I've been sustaining a little human life with my own body for 16 months (pregnancy + six months breastfeeding). I'm in awe, incredibly thankful, and humbled by my body's ability to do this. Breastfeeding for any amount of time is a combination of luck and hard work. I'm lucky that I have been physically able to breastfeed at all and especially for this length of time. I feel so fortunate for that fact. But it's also taken a lot of work; I've put in a lot of time and effort to ensure that Dashiell has enough milk to drink. And for that I'm really proud of myself.
As I've been writing and rewriting this post I keep attempting to write a paragraph of caveats trying to communicate this sentiment: my being proud of myself for breastfeeding is not intended as a commentary on how any other mother feeds her baby and the effort that it requires. This post is only about my personal journey and I applaud all mamas out there because no matter how you feed your baby there are heroic efforts involved.
Before giving birth I wondered whether or not I would be physically able to breastfeed (that my milk would come in and that I would produce enough milk for my baby) but didn't worry too much; I had no reason to believe I would have any problem. I tried to learn as much as I could about this somewhat foreign act through books and talking with other moms. I'm glad that I educated myself about breastfeeding but it's almost funny to learn about it from books; it's really a skill you have to learn "on the job". The videos of an infant politely opening his mouth while you calmly present your breast are so far from my experience in the beginning of feeding a hand-in-mouth, limbs-flailing, barracuda baby while experiencing excruciating pain with latch on. It made me want to burn those videos for showing how "easy" it was to achieve a correct latch.
By the time we left the hospital with Dashiell I was in quite a bit of pain when I nursed, especially on my left side, which was already developing a crack. We had a lactation consultant visit us at home and she diagnosed Dashiell with a mild tongue-tie and said this was causing him to have a shallow latch and was likely the cause of my pain. Initially our pediatrician disagreed with the diagnosis but when Dash only gained half an ounce of weight over a week period she reconsidered and suggested we have his frenulum clipped. We decided to have the procedure done. Although the clipping was quick it was incredibly stressful for me and I started to feel very light headed as they laid Dash on the table. It went against my raging mama instinct to sit idly by while my baby endured pain, especially pain I had elected to put him through. Luckily, Dashiell was able to nurse immediately afterwards and didn't seem bothered once he finished.
Unfortunately, my pain while breastfeeding didn't go away so quickly. I think it took about another week for the pain to begin to subside. I remember that it seemed to be worse at night. Maybe because I was so tired or maybe Dashiell nursed more frequently then, I'm not sure. But I remember being nearly in tears when he latched on and continuing to be in pain and uncomfortable the whole time he nursed. I'm so relieved to be on the other side of it now!
I'm happy to report that now breastfeeding is going well, really well, and I love it. I love the closeness that I have with Dashiell while he's nursing. I love holding his body next to mine. I especially love nursing him to sleep for the night and for the occasional nap. I love the convenience of being able to breastfeed on the go and not pack bottles. I love that my body is able to meet his nutritional and hydration needs; it's truly amazing!
Even though breastfeeding is going great there are still some challenges. One is pumping enough milk for Dashiell's daily bottles at daycare. Currently, I pump three times during my work day as well as two times outside of work to pump the 15 ounces that Dashiell needs (he's always eaten more than the ounce-an-hour rule of thumb). It's frustrating because if I could exclusively nurse I wouldn't have any issues keeping Dashiell full. But for every nursing session that I replace with pumping I end up a little bit behind. So over the course of a work day I end up about 5 ounces behind and thus have to pump outside of work too.
It's never fun to spend my free time pumping and by the fifth pump in a day I'm a bit sore and ready to not be hooked up to a machine. I was able to maintain a little bit of a freezer stash for a while but have used it all to make up for days I fell short or just couldn't stand to pump again. I'm now making an effort to pump on the weekends to build up a freezer stash again. I've also found that I need to consistently take a supplement to keep my supply up. I take Motherlove More Milk Special Blend and have noticed a modest increase in my supply when I take it at the recommended 4 capsules/day (1-3 additional ounces pumped in a day).
With not having a freezer stash comes the necessity of being very deliberate with the time I spend away from Dashiell. He eats every 2.5-3 hours so right after nursing him I can potentially have 2.5+ hours to run errands, go see a friend, or have some time to myself. For the most part I usually want to spend my weekends with Dashiell anyway but sometimes I do wish I had the option to not think of the day in 2.5 hour chunks or to have an occasional leisurely afternoon to myself.
Nursing is also quickly becoming a contact sport. Dashiell has always been active, starting with the near constant kicks when I was pregnant, and as he gets older those legs just kick harder. They can really get going while he's nursing. In addition to constantly kicking his top leg he's also grabbing with both hands and sometimes hitting me in the chest. I've even had a couple of small bruises on my arm where he kicked me! Dash also has a couple of tiny teeth (fangs!) now. To date he's only bitten me a few times and it was minor but I'm nervous for where we could be headed...
Despite these challenges I still enjoy breastfeeding more than I dislike pumping, more than I like having a free afternoon to myself, and more than the difficulty that comes with nursing a wild-animal-infant. If breastfeeding continues to go well my plan is to continue past a year as long as Dashiell wants to nurse. Once Dash starts eating full meals of solid foods I hope that he'll continue to want to nurse a couple times a day, perhaps just in the morning and evening, which would allow me to stop pumping at work. Right now I can foresee continuing to breastfeed until Dashiell is around two if he hasn't self-weaned by then. But it's so hard to say! I might be ready to be done breastfeeding before then or he could be too and that will be OK.
All I know is that right now I love breastfeeding Dashiell. It's a journey, and is certainly a labor of love at times, but it's something I feel so lucky to have in my life.
Top two photos by the amazing Darby Simon.