For being one of the most natural things in the world, there was a lot about nursing that surprised me.
First, how challenging it would be for me and my son, who was brought into the world about eight weeks before he was ready.
Next, how my goals would change once we finally got the hang of things.
And finally, how easily my son could decide to end our routine and go about his days being the increasingly independent little boy he so desperately wants to be.
When I was pregnant, my intention was simply to breastfeed. I didn’t think about weaning; I just figured I’d cross that bridge when I was ready. I didn’t expect my son to cross it by himself, leaving me on the other side with a mix of emotions.
Don’t get me wrong – we had a very successful nursing journey, one that lasted just short of 17 months. For that, I am thankful.
The day after our 4-pound, 5-ounce peanut was delivered via C-section, I requested a breast pump from hospital nurses. It being the weekend, the lactation consultant was off, and no one working that day had much practical experience to help me with.
I expressed my concern to the OB who delivered our boy when she stopped by on one of her rounds. “Nothing’s happening,” I said.
“Well, it might not happen for you,” she said matter-of-factly. “It probably won’t happen for you.”
I took that as a challenge. Hours later I was proudly marching (OK, shuffling) down the hall toward the NICU with what couldn’t have been more than a teaspoon of breast milk. My baby’s nurses celebrated with me and promised to give it to him through his NG tube at his next feeding. We had success!
The next few weeks were tough as we encouraged our son to go from tube feedings to bottle feedings, all the while making daily efforts to pique his interest in the breast. When he was released from the hospital, it was a joyous occasion that also resulted in me having to return my hospital-grade, NICU-issued pump.
My Medela Pump In Style and I got along fine for a few days before I began running into problems – first clogged ducts that would make the mere act of picking up my newborn excruciating, then mastitis, twice.
My mother and husband both asked me, with concern, how long I was going to try to make breastfeeding work. I relented and ponied up the money for a hospital-grade rental. We saw lactation consultants. I sought the advice of moms on BabyCenter’s message boards and in local breastfeeding support groups.
Finally, around the 12-week mark, I had a nursling! A few months after that, I was able to cut my reliance on the pump and life was simplified. By fall, our routine was old hat and at the holidays, when we approached his first birthday, we were still going strong.
Each landmark encouraged me further. I went from saying “at least six months,” to “why not eight?” and then, when it became really easy, “might as well go to 12.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics says breastfeeding should continue for a year and, after that, “as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.”
I guess I thought we would mutually decide when we were done. But it was a low-grade fever, coupled with a canine tooth popping through the surface, that began my toddler’s nursing strike, appropriately right around Independence Day. When he began feeling better, I tried two more times to nurse him, just to be sure that weaning was his decision.
Both times, he turned away from me with a flourish before wriggling to the floor to move on to a toy or a book or something else more interesting than mama. “Sometimes, they just decide they’re done,” our pediatrician told me. A glance back at Mommyhood archives shows this has been the case for lots of other moms, most who experienced the same range of emotions that I have.
So here I am, still a little bummed we didn’t make it to 18 months, a good round number to quit on, a little wistful and a lot unsure (surprisingly) of what to do with my new-found free time. So far, we’ve moved on to sharing Cheerios in the mornings and Sandra Boynton books at night.
Bless his heart, my boy has been sweet in easing the transition for me. On a recent night, I put him to bed as usual, only to hear him wake with a wail about 30 minutes later. I picked him up and set to rocking in our chair, and a minute later he was snoring, his head nestled beneath my chin, just like when he was a tiny thing fresh from the hospital.
It was a nice – and needed – reminder that even though he has different sources of nutrition now, I will still be one of his main sources of comfort.