovered in public just to make a point, taking selfies with exposed breasts while their child nurses or even going as far as shelling out cash to have photoshoots dedicated to breastfeeding and plastering it all over Facebook and social media. So what, you feed your baby, we all do, that’s what you do in order to keep them alive, you don’t need a high five. God forbid you say anything about it that isn’t completely complimentary, you are then faced with scathing comments from supporters about how dare you shame a woman for nursing her baby and doing the natural thing etc etc etc. Cue eye roll. In my opinion it is just that, the natural thing, so just do it, don’t brag about it and make it all about you. It’s about your baby. It is a bodily function that might make someone uncomfortable to witness and whether you feel that they should feel differently or not, it is not up to you to decide that for someone. When I see a selfie of a mother nursing her child talking about what a wonderful person she is for doing so, all I see is another example of this genteration’s incredible vanity. The shock factor is gone by now, it’s getting old. It’s now apparently popular to spend lots of money on fine jewelry made out of your own breastmilk….what?? I’d like to take my baby’s earwax and have it turned into an Amber colored jewel to wear around my neck so I can always remember what her earwax looked like when she was little. So useless and frivolous.
I only nursed in public a handful of times, always covered, when she got to the age where she pulled at the cover I bottle fed her or planned outings around when she’d need to eat. She was never so hungry I that I just had to whip my boob out right then and there or else she’d pass out from starvation. From what you’d read other mothers writing about, this way of doing things is far too difficult, they MUST feed their baby the moment it starts to squirm and what they are doing is far too important to stop and cover. Another opportunity in my opinion to play the martyr and turn attention on themselves. Oh, yes, and make sure if you do this to take a picture and share it on Facebook so everyone can tell you what a brave and amazing mother you are. Now this is absolutely not all mothers, there are plenty out there that still place value on modesty and have other priorities that don’t involve turning their personal lives into spectacle, you just don’t hear as much about them because they aren’t broadcasting their “life giving nipples”. I’m also sure that I experience this phenomenon more than the average person because I am in the groups and on these types of pages where this behavior is highlighted. It still irks me regardless.
Now that I’m done nursing and have had the opportunity to look back and reflect on my “journey” the main feeling I get from the whole thing is kind of….eh….. I’ve heard so many tales of how it is such an “amazing thing, you’ll love it, it will give you such a great bond with your baby, it’s so beautiful”. Sure, I’ll do it again, there’s no question in my mind, but I didn’t love it or hate it, I just did it because it was the best thing to do for my baby. Was I thrilled when I finally found a milk substitute that I felt comfortable enough giving my her in place of breastmilk or cows milk so she could finally wean? Yes! Absolutely. Honestly I feel like I get better cuddle time with her now than I did before she weaned. I was a little resentful of the fact that she’d snuggle in and relax with her dad but when ever I held her she automatically rub her face into my chest rooting to nurse and would only settle in if she got to, even if she had just eaten, and all I wanted to do was cuddle. The actual act of weaning her was much easier than I expected. She was already at the point where if I tried to rock her to sleep in the glider she’d wind up whining and reaching for the crib to go to sleep, a little sad at first but also pretty impressive. She took right to the milk sub I found, Ripple, made from pea protein, and only nursed periodically toward the end just so the process was a little easier on me, she could care less as long as she got her bottle. I never got engorged, no mood swings, no clogged ducts or mastitis. I didn’t need to take any measures to dry up, it’s just all happened pretty naturally. Now I know this isn’t the way for many other mothers, I know we were lucky for the most part, I’m grateful that I have such an easy baby, but I do feel that in the end, the reason this all went so smoothly for us was the approach I took. I just tried to be straightforward and relaxed as I could, I aimed for a balance of taking control of the situation when I felt it was necessary while also letting nature take its course. Alice has always slept well, she’s slept through the night since two months old, basically ever since she started sleeping in her crib in a separate room, so I never really had to nurse her through the night and I think that was a great benefit for our situation. She loves eating and took to solids wonderfully and eats basically whatever I give her, another advantage. No, I didn’t feel like this beautiful earth goddess over flowing with feminine power the year that I was nursing her, which seems to be the expectation for some. I just felt normal, like a mom doing what moms do. There where a few bumps along the way, but I knew I could do it so I did. It wasn’t for me, it was never supposed to be about me, it was about doing what was best for the baby, it’s not that deep. So this is my response to everything I’ve been reading the last year. Sure you could think “If you are so tired of reading about people’s “Breastfeeding Journeys” and all the glory that comes with it, then why are you sharing yours?” Because I wanted to, some other moms may feel the same way about it as I do, I thought a blog post was a little more appropriate that sharing booby pictures.