Fair warning to any men who are reading, this post is about breastfeeding — so feel free to stop reading if this is TMI for you.
How does a mom decide when to stop breastfeeding and wean her baby? Baby Boy is nearly 7 months, so this is a topic that has been on my mind constantly. There are so many schools of thought on this — everything from “formula is always fine” all the way to “I breastfed my baby until he/she was 3 or 4 years old”. Most of the more moderate people I talk to say to aim for a year, which seemed like a super easy number to hit when I was pregnant. For some reason I had it in my head that OTHER women might have issues breastfeeding, but I would put in enough effort to not have any problems, and I would stick it out. Funny how naive and judgmental that sounds to me now….
To give a little background on my way of thinking, I am not completely against Western medicine, but I do try to exhaust other options first. I don’t like to run to the doctor at the first sign of a sniffle, but I’m not going to refuse lifesaving treatments just to prove a point. I just believe that my body is basically designed to heal itself, and as long as I keep it healthy my body should be well equipped to deal with most things on its own. I didn’t have any medications, or even an IV, when I had Baby Boy. We saw a midwife instead of a doctor, and prepared to let everything happen naturally. Everything went great, but I didn’t stop bleeding after the delivery, and had to be given an IV and some medication to stop it. I still find it ironic that I made it all the way through delivery with no IV or pain meds, but had to get an IV anyway after everything was over.
I knew from the start I wanted to breastfeed. I don’t like processed foods, and no matter now great they make formula, it will always have preservatives and chemicals in it. In the hospital it felt really weird to breastfeed — Baby Boy didn’t seem to want to each much or very often, but the nurses didn’t seem concerned about it so I didn’t stress. The second day he had lost a bit of weight, so the nurse watched me breastfeed for a minute, then grabbed my boob and shoved it halfway into Baby Boy’s mouth. For the record, there is nothing more weird and unnerving to a first time mother than a nurse telling you to squish your boob into a sandwich, and stuff it as far in your baby’s mouth as it will go. I felt retarded, and like I had no idea what I was doing, but I just went with it. My fears were somewhat grounded though, because on our day 4 doctor’s appointment, he had lost way too much weight, and the pediatrician was freaking out. He gave Baby Boy 2 ounces of formula right there, and the poor boy was in a food coma for 6 hours–at least 3 times as long as he’d ever slept at one time. We got me a nursing shield and moved on with our lives, and Baby Boy did great with it.
At six weeks I went back to work part time, and this is where it started to get tricky. I had been trying to store up breast milk in the freezer, and I thought I had a pretty impressive stash for the babysitter. It lasted a very unimpressive 3 weeks, and we began leaving emergency formula in the diaper bag in case he went through the pumped milk before I got home. This was about the time I started feeling inadequate, like there was something I was doing wrong that I couldn’t quite produce enough to feed Baby Boy by myself. As I went back to work full time, this only got worse. The reality of a fast paced full time job is that you just don’t have the time to pump as often as your baby would be eating if you were with him/her. I tried to pump at least twice a day, but I was (and still am) lucky just to pump once in a ten hour shift. By the end of the work week, my supply would start getting smaller. I would spend the weekend building it up again, and the cycle would start all over.
I’ve been living in that cycle for 5 months now, and I have to admit my ability to cope with it is not doing very well anymore. This week has been particularly hard. I have a bad cold, but I can’t take anything because it will either reduce my supply (decongestants) or make my milk unhealthy for him (antibiotics or other OTC meds). I don’t mean to complain, but I would give my left arm for a DayQuil right now…
The obvious answer to these issues is to wean Baby Boy and have my body back to myself again. While that seems logical, and a part of me really wants that, there is still a huge part of me that isn’t ready to let go of that bonding time no matter what it is costing me. I’m not ready for my baby to be old enough to even think about weaning — where did last 7 months go?? But the more issues we have and the more my supply wanes, the more I wonder if continuing to breastfeed will be an emotional burden rather than the blessing that it is. It’s amazing to me that God made me able to feed my baby with nothing but my body, and I appreciate that ability and the deep connection that give us. The only problem is, the more we have issues — the more he refuses to breastfeed but is willing to take a bottle for instance — the more I wonder what I’ve done to my body to make it unable to provide for my child, and I feel an incredible guilt about it. Baby Boy is only getting about 60% breast milk right now, and no matter how many supplements I take my supply seems to be pretty steady where it is. I’m really debating slowly switching to formula over the next month, but that nagging voice in the back of my head keeps telling me that I’m being selfish, and I really just want to be able to ditch the pump, the nursing pads, and the nursing bras. Nursing is such a blessing, but it is an incredible amount of work, and I just don’t know if I have it in me anymore.
How was your experience nursing? Did you have any issues, and if so, did you have any guilt about them? How did you get over those feelings and start to feel ok about weaning?