Nearly three years ago, I found out I was expecting my first baby. I felt in my gut and womb and chest and heart that there was no other option but to breastfeed that baby. I didn’t really know what breastfeeding looked like or why I needed to do it (after all, alternatives do exist). I suppose it seemed as preposterous as the fact that a baby was now living off my placenta, an organ my body was in the process of crocheting to the wall of my uterus like some seamstress magician. And so I didn’t question that a baby would, in fact, be living off my breast in the very near future.
Planning During Pregnancy
Okay. I felt wary and almost embarrassed to admit that I intended to do it. I was incredibly protective of what I knew to be a sacred intention.
“I mean, I’ll try it and hope it works,” I told anyone who asked, quickly adding, “I know many women can’t so if I can’t, I won’t get down about it.”
Who was I trying to convince exactly? I feared that others would take pity on me. I imagined they thought, “Oh honey, don’t set yourself up for disappointment… what if you can’t?” But deep down, I knew I’d be sorely disappointed if I couldn’t.
At the time, I believed that a woman isn’t supposed to want to breastfeed (it’s hard and painful and sucks the life out of you, didn’t you hear??) and that it would be creepy for a woman to like her baby nursing on her breast. I didn’t worry about the latter part because I disliked my breasts being touched intimately and assumed this feeling would carry on into nursing practice. It sounds ridiculous now (obviously, breastfeeding a baby is not a sexual pleasure; a woman’s body is rather CLEVER and it knows; it does not get this confused), but I hadn’t yet experienced any other functions of my breasts besides making bikini shopping a hassle and making a nightmare out of junior high locker room changes.
“I’ll do it because it’s best, but I won’t like it, I already know.”
This is what I thought, as if it would reveal something unsavory about me to admit out loud that breastfeeding might be, God forbid, satisfying for myself as a mother. Ultimately, it didn’t matter what I did or didn’t say out loud because pregnancy has a way of revealing more about a mother-to-be’s body and personal experiences than she probably wishes.
The first sign that I was pregnant — other than suddenly retaining 1/8th of my body weight in water and feeling like Michelin Man seemingly overnight — was evidenced in my breasts. The areolas were darker and grew to saucers; a network of blue veins crossed my white skin like an invisible ink Treasure Island map fully exposed; there was a vital, oversensitive weight to my chest that my petite frame had never before known.
Eight positive pregnancy tests later (I was convinced I must have unknowingly consumed a poppy seed!), I confirmed that my body was indeed gearing up for the immediate and future nourishment of another person inside me. About eight months later, after burying myself in research about the birth process, baby supplies, diapers, circumcision, and everything else, I finally started to think about the logistics of feeding my son when he left the womb. I had no real world understanding of what to expect. I myself was formula-fed, as was my husband for the most part. I had no friends at the time who breastfed — only those who’d attempted it, became flummoxed for one of various horror-story scenarios, and said goodbye with great relief.
The Very First Latches
I started having contractions on the day I’d always imagined MaiTai would be ready, November 27th. After thirty-four hours of contractions (only six hours of active labor), MaiTai was born at 1:28 a.m. on November 29th. (I won’t delve into the labor and birth here, as that’s a whole other story to share in a separate post). So he emerged between my legs, and I immediately felt compelled to pull him up over my soft belly and to my chest. The moment was somehow standing still, yet everything was happening so fast.
I realized I was still wearing the white cotton sports bra that I’d worn to the hospital. I’d purposely kept it on because that room was frigid as a morgue for Antarctic penguins, and I intended to remove it before the glorious first skin-to-skin moment — but you know, labor happened. I can’t remember how I managed to strip it off over my head with a vernix-slimy newborn in my arms, but I do recall feeling dumb for having forgotten about it. In this timely “A-Ha!” moment, I learned that the first step to breastfeeding is: Get the bra out of the way.
We attempted a first feeding within a half-hour after his birth. The hospital lactation nurse watched as I settled his head on the target and he made little whispers of movement with his mouth on my left nipple, licking a bit with his tongue but apparently not interested in engaging it otherwise.
“He’s too tired, he’s just playing with it,” the nurse scoffed, frustrated with me, or perhaps him. My enthusiasm deflated a bit, I got discouraged, and gave up for the time being. I figured I’d try again once we got set up in our recovery room. The Designated Dad snapped a few pictures of me holding him close while the staff readied the room. In this photo, he was very clearly rooting. He was ready to get back on the nipple. I had no idea what his nursing cues were, or what normal newborn behavior looked like, so I totally missed his signals for my breast presented to his wanting mouth. All I knew was what I was told: “He’s too tired to nurse right now. You’ll have to wait until later on.”
So that’s what I believed then, but I know better now.
So, uh, thanks for the heads up, hospital staff? Allow me to sit here with my rooting baby, just posing for pictures, like some damn idiot. Anyway!
Enjoying the lovely post-birth high, I thought: Breastfeeding can’t be that hard. Nothing can be harder than what I just did. That natural high allowed me to entertain the greatest hopes in the world. I figured, how hard could it be? All the other breastfeeders manage to figure it out, so we can too.
But then, getting MaiTai to latch proved difficult. I thought this was supposed to come naturally! I heard that babies needed to be taught how to latch, but I hadn’t really believed it. He was simply too tired to do the work (and so was I). I requested help from the lactation nurse, who waltzed into our room several hours after we summoned her, then immediately dove her hand into my gown, pancaked a boob with a rather unsympathetic grip, and without a question asked, introduction exchanged, or any further ado, she alternated between shoving my poor boob in my baby’s mouth and squeezing out some colostrum onto his lips to entice him to open up wider.
I quickly forgave her frenetic impatience with us. She did work some magic, after all — pretty sure her name was Glinda the Good Witch of South Texas Hospitals.
Thankfully, my transition milk also started coming in before I’d left the hospital the day after birth. Once MaiTai overcame his sleepiness, he boasted an impeccably ideal, duck-bill latch that transferred milk quite efficiently.
MaiTai barely lost weight after birth (a certain amount is expected and standard with any normal birth) so I began feeling confident that nursing was going well. However, I suspected that the lactation nurse’s wonder touch deserved all the uncontested credit — I worried about whether I could replicate the nurse’s same latch-perfecting sorcery when we got home, a land where no on-call professional help awaited.
Reality Hit Home
The weight of responsibility started to crowd me once we settled back into our house. Just like labor and birth, no one could bear the needs and nourishments of my baby for me. Though he’d left the internal cavern of my body, he was still wholly dependent upon it for survival. He would be an extension of my breasts like he’d been an extension of his umbilical cord to my placenta. Around this junction is when the reality set in. Oh, so THIS is why breastfeeding is so hard and scary at first.
I’d received a packet in the hospital that directed me to nurse x number of times per day. Ha! You simply can’t count times for a newborn though, can you? What exactly counts as a “breastfeeding time/session” — especially when latching on and off? Cluster feeding? Sleep nursing? One side only, or both? How about feeding for an hour, taking a 30 minute break, then feeding again for another 10?
At this stage, all I did was nurse. It was all I did. I mean it. Literally. Of the things I did, nursing was all of it. Sure, MaiTai stopped when he was done. But my non-nursing moments were spent getting ready for the next feeding or cleaning up from the session that just-finished (if I was lucky). By the time I was done, so was “break time”: MaiTai was already crying to drink again as if he’d never been fed in his life. I accepted this as normal, and such a reality can be so. But what no one explained to me was a little something called… storage capacity (A-ha! Read more about that here).
Breastfeeding demands and frustrations were most intense during the first two weeks. I didn’t know what I was doing, I was just doing it. Of course, two weeks in a postpartum woman’s life is more like a month when you consider that she’s still physically recovering from childbirth; her body is feverishly overproducing milk for a baby with a not-yet-determined growth pattern standard (read more about how that works here); she’s mentally stuck in the throes of processing her raw and life-altering birth experience (you’ll read about mine later, promise); and a woman especially in Western culture is likely emotionally unsettled by the idea that she’s doing everything all wrong.
Most of my learning came from literally having no time to think about what I was doing. I simply just “did.” MaiTai would cry, I would bring him to the breast (I learned that one should not bring the breast to the infant, as long as he’s able to latch on his own, which MaiTai was).
At first we doggedly kept detailed and critically accurate logs of his diaper outputs, nursing frequencies and durations, all to ensure he was meeting all his medically-approved development standards. I worried constantly about MaiTai’s weight gain because our caregivers liked to overemphasize the matter of numbers and charts and percentiles (plus I struggled through unameliorated postpartum anxiety that persisted for 18 months, but that’s another story for another day). He regained his birth weight in a few days and doubled it by six weeks, in spite of my nagging worries.
The obsessive record-keeping turned out to be more frustrating than revealing anything we couldn’t glean from attentive observation alone. (Again, postpartum anxiety… what a slave-driving bitch she is!). What was obvious without need for written record is that our baby was healthy, happy, roly-poly and clearly thriving on my breast milk alone.
Nursing in Public for the First Time
Ah, so there’s also the first time we nursed — deep breath — in public. Like actual public, not in the car or a bathroom (I’ve never ever ever nursed in a public bathroom, FYI!).
I was strolling a decently populated grocery store aisle with MaiTai chest-to-chest in his carrier. He started crying. I glanced around nervously, embarrassed that I wouldn’t know how to console my own baby, especially with strangers hearing, and maybe even watching.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay baby, what’s the matter?”
Louder, more shrieky crying, an increasingly contorted, reddening face. I knew EXACTLY what was the matter. Well, this is it, I thought. This is that moment when I nurse in public for the first time. I wanted to consider my options: Quickly nest up on the floor like we do at home? Rush out to the car where it’s more quiet? Jack a pacifier from the baby supplies section and see if he’ll accept it?
But there was no time.
You think a baby crying of hunger is loud and damn annoying? Trust me, it’s a hundred decibels louder and in the category beyond annoying (it’s downright frightening) for the baby’s mother. I’ll admit, I had a poor plan for finding my breast in that structured carrier. I was truly in the blind. In the early months, I liked to drape a cover over MaiTai to thwart well-meaning but potentially germ-ridden strangers who were sure to find him irresistible to the touch. So in my frantic boob-digging under a cover and between a carrier, it was like trying to get my hands around a slippery ocean eel — no matter how I attempted to lift and contort the breast, it just didn’t seem to want to be gripped well enough to reach MaiTai’s open, waiting mouth.
I drew in a breath, wiped my sweaty palms off on my jeans (okay, spit-up decorated sweatpants) and tried again. I peeled away that stupid cover, got my milk-bulging breast into MaiTai’s mouth, and the world fell into a sudden peaceful silence.
Wow, we’re really doing this! I thought. I began naturally shimmying us closer to the shelves, hoping to get across to any onlookers that this was no-biggie… just actin’ casual over here… yep we’re just checking out the canned tomato selection… boy, it sure is interesting! Then from behind, I felt a tap on my shoulder.
Oh shit oh shit oh shit.
I think I’m going to cry.
But then I heard: “Good for you for feeding your baby!”
I turned hesitantly to face a mother somewhat older than me, with a school-aged child at her feet and a toddler among produce in a cart before her. She flashed me a huge, bright smile — I could’ve counted all her teeth. A thumbs-up of encouragement written on her face. She strolled away as quickly as she’d stopped.
And then, I cried.
Oh shit indeed.
Introducing a Pacifier & Bottle
We waited a month to introduce a bottle. I took to the pump just fine after lots of technical difficulties (more on that later). I felt very protective over nursing MaiTai and was incredibly devastated and emotional about the fact that his daddy was giving him my milk. It felt weird, violating, and wrong. It made me feel aggressive almost. But I kept my feelings submerged below an accepting smile because I also knew that if we were going to get any time to ourselves in the near future, our baby would need to be fed by someone else this way (no one had informed me about the option of cup feeding back then, or its benefits over bottles).
He was given bottles only on rare special occasions of my absence from one to four months old, then he began drinking my breast milk from bottles on a more regular weekly basis. MaiTai took his bottles just fine but the manner in which he was bottle-fed wasn’t consistent among his caregivers, so naturally he suffered from gas, excessive spit-up, being overfed, and other issues that could’ve been sidestepped by breastfeeding instead. Still, though I felt (needlessly) guilty, I began to recognize his weekly bottle as a godsend because that time away from the constant obligation helped free some of the compounding stress I felt from postpartum depression and anxiety (that’s another story in itself).
Once I stopped needing this “freedom” time for my baseline sanity and MaiTai’s nursing demands lightened, I decided that babysitter bottles would no longer be necessary. He drank from his last bottle at seven months old. With any future child, we plan to explore the method of cup-feeding to deliver my milk in the event that I cannot be present, given that the child meets the ideal criteria (full-term, healthy, good muscle tone, etc).
Now, as for that other popularly maligned “dirty word” — pacifiers. Like the bottle, we waited after a month to introduce this foreign nipple (three months, actually). MaiTai was not the type to be pacified however… at least not by anything that doesn’t rhyme with “Mama’s Booby.” Trust me, we emptied the shelves of all nearby baby and convenience stores of every type and brand and model of pacifier to find one he’d like! We. Were. DESPERATE. Some he accepted for five or ten minutes, some not at all. A few settled him for longer than that, but it was always random. He permanently rejected them all about six weeks later. Given that we waited so long to introduce a pacifier, it didn’t affect our nursing relationship or his oral development as pacifiers sometimes can (read more about that here and here).
Hey Breastfeeding, Stop Being Such a Pain in the Boob
In the first few weeks, I had broken glass deep in my breasts that would move slowly down into the nipple, aggressively dragged through by hormonal force. Oh, not broken glass — I mean I had thrush. Of course, I didn’t figure this out until after it spontaneously resolved itself after four weeks of unremitting pain and silent torture. I suspected that something could be wrong, but didn’t want to believe it. I expected that breastfeeding was just going to HURT, and yep, this really hurt so this must be what breastfeeding will be like until the final inning.
I internalized our confusing and uncomfortable reality as “Well, this is the way it’s gonna be,” and decided to instead focus on my fright and apprehension on all the other strange new parenting conundrums that were dashing out at me like angry spirits from an ancient burial ground of repressed nurturing urges within me.
Honestly, I’m surprised I continued nursing through the untreated thrush at all. But the look on MaiTai’s face when he nursed was divine. And when he passed out, a total milk-drunk boob cherub — well, it was heavenly. Ain’t no way I’m taking this away from him, I thought. Broken glass moving like an elevator down my breast? Right, here we go….again.
Let’s talk about the milk blister/bleb (what the heck’s a bleb? Find out here). My inexperience with this strange new thingamabob in my nipple pore caused my second case of thrush, this time in the nipple exclusively as opposed to the breast tissue. It was so excruciating that I cried, yelped, or was frozen in shock at each nursing. I threatened to quit breastfeeding a few times that week, and the thrush had persisted, I would have really meant it. (Okay, no, but I was about thisclose to bringing out my Hypnobabies “Create Your Own Anesthesia” tapes again). The second time around, however, I was armed with plenty of natural treatments options (read about them here).
My first postpartum Valentine’s Day weekend, me and The Designated Dad planned a date night: Nearly three-month-old MaiTai would be cared for by his granny, she’d give him a bottle of breast milk when he needed it, and I’d pump beforehand and breastfeed him as as we returned home. Here’s me on date night. Good times.
It was a lovely time socially, but my breasts had gone far too long without being emptied. I had no desire to hand-squeeze excess milk on my romantic, glamorous date, and like hell did I dream of toting along my not-so-sexy udder compressor (the pump). My breasts filled like dammed-up rivers, increasingly threatening to disturb the surrounding environment as time progressed. While wining and dining with my date-for-life, I paid little attention to my lonely, anxious, overextended breasts — it was my only night “off,” and I thought maybe if I neglected them long enough they’d override the milk-making hormones with some secret “Pause” button.
There’s a reason no one has yet discovered a lactating breast’s “Pause” button (hint: it doesn’t exist!). So the next day, I noticed an angry red triangular-shaped rash on my breast like a poison-laced arrowhead had implanted itself in my ducts overnight. Well, this is new. And strange. And looks suspiciously like mastitis from what I’ve read… but, um, perhaps I can just walk it off?
After a day spent ignoring this conspicuous omen, I developed a sudden high fever. Chills. Debilitating body aches that made even sitting down an excruciating task. Inability to drink water or eat. A baby to care for by myself (Designated Dad was at work) while I curled up in a hot-flashy delirium on the couch. When DD found me in this condition upon returning home, he dragged me to the emergency room against my stubborn will wherein I was diagnosed with mastitis (a breast infection common in Western cultures, usually a result of waiting too long to empty the breasts of milk — read more about it here). The doctor prescribed antibiotics and told me I should not interrupt breastfeeding whatsoever; in fact, I should take however long I needed to stay in bed with my baby and do nothing else but nurse.
Following the second half of that advice is what recovered me relatively quickly. I took only a few of the antibiotic pills before I said “screw this” and decided that was not the route I wanted to take for my body. (I speak only from my personal experience and opinion, and I do not intend to influence rebellion against doctor’s orders in other persons’ specific situations. Remember my disclaimer? Here it is).
My friend’s doctor warned that she could not continue to nurse while treating her mastitis (not true!) and the ill-fated result was her permanent and premature weaning. Case in point, not all medical caregivers are up to speed on such matters as breastfeeding, breast health, and postpartum women’s health, sometimes at a grave price to a mother and her child. The newest recommendations and protocols suggest that antibiotics might be deleterious to the healing process in some (or many) cases specifically due to increased risk of contracting thrush.
Confused by Bad Advice
Unfortunately, no one close to me had any helpful anecdotal breastfeeding experience. Not to sound all woe-is-me — but no one I trusted was able to show me what to do, how to troubleshoot, or how to handle the emotional flogging that comes with breastfeeding challenges.
In the beginning, that was hard. That was isolating. That was frustrating. The medical professionals who served as our birth, postpartum, and pediatric team, ones who demonstrably had little anatomical, scientific, or common sense understanding or application about lactating breasts or breast milk (though they honestly believed so), were much worse. Thank god for the internet age, though! Online breastfeeding communities saved us when we had nowhere else to turn (check out a few of my favorites here).
Bad advice can be quite a handicap for a breastfeeding mother. Once the flawed recommendations are heeded, a vicious cycle of compounding problems often occur (women run in cycles, didn’t you know?).
I was told by a past breastfeeding acquaintance that leakage is a sign of oversupply. Not necessarily — my oversupply never resulted in requiring breast pads. Trust me, I had oversupply, but MaiTai lapped up every last drop. Except this one time in the early weeks, we were at the store and I heard another baby whimper in the same aisle. My uber-empathetic breast antennae caught the signal, wired into action, I felt a heavy let-down tug, and before I knew it my shirt was soaked. Upon smelling my milk-stained satin blouse (okay, it was The Designated Dad’s grubby flannel shirt), MaiTai began whimpering.
I’ve also watched a few videos of animals nursing their young that excited my breasts into letting down milk, but as far as necessary breast padding? Nope, not for me. A rare but proud milk stain I shall bear.
An “expert breastfeeder,” who I learned later had actually been a formula-feeder just like every other mother that decade, loved pressing me with all kinds of nursing “know-how.”
She told me to introduce additional water “because it’s hot out!” (Read more about the current scientifically supported advice about extra water here). I was advised about public breastfeeding — “public” being limited to a bathroom stall, I’ll clarify. I was told that breastfed babies should have a feeding every 4 hours (breastfed babies actually need to nurse any time they signal that they want to nurse, which is often). I was chided on several occasions that a green diaper meant my son was starving (Kid has rolls like Pillsbury. Starving he ain’t).
I was told that I “really need to consider cutting the umbilical cord” … when MaiTai was seven months old. OH HELLLLL NO. What she witnessed was attachment parenting, not a perma-cord.
Then I discovered she’d completely misled me. The [lovely woman] didn’t actually breastfeed as she’d claimed! By and large a formula feeder, just like virtually every other mother who birthed in her decade. No shame in that, but shame on her for using her [lack of] knowledge to shame my son and I. Far too many fake smiles were twisted upon my face as the most polite response I could muster when confronted with such passive aggressive “know-it-all”-ness.
I only dredge this up to remind my friends, many of whom struggle with similar seemingly impossible situations — with loved ones, relatives, caregivers, significant others, etc — that this time in your life, when you’ve surpassed maidenhood and birthed (adopted) a goddamn BABY and have the power to sit regal on your throne of MOTHERHOOD like “Yeah, I’m finally the bad bitch I thought I was before I created a human from my body and brought it into this world with my mature and evolved feminine power that hardly anyone else can understand,” you have the royal flush in your hand already. You just need to recognize it and know when to call out the other players’ bluffs. Surely, there will be at least one cheater and one bluffer. As a mother, you have no option to fold — so how then will you act?
Can you tell I was somewhat irked by the aforementioned scen-ahhh-rio? Just a bit. I spared you the superfluous drama though, you’re welcome. I can reassure you that I followed precisely none of said “expert”‘s advice. Why not? Well, a relative who breastfed decades ago is not necessarily an expert. Someone who has never truly breastfed, but says they have, is certainly not an expert. I’ve breastfed quite a bit, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert. What about the white-coats with degrees plastering their office walls? Can we always trust their advice?
I was told at MaiTai’s one year check-up that it’s time to switch to cow milk because it’s “more nutritious.” Ha! Maybe more nutritious for veal in its living state! Read more about the science behind such a falsity here. I could’ve sworn I heard MaiTai laugh, too.
Pumping, Pumping… & More Pumping
And here is how I discovered I had oversupply — pumping! This is what I remember most about expressing milk: The aching back. The stress to provide. The worry about going into milk supply deficit. The exasperation over wastage of my liquid gold — because surely, someone was bound to leave it out on the counter too long to be usable, or spill it, or not thaw it properly, or in some way have zero respect or understanding of what it took to express that milk. White blood, sweat, and tears is what! Every damn ounce! LIQUID GOLD, PEOPLE!
My postpartum anxiety bullied me to believe I neeeeeeeded a stockpile of surplus milk (I didn’t really), so I built up that stockpile because that’s the magic of a woman’s body — it is the armor around her most beloved ones. It shields them from hunger, hurt, pain, demotivation, and so many other things but I’m already extending past my limit.
I never quite found the best position with pumping, especially since after birth my left hip was locked up so badly and felt detached from the tailbone. I honestly feared I had fractured or broken it during the birth. (If I can manage it, never again will anyone be allowed to hold my legs as I push).
Here’s what made pumping easier:
The Designated Dad recorded MaiTai’s hunger cry to help with let-down. As far as I’m aware, some pump brands now actually have a recording feature included with the product.
I also woke up several hours before MaiTai so I could pump without interruption (pumping while nursing was disastrous for me every time I tried. Crying over spilled milk? Definitely not just a saying). Early morning is generally the peak of milk production for women. I found my “magic hour” HERE to be six a.m. Every day at this time, I boiled my pump parts and storage equipment, dried it, set up my pump, dual-pumped until I got a minimum of fifteen ounces, secured and labeled the milk, and put it in the deep freezer (all while obsessively sanitizing my hands…. stupid postpartum anxiety!).
Because MaiTai only needed about two feedings’ worth of bottles per week, I ended up donating a full deep freezer’s worth of breast milk he couldn’t possibly use himself. Read more about donating breast milk here.
The last time I expressed milk was to manually squeeze out some mama juice for a custom Breast Milk Pendant nearly two years postpartum. As an experiment, I left the excess in my fridge to see how long it would last before going rancid. It’s been sitting in an uncovered glass jar in my fridge for five weeks thus far. No odor, no change in color yet. Still appears perfectly drinkable. My diet is almost wholly free of preservatives and additives, so I’m curious as to the science behind such a long shelf life (educated opinions welcome!).
Breastfeeding Through Developmental Milestones
Breastfeeding a newborn is not like breastfeeding a two-month-old, or a baby with head control, or a crawler, or a baby who suddenly stopped sleeping through the night. Developmental milestones, my Nursaholic friends — that’s what breastfeeding’s good for, and also why you might start wondering why the heck you signed up for this in the first place.
Going into this armed with just above zero percent of knowledge, I thought I was only supposed to breastfeed for six months (which seemed like an Olympic feat in the early weeks) and then entirely switch to solids. Somewhere in between that first moment of “Okay, I think this is actually going to work!” and learning about the actual breastfeeding recommendations, I had a little bit of a panic attack. MaiTai nursed all the time, you guys. All the time! (At two years old, he still does).
Six months rolled around, and by that time breastfeeding was SO much different; I thought that newborn nursing was the bond everyone raves about. No, in fact, for us the most intense bonding came when my he grew more interactive during our nursing sessions. At six months, it seemed strange to quit this thing that had come to define our days; weaning would have disrupted what had become the anchor of normalcy, familiarity, and reassurance for everything from a bumped knee to late-night exams at the emergency room to stranger danger to accidentally getting a piece of some weird lint stuck between his toesies.
MaiTai sprouted his first tooth at around ten months old. Guess how this affected breastfeeding during his first year? It didn’t! AT. ALL. At two years old, the only teeth he’s missing are molars. A fully-toothed breastfeeding child is not a character in a horror movie, it’s simply normal. Read more about how subsequent teeth can and cannot affect breastfeeding here.
So, What Now?
Before one year approached, I already knew that weaning was not my decision to make. My son would decide on his own terms when he’s over it.
Now past our second year of breastfeeding, I can confirm that nursing a toddler is usually hilarious. Oh my god, you guys… it’s amazing if you can allow a natural uninterrupted progression of breastfeeding (perhaps even “unnatural” and interrupted? I’m sure it’s true, but can’t say firsthand).
Alone with me at my breast is when my son feels “at home” enough to reveal the crazy quirks beneath his shyness. Often, he’ll unlatch and give me a big toothy (toothy-ish) grin to let me know he’s genuinely happy, before diving back onto the breast. Sometimes he’ll nurse on one breast, use his tiny hands to smush the other one underneath his head, and fashion it into a pillow. I watch him lay like that and I get sort of jealous — he looks so cozy! He erupts in laughter about who knows what sometimes as a cradle him, with my nipple between his teeth (I have complete trust in him to not bite me, and he’s fully compliant with this trust), his mouth turns up at the corners like he’s communicating some devious secret to me.
Now at 24 months of nursing, long gone are the days of latch worries, cluster feeding, and frequent engorgement. Since the first birthday, we started working on nursing manners: Don’t hit, slap momma or pull her hair or claw her collarbone. Don’t pull out her eyelashes.
Now that it is not solely an exclusive nutritive tool, I’m learning to use time at the boob as a parenting tool. We started working on boundaries in the second year. I want to teach him respect of my body and subsequently a necessary protectiveness of his own; that mama’s breasts are mama’s not “his,” and that I have a say in when and where he is allowed to breastfeed (um, okay, always and anywhere…I’m a softie. But I always try to fully explain to him why I can’t nurse when I’m touched-out or overcome with nursing aversion).
The second year has been a blossoming garden of new life and perspective in our breastfeeding relationship. Most recently, we’ve struggled with episodes of nursing aversion on my part. Earlier this year I started my breastfeeding blog and became a La Leche League member. The bond and trust between us has deepened even further. MaiTai still nurses before bedtime and almost all morning before leaving bed, as well as throughout the day on demand.
Stay tuned for the full story about my second year of breastfeeding!