My challenge last week was to completely wean Sophie from nursing. While the challenge itself was easy, I thought I’d reflect a little on the year’s experience — the difficulties, the triumphs (and yes, they felt like triumphs) and the things no one ever told me. (Sorry if this is too much info for some of you, but it is what it is. This post is about breastfeeding. You’ve been warned.)
Weaning wasn’t much of a challenge. Over the past month we went from breastfeeding four times per day down to once. Then last week we stopped the last nursing session. Sophie fussed a little when I gave her a sippy cup of milk but after the first day, she was totally cool with it.
I had heard that there can be a bit of an emotional loss when breastfeeding ends. Not here. I feel liberated.
Nursing was never that “amazing joyous bonding experience” I’d read so much about.
My struggles started in the hospital when I wasn’t sure I even could nurse my daughter. She was jaundiced and every day she lost more and more weight. Beyond the “allowed” percentage. I’m not even going to begin to describe the embarrassing string of “help” the midwives and lactation consultants offered. Feel free to e-mail me if you want the gory details.
Post-hospital, we were instructed to hire a midwife (paid for by insurance) who came to the house daily to weigh the baby and check on our progress. Sophie barely stayed awake enough to eat and things didn’t look good. I was told that if her weight dropped one more day, I’d need to supplement with formula.
I felt like a failure. I cried into Dominique’s shoulder. I was so relieved when Sophie’s weight the next day had not dropped. After two weeks, she started turning around, filling out those typical, adorable baby thighs.
Still, breastfeeding was hard for me. Many a night was spent crying – from pain, from frustration, from exhaustion. Babies aren’t born knowing what to do. Neither are moms. So every two hours was a wrestling match with flailing arms while trying to protect her head that can’t control itself. It took 45 minutes to feed her. Then with just over an hour’s rest, she needed to eat again. It was exhausting.
It’s rarely talked about, but there can be intense physical and emotional responses while you feed your baby. I felt anxiety and waves of anger for absolutely no reason. My body itched from head to toe. I was nauseated. Only after searching the Web did I find that these reactions can be common. Surprisingly, pounding a glass of water and eating something as I sat down to feed the baby helped some. The rest I endured until it passed.
After a month or so it got easier. We both got the hang of how everything was supposed to work. But I still felt a little trapped. Sophie never took a bottle, so responsibility for feeding her every two hours was on me.
Next came more physical setbacks. At least for vanity’s part. Another obstacle I never knew was possible was a diminishing supply. An uneven diminishing supply. The right side just dried up. After four months I was nursing from the left side only. I worried this wouldn’t be enough for Sophie, but she was full, gaining weight and healthy. We went on nursing.
The only problem was being, well, lopsided. Two cup sizes different. The kind of difference that shows through all your clothes. Like a 12-year-old girl, I had to stuff my bra. Well, half of it anyway.
Try going on vacation to Florida and fitting into a bathing suit top. One side fits, the other side looks like a Baywatch bimbo. I had to quickly swallow my pride and realize there are worse things in life than looking uneven. I think instantly of my brave mother, and millions like her, who battled breast cancer and survive every day with uneven. Life threatening uneven. So that put things in perspective. And we continued nursing.
I never planned how long I would nurse. I’d heard recommendations of six months. One year. Two years. Until the child says she’s done.
Sophie could have cow’s milk at 1 year, 11 months, actually, since she’d had no ill reactions to yogurt and other dairy. That seemed like a perfect time to transition her away from nursing.
I was so excited at the prospect. I never enjoyed breastfeeding the way some women talked about it. Loved it, actually. I was happy to be able to provide for my daughter. Save a ton of money on formula. But I also felt tied down. Obligated. Guilty for not “loving it.”
Now that we’re through, the physical discomfort of weaning has subsided. I waited for the sadness to set in. That sense of loss that I’d read about at the end of “the breastfeeding relationship.” I have struggled a bit with postpartum depression and anxiety so I wanted to be vigilant.
But a strange thing happened. I started feeling happier. More cheerful. Not like: “Yay, no more breastfeeding.” A real mood shift. So I did a little search online and found that some women reported the same thing. Improved mood, less fatigue. Nursing had been taking and taking from moms. Weaning brought a little bit of moms back to themselves.
I wonder why no one mentioned the realities people face when they choose to nurse. A lot of nursing advocates I’ve read, professionals and bloggers with a bag full of judgement, make women feel guilty and selfish for weaning on their terms. Maybe there’s a fear that if this information is shared up front, about the physical and emotional strains of nursing, more moms might choose to skip breastfeeding.
I don’t think I’d have changed my mind about nursing Sophie. But maybe I would have felt less blindsided by the intensity of the physical and emotional strains.
Nevertheless, it’s been quite an experience. I’m glad I did it. But I’m oh so glad it’s over.