As you may know, August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month and this week (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week. Those that know me well, know that this a topic I am passionate about...though for whatever reason, not one I've talked about in depth here on my blog. So throughout this month, I hope to bring you a few posts on the subject (as well as some reviews and giveaways ideal for breastfeeding moms). My intention is not to shove breastfeeding down anyone's throat, spark any debate or make any moms who may have formula fed either by choice or necessity feel bad about that decision. My only intention is to share OUR experience with breastfeeding, why it worked for US and to hopefully offer some encouragement to those moms who are currently nursing, or hope to nurse in the future. Now that that's all out of the way, onto our story...
I made the decision to attempt to breastfeed our son very early on in my pregnancy... to me, it made the most sense. To be entirely honest, we were completely broke when Shaun came along and formula is expensive (we would have qualified for WIC I am sure, but we never applied)...breastmilk was free, and better for baby anyway, so why NOT give it a try. I didn't personally know anyone who had nursed, or that I was aware of at the time anyway (I did find out later that my mom nursed my older brother for two years- way to go Mom!) so I took to the Internet to research. The more I read on the topic, the more passionate I became on giving it my very best effort to be successful. I had had bad allergies as a child, and discovered exclusively breastfeeding (as well as delaying solids) could lessen chances of allergies, and build a better immune system all around. It's no fun being the sick child all the time, and I didn't want that for my son. I also discovered that it could benefit me as well- helping to lose the baby weight faster and reducing the risk of breast cancer as well. This was before my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, but I'd still had other family members with breast cancer as well as other forms of cancer as well and knew I was likely at higher risk...anything to lessen those risks were worth trying in my mind. So by the time Shaun was born, my mind was set...I knew I would give it my all and try to make it to at least six months if we could, but had no intentions of going beyond a year at that point.
Thankfully, once Shaun arrived, he took to breastfeeding like a champ! The nurses at the naval hospital all commented on what a pro he was...no troubles with latching at all. We were extremely lucky that way. That is not to say it was all sunshine and roses in early days either. I had heard that so long as baby was latched appropriately, there would be no pain...and quite frankly as anyone who has nursed a baby can tell you- those first few days are going to be painful regardless as your body gets used to nursing! Lansinoh was my absolute best friend! But that quickly passed. I quickly learned that the recommended 'nurse every two hours' I was told in the hospital was not the way to go, and instead learned from online breastfeeding forums to just watch for my son's cues and nurse on demand when he needed it, not when the clock told us to. So, that's exactly what we did and it worked great for us. Oh of course there were some days where it seemed like he was nursing all day long...but I knew it was what he needed, and that it was helping to keep up my supply...thankfully, we had no issues in that area either...especially since my little guy absolutely refused a bottle every time I would attempt to pump. (He also would never take a pacifier, which I'm quite thankful for now, since it meant we never had to break him from that!)
As I said, it was all smooth sailing for several months from there. However, at six months things took a bit of a turn...I started having severe pain every time I would nurse to the point that it made me physically ill. At first, the doctors said it was thrush (though my little man was showing no symptoms himself and they didn't even treat him anyway-silly doctors!). The medicine they gave me for that did nothing, and the pain worsened. It was horrible, a pain I truly wouldn't wish on anyone...MASTITIS! If you've never had mastitis, consider yourself very lucky...truly!! I continued to nurse through it- again, having no choice anyway as my little guy still would never take a bottle and it eventually passed...it was certainly the absolute worst moment in our breastfeeding journey. Unfortunately, despite nursing through it- I noticed a decrease in supply on my left side only (the side that was most painful, of course). Little by little, it became harder to nurse on that side- Shaun wasn't getting as much and at some points it was still quite painful. By the time Shaun was just over a year old, I'd had to stop nursing on that side, and was instead nursing exclusively on the right side only...but at least I was still able to nurse at all!
After overcoming the worst and as Shaun grew closer to his first birthday, I started reading more about extended breastfeeding and child led weaning. As I said, I originally had no intentions of going past a year, but again the more research I did on the subject, the more sense it made to me. Still, I wondered as I am certain many do- would it be odd to nurse an older child? But again through online nursing forums it was pointed out to me that each day is just that...one more day. Why is there a magic cutoff at one year old that suddenly makes that child too old at that exact moment? When I thought about it that way, it made more sense to me. I knew my little guy was not ready to stop at that point, and I saw no reason to force the issue. I also discovered that despite the idea here in America that nursing past a year old is odd, the World Health Organization actually recommends a MINIMUM of two years. So we decided to take it day by day and see where that led us.
Of course, we got many comments asking why I was still nursing, but I knew it was best for my little man and I was happy to be able to provide that. Shaun continued to nurse until he was a little over 3.5 years old....and let me tell you, there was never a day where it felt like he suddenly became too old. Like others had told me, each day was just another day. There were of course days where I wondered if he would ever stop, and even days where I was ready to be done, but again, I knew that he still needed it... you see, my Shaun went through a lot in those first few years in his life- two deployments, two cross country moves, a diagnosis of Autism...I truly believe all of this led him to need the comfort that nursing brought him longer than many. And though we still did get comments about nursing at his age, I think the fact that he was developmentally behind his peers and seemed much younger than he was made it easier for others to accept as well. (I always have to laugh when people make the argument that when a child can ask for it, they were too old- because of his speech and communication delays, Shaun really did not yet have the ability to ask either!)
In the weeks before Shaun stopped, he was still a fairly frequent nurser. Many kids at that point only nurse at bedtime and when they needed a little extra comfort, but that was not the case with Shaun...he would still nurse several times throughout the days, and through the night as well. I didn't see an end in sight anytime soon. Then we went to Illinois for his Daddy's R&R (he was on a yearlong deployment) and during those few weeks, he very quickly nursed less and less...until all of a sudden he just stopped. Just like that. I was absolutely shocked! It was entirely his decision to stop, and entirely stress free all around. To this day, I cannot believe it happened as quickly as it did or even why, but I know that he was ready!
I do not know how nursing will go with our baby girl, but I know that I will do everything I can to make it work, and hopefully reach that two year mark recommended by WHO...and if she needs to go beyond that as well, we will again take it one day at a time. Our breastfeeding journey with Shaun was perhaps a bit of a roller-coaster at points, and a long one at that...but I wouldn't trade it for absolutely anything! It was a very positive experience for us, and I am always happy to offer advice and support to moms who want it- rather it be in those early learning days, or to those considering child led weaning, I am always happy to help when I can!
Did you have a good breastfeeding experience? Bad? Considering breastfeeding, or even child led weaning? Any specific questions on the subject you would like to see answered in a future post! Please feel free to leave a comment, or even e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(I am aware that extended nursing/child led weaning can be a bit of a hot button issue, so while I welcome all comments regardless of differing opinions, I do ask that you keep those comments respectful...it may not be right for everyone, but it WAS the right choice for my son and my family.)