Even before I was pregnant, I was pretty sure that I would breastfeed. It always seemed like the normal, natural thing to do. My mom breastfed my brother and I, and my mother-in-law breastfed all of her kids, so both my husband and I were lucky to have good role models and support from our families. What I didn’t know for sure, even after my daughter was born, was that I would end up breastfeeding her for 2 years.
Although I had a pretty positive view of breastfeeding before I started, I still had a lot of misconceptions about it. The one that stood out to me the most before my daughter was born was that, breastfeeding will hurt. Two good friends had told me this: it hurts so much when you first start, but then you get used to it. One friend described cringing in pain for weeks and needing a constant supply of nipple cream at her side. I came to believe this would be true and it would just be something I would have to power through. It wasn’t until I read The Complete Book of Breastfeeding by Sally Wendkos Olds, that I was confronted with the truth; if breastfeeding hurts, something is wrong. This lesson was reinforced immediately after my daughter was born. In the post delivery euphoria, I noticed that it didn’t hurt. My midwife assured me that everything looked fine and there might be some soreness, but as long as the latch and positioning were good, we would be fine.
Sometimes you need to ignore what your friends and family tell you and sometimes it is the professionals that give you the wrong advice. Our daughter’s doctor when she was born said he was very pro breastfeeding, and I believe he was to a certain extent. He let me feed my daughter in his office after our first visit. He also advised me to make sure my daughter nursed for 15 to 20 minutes on each side at every feeding, to make sure she was getting enough milk. I tried hard to achieve this but my daughter would fall asleep after just five minutes or so. When my daughter was a few weeks old, I went to a La Leche League meeting. There the other women (who are also mothers not “professionals”) told me that my doctor was not exactly right. While it was ok to wake my daughter if she fell asleep after 5 minutes, I didn’t need to time the feedings or make sure they were always the same. The great thing about breastfeeding is there really is no guesswork, your baby will tell you when she is hungry and when she has had enough. Every baby is different and some will nurse for a long time on both sides and some will need shorter, more frequent feedings. Your baby’s consistent growth is the best indication of doing it “right”. The meeting was a great way to get information and support without the pressure that we sometimes feel when we are talking to an “expert”.
At the meeting, I also learned about other great resources that would help me through my breastfeeding journey. Among my favorites are, The Leaky Boob, a blog and website founded by a mom of 6 with lots of great info and support; kellymom.com, a website that provides good practical info such as what medicines you can take when breastfeeding and how to store pumped milk; and The Boob Group, a breastfeeding podcast that covers many specialized topics like exclusive pumping and relactation. The internet can be an amazing thing and if you know where to look you can find great information.
Soon my daughter and I were in the groove. I enjoyed how easy and convenient breastfeeding was after those initial few weeks. No matter what the situation, I had a way to comfort and feed my daughter. That was the catch though, I had to be there to comfort her in this way. I didn’t return to work after my daughter was born, which I was happy about, but being the full time caretaker and primary food source, I did at times feel shackled to my daughter. I did pump but she was never really into using a bottle and at around 6 months she refused it completely. If you are a woman who did go back to work and continued pumping and nursing, you are amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever met a woman who likes pumping, I can only imagine doing it full time must be quite a sacrifice.
Once my daughter started solid food, leaving her became easier, but we both still enjoyed nursing so I decided to keep going. One thing I wasn’t enjoying was night nursing. Another misconception I had was that she would magically stop one day and sleep through the night. At 10 months I realized this wasn’t going to happen and we were both ready for a full night sleep. We used a modified CIO as our sleep training method. This technique is not for everyone. It is hard, but don’t let anyone judge you if this is the route you choose. It worked for us, and after the first difficult night, my daughter woke up her usual happy self and I knew that I hadn’t ruined her or caused her any permanent damage.
Before I got pregnant, I thought breastfeeding toddlers was “weird”. I had a teacher in college who would breastfeed her 4 year old daughter during our classes. To me, it seemed like she was trying to get attention or had something to prove (knowing this particular teacher, I don’t think I am totally wrong in that). As I continued to nurse my daughter beyond her first birthday and into her second year, my attitude changed. Even if she didn’t need it for strictly nutritional reasons, it was still a wonderful bonding and comforting experience for us. We took many a transatlantic flight that were made so much easier because she could nurse to calm down, relax and sleep. It was also easier to distract her from nursing if we were doing something else that required her attention, such as a music class or playgroup. It was a good way to teach her how to focus on one thing at a time and use other ways to comfort herself.
Right before her second birthday, she started nursery school and my husband and I decided to start trying to have another baby. You can nurse while pregnant and even tandem nurse with a newborn, but I decided that it wasn’t for me. I had no idea how to wean my daughter, or how she would react. With the help of other moms who had been there before, I started eliminating one session at a time. I would give her a small snack or let her watch some tv or just have a good cuddle instead. On her second birthday, she nursed for the last time. Surprisingly, neither of us seemed very upset. I was relieved that weaning had gone well. She would occasionally ask for “beebees” and I would tell her, “we are done with that now” and she would move on to something else. Our breastfeeding journey was over.
After those two wonderful years, I learned a lot about myself and my daughter. I learned to listen to my instincts and ask for help when I didn’t know what to do. I also learned not to judge myself or others. If you want to breastfeed for two weeks, six months, or five years, it doesn’t matter as long as you and your baby are happy and healthy. Do what is right for your family and it will all work out.