This post is about breastfeeding. Or rather, the end of breastfeeding: weaning. My baby turns six months this week and we are working on weaning. It’s partly because she has her first teeth breaking through (OUCH!) and partly because I’m ready to be done breastfeeding.
Since my daughter was born it has been my goal to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ guideline to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months. But I’m not a zealot about breastfeeding. I think it’s best if you can do it. But it’s also totally fine if you can’t. And there are a lot of reasons why you might not be able to including tongue-tie, lack of milk production, illness, adoption, work schedules…
So, like a lot of women, I didn’t hit the exclusive 6-month goal. For starters, my baby had to be in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for her first week of life. My milk had not come in yet and the nurses fed her formula. It was the right thing to do at the time and I don’t regret it. Even her pediatrician said it was the right course of action. And once we got home from the hospital, and with the help of some lactation counselors, my baby took to breastfeeding just fine. Well, that is until she hit about 4.5 months. Then she needed more milk than I could make, no matter what I tried to do to up my milk production. We talked to the doctor about it and our pediatrician recommended supplementing breastfeeding with formula feeds when necessary. And that led into first-foods (which she loves). So, there’s been some breast milk for her entire first six months, but it hasn’t been exclusive.
Am I a failure? Or is that just life? Depends on who you ask.
Most of my friends and family who have done breastfeeding have done so for longer periods than I am. But I also have friends who never gotten the chance because of health problems or work issues. I don’t think either side is all right or all wrong. It’s just tough. It’s life. Ironically, now that I am weaning, I am also feeling the most confident about breastfeeding.
In general, though, I have not really enjoyed it. Or maybe there was just too much build-up about how amazing it is from other moms. Even with help from lactation counselors and doctors, I have found breastfeeding to always be somewhat-to-very painful. With the knowledge that my baby and I are, in fact, doing it right the only other option is that it’s just how it is for me. Breastfeeding, like pregnancy, is different for every woman. It turns out I’m not one of those breastfeeding-is-bliss people. Kind of a disappointment, but not the end of the world.
And after all this time counting the months until breastfeeding would be over, I have found myself a bit sentimental to say goodbye to it. Once baby girl and I have our last session, which will probably be sometime this week, that will be the end of an important phase in her life (and mine). And it will be the end of a time when what sustains her comes from me. Or, to put it another way, an end to a time when I am solely responsible for her nourishment. It’s been an uneasy burden — pumping and late-night feedings are not fun — but one that has defined a special bond between us.
Of course, this is not to say that my baby and I are not bonded in many other ways — including the most important, being her mother! But now that my daughter is six months, she is interacting with me and the world a lot more. She knows her own name. She smiles when she sees me. And she knows just how to nuzzle in to my breast when it’s time for a feeding. When I think back to our early struggles just to get a good latch or to have her head in the right position or to keep her from kicking me in the c-section incision area while feeding… we’ve come a long way. So now that it’s getting easier…now that it has started to have some enjoyable bonding time… that’s when it ends. Bittersweet. Until she bites me with those new sharp little teeth!
The part that is not sweet at all (besides the biting) is the morning-sickness-like symptoms I’ve had along with weaning. (And no, I am absolutely not pregnant.) According to some information I’ve found online, this seems to be a side effect of the hormone shifts with weaning. I’ve been weaning very gradually. In all, it’s going to be a little more than a month of weaning. And I’ve had nausea, dizziness, headaches, mood swings, hot flashes and clumsiness (dropping things, bumping things). In talking with other moms it seems like this is not necessarily a common experience, but not all together unusual either. It certainly takes the edge off of any sentimental feelings I have! Now I just want to stop feeling like crap and stop getting bitten!
No matter what it’s the end of an era. And like almost everything else with pregnancy and becoming a mom, it has been filled with emotions I didn’t expect and otherwise impossible to predict.