A Year Of Breastfeeding Pt. 2

February 15, 2017

Several weeks ago I started sharing my breastfeeding experience. That post focused a lot on the very beginning of being a breastfeeding mama, the anxiety and challenges + the joy and successes. After becoming accustomed to nursing, and finding our stride as mama and baby, breastfeeding became second nature. I figured out what to expect, and soon enough I was able recognize signs in my body and signs from my baby when it was time to nurse and/or pump. Instinct kicked in and became a leading force in knowing what to do. Expecting mamas hear that all the time, and I truly believe that instinct is a huge part of mothering. 
Speaking of instinct, it's also what I heavily relied on when it came to determining when I would stop breastfeeding. Once I was certain that I would be going forward with nursing, I set a goal to make it to the six-month mark. I didn't know when I would stop being comfortable with nursing a growing baby. Would it be the half year mark? Maybe the year mark? Again, I tried not to put expectations on myself. Instead I set goals.

S I X   M O N T H S   T O   A   Y E A R 

When Greer turned six months old, she had been eating solids for about three weeks. She was still nursing frequently, and heavily relied on milk for her diet and growing body. With my body still producing the exact amount of milk my daughter needed, and then some to freeze, it was an easy decision to keep moving forward with nursing. My body and brain, as well as my baby, told me it just wasn't time to stop. The next goal I set for myself was the one-year-mark. But, I knew that there was no guarantee that I would want to take it that far. 

As six-month mark started to fade into the distance and the one-year mark grew nearer, I kept feeling a sense of finality to breastfeeding. I was ready to stop, ready to take my body back. But, even when my mind was saying, "let's call it day," my body wasn't ready. I paid careful attention to my supply, noticing at one point that I only had enough milk for two feedings. Once in the morning and once at night. This is when I relied heavily on all of the frozen milk I had been storing up since Greer's birth. Through the frozen supply she was still getting the amount of milk she needed, just instead of nursing, she would take a bottle. We did this for a couple of months until my supply dropped once again. This time I only had enough for one feeding, and it wasn't a lot. I cut the nighttime nursing, and instead gave her a bottle of breastmilk so that I could make sure she was getting enough milk to fill her belly and hold her through the night. From then out, she nursed first thing in the morning followed by eating breakfast. This continued for the last month and half of nursing.

I eventually ran out of my frozen supply with three weeks left until my girl turned one. My first huge storage of frozen milk was ruined when the freezer it was being stored in lost power, thawing the milk. I cried ugly tears, y'all. They call breastmilk liquid gold for a reason. But, I was thankful to have stored up double that in the following months, which carried us almost to the end, sixteen days until her first birthday. With Greer's physician's approval, we gave her cows milk for all of her feedings, with the exception of the early morning nursing session. She transitioned so smoothly, which was a blessing because we had no extra breastmilk to ease the transition if she didn't do well.

The morning of Christmas Day was our last time nursing, though I didn't know it at the time. I knew my supply was little to none, and Greer was mostly nursing for comfort and routine. She was successfully drinking cow's milk with no problem or allergy, and I the day after Christmas I heard my body say, "Now it's time to stop." So, I listened and closed up shop. 

Weaning myself from breastfeeding was something I started dreading about the time Greer hit eight months. I knew it was coming, but dreaded how my body would handle it. In large part, it's why I kept nursing the second half of her first year. In hindsight, I know it's because my body wasn't ready to stop. And at that point in time I was happy to oblige, if only to put the unknown off a bit longer.

As it turns out, we had been unintentionally weaning as my supply dropped. By paying attention to my body and my baby, I determined that she was no longer getting enough from me at a certain point. And as I mentioned, that's when we introduced the frozen milk heated in a bottle. Looking back, I know that eliminating one feeding, then two, then three over the course of weeks is what did the trick. Hence, it wasn't difficult to end breastfeeding. My right breast emptied immediately, while my left took about two weeks. I experienced a clogged duct most of that time, and only pumped when I was uncomfortable. I think during those 14 days I pumped two or three times. And without realizing it, the left breast finally caught up, and just like that it was over. 

If you're feeling anxious about weaning, my best advice is not to push it, and let it happen naturally. Don't rush it nor force it. Your body was miraculous enough to grow a baby and then to produce milk to sustain your baby. So it will certainly know what to do when it's time to wean. Breathe easy, my friend, your body has this one under control. I wish someone had told me such insight in the throes of my worries. 

M Y   W  H Y

I've always viewed breastfeeding as my choice, for my well-being first. If it was going to be something that troubled me, it wasn't going to be good for me nor my daughter. Though this may sound selfish, I never wanted to put myself in a position to resent an aspect of motherhood. For me, being the best mama I can be relies on doing what is right for me, taking exceptional care of myself in order to take exceptional care of my child. I knew all of the benefits of breastmilk for baby and breastfeeding for mama, which is why I pushed through my initial stigma of nursing. And I'm glad I did. I was able to provide the nutrients my baby needed, which made me feel empowered and proud of what my body was capable of doing. It was so rewarding as I watched her grow and gain weight. I kept thinking, "I did that!"

My biggest reason for giving breastfeeding a try was not having to wonder "what if," had I chosen not to breastfeed. I gave myself knowledge about nursing and the experience too, which as a combination, is sometimes how we can make the best decision. I say all of this, though, knowing that had I gone the way of formula, my daughter would be no less the healthy, bouncing, full-of-energy, toddler that she is now. I'm thankful for my decisions and how they played out in my first year of motherhood, but this in no way declares that it's right for all mothers. So mamas, don't you feel bad or carry guilt if nursing just didn't feel right for you or simply didn't work out!

Feeling right and healthy as a breastfeeding woman is also something your body will tell you; it will be the first to alert you, so be sure to listen. From mastitis to several rounds of clogged ducts, and two incidents of being bitten (we kicked that quick, my friends), I experienced my share of the ugly side of breastfeeding. Even while taking the best care of myself, I wasn't exempt from the transition and acclimation body made as it began producing milk, leveled out my supply, and then started to drop my supply. Both mastitis and clogged ducts are horrible, but mastitis also leaves you with a fever and flu-like symptoms. Utilize a lactation consultant to help your breasts stabilize again. Wether it's a prescription for mastitis or a clean baby diaper soaked in hot water as a source of compression and heat to put on your breast for a clogged duct (yes, it really works) , there are a lot of differnt ways to help yourself. Be your own advocate, and make sure to take care of your body so that it can keeping taking care or your little. If it happens to you, know that you aren't the only one to experience it. I did, and so do countless other woman. Forge on, mama!

N O W   T H A T   I T ' S   O V E R
I thought I would be so sad to stop my breastfeeding journey. But, I wasn't, and I think it's because I let me body make the decision, which felt natural. Greer handled the end to nursing so well too. For the two weeks after we stopped, she would pat my chest when she was ready for milk, but gladly took the bottle. And that was the extent to any confusion she may have felt. It's been almost two months now since I stopped nursing, and ladies, I must say that it is SO nice to have my body back. And my girl is thriving on nutrient-packed meals and 19-21 ounces of milk a day, divided up between two naps and bedtime. We successfully breastfed for one year and four days, and that is what I call a win. 

I'm thankful for the opportunity and the ability to breastfeed. It's something that not all women get to share with their baby, and I don't take it for granted. It was a beautiful experience that I would have robbed myself of, had I not just taken a leap of faith. Though breastfeeding is a sacrifice, it is also a joy and a privilege. I can't properly share my story if I don't share all of it, and I hope in this post and the last post, I've done just that. From the highs and lows of my year of breastfeeding, my hope is that I have been able to encourage and inspire you.

Photo by the talented Rachel Wells Photography.