A Bittersweet End to Our Breastfeeding Journey
As a Certified Lactation Counselor, I was convinced breastfeeding would come easily to me. I assumed I was set up for success: I had the knowledge, the support of a mom and mother-in-law who exclusively breastfed five kids between the both of them, and a very pro-breastfeeding work environment (I work for the WIC program, where we provide nutrition and breastfeeding support to low-income women). As a competitive person (I was a runner in high school and college), of course I approached breastfeeding as a challenge. Boy was I wrong - breastfeeding did NOT come easily to me at all (knowledge does not equal experience!) Siena and I navigated through one hurdle after another: 3 months of latch pain, tongue and lip tie release that required weeks of therapy afterwards, elimination diets for colic and reflux, biting during teething, and pumping while working full-time (which is not fun, especially when you are one of those women who pumps such tiny amounts that you are constantly stressed about not having enough milk for your baby - spoiler alert: she got just what she needed, just look at chunky photos of Siena as a baby!). Even when things got easy, I often had a love-hate relationship with breastfeeding. I loved the bonding time and the health benefits that it provided for my daughter and I (yes there are actually lots of health benefits for mom!). But I would constantly complain about the frequent waking for night nursing sessions, wacky hormones from extended breastfeeding and lack of sleep (menopausal symptoms at 33 years old - no thanks!), and a toddler who was completely boob-addicted with no end in sight.
Well here we are at 32 months, and I think we can say that we are just about weaned. It has been a gradual process over many, many months with no real end goal. We slowly drew boundaries surrounding the when and where of nursing. We started with night weaning (using Dr. Jay Gordon’s awesome gentle night weaning method), then limited nursing sessions to only when home, then to a rocking chair in Siena’s room. We read books on weaning and used a digital timer to slowly cut back sessions. Danny had to take over the bedtime routine for a while, and a lot of distraction was necessary!
So here we are at 32 months, and I can officially say that our journey is slowly coming to an end (cue waterworks!). Siena still tries to latch on occasionally, but maybe for 5 seconds and then she says “yuck” (the taste of milk changes as supply diminishes and hormones level off). When I look back, it seems that I’ve painted a pretty negative picture of breastfeeding, but I am extremely grateful for the experience we had and wouldn’t change a thing. Siena and I reaped benefits that extend beyond those for health, and I found that I actually enjoyed nursing into toddler hood (a huge weight is lifted after 12 months, when you are no longer the sole source of nutrition for your child)!
Obviously not all women have the knowledge and support needed to breastfeed, and this is frustrating as a lactation counselor and mother. In the United States, bottle-feeding was the dominant feeding method for decades after WWII (women entered the workforce, anything modern and scientific was all the rage). As a result, many grandmothers from the Baby Boomer generation have little to no breastfeeding experience to pass onto young mothers today. Demanding work schedules and unsupportive work environments make it near impossible for some women to pump while working. Not all women have access to lactation counselors due to financial constraints. And marketing from formula manufacturers is powerful and does a good job of undermining breastfeeding. I realize that I have been extremely privileged in the knowledge and support that I had going into my breastfeeding experience. There is a great deal of free education material on breastfeeding and free or low-cost breastfeeding support available to help you on your breastfeeding journey - reach out to me and I can point you in the right direction! Best of luck on your breastfeeding journey - and remember that any amount of breastfeeding is great (and this can look different for every parent - exclusive breastfeeding, mixed feeding with formula supplementation, exclusive pumping, donor milk, wet nursing/cross-nursing , induced lactation for adoptive mothers, “chestfeeding” using supplemental nursing systems, etc).