Well, if I were going to come out of the woodworks for anything, it should be for World Breastfeeding Week, don’t ya think? Yes, I owe you so much more (including FJ’s five month pic from a few weeks ago), and yes, life has become so much fuller and rich with so many stories to share…but for now, this is what I have to share with you. In just over a week I will make it to a milestone of six months of exclusive breastfeeding for my little FJ. I see no end in sight and would like to nurse her for at least two years and let her wean on her own terms. I have been grateful for the journey we have been on together. We have had no latch or other rough issues, and physically our breastfeeding journey has been a very smooth one. Emotionally, however, has been a bit of a different story.
Latching on at birth
Becoming a mother felt to me like jumping into the deep end of an icy cold pool; I wasn’t ready for the shock of it all and it was nothing like I expected. I kept thinking, “someone should have told me it would be like this.” I mourned my former self — the one who could lie on the couch for hours if and when I wanted, read a book with two free hands to flip pages (what a luxury that feels like now), and just not constantly have a little tiny dependent on you for everything — to be kept warm, clean, and fed.
Sometimes during the early months I had to remind myself, “It’s not the breastfeeding that’s exhausting you — it’s parenting a newborn.” And that was true. But still, while I have always been very committed to seeing breastfeeding through, sometimes I saw the allure of having someone else available to help with feedings, especially because I had a baby who fed at least every hour for her first three months of life. I will say that rule didn’t hold true for nighttime, when, although we bedshare, she actually got a 5-6 hour stretch from very early on. (And now here’s where I must include a disclaimer: she has not been doing that stretch lately, but then again poor babe is teething and probably otherwise going through some big developmental changes.)
During the early weeks FJ and I stayed skin to skin for hours at a time. In fact, in the hospital I never had clothes on at all. (I’m pretty sure I shocked a nurse or two with that one.) But it was glorious. I truly think it helped with bonding and they say it helps with your milk production too. While I can’t be sure, we certainly didn’t have any problems there. I’d bundle up in my husband’s thick, soft robe and close it around the two of us, just breathing her in and letting her alternate between sleeping and nursing on me.
The evenings in those early months were the roughest. While she didn’t fit the textbook definition for colic, she cluster fed like a maniac in the evenings. I was almost never without a nursing or fussing babe, from about 5 until 11 or 12 at night. For months hubby brought me water and snacks to the couch as I posted up there for hours, often with tears in my eyes. What made it worst of all is that she would often thrash, flail, and cry while nursing. I knew she wasn’t in pain or having reflux or other issues that needed attention, as she did this rarely during the daytime. I simply knew it was a common occurrence during this evening “witching hour.” (And why do they call it “hour” anyway — it was always at least five!)
I spent weeks poring through my dog-eared copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and googling countless phrases in conjunction with the Kellymom site name, since I found it to be such a great resourc. Kellymom+fussy. Kellymom+cluster feeding. Kellymom+overactive letdown. Kellymom+infant sleep. And on and on and on. I spent lots of time crying. A couple times I even got in the shower with FJ in her bouncer right outside, closing my eyes under the hot stream and wondering, “if she were gone when I opened my eyes, would I even care?”
Sometimes I wondered if maybe I should try to give her a bottle of expressed milk in the evening , as she often seemed so frustrated at my breast then, when letdowns were so few and infrequent (another common factor in the evenings.) Yet I knew from my reading that I simply needed to keep nursing — that what she was doing was telling my breasts to produce more milk, and eventually they would get it. When FJ was around two and a half months one of my best friends told me, “it really starts to get better at three.” I couldn’t imagine much of a difference in two weeks. Yet…it was true. And then other friends told me that four, and five, and six — every month just continues to get better and better. And…it has.
This has been true for breastfeeding as well as for parenting in general for me. While I still have a frequent nurser, she usually nurses every hour or two during the daytime now. It feels like such a luxury I hardly notice. She can also nurse in 5 minutes instead of in 45, which makes a world of difference. And while she still has a hard time falling asleep, her naps and bedtime aren’t prefaced by almost inconsolable screaming anymore. Now there may be a bit of fussing, and certainly lots of nursing, but it’s enjoyable — punctuated by giggles, by a baby who has learned that when she’s not tired if she simply rolls on our bed onto her tummy and pops her head up like a turtle mommy is likely to laugh at her, and she might get some tickles before bed.
I’m grateful to be staying home with my babe and to have had the incredible support of my husband through it all. On nights when I was really tired and wasn’t sure I could sit up to nurse her again (when we hadn’t yet worked out side-lying nursing with ease) he encouraged me to keep on going — that it was what I wanted and he would do whatever he could to make sure all our other needs were taken care of. This allowed me to focus on her and on our breastfeeding relationship. Staying home has afforded me the time, energy, and space to nurse her with ease. I truly commend those mommas who are able to return to work for any length of time and nurse their babes — it’s hard work and I don’t believe our system is at all designed with nursing mommas in mind.
Now six months in, breastfeeding my daughter is a true joy and is one of my favorite parts of my day. Just yesterday she and I sat in a chair at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, my feet in the warm waves, her snuggled up against my chest nursing as the breeze blew over us. I closed my eyes and knew finally, without a doubt, that if I were to open them and she were gone, my heart would be broken.
I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
You can, too — link up your breastfeeding posts from August 1-7 in the linky below, and enjoy reading, commenting on, and sharing the posts collected here and on Natural Parents Network.
(Visit NPN for the code to place on your blog.)