One thing I know I’ll be able to say at my daughter’s graduation is that she has always liked to eat. As she turns a year old, this is the only constant in the past 12 months that I will remember – and groan at remembering. Our breastfeeding story has been filled with many challenges. I want to quit. She doesn’t. I wanted to quit when we first began. She might have wanted to, too.
But somehow she and I haven’t. Our mutual relationship has great benefits for her body and mind longevity, but it has been a challenge. I’ll explore my past year of breastfeeding, and maybe, just maybe, my breastfeeding story will offer support for a mom out there who is on the fence about continuing (or even trying) to breastfeed her baby.
A Breastfeeding Story: Birth to One Month
When I first tried to breastfeed my daughter, it was wildly unsuccessful. I was coming off anesthesia from a C-Section, and my woozy mind couldn’t quite position her correctly. Per usual, my newborn also couldn’t get a good latch, and I was stuck expressing some milk into a tiny spoon to let her slurp from.
Eventually, the hospital lactation consultant came in. She hemmed and hawed over my baby and boobs. Maybe the baby has a tongue tie. Nope. “Well, let’s try a nipple shield.” You should have seen that thing pop off my nipple and fly across the room. My baby wouldn’t put the plastic thing in her mouth anyway. The LC expressed milk from my nipple while guiding my baby’s head toward my boob, hoping the warmth of milk on her lips would get her to latch on. No such luck.
The LC expressed milk from my nipple while guiding my baby’s head toward my boob, hoping the warmth of milk on her lips would get her to latch on. No such luck. Baby was hungry and tired of being (wo)man-handled, and so was I, quite frankly.
Eventually, after getting a good latch a day later, she figured that the dear sweet baby did better eating when she lay on her left side, that maybe this was her position in the womb and she preferred it, and thus would eat better.
I affirmed as much, and so I cradle-held her to feed her from my left breast, and football-held her to feed her from my right. It was so satisfying to final be able to begin my breastfeeding journey – getting some shut eye was a major plus, too.
Speaking of sleep, this baby was a log. I’ve heard that some newborns are hard to wake during the night, but man did I feel like I was trying to wake the dead. I really like my sleep too, so I was loathe to get up from my warm bed in the middle of winter and get a wet wash cloth, undress her, etc. I rubbed her little cheeks as fiercely as I could, waiting ten minutes before she started suckling vigorously. Waking every four hours every night for two weeks: my own personal hell.
Don’t even get me started on the blistered and bleeding nipples. I’m not one to go to the doctor at the scrape of a knee, so I toughed it out, clenching my teeth through every painful time she latched on. Lanolin helped a bit, but I figured that out too late. I ended up using coconut oil until the bleeding stopped. I got mastitis at one point, just because my left nipple hurt too bad to feed her from it. Have you ever tried washing an engorged breast that has blood blisters all over the nipple? I’d much rather take the ice bucket challenge a hundred times over.
Now, because I waited the longest maximum time to wake her up during the night, I often felt maybe she wasn’t getting enough. I was so afraid of going back for her two-week checkup and having the nurse tell me my baby was jaundiced, that I wasn’t doing good enough, that I was failing at being a mother. So, I kept her on me all the time. I am a stay at home army wife, so my husband was gone 12 hours during the day, and we had no family to come to the rescue. And I certainly didn’t want to be the burden on some strangers’ shoulders. Every time she cried, I fed her. I nursed her out of guilt and obligation, and I often felt anchored to the couch. Of course, I didn’t want to get out and do anything with a newborn. There are very few things as pitiful as an unhappy new mother.
The fact that I am a completist is what got me through. I was too proud to fail. I had to make it to a year of breastfeeding – that’s what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, right? I have to do this, I thought, and that was my drive. Well, that and our tight budget. Formula feeding was not an option, nor would I let it become one.
One Month to Six Months
After three or four weeks, the nursing got better. The blood blisters went away, my husband started feeding her pumped milk, and I figured out that Gilmore Girls and Nesquik® are a great way to pass the time when there’s a sleeping baby on your tit. Things got much better when she became more interactive at two months, holding her head up and smiling, reaching up while she nursed to touch my face (or slap my boob).
She still wanted to eat so incredibly often, but at four months, she began sleeping through the night, so that was a huge relief. Well, a relief to my mind, but not to my leaky boobs in the morning. Many, many times I washed the sheets because there was milk on both sides of me from tossing and squashing full breasts. But eventually they adjusted to the nurse-free nights, and I was a much happier mother who sat on the floor while my daughter played, nursed, crawled, nursed, fussed, nursed.
I’d made it through the worst, and I actually enjoyed breastfeeding then. It is incredibly gratifying to be able to sit with your baby, smell her sweet head, and allow the oxytocin to make you feel happy and drowsy. This period of breastfeeding was the best for me, and I often long to go back to the quiet and relaxation of nursing a young baby.
Six Months to Twelve Months
Once she reached that half-year stage, my daughter never nursed the same again. She began sitting up, and she only wanted to sit up. No more laying down to nurse, so I’d prop her in my lap and she’d rock back and forth. We would try side-laying on the couch, and she’d stand up on her legs, head still on the cushion, nursing and stomping her feet. Sometimes she would do barrels rolls, letting go when there was no more give to my nipple, and reattaching ferociously once her head came back around. This made for many grimaces and giggles as I felt her grow into her own strong personality.
At about seven months, six tiny teeth popped into her mouth. That was fun. Thereabouts I also started giving her solids, so that took some pressure off me. Pushing and pulling, biting and scratching, sticking her fingers into my mouth, shoving her hand between my legs…the agitation was never-ending. I was usually very frustrated with this very squirmy baby, but still, she wanted to nurse.
When she was nine months, a series of events disrupted our schedule: we moved, the crib hardware was lost, and the holidays came around. For about three months, she was sleeping in the pack ‘n play, in a hotel or at a family member’s or in different rooms at our new place. She began waking up several times during the night again, and would only go back to sleep after being nursed. So much for my blissful nights.
Once we got to our new home, she loved to crawl around and play, but so often she would come whining to me, begging to be picked up and fed. No matter how much real food I gave her (and trust me, this girl will eat anything you put in front of her), she had to nurse right after the meal, and sometimes before. I always think I’m doing something wrong…maybe she needs more protein, maybe more veggies. Maybe I’m not giving her enough water.
But, in actuality, I don’t think there was anything I did wrong. I’ve been doing all I can to ensure her health and growth, and I told myself, sometimes a mom just needs to cut herself some slack.
My little girl has now turned one, and our breastfeeding story continues. She wants to nurse, as always, but she now listens when I tell her “No, no, mama’s all done for now.” Usually, she accepts that answer and goes in search of a cat to crawl after. Her only theatrics now are doing pliés and switching boobs about 20 times per session, which is so not cool. But I roll with it. I’ve also started to get her back on a sleep schedule; she slept through the night last night! And she’s pretty distractible now, what with all the fancy toys our families got her for Christmas.
There’s always that occasional tough day: maybe she’s not feeling good, or maybe she woke up from a bad dream and is clingy. One day I know she won’t want to nurse anymore, and that’ll be okay with me. To say breastfeeding was trying is an understatement. It was a prolonged frustration that I will not probably miss. But I’m glad we’ve made it this far, as the benefits it will give her for the rest of her life far outweigh the year (or more) of aggravation, and I’ll look back on it as a loving and rewarding experience.
The Breastfeeding Struggle Is Real
If you or your partner are attempting or struggling to breastfeed, please know there are an abundance of resources out there for you. Many health departments and hospitals have Lactation Consultants to help you perfect your breastfeeding relationship.
La Leche League is a great (if not the best) breastfeeding support community out there for mothers. KellyMom was my personal go-to for breastfeeding experiences and scientific support. There are probably many local support groups in your area as well – don’t hesitate to join one! Peace of mind and success in breastfeeding are wonderful things. The struggles are terrifying, but the rewards are excellent!
Featured Image: Edited from Wayne Evans | Pexels
In Post Image: Author’s Photo