Every single person’s breastfeeding story is different, so I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this is Gwen’s and my story alone. That said, I am very vocal about my love of breastfeeding, and I couldn’t pass up on the chance to talk about the evolution of the breastfeeding relationship.
The Beginning of the Breastfeeding Relationship
I find myself now in the “extending breastfeeding” stage (or, as the world outside the U.S. calls it…breastfeeding. Period). But like everyone we started out in the newborn stage. There is nothing like that moment when they put your fresh, new baby on your chest. To hold them and breathe them in after 9 months of anticipation is magical. All the waiting, all the wondering, and now they are here!
If you are a breastfeeding mama, then there is also nothing like the first time you put your new little nursling to the breast. Whether they latch on right away, or take some adjusting and assistance to get their first meal, it is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying knowing that you are now not only a loving protector, but a source of food! You wonder if its working correctly, if they are getting enough.
This might be the hardest, and maybe the best stage. The need, oh that constant need! Its overwhelming, but also amazingly comforting and affirming. Your baby needs you! And if breastfeeding, they need you a lot. Anywhere from every 3 hours, to every 45 minutes. For some it comes easy, for others not so much. Gwen and I didn’t have it easy, but we didn’t have it hard either. She had a good latch, though she had a definite side preference, which led to a few issues with engorgement and some time thanking my lucky stars I’d already gotten a pump so I could get enough out so she could even think of latching! There were times that my sleepy babe would eat for only a few minutes before blissing out into sleep…only to wake still hungry 15 minutes later and repeat the process!
As those first days, then weeks pass, you worry, but you also learn together. Soon enough a feat that initially required 2 pillows, special positioning, and at least one more hand then was actually available is now, if not second nature, at least a heck of a lot easier! One pillow to prop your arm, pull out your breast, and off they go.
Getting into the Flow of Breastfeeding
Finally, you hit the ease stage. Suddenly you are say, “This is what they were talking about. I can just do it. Without special pillows or feeling like I need more hands.” Nursing sessions can be spent enjoying the little one snuggling against you. If you’re like me, they can be used for a number of other things as well: using the laptop to catch up on a few emails, reading out loud to your babe, actually getting some food in your own belly (I always tried to grab a snack before sitting down to nurse), or just taking a few moments to breathe. Enjoy this stage… its a good one.
The Distractible Period
Before you know it, those little helpless babies are becoming distractible infants! They want to know about everything around them, and the boob, which once got undivided attention is now only one amazing thing, surrounded by lots of amazing things. A whole new set of challenges arises now. Keeping your babe focused long enough to get a full meal in gets a little more challenging and you might find yourself with a nipple out in the breeze more then once. This is when we had a few issues with clogged ducts from uneven drain of the breast.
From there you pass into the wonder that is Toddler Boobnastics. Suddenly your little sweet, cuddly baby is a wiggly toddler, always on the move. That includes time spend on the breast! Their legs are up, they twist, they turn, arms go flying, and you might just learn the meaning of the term “Gumby Nipple” (ouch!). There are periods of frustration…that quiet, peaceful activity that was nursing has become a full contact sport.
Eventually though, there is ease again. Quiet moments. Snuggles. Comfort. If your child is like mine, there seems to come a point when nursing is the only still time you have together, bookended by running, jumping, playing.
Of course, sprinkled throughout all of these stages are the what ifs and whens. At the beginning its, “What if they aren’t getting enough?” Then, “What if going back to work/pumping/taking a night to myself hurts my supply?” “When will they stop nursing at night?” Then the big one, “When will they be done completely?”
Not everyone has hit all of the stages that Gwen and I have hit (nor does everyone want to), but we all hit the next stage… weaning. That is what Gwen and I have left. I have alternately dreaded it and looked forward to it. Right now, dreading it and looking forward to it in equal measure. We are past the things that made me yearn to be free; I can skip feedings now, and I don’t ever pump. My girl is so big, and this is one of the last things that make her seem “little” to me. I won’t miss the newly resurfaced joy of sore nipples, but I will miss the “just-us thing.” However, there are some things that I’m looking forward to doing in the near future which may not be conducive to nursing anymore.
Gwen is 3 now, and everyday I see her do new things, big kid things. She skips days more frequently and more easily, and sometimes comments that “there are no milkies in that one today” or that she’s having trouble getting the milkies out. My plan is still to let Gwen lead the way, just as she did with night weaning, though I find myself doing things to gently encourage her growing ability to be without. I know our days are numbered, and I don’t want to rush them away, only to miss them later.
Looking back, I think that every stage is really the best, in its own way. I’m so lucky I got to experience them all.
Addendum: Since writing this post, Gwen has started and almost completed the weaning process on her own. About a month after she turned 3 she chose not to nurse a few nights in a row, and after only one or two nights reverting to nursing, that session was completely dropped. Also on her own she has started sleeping in later in the mornings, until after I’m already in the shower, and thus does not nurse in the mornings either. As of printing, she is nursing only once or twice a week, on the weekend in the morning. More often she is skipping that session as well, and simply falling back asleep when coming to bed with us. I think we will be completely done within a month.
Meegs is a breastfeeding, babywearing, sometimes bedsharing mama… and a hippie at heart. An easy-going girl who loves tattoos, food (cooking it, and eating it!) and the outdoors; she loves spending her free time with her husband, their spirited daughter, Gwen, and their pup, Daisy. Meegs finds her online home at A New Day.
I hit every stage you’ve described with both of mine, although my first self-weaned a week before she turned one (I was 6 months along with #2) and my second self-weaned at 14 months. Your post brought back a lot of smiley memories.
Aw, I’m so glad this brought back good memories!
I nursed 5 and it was a wonderful experience for all of us. However, I only actively weaned once; for each of the pregnancies my milk ran out or became yucky and that was that for child involved. No more interest. My final child nursed until about 40 months, and I cannot even recall how the weaning went, although I recall deciding it was time to stop. It must have been very gradual, because she was almost weaned before she broke her leg around her third birthday, and then we started up again.