The Breastfeeding Diaries: Brianna's Story

October 29, 2014

 It is rare that as adults, we learn something that is completely and utterly new. Something that we have never done before, have never talked about, or have never even thought about doing. But motherhood changes everything. It not only makes you do things you have never done before, it makes you want to do them. It makes you want to do whatever you can to give your best to your baby. Breastfeeding, along with natural birth, was one of the first decisions I knew I could make for my baby and I wanted to do it right.

I think this is what originally attracted me to the breastfeeding class I took when I was pregnant with my daughter. As a first time mom just a short way from her Ph.D., I wanted to be educated and I wanted to be ready. This was my first experience learning about the science of breastfeeding, needs of the nursing mom and baby, breastfeeding positions, how dad can help, what troubles I might have, and how to advocate for myself as a breastfeeding mother in the hospital and beyond. We held plastic babies, we said the words boobs, breasts, and nipples out loud, and we imagined ourselves replacing the doll with our sweet little babies. But, more than anything, we learned. I attribute my 24 months of breastfeeding success to that class.

I got to nurse my baby within hours of her birth, which is exactly what I wanted. It was even written in my birth plan, which thank goodness, was followed to a t. Despite some complications from her birth and with her health, we got off to a relatively good start. The day we were supposed to go home, she was diagnosed with jaundice. I thought it was the end of the world, which of course was an overreaction of a first time mom. While our experience of seeing our tiny baby in an incubator with bright lights directly on her new skin and feeding her through a syringe was heartbreaking, I was mostly terrified that this 24 hours away from her would ruin our breastfeeding relationship, that she would forget everything she had learned about nursing in her 2 days of life, and that she would forget I was there with her, for her. I couldn’t hold her, I couldn’t cuddle her, and I couldn’t nurse her. I could only watch her and listen to her cry as I hooked myself up to a pump every two hours on the hour so she could drink my milk at the very least. The first thing I did when she was out of the incubator was to nurse her and I felt so relieved when she latched right on. I know many moms have gone through/are going through much worse, but these are just some of the things, no matter how trivial, you can’t prepare for as a new mom no matter how many classes you take and books you read.

In the class and in all the reading I did to prepare, I was told about the physical pain that comes from breastfeeding. I don’t remember ever feeling physical pain, not at all. My tubes of nipple cream I had purchased pre-baby were either donated to friends or tossed. The pain I felt was of a different kind. My newborn baby needed or wanted to nurse almost every hour for an hour in the beginning, or at least this is what I thought so I responded to her. Keeping steady with my goal to wait for a bottle until after at least four weeks, I was in pain, pure emotional exhaustive pain. I wanted to nurse my daughter and I did, again, and again, and again. I don’t know how I was doing it, but I was and without help. One night I was alone in the living room with her nursing again and I felt tears running down my cheeks and I was thinking to myself, “Why didn’t anyone prepare me for this? Why wasn’t I ready for this?” I remember closing my eyes and praying that when I opened them she would be asleep, her eyes closed too. At that point at about 3 weeks, I decided to go ahead and give her the bottle. I pumped a bit, gave a bottle and slept a tiny bit through my fears that she would never latch again. Well, of course she did and things kept getting better and better and our breastfeeding relationship got very strong.
We’ve gone through our ups and downs. I vaguely remember the frequent feedings and night waking, trouble with night weaning, side lying and co-sleeping just to get a few extra minutes of rest, a few bites with new teeth here and there, and her phase of pinching, grabbing, and scratching my arms and chest while nursing to the point of welts and sometimes blood that I couldn’t break her of for over two months. What I do remember vividly are the happy moments, when she just absolutely cannot stay awake while nursing and her eyes open and close so heavily until she drifts off, when she smiles up at me and milk spills out of the corner of her mouth, the first time I tried to sing her to sleep sweetly while nursing and she looked up at me and laughed, when she pulls off to look for her Papi (her dad) and after she finds him she smiles and comes right back to the breast fully satisfied that she knows where everyone is that she loves, when I tickle her right after nursing and she is wriggling on my lap, when I get home from work and she comes and hugs me and leads me to our nursing chair saying mamá ven! (come on, mom!)
One day I looked down and I wondered where my baby was. First, she fit beautifully on her boppy, next her legs could touch the inside of the chair on the other side and she was practicing her stretching and kicking skills, then her legs went over the arm of the chair, then she was testing her physical limits while attached to me by attempting to stand, dance, roll over while nursing. Then she started signing please and milk, reaching for my shirt. All of the sudden she was saying moke (milk) and más (more) and otro (the other), and boobie, and then began walking sleepily into my room in the morning to nurse. I am left wondering when this all happened.
My first goal was a year. I was so thrilled that we made it but I was also nervous about what other people would think because we were still nursing. I have heard so many times that people stopped nursing at a year but the only thought in mind was “she doesn’t know she is a year old and it is unfair to take something away from her because of an arbitrary date or rule.” So we continued. We are considered an extended nursing pair. Well past the breastfeeding norm of society in the United States. At around 18 months I sometimes felt like I was still treating her like a small baby, nursing on demand which was still 2-4 times a day, letting her doze off on the breast, bringing her into bed with us after she wakes up in the morning and curling up with her cold toes.

I held on tight when I heard someone talk about the benefits of extended nursing such as the health benefits of the mother’s milk or the fact that nursing satisfies a young child’s inherent need for dependency so she can be more independent later. Some say that there are no long-term benefits of extended nursing. But to be quite honest, our nursing relationship was in the moment not in the future. I was not looking down at my daughter while nursing thinking wow she is going to be so smart and healthy just because we nursed for so long! Instead, I was thinking wow, I love her, I am glad I am doing this for her, with her, right now. We were nursing because we wanted to nurse. I thought to myself, when we no longer want to nurse, we will no longer be nursing. As my daughter approached her second birthday, I thought about weaning a lot, probably every day. I thought about when and how we would do it, and how we would feel. Most of all, I felt that if I forced it I would regret it. When she was weeks away from turning two, we began lightly weaning together. She was down to nursing once in the mornings and sometimes she even forgot she wanted to. By the time she turned two, the time was right for us to end our breastfeeding relationship and morning nursing was replaced with morning cuddles and chats. We are both happy and I have no regrets knowing that that beautiful chapter of our lives has ended and our little girl and mommy relationship is just beginning.

To go back to the first paragraph where I wrote that motherhood makes you do things you never have done before. I want to change my wording. I want to say now that motherhood has let me have the most wonderful experience that not everyone has or can. To put it bluntly, I feel special and I feel blessed. My daughter has given me a gift that no one else could, one that I will never forget. My advice to new moms is to do what you feel is right and learn to advocate for yourself. The most important people to think about as you make breastfeeding decisions are yourself and your baby. Here’s to happy memories and happy babies!

Be sure to catch up with the rest of the Breastfeeding Diaries at the top of my navigation bar.



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5 Comments »

5 Responses to “The Breastfeeding Diaries: Brianna's Story”

  1. Love this! I breastfed my oldest until she was 28 months old (at the end I was pregnant and then tandem nursing). I let my daughter wean herself. It was the best experience of our (my) life thus far. I have been lucky that I can nurse my children easily and both have enjoyed nursing. Currently I am 7.5 months into my second nursing relationship which proves to be just as magical and rewarding (and different) than my first!

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  2. This is such a sweet story -- thanks for sharing your journey. I was an unsuccessful breastfeeder, but would have loved to have had the extended nursing sessions you got with your daughter. I think it's awesome you nursed for 2 years. You go, mama!

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  3. Love this story.I breastfed both of my sons and was so thankful I didn't give up when my first born was jaundiced and could not nurse for 48 hours.It was such a struggle to get him to latch on after having been bottle fed by the Nurses.I was so determined to give my newborn the health benefits of breast feeding. So glad I had this experience and bonding with my babies. Thank you for sharing this story. You have a beautiful family.

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  4. i love this! my daughter is almost 16 months and is nursing more now than she did at 10 months and sometimes i worry how weaning will end. thanks for sharing this!

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  5. "I thought it was the end of the world, which of course was an overreaction of a first time mom." Totally relate! I was fortunate to be able to breastfeed while doing Light Therapy, so thankful for that little luxury. We also breastfed for 2 years. I have a 3 month old now and can only hope we have the same wonderful experience, and so far so good! Thanks for sharing your beautiful story!
    Whitney

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