Other than this post, I haven’t blogged much about breastfeeding. I’ve written a comment here and there about ounces eaten or feeds dropped as the babies got older in weekly posts but thats about it. They are almost a year old now and we are soon beginning the process of weaning. I have much respect for those who continue to nurse into toddlerhood, but for me the journey ends at (or around) one.
Before Miles and Abby were born I tried to keep a flexible attitude about how I was going to feed them. I wanted to breastfeed but wasn’t sure I would have the supply, energy or determination. I told myself that while breastfeeding was my goal, I would not be angry with myself if it didn’t happen or if I made the decision that the effort was really not best for our family. I budgeted for formula just in case. I kept a few sample cans around and held onto coupons in an effort to keep the cost down. Knowing babies develop the suck, swallow breathe pattern around 35 weeks gestation and that we were at a higher risk for premature birth, I didn’t want to have any expectations.
Miraculously, we made it to 38 weeks. After hearing about the importance of skin to skin and nursing ASAP after birth, I worried a bit about our choice to have a cesarean section. The babies were taken to be weighed, assessed and bathed before they were brought to me in the recovery room. The hospital LC accompanied them and helped while I attempted to place one on each breast. Both latched on instantly and I congratulated myself on what I expected to be the first of many tandem feeds. I shrugged off the suggestion from the LC that I feed individually for awhile.
A couple of days later Abby showed her stubborn streak when she wailed that my colostrum was not enough to satisfy her and she did, in fact, NOT want to wait for my milk to come in. I tearfully agreed to a formula “top off” of 1-1.5 oz after each nursing session, something I probably could have refused and only ended up needing for a few feeds anyway. Because when my milk came in, I mean it CAME IN. Suddenly I grew from a modest B to Dolly Parton cup size and because I was feeding so frequently, my body produced so much milk thatI became engorged after only a few hours. To give an example, I could complete a feed, pump 3-4 oz and still not be empty. To top it off, Miles developed a poor latch and I began to battle with broken skin on my nipples. It was then that I finally understood what the LC meant and began feeding individually. For me, though, this meant I was spending 2x as long feeding and found myself overwhelmed and exhausted by it by evening. I craved a break and welcomed the pump because I could empty in half the time it took to nurse both individually.
2-3 weeks later Abby started spitting up. When I say spitting up I’m not talking about a little here and there, I’m saying we sometimes estimated ounces lost. It stressed me out so much I called a private LC for a weighted feed so I could get an idea if she was getting enough. Since she was born on the small size (discharged from the hospital at 5 lbs 6 oz and lowest weight at 5 lbs 4 oz), every ounce was important. As it turns out, she nursed like a champ but often spit up likely because my let down reflex was so strong. I tried everything from feeding reclined to assigning her her own breast (which not only didn’t work but eventually made me look comically uneven in size), feeding sitting, burping often and taking breaks. We even bought her a special reflux pillow because she spit up at night and did a trial with Zantac. Nothing worked, and it made the experience stressful. And let’s not forget the part where I sprayed and/or dropped on every available surface in the house – some humans included.
It took 8 solid weeks before I faced breastfeeding with more enjoyment than dread and 12 weeks before I finally REALLY started to enjoy it.
If I remember correctly (and honestly there is a decent chance that I don’t thanks to sleep deprivation), it was 4-5 months before I was able to stop getting up in the middle of the night to pump even though the babies were sleeping longer stretches. It was also about that time that it started taking longer to pump than nurse so I took the night shift more often than not. On the plus side, this made things easier in general because at this point I was so used to nursing individually that tandem nursing began to feel awkward. I began to feel thankful for my ridiculously fast let down because I could have BOTH babies fed in 20 minutes (however, this did NOT help our spit up situation).
Over the next several months we found our groove and slowly dropped nursing sessions as more solids were added. We (with mostly amusement) dealt with “distracted nursing” (squirrel!). I was pretty lucky that biting was never a big issue. I enjoyed feeing each individually because it allowed me to have some individual snuggle time. Somewhere around 9-10 months there was a noticeable drop in interest and nursing sessions began to get shorter. I had feared they would be difficult to wean, but they are proving me wrong.
I remember a few weeks in thinking that breastfeeding for a year felt like a very long time. There were periods where I felt overwhelmed, stressed, and frustrated. I became surprisingly emotional and attached to it and my ability to provide the babies with breastmilk. Once my supply regulated, I worried often about making enough. I sometimes pumped extra late night or woke up in the middle of the night to make sure they would have enough for day care. I did not enjoy pumping and admittedly sometimes was annoyed at needing to duck out of social events to pump. Sometimes I was annoyed that I was getting up most often simply because it was faster for me to breastfeed (and I was too paranoid about my supply to skip a feed/pump). If there is one thing I wish I had known beforehand it would be this: breastfeeding can be, and often is, hard.
Still, it is almost a year later and I find myself shocked that it went by so quickly. The weaning process is bittersweet. These will likely be my only babies and my only chance to breastfeed. I look forward to kicking the pump to the curb and not having to plan where I will be when its feeding time but its just another sign that my babies are no longer babies. In fact, Abby has refused the last few nursing sessions, which makes me think she might be done already. I will miss the built in cuddles that will likely be fleeting the older and more active they get.
My story isn’t all that exciting and comparatively speaking our adventure not all that bumpy. Still, a full year is quite a feat and I’d say I’m as proud of myself as I was crossing the finish line of both marathons. Maybe more. I know technically we are still two weeks away but aside from the possibility of slightly early weaning I think its safe to say mission accomplished.
We made it!