[Originally posted here on June 17, 2014.]
It occurred to me last night, as I wrangled my almost-one-year-old into nursing for all of two minutes, that I think I'm done. I think I'm ending my breastfeeding journey as of last night. For many moms, the decision to stop nursing her last baby would probably be a fairly bittersweet moment; for me, it's mostly just sweet. I'm proud to say that I breastfed both my kids past eleven and a half months, but it is a relief to be over with it. And in light of this being something of a milestone in my life as a mom, I thought I'd share a few thoughts with you.
1. Breastfeeding is hard. Yes, it's "the most natural thing in the world", but that doesn't mean it's easy. I figure every kid is a trade-off: no one baby is perfect at everything, so if they're good in one area, there's bound to be another that is a constant struggle. For both my kids, it was breastfeeding/eating. Kaylie was a fantastic sleeper--she was sleeping in her own room by one month, and sleeping through the night as soon as I would let her (I had to wake her up to feed her from the beginning), but she hated eating. It wasn't just breastfeeding--we tried giving her pumped milk from a bottle, a spoon, and even a little medicine cup, and later from sippy and straw cups, and she just did not want it. Ever. I had to force feed her at every feeding, and by nine months, our supportive, pro-breastfeeding pediatrician strongly recommended supplementing with formula because she was on the verge of becoming a "failure to thrive" baby. And Wil, though he started off a little better, was a very distracted, feisty, wiggly eater--but he was the happiest, most low-maintenance baby, who never cried unless something was actually wrong, the rest of the time. Nursing Kaylie under a cover (I won't nurse without one in public--personal preference) was difficult, but impossible with Wil, who would refuse to eat until he'd pulled it off of me. From early on, in the evening, Wil wanted more milk than I was producing, and after a few months of pumping for half an hour every morning to make up for it (usually with a screaming baby and a whining toddler in the background), I ended up supplementing his evening breastfeeding session with a few ounces of formula so I could spend my morning with my kids. And I decided not long after that (around eight months, I think) to replace two breastfeeding sessions a day with bottlefeeding instead, because he kept biting me (OW!) (he did quit biting me after that--I think he was just bored). And now, we're pretty sure he has FPIES (we're seeing a specialist next month), because he spends the rest of the day vomiting any time he eats anything with grain (rice, oat, or otherwise), so feeding him in general is just an enormous struggle. So, yeah, breastfeeding is hard sometimes.
Yes, breastfeeding is the most natural and best way to feed your baby, and you should absolutely try to do it. But if it isn't easy, you aren't alone. Keep trying! And read #2 below.
2. You need support. Parenting in general is hard. But you know what makes it easier? Finding people to keep in your life that you can go to with questions and for advice--and I feel like this holds doubly true for breastfeeding. In a culture where formula-feeding is the norm, giving up on breastfeeding when it's hard can seem like the most logical option. Surrounding yourself with other mothers, especially mothers currently breastfeeding and likely going through many of the same struggles as you are, is reassuring and encouraging. Adding in a lactation consultant or two sure helps, too. The hospital where I had Kaylie had a fantastic nursing moms group that met once a week at the hospital, hosted by at least one lactation consultant every week. We all sat and chatted and asked questions (of the consultant and of each other, about breastfeeding and everything else) and nursed our babies if they were hungry (and there was a scale to weigh our babies on, if weight gain was a concern). Being able to sit with a lactation consultant once a week and talk about Kaylie's issues, and hear from other moms that they were struggling, too, made a huge difference. It gave me what I needed to keep going another week, and another, and another. (And it also facilitated finding baby friends for playdates!)
You can ask at your local hospital about a nursing moms group, or find one through La Leche League. If you're breastfeeding (or planning to), I strongly recommend that you try connecting with one of these groups!
3. It's okay to kind of hate it. It's uncomfortable. It's a hassle. It sucks (and bites, figuratively and literally).
A lot of moms rave about how breastfeeding is this profound bonding experience for them and their babies. I didn't ever get that. For me, it was always a fight with my babies, which isn't exactly conducive to "bonding". I found my bonding moments elsewhere, and that's fine. It's okay if breastfeeding is something less enjoyable and profound for you than it is for someone else, because every baby and every mom is different. You aren't a bad mom if you don't like breastfeeding.
Also, I couldn't lose weight past a certain point while breastfeeding. And with Wil, I can't eat broccoli and cauliflower (two of my favorite vegetables) or Pizza Hut pizza (my second favorite food of all time). Well, couldn't--I know what I'm adding to next week's dinner menu now that I'm done!! Bottom line, for some of us, breastfeeding entails more cons than pros, and it's okay to recognize that and not really like it.
4. Parenting is about sacrifice. It's okay that it's hard, and it's okay to kind of hate it, but that doesn't mean you don't try your damnedest to do it. Parenting is about sacrificing what's convenient and comfortable for you, in favor of what's best for your kids. So, no matter how many cons breastfeeding has, the one pro that matters is that breastmilk is what is healthiest for your baby. I am proud that I can say that I successfully breastfed both of my kids past eleven and a half months (even if it did include supplemented formula). It was hard, but I did it.
But you know what else your baby needs? Sane parents. So while I strongly encourage all moms to try their hardest to breastfeed, I also know that it isn't always an option. I have had friends whose milk never came in (despite weeks of pumping, herbs, and working with a lactation consultant), who have had severe mastitis, or whose babies would only take bottles (so they spent hours every day pumping). Sometimes, it just doesn't work, or making it work is just so stressful that your baby isn't getting what else he needs from you. Yes, try to breastfeed; but recognize that there is a point (and it's different for everyone) at which the sacrifice that you need to make is the hope of breastfeeding. What your baby needs most is not breastmilk; it's you. You need to be available to love on your baby, and you can't do that if you are too stressed or tired or too busy pumping. You aren't a bad mom for giving your baby formula when you need to; if the struggle of breastfeeding is taking pieces of you away from your baby, then giving that up is the best thing you can do, and you are a fantastic mom.
5. Products I like. I'm gonna wrap this up with a few thoughts on what you need (or don't) to facilitate breastfeeding, because if you're new at this (or about to start), then you probably have no idea what's what (I sure didn't). :-)
Get a pump. Even if you don't expect to use it. I have the Medela Swing, and I love it. It's perfect for moms who expect to get moderate use from their pumps: it pumps one side at a time, and you can plug it in or run it on batteries. If you are planning to pump regularly or even exclusively, it's worth looking into one of the double models (like the Pump in Style, for daily use, or the Freestyle, for mobile use). If you plan to stay at home and breastfeed exclusively, I'd still recommend getting a manual pump (like this one), because 1) you will be shocked at how huge and uncomfortable and leaky your breasts get when your milk first comes in, and you may need to pump for comfort; 2) you may one day find yourself in a situation where you have to skip a feeding (like when I was re-hospitalized a week after delivery with preeclampsia and had to spend the night away from my baby--or, you know, date nights and such), and you will need to pump for your own comfort and/or to keep your milk supply up; and 3) it never hurts to pump a little extra (especially when your milk first comes in) to freeze in case of emergency (or baby-sitter). I used my Medela Swing only occasionally when I was nursing Kaylie, but it saw a lot more use with Wil (I used it all weekend of Dragon*Con when he tagged along with me at two months old, where he did much better drinking pumped milk from a bottle than breastfeeding under a cover, and then I used it daily for a few months when I was pumping in the morning because he was drinking more than I was producing in the evening), and it has held up quite well. I have no complaints with it whatsoever, and would highly recommend it.
Obviously, you'll need nursing bras. But here's the problem: when you're pregnant and have time to shop, you have literally no idea what size you're going to need. Your boobs are going to get HUGE when your milk comes in, and that's going to last for at least two or three days. After that, your girls are going to be fluctuating in size every month, week, day, and, sometimes, hour. It's ridiculous. So my two cents is to avoid nursing bras that go by cup sizes, and go for one like this one. At the very least, get one without cups and that stretches for that first week (or month). Beyond that, if you have the money to spend on multiple bras in multiple sizes, go for it, but I'm too cheap for that--I have three of the ones I linked, and that's all I've used while nursing both my kids. It's comfortable, it's easy to unclasp and re-clasp at feedings, and it works for me.
There are, like, a million kinds of nursing pads. I like these ones by Johnson & Johnson. Unlike some of the flimsier options, these ones absorb a lot and I've never once had a problem with leakage through the pad. Each pad also has an adhesive strip to hold it in place inside your bra, but they stay in place fairly well even without using it (I never used it, because I reuse the pads all day if I'm not leaking, and it seemed annoying to adhere it to the bra only to take it out for feedings and put it back multiple times a day).
You may need nipple cream in the beginning. A friend recommended Lansinoh before I had Kaylie, but I hated it--it was thick and didn't spread easily; when you're dealing with the sore and bleeding aftermath of a bad latch (which can take weeks to recover from), the last thing you want is something that you have to really work to rub in. I got a sample of this Motherlove stuff in the hospital, and loved it--and I had to use quite a bit in Kaylie's early nursing days (she was not good at breastfeeding, guys). I bought more when I had Wil, but he at least figured out his latch a little better, and I didn't use it as often. I also tried a Medela sample that the hospital here sent me home with after Wil, and it was almost as good as the Motherlove, but I never needed to buy more, so my experience with the Medela was very limited.
While it's becoming more culturally acceptable to nurse in public, I was personally uncomfortable with the idea of flashing the world (especially since nursing Kaylie was such a battle--she spent more time off the breast than on at every feeding), so a nursing cover was a necessity for me. (Some moms can get away with throwing a blanket over their shoulder, but every time I've tried it, that thing comes down within seconds; those moms must have babies who are better, calmer eaters than mine ever were.) I stumbled upon a promo code for a free nursing cover from Udder Covers, and for the price of shipping ($11.95--which was less than the nursing covers I'd been looking at in stores), I got a very functional cover that I used quite often with Kaylie. The biggest pro is that it had a wire insert along the top so that it arced away from my collarbone, which meant that I could look down at Kaylie while she nursed and it wasn't as claustrophobic for her. The biggest con was that it, like most nursing covers, leaves your back exposed if you hike up your shirt to nurse (yeah, I'm too cheap to buy "nursing shirts"). As I faced the prospect of nursing/pumping at Dragon*Con last year, I wanted something that would cover my back, too, since I anticipated needing it while waiting in line for panels, so I bought a yard of brown knit fabric and used this tutorial to make my own nursing shawl. Wil hated eating under either cover equally, but the shawl was great to pump under. I'd recommend either option to anyone, with the word of warning that some babies just won't nurse under a cover (like Wil). Udder Covers regularly offers the deal I got; you can usually find the promo code in several of the baby magazines you end up getting mailed constantly after you register for baby stuff (or check online).
And you will definitely want a nursing pillow--I liked my Boppy pillow. Propping regular pillows up under your baby while feeding just doesn't compare. I'd recommend getting two covers with it, along with a water-resistant cover to go under the other cover (spit-ups happen, as do diaper leaks--protect your pillow and keep an extra cover on hand so your Boppy isn't still out of commission by the next feeding as the cover's still being laundered). You'll also find your Boppy comes in handy during bottle feedings and holding baby while he naps (Wil was heeeeeavy). (You can also set it around your baby on the floor when he's learning to sit up supported.)
If you're a breastfeeding mom, you rock. Even if it's hard. Especially if it's hard. You're not alone, and it does end. And when it does, you can look back at the battle you've fought with pride, knowing that you did the best you could for your baby. And then you can celebrate with a drink or two, and all the foods that gave him gas. :-)