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.
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!