If you haven’t guessed from the title, surprise! I want to spend a little time talking about the experience I had breastfeeding my first baby. 🙂 This will probably be a longer post so skip it if you like. It’s really mostly for myself, to reflect on so many things that have been tumbling around in my brain and to write them all out so I don’t forget.
Jameson is almost 23 months now and I can finally say that he’s officially weaned. This might seem – to some people – like a really long time to nurse a baby, but I hope as I dive a little bit deeper into our story that it’ll encourage and inspire you to find what works best for you and your baby, and to do that thing confidently no matter what sort of pressure is telling you to change.
Let me just start by saying that I went into breastfeeding without many expectations. I had done my research prior to giving birth and I knew (for many reasons) that breastfeeding was what I wanted above all else. But I wasn’t dead-set on any aspect of it. I figured we’d try it out, see what was working, and change things up as we went along. Sort of just learn on the job. I wasn’t opposed to pumping or supplementing with formula (although I was hoping to avoid that) or even giving it up if it wasn’t working for whatever reason. But I really, really wanted it to work and I think that was the most important thing.
When Jameson was first born, breastfeeding was by far the most difficult part about motherhood for me. The sleepless nights, the postpartum recovery, the total shift in all of your priorities…I could handle all that just fine (haha, okay not completely fine). But breastfeeding was hard. It’s a huge new skill that you and your baby both have to learn, and I unfortunately didn’t get a whole lot of direction while in the hospital. The nurses showed me a few different positions and made sure I was staying on schedule but beyond that I had to figure it out on my own.The first night home was incredibly stressful for me. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in Jameson’s nursery, both of us crying, because he wouldn’t latch on and when he did…it hurt so terribly. I called a few different breastfeeding help lines that week (Le Leche League was the most helpful) and had my mom come over to try and show me what I was doing wrong. But honestly it was a lot of trial and error, and mostly error.
When Jameson was about a week old I broke down and admitted I needed more help than just looking up YouTube videos and trying to explain things over the phone. I was cracked, sore, and engorged on top of everything. I cried every time it was time to nurse, and with Jameson being so young that was every 2-3 hours. There was no time in between feedings for me to heal so I just kept getting worse and worse. I so badly wanted to feel that sweet connection with him and to bond over something just the two of us would share, but instead I was dreading each painful session.
That week I found a breastfeeding support group through the hospital I had given birth at and saw that it was led by a certified lactation consultant. Alex was still off from work so he came with us (bless him) and we stayed after the meeting to talk with the consultant. She immediately saw what I was doing wrong and helped me switch up the position until I felt absolutely no pain. I was shocked! Even though I was so sore and definitely not healed yet, it didn’t hurt to feed my son. I wanted to make that consultant my best friend. She singlehandedly saved our breastfeeding journey.
Instead of dreading every feeding, I started getting so excited when Jameson would get hungry. I was so eager to practice the new position and bond with him in a way I hadn’t been able to before. The more we practiced the better we both got and soon I was all the way healed and Jameson was nursing like a pro. Oh such sweet relief! Before long I was even comfortable nursing in public.
I think what I loved most about our new-found skill was the fact that I was the only one who could provide this for Jameson. I never pumped our entire journey because I loved having it just for ourselves. Sometimes it was draining (literally, ha!) but it was also the best decision I made for us. Besides being so so good for him nutritionally, I could use breastfeeding as an excuse to get some alone time with my him, or use it to comfort him, or use it to help him get to sleep. I used it for all these things and more, and I loved every minute of it. I can’t remember a single moment where I felt annoyed when he wanted to nurse. I really, truly loved it.
Months went by and we got into a routine. I started him on solids just for fun around 7 months but breastfeeding was his primary source of nutrition until he was at least one. I nursed him to sleep for pretty much every nap and every bedtime, something I was warned again and again not to do because he would he would “become dependent on it.” I didn’t listen and did it anyway. He preferred it that way, I preferred it that way, and it was just working well for us. And looking back now, I don’t regret it one single bit. Those quiet moments in Jameson’s dark nursery, me nursing him in the rocking chair as he drifted off to sleep every night, I will treasure those moments forever. They’re some of my very favorites.
Once he turned one I started feeling the pressure to wean him. People look at you funny when you’re nursing a toddler and I was being asked a lot, “Are you still breastfeeding?” I began questioning myself, too. I had always wanted to make it to the year mark but it had come and gone and we were still trucking along. The more I thought about weaning the more panicked I got and that’s how I knew my answer. We weren’t ready to quit. I still loved nursing and Jameson loved it too so there really wasn’t a reason to stop.
I think when it’s your first baby you just try so hard to “do the right thing.” You research a ton, you listen to your friends’ opinions, you try your best to do everything in the socially acceptable timeframe. Sleep train at this age, start solids at that age, stop nursing at this age. But it’s not so cut and dry. I wish I could go back and tell myself it was going to work out in its own time. That Jameson would be fine if I nursed him to sleep every night or if we started solids later than everyone was telling me to or if we kept breastfeeding until he was almost two. I wish I could tell myself to enjoy his babyhood just a bit more and not worry so darn much.
Over the next year the more regular food Jameson ate, the less we nursed. It was sort of a natural progression. Towards the end he was only nursing twice a day, once before his nap and once before bed. Sometimes he’d want to nurse a third time randomly during the day and I pretty much always let him. I knew this part of our relationship was coming to a close and I wanted to enjoy it as much as possible. By this point I had decided not to let the opinions of others rob me of the joy I had in breastfeeding my baby.
Then when Jameson was around 17 months old, I got pregnant. This didn’t change much at first and I was fine with the thought of breastfeeding through pregnancy and possibly tandem nursing after the baby was born. But then I started to see things that needed to be changed. I knew once I had a newborn around, I wouldn’t be able to spend 15 minutes nursing Jameson to sleep for every nap and every bedtime. We needed some new habits and we needed them formed before the baby arrived. So I got to work.
I didn’t cut him off completely from breastfeeding, but I did start training him to get to sleep on his own. Honestly this was what I was most afraid of because, like I said, I had been warned so many times that this would be a difficult habit to break. But by this point Jameson was ready. It was maybe three days of him crying to nurse while I rocked him like usual. I stayed strong and within a week I could put him down in his crib after a book and a song and he’d go to sleep on his own without complaint. What had I been so afraid of?! Truth be told, the transition was harder for me than it was for him. I cried a lot, wishing I could still nurse him to sleep like we always had. I missed him so much. But I knew it wouldn’t be practical when the new baby came, and the best thing I could do for my son was to give him the tools he needed to get to sleep on his own.
I let him nurse whenever he wanted during the day while I was sleep training him so that he could recharge and we could reconnect. And a couple of months later he naturally stopped asking to nurse. I could tell my milk supply was going away but he didn’t seem to mind much. I had been preparing myself for this big, emotional end to our breastfeeding journey but it was much simpler than that. We just sort of blended right into a new type of relationship. He would ask to nurse a few times a week, and then once a week, and then not at all.
I’m so happy it went the way it did because I couldn’t stand the thought of choosing to have “one last nursing session” and knowing it was our last time. Jameson weaned himself so I don’t remember our last time nursing. I think it was easier for me that way. I don’t need to remember our last time anyway; I have 22 wonderful months of memories before that.
Now, at almost 23 months, he’s my big boy. There are still some times where he’ll randomly ask for “mommy milk” but it’s usually when he’s tired or grumpy and he gets distracted before I can even say no. I’m interested to see how things go when the new baby is here in a few months, to see if he gets jealous of her nursing or wants to try it again for himself.
I’m really excited to start a whole new breastfeeding journey with my second baby. There are a lot of things I hope are similar, and some I hope are not. I hope I’ve learned enough to let things go and watch them unfold naturally. I hope I’ve learned to stop caring so much about what other people think of the choices I make for my kids. And I really hope I’ve learned to slow down and enjoy my babies while they’re still babies, because they won’t be this little for long.