The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for a year. Children need either breastmilk or formula for the first year. My mom breastfed me and my two siblings for a year each. I grew up just assuming that was the norm. My sister breastfed my nephew for a year. It was best for baby, it was the norm in my family, medical professionals said to do it, and on top of all that, it was free, which formula certainly is not.
While I was pregnant, I knew my intention was to breastfeed for a year.
|My final moments of pregnancy. Glamorous.|
I “prepared” for this. I read a book. I took the class at the hospital. My sister lent me her nursing tanks and bras. I added breastmilk storage bags, nipple pads, and bottles specifically designed for the breastfed baby to my registry. I ordered my pump from insurance in the 8th month. When it arrived, I carefully read all the directions and sanitized all the parts.
I’m sure we all see where this is going. Of course, when Dalton arrived, there was nothing that could have prepared me. All the books said babies were supposed to nurse as soon as possible after delivery, within the first hour. Of course, that was out the window. I spent the first hour of his life getting stitched up on an operating table, while he was whisked off to a NICU nurse to make sure he hadn’t aspirated any meconium in the womb. It was probably 2 or 3 hours before I once again had feeling in my hands and could even hold him. I was barely conscious, and a nice nurse came to the recovery room and told me I should try nursing now, since he was awake. I had no clue what I was doing, but he latched on and I think she indicated all was well. I’d been awake for nearly 48 hours at this point, and was on morphine, so it’s all quite hazy.
|OMG brand new baby!!!!|
We got to our hospital room at 3:30am on Wednesday. I’d been awake since 5am Monday, and I finally got some broken sleep in between the nurses bringing Dalton in to nurse, checking my vitals, and the inflating compression sleeves on my calves. At 7:30, our pediatrician came in to tell me Dalton had a tongue tie. I was so out of it at this point I barely even remembered having a baby, but I tried to pretend I knew what she was talking about. Later that morning, the lactation consultants came to my room to help me. Although he had latched before (because nothing will ever come between this kid and food, even being 3 hours old and having a clueless mom who doesn’t know how to hold him to the boob!), I was pretty far off from doing it right and they helped me quite a bit.
I still don’t know how I got so lucky. Even with the tongue tie, everything was relatively easy from day 1. He always had dirty diapers and had surpassed his birth weight within a week. Everyone had warned me of the pain, but I never thought it was that bad (although I was on painkillers from the surgery). He was fairly regular, nursing every 2 hours with some cluster feeds thrown in there. It was a two man operation at first. Eric would have to hold his tiny hands so he didn’t push the nipple out of his mouth, and I would have to compress and help him latch. We didn’t understand how it took two adults to overpower a 6 pound baby so we could feed him, but somehow it did.
We got his tongue tie fixed at a week old, and then things got even easier. While on maternity leave, breastfeeding seemed pretty simple. Dalton was pretty regular, feeding every two hours, sometimes 3 at night, and some very rare times, 4. But he was a fast eater, right from the start, so generally nursing would only take ten minutes or so.
Just like for so many other women, exclusive breast feeding was smooth sailing, but once I went back to work, things got tricky. Pretty much every breastfeeding book will emphasize the importance of spending as much time as possible with your baby, so that’s pretty helpful when you have to work for a living. Dalton began daycare at 3 months old, and I spent the next 8 months pumping like crazy and constantly obsessing over how much I was producing. He was still eating every 2-3 hours at night when I returned to work, probably until about six or seven months old (it's all a blur). On maternity leave, Eric would give him a bottle for one night feeding, but back at work I was not about to pump one second more than necessary, so all night feeds were straight from the tap.
|I went back around Christmas, so here Dalton is sleeping on a nursing pillow in a Christmas outfit.|
Months 3-6 were the most challenging in terms of pumping. Dalton was growing so much, his appetite was ramping up, we were figuring out daycare, and my body was getting used to pumping instead of nursing. It was stressful. I didn’t want to supplement unless there was a true medical need (fussiness was not a reason to start formula for me). As Dalton got more comfortable at daycare, his fussiness subsided even though his bottles remained the same (which supported my theory that it wasn’t due to hunger). One of my huge goals was to make it through the school year, so that was a good feeling when it happened.
|I was forced to eat so many lactation cookies. Anything for the baby.|
At six months, we started solids, and even though he didn’t really take to them until 7 months, it started to take some of the pressure off. If he was hungry at daycare, he could have a banana. Everything I read says food before one is just for fun, it’s supposed to be a supplement to breast milk, not a replacement, etc. This was true around 7 months but by 9-10 months, this kid just took off with solids and that was not the case for him. He wanted a burger, not a boob.
At ten months, I went through utter hell with nightmarish clogged ducts and top teeth drawing blood every time we nursed.
I almost threw in the towel. But, I’m really glad I pushed through. I went to boob PT, pumped the left side and didn’t let him near it until he healed, and we kept going. Even though his sessions were insanely short by that point (2-3 minutes, tops), I’m still glad we had those.
Just before 11 months, a new school year began, and I made the executive decision to be done pumping. I sent milk from my frozen stash to daycare (only 6oz per day though). We nursed morning and night, and the middle of the night. He hadn’t been nursing in the middle of the night much, but the new school year was a hot mess. Even though Dalton had been in daycare all summer, part time, it really messed with his world (and mine, to be honest) and sleep went down the drain. Those were tough times. But on the bright side, the middle of the night was the only good nursing sessions he had! We did a lot of co-sleeping here.
|And luckily, he's cute (only 2 months old here!)|
Finally, we got back to a good place with sleep, and just a week and a half before his first birthday, Dalton was done with breastfeeding. He just refused. He’d stopped nursing in the middle of the night and before bed, so we were down to only a morning session of maybe 2 minutes. Then, suddenly, that was done. I offered a few more times, but he wasn’t interested. Since weaning was such a gradual process, I had very, very minimal engorgement (about the time I quit the pump) and no pain. It also wasn’t as difficult emotionally as I’d expected. The last two months were so stressful, difficult, and painful (with the clogs) that I was just grateful to have made it the whole year without losing my mind in the process. I was sad when I realized I’d never get to have a “last time” that I knew about, and I do miss it sometimes, but there’s so many more fun things we get to do together now.
|At one, he's ridiculously fun.|
I’m still working through my freezer stash, so he’s still getting breast milk even now. I’m not sure how long it will last for. He’s getting cow’s milk too, since that’s provided at daycare (the doctor said it was fine to give him both). As thrilled as I am to have made it a year, I feel like it puts even more pressure on me when we have a second kid, because I’ll want to do the same to keep things “even”. Dumb, I know, but true. Plus, now I know how much I love breastfeeding, so I really hope to get another year in at some point.
And that's the story of my year of breastfeeding my first child. I'd love to hear other mom's experiences! If you're not a mom, share your favorite cookie to eat with milk!