Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Boob Talk

Here it is. I'm going to get this post done. It's been in the works, both in draft form and in my head for months. Today I'm going to finish it. It's not going to be as pretty and polished as I would like, but here it goes.

From Day 1, I didn't love breastfeeding. I mean, I didn't really expect to. I'm not really the kind of person that is obsessed with "bonding" anyway. I have close friends, I have casual friends, I have acquaintances, I have soul mates. All of whom I have bonded with in one way or another. And with the exception of my mother, none of that bonding has involved drinking milk from their bodies.

We didn't get off to a great start. In the hospital, Jack didn't latch well. I had a few really helpful nurses, I had a few nurses who handed him to me and told me to point his mouth toward my boob. I wasn't producing any milk, he wasn't transferring any milk, and it seemed doomed. We ended up using a nipple shield which helped a lot with his latch/my pain. A lactation consultant also suggested pumping - so after every feeding, I pumped for 20 minutes. I didn't even need bottles attached to the pump - after 20 minutes, there was only ever a drop or two of colostrum on the flanges that Bobby or a nurse would wipe off with their finger and let Jack lick. But the LC praised me and said that was awesome and to keep at it.

When Jack was five days old, he had his tongue tie clipped. That was the same day my milk came in. I kept up pumping after every feeding and built a nice freezer stash (this was the smartest thing I ever did, and probably the only reason we're going to make it a full year...more on that later though).

The first four months were not easy. My supply was great - in addition to full time nursing, I generally pumped at least an extra bottle to keep in the fridge, plus an extra bag to freeze. But it was still painful, and we used the nipple shield for a full four months.

I didn't love it, and I felt bad about that. But other than my nipple pain and annoyance at not being able to be away from my baby or pump for more than two hours, there wasn't really any reason to stop.

Plus - the one thing I did love about breastfeeding was how it helped me lose weight. I gained less than 30 pounds during pregnancy. I left the hospital down 15ish. At 6 weeks, I was down to my pre-pregnancy weight (though it was still shifted pretty significantly. I do not have my pre-pregnancy body). At 8 weeks, I could fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans. I'm still hovering about 5 pounds below my pp weight. And the ONLY reason for that is breastfeeding. I haven't been working out as much as I want (read: at all) and my eating is absolutely terrible. But I'm burning calories!

And for the record, I don't think it did much for bonding. Bobby has never once breastfed Jack (which I think is pretty darn unfair), and they are best friends. And who really thinks you can't bond while giving your baby a bottle? I mean, are you handing your newborn a bottle and walking away? Figure it out on your own, kid! You're five days old, can't you feed yourself yet? You're still cuddled up, snuggled together, watching those sweet eyes thanking you for providing them nourishment. We did plenty of bottles of pumped milk to give my nipples a break. And those times were just as sweet and special as actual nursing. Maybe more so because I wasn't wincing and trying to fix a bad latch.

"Breastfeeding is the easy part."

I don't even know when it happened. Somewhere around five and half months, I realized that nursing was easy. I could do it while walking, in public without a cover (and still not showing any skin), in my car. It was easier than having bottles prepared and kept cold. I had all Jack's food with me all the time. It required no pre-planning. I didn't even realize when I stopped hating breastfeeding.


My mom is of the formula generation. She breastfed my sister and me for 3-4 months and switched to formula around the time we started solids and started getting teeth (apparently we were biters). According to her, that's what everyone did - if they breastfed at all. The accepted theory was that formula and solids made babies sleep longer, so starting both of those as early as possible was best for everyone. She continually brought up these points to me and asked how long I was going to keep breastfeeding, especially when we started Jack on solids at 5.5 months.

And that's when I said the above words: Breastfeeding is the easy part. Even as they left my mouth, I couldn't believe I said them. Easy? When did it get easy? Remember those nightmare days of marathon pumping, bleeding nipples, lanolin stains...plus waking up in pools of my own milk when Jack had a long stretch of sleep? Or getting up to pump at 2 a.m. - despite the fact that my 3-month-old was going to sleep through the night - because there was no way I could sleep with the boulders on my chest? Now it was different. He only took 15-20 minutes to eat, and only ever three hours or so. My nipples were fine. I pumped before bed and froze the extra. No engorgement, no leaking, no greasy lanolin.

Breastfeeding as the "easy part" was actually in reference to starting solids. We started at 5.5 months because Jack was showing signs of reflux. Getting some oatmeal in him, especially before bed, seemed to help. But this meant having available food for him - even on the go. I had to pre-plan if we were going out. Or if we had a spontaneous trip, I had to try to come up with something he could eat. I had to somehow squeeze in an actual lunch - between nursing sessions, naps, diaper changes, plus trying to leave the house occasionally...how was this all going to happen? We had originally intended to do a more Baby Led Weaning approach, but for various reasons, it didn't work out. We started with mostly purees and that meant I had to either have a store-bought puree available, or have access to a blender. That's why I told my mom breastfeeding was the easy part. The hard part was spoon feeding a flailing baby. And getting enough food into his mouth (and not on his face, his hands, his shirt, his hair) that it calmed his reflux.

Somewhere around six months, I got my period back. My supply took a nosedive. Since it was now easy, I didn't really want to give up yet. So I did the oatmeal, gallons of water, Gatorade, Fenugreek thing and brought it back up. Then I got sick. Another nosedive. Then my period again. Oh, and Jack was allergic to sleep at this point, so I was sleeping in 45 minutes intervals. Also not great for milk supply. It was rough. I started giving Jack bottles of pumped milk before bed. I knew my supply was low in the evening (my before-bed pumping dropped from a solid 4-5 ounces to 2 on a good night. On a bad night, less than an ounce) and I wanted to be sure he wasn't going to bed hungry. I'd pump later to make up for the bottle, but I wasn't getting anywhere close to what he was eating. It was disheartening. I felt defeated. I felt like a failure. It took us this long to figure it out and everything was going well and now my body was failing me again. It sucked. I seemed to be producing enough to keep Jack happy during the day, so I decided to just take it day by day.

Bobby was super supportive. He reminded me all the time that this was exactly what my freezer stash was for. There was no reason to just keep saving it. We'd use it up, and then we'd use formula. No big deal. I relaxed a little (even though the speed at which we were/are burning through my stash is a bit alarming), but I'm just taking it a day at a time.

"When did you become such a breastfeeding advocate?"

Around 8-9 months, Jack because super distracted. I was never sure he was eating enough because he'd nurse for less than five minutes at a time. I couldn't really tell if it was because that's all the supply I had, or if he'd just rather play than eat. He was eating massive amounts of solids, and I checked with his pediatrician at his 9-month check up, and he said it was fine. Some kids nurse a lot, some eat a lot of solids, and Jack was healthy, hitting his milestones, so he wasn't worried.

My mom is again responsible for the above quote. She was once again (around 8 months) asking how long I was planning on nursing. I said I didn't know. A year, if I could make it. So she asked, "When did you become such a breastfeeding advocate?" I almost laughed. In fact, I may have. I mean, I'm not really. I'm definitely not a lactivist. I honestly have no opinion on how any other mom chooses to feed her baby. Right now, at this moment, breastfeeding and supplementing with our freezer stash was working. I didn't see any reason to change it.

Now, before this makes my mom sound like a horrible person, she's really not. And I don't mean that she's actually trying to undermine my breastfeeding experience either. When this conversation happened, we were in the pit of our sleep hell. I was getting up 10-12 times a night, and nursing most of those times just to get Jack back to sleep. I know she was saying this because she thought I needed a break. She thought if I wasn't nursing, she and my dad could watch Jack for a whole day and let me sleep (and not worry about pumping). They could even take him for the night. I would stop putting so much pressure on myself to guzzle gallons of water. And stop drinking that nasty tea.

Part of this makes no sense to me, even as I'm writing it. I didn't ever love breastfeeding, I'm not sure why I was so hesitant to stop. Why did even care if we kept going? I have nothing against formula. We even have a bunch of cans in our cupboard that came as samples when I was pregnant. I was using some of the pre-mixed stuff to make things like french toast for Jack. I have no idea what was driving this insane inner need to breastfeed my baby for a year. Before Jack was born, before I was pregnant, I never even thought about breastfeeding. It never once crossed my mind. Even as my friends had kids, I never really noticed who breastfed and who used formula.

When I was pregnant, I decided I'd give nursing a try. Why not? Free milk, right? I figured we'd attempt it, and if it worked, great. If not, we'd supplement. It was the same thought I had about having a natural birth. We'd try - but whatever happened would be fine. (Note: That didn't work. I'm Team C-Section.)

Once Jack was born, I decided I'd at least breastfeed a week. That would be giving it a fair shot. He'd get the "liquid gold" colostrum, get off to a good start, we'd "bond," and if that's all he got, at least he got off to a good start. After a week, things were going okay. I decided to try to make it a month. Then to my 6-week incision check. Then Jack's 2-month appointment. Then 3 months. Then 6. When I was at my height of pumping/storing/building my stash, I thought I might be able to quit breastfeeding on my birthday (Feb 2) and still have enough pumped milk for Jack to make it a year (Apr 8). When I started going though my stash much more quickly than I planned, and not being able to replace it at the same rate, I hoped I could at least quit pumping on my birthday - still nurse during the day, but not have to pump to replace the night bottle or for any other missed feeds. That also didn't happen.

Jack is 10.5 months old. I'm pretty sure I have another month of freezer milk left (including what I'm currently pumping). At 11.5ish months, I've been given the go-ahead to begin transitioning to whole milk. I'll have to recount my frozen ounces again, but I think I can quit pumping at the beginning of March. I'll still be nursing during the day mostly, but start transitioning to more cups with part pumped milk, part whole milk.

But it still isn't easy. In fact, I just made (and ate in 3 days) a batch of lactation cookies. I'm once again doing my best to boost my supply just to make it a year. I really wouldn't care if we had to start supplementing with formula during the day for a few feeds (although Jack hates it - so it would be a battle).

But a few weeks ago, I had this overwhelming sadness that I would make it this far, yet not quite a year. Even if I could only keep one feed, even if it was the 4 a.m. one, I was desperate to keep it. I never have, and still don't, love breastfeeding, but I was just hit with this overwhelming desire to nurse Jack for the last time on the morning of his first birthday. To relive those moments I first held him. To realize how far we've come. From how tiny he felt and how awkward it was for me to try to nurse him the first time. To now. To how awkward it is these days because Jack is half my height and barely fits in my lap. His legs hang off and kick against anything he can get his feet against. To remember that we've sat here and done this every single day; many, many times a day. In many, many ways I'm so ready to wean. No part of me wants to go past a year. But I do want that memory. That picturesque moment in the early hours of his birthday. I'm not a sentimental, emotional person. So the fact that I want this so badly confuses me. But there it is.

I don't know why any of this matters so much to me. Other than calorie burn, I don't know why I didn't just start on formula a long time ago. I have no idea if it's related to infertility, or just my general tendency to be stubborn goal oriented. Whatever the case, for now, I'm pushing on. Maybe I'll make it a year, maybe not. I keep telling myself the same thing I did in the beginning: I'll nurse the next time Jack needs to eat. Maybe that will be the last time, maybe not. I just need to make it through the next feed. One day at a time.