Let’s talk breastfeeding! It’s a topic I’m passionate about and my aim with this post is to share my experience and offer support and resources for women that might not have them at their disposal within their own families or communities. I want to be a part of normalizing a very natural thing!
How a mother feeds her child can bring up a lot of emotions - it’s a complicated issue! I believe that it’s possible to be supportive of all methods of feeding - whether you choose the route or the route is chosen for you. So if you’re an exclusive breastfeeder for 1 day or 1 year or you use bottles and formula or donor milk or any combination in between, mother to mother, I support you. Being a new mom is the hardest job on the planet and the last thing she needs is anyone’s judgment for doing what works best for her and her baby.
If for some reason you’re not into boobs or babies, I won’t be offended if you skip this post! There will be photos of a real, live human child (Felix) on a real life human breast (Mine!) so you’ve been warned!
I made an initial plan to nurse for six weeks and then re-evaluate. Breastfeeding does not come easily to most women - including me. Our first days were a big struggle and we used donor milk from our hospital while staying there and bought another 100 ounces home with us. I had a cesarean birth and my milk supply took a little longer than normal to come in, which isn’t unusual with that type of delivery. Felix did latch on and nurse when I was first able to hold him and some blood work showed us he was getting a little colostrum. Later while I was recovering in the hospital and my baby cried for more, patient nurses helped express milk (or colostrum) into a spoon and then feed it to Felix. As happy as I was with a healthy child, I was also grieving the C-section and was hell bent on making nursing work!
For the donor milk we rigged up a supplimental nursing system and a nipple shield so it felt like I was nursing. I was pumping regularly (using an amazing Medela Symphony we rented from the hospital) and within five days I had enough supply to feed the baby and discontinue donor milk. That was a big deal for us!
Felix’s latch still wasn’t great and I used a shield for at least the first six weeks. You hear women say nursing “shouldn’t feel like anything” and eventually - yeah! - but at first it’s not pleasant! And those cluster feeding seasons can do a number on your sensitive breasts!
Around that six week point was when we moved towards latching without the shield but by week eight we were in big trouble. I wrote a couple posts about it (here and here) but long story short, I had a plugged duct, then asymptomatic mastitis, an abscess and an incision and drainage surgery. I toyed with the idea of weaning (and my surgeon recommended it eventually) but something in the core of my being would not quit. My milky wound leaked breastmilk 24/7 for weeks. Instead of a bandage I used overnight pads and had to change them every few hours, including waking up in the middle of the night. I weaned down to two sessions on that breast and the other side took up all the slack. Eventually the drain came out, the wound closed up and we got back to business on my left boob.
Our Nursing Timeline
And then… we just nursed! Because I am home with Felix most of the time, I’d just nurse on demand. I did keep pumping here and there (more frequently when I was teaching a course at IU and was gone for 4 hours two days a week) but discontinued that at 7 months. Honestly, it’s a pain in the ass. I’d rather just cuddle up and do a boobie nap than put Felix down and drag out the pump. Pumping mothers, I salute you!
The rest of the timeline went like this:
- Five Months: Introduced solid foods
- 14 Months: Begin Night Weaning
- 15 Months: Night Weaned
- 16 Months, One Week: Completely Weaned
Support and Resources
I don’t think I would have continued to nurse as long if it weren’t for the supportive folks around me. I nursed in my home without a nursing cover in front of my family, and they never made me feel like I had to leave the room or at all uncomfortable. Thank you family! The Bloomington community is very accepting of breastfeeding and there was never a time in public I ever felt ashamed or embarrassed. I’ve always had a go to response ready if someone ever confronted me (”It is my legal right to breastfeed my child in public in the state of Indiana.” Then smile.) I also skipped any sort of nursing cover ups both at home and in public. I found the two tee layering method (a v-neck under another top) was modest and discreet! I’m sure people had no idea I was nursing at all some of the time! Thank you B-Town!
My local professionals, Anne Marie Neely, IBLCE and Mary Ann Martin, INLCE were a huge help - offering free advice to all women formerly through BABS and now through Milk Matters: A Drop in Gathering for Mothers and Babies. Thank you both for your invaluable encouragement and advice!
Online, my best resource was the site KellyMom.com, which I checked dozens of times.
Our first step was to increase Felix’s calories through solid foods and cow’s milk. This helped him stay full through the night and that was how we made our first long stretches between his meals. It definitely took a while and I still nursed him 24/7 until he was 15 months old.
Felix didn’t really like milk at first and I can understand why! Breast milk is delicious, warm and custom made for your baby. We also didn’t do a lot of bottles between 6-12 months and that probably added to the problem. In the end we found that the Philips Avent Training Cup with a rubber sippy cup style top worked best for Felix. Trial and error on that one!
As he became more accustomed to cows milk and was eating bigger solid meals, I’d drop a nursing session here and there. I kept on with his nap and bedtime feedings without fail but could get through the morning and late afternoon without nursing. It’s hard when the boobie solves everything. Nursing can be a lifesaver in a lot of situations. Whining in public: boobie. Falls and starts crying: boobie. Mommy exhausted and wants to watch a nap and Fixer Upper on demand: boobie.
The other factor influencing my weaning schedule was an 8 day vacation in January. Honestly, if I didn’t have a solid stop time, I would have kept going. And truth time - I did nurse him one day after I got back from my trip… and even 8 days later my milk still came in! The human body is an amazing thing. Then I remembered how great I felt once weaned, so we did the sign for “all gone” and said that to him when he’d cry “BEEEEEEE”
Now we’ve gone over two weeks and I can confidently say we’re done. I was ready and I think Felix is ok with it. Old habits die hard and it would be way easier to do nap time with boobie, but we’re forging onwards.
My concern when weaning was getting a plugged duct, mastitis or becoming really engorged again but none of those things happened. Going gradually was a good idea for us. What did knock me off my chair was the hormonal disruption. Just reducing our nursing schedule by one session a day seemed to have an effect on my mood. Now a few weeks later I’ve also been feeling a little sad, which I’m attributing to the reduction in oxytocin (love hormones!) from breastfeeding.
So that’s my breastfeeding story! I’m so proud of nursing my son to 16 months despite the hardships. If you’re at all considering breastfeeding - I hope you do it and find local support to give yourself the best shot possible. And I want to repeat, because it’s very important for moms to know this, no matter how you feed your child, you’re doing a good job. Feeding methods do not define motherhood.
I hope my own next time around is a little (a lot!) easier and I’m going to start with the same short term goals and see how things go. You never know!