Disclaimer: I hate that I feel the need to put this here, but I do, so I will. This is MY story and journey through breastfeeding my second child. Seeing as baby D is still pretty non-verbal I can’t really get his side of the story, but I’m sure he’d say he liked the comfort and nourishment of my milk until he was ready to be done.
I truly am so happy to have gone as long as we did, but I’m struggling with some mild depression having weaned so suddenly. While our road was a difficult one, I wouldn’t trade one sleepless night, the cracked nipples, the tears of frustration for anything. If given the chance to do this all over again knowing I couldn’t change anything I’d still be 100% all in. There were so many amazing moments, peaceful moments, and prideful moments – all of which I will hold in my heart forever.
I can’t change how I feel about our breastfeeding journey and I wanted to share my feelings because I found very little about the hardship of breastfeeding and the emotions behind that. Before breastfeeding my second son I would NEVER judge any mom for how they chose to feed their child. I believe that yes, nutritionally breastmilk is best for baby, but it’s not always possible. When my son was born 17 months ago I had no idea how much he was going to teach me about breastfeeding, both the good and the bad. This is MY story. It’s taken me almost a month to write it. Also it’s long, but I didn’t want to break it up into 2-3 parts. So here it all is – the good and the bad.
This is the last photo I took breastfeeding. It was take on our trip to Baby D’s food trials. I’m so glad I took this and other pictures to look back on.
On May 6th, 2014, Baby D and I ended our 17 month run with breastfeeding. Well, at least that was the last day I offered him milk. For the few weeks prior to that day Baby D went on a nursing strike that turned into a sudden weaning. When we got back from Denver, Baby D suddenly had very little interest in nursing. He went from nursing 3-5 times a day to nothing. If he asked for it (as he often did by signing “milk” and “please” and tapping on my chest, I’d offer it to him and he wouldn’t do anything. Or he’d look up and laugh at me with his mouth around my breast as if to say “Oh mom! You’re silly!!” If he didn’t ask and I’d offer at the times he was normally nursing he’d get upset. He’d cry. He’d ask for his “baba”. He even went as far as to hit me and pull down my shirt.
I was at a loss. I know my supply was good at this point, because we worked very hard to get it back up to a good level. And yet he still didn’t want it. It wasn’t teething, he wasn’t sick. I took to googling and found suggestions like “maybe he got hurt while nursing and is associating the two”. That wasn’t us, and there was nothing else out there to explain to me why this was happening…
I could pump, and I did many times, but pumping even at the best of times never yielded me anywhere close to the amount he could get on his own. I’d pump, power pump, and pump some more only to get 1 bottle of milk for him daily. I had to weigh the benefit vs the time spent and stress of it all. Pumping and I were done. After all I’d spent 5+ months attached to my pump and really couldn’t imagine doing that anymore.
And still I offered. And still Baby D denied, sometimes he’d nurse for a tiny little bit, but mostly he’d just refuse. So after nearly 17 months of nursing my baby (12 months of which were exclusively nursing due to his FPIES and no safe foods), instead of feeling damn proud over what I’ve accomplished, I am crushed. I have cried over the end of this nursing journey every night since it ended. I’m the mom/friend who has always told other moms that how you feed your baby doesn’t define what kind of parent you are going to be. You are good enough, and did an amazing job no matter how long you breastfeed your babies, but here I was crying over our journey ending suddenly and way earlier than I’d hoped and planned for.
What’s crazier is that I spent many of the 17 months of nursing my baby troubleshooting issues and sometimes silently wishing I didn’t have to do it anymore.
I love this picture. The color, the texture, his rubberband wrists…
I always knew I would breastfeed my children if I could. I breastfed my first son for 16.5 months until he self weaned. We had a very rough beginning to our nursing journey, but once we got past that it was mostly a breeze. Mostly if anything I struggled with being comfortable nursing in public and with a very easily distracted baby. When I nursed K for the last time I knew it was the end and I was sad to be done, but mostly moved on quickly after he weaned.
When we got pregnant with Baby D I would joke to my husband that maybe this baby would be an amazing breastfeeder. With my first I envied the moms that seemed to so effortlessly pop baby on the the breast and feed whenever/wherever. After D was born I thought for sure I’d gotten that. We got to nurse right away after a successful VBAC and I didn’t notice the shallow latch that my first son struggled with, but a few days after he was born our nurse did.
Turns out my newborn son had shallow latch that was caused by a lip tie that no one local was able to do anything about to help me correct. Our pediatric dentist (I’ve since switched and found one who could have helped me in the beginning) told me that he could clip it, but only under general anesthesia which I was uncomfortable with doing at a mere 6 weeks of age. So instead I spent so many sleepless nights, latching and unlatching my baby so he could get a better/less painful latch. I’m not sure truthfully if I just got used to the shallow latch or if he got better – although I suspect the first to be true.
At 3 months old my son started to spit up a lot. At 4 months he developed eczema. My son always had mucous in his diapers, and often times the diapers were very green and gross. The three combined led my pediatrician to believe that he was not tolerating dairy very well. Once I cut out dairy he stopped spitting and his rash went away – the mucous didn’t fully go away though.
Around this time my son’s night time wakings started to get more frequent. My happy baby would scream and scream at night. He was not easily comforted. For a while we thought it might be night terrors, but at 6 months of age my pedi thought it may be due to hunger and insisted I start solid food. (I was waiting until he could sit unassisted on his own, but didn’t mind trying especially if it helped my son feel and sleep better.)
So many late night feeds…
Where it got complicated…
At 6 months old we started solids. It was clear very quickly that something was wrong with my son. After a few hours of ingesting each food he’d vomit until he was lethargic. The last time his lips turned blue. I knew somehow all my son’s symptoms we related, but I had no clue how. Turns out he had FPIES. Food Protein Induced Enterocolitis Syndrome is a rare form of food allergy. (If you want to read our FPIES story -start here.) We were instructed to stop foods and rest his gut. He was 9 months when we got the official diagnosis. I was supposed to do no foods, but just breastmilk until our 12 month check-in.
Suddenly I was mad and scared, and resentful. (<— yes that one still hurts to type, but it’s really how I was feeling). Wasn’t breastfeeding supposed to euphoric and awesome? Sure I’d had moments of that, but really it had been one issue after another. I’d put my head down and pushed through. At this point my son was waking 8-12 times a night screaming, nursing, and screaming again before going back to sleep. I was SO tired. I dreamed of being able to just make a bottle and let someone else feed my baby, but suddenly even that wasn’t a possibility. Everything my son had ingested other than breastmilk made him deathly ill. He was solely depending on me for his nutrition and while sometimes it felt like I had a secret superpower that no one else had, it also felt like I was trapped.
At 5 months of age, my son started refusing a bottle. So even if I could pump he wouldn’t take a bottle. I tried SO hard to get him to take a bottle so I didn’t always have to breastfeed him, but for months he refused. I felt like a total asshole (excuse my language here, but really there is no other word) mom for wishing for more than 1-2 hours straight sleep.
When my son was 10 months old I traveled to Los Angeles for the Babywearing World Record. There I met Abby, The Bad Ass Breastfeeder. I stopped and waited to say hi to her. I wanted simply to thank her for creating a community for moms who were breastfeeding to have a place where they didn’t feel alone and could get support. Instead I ended up doing an ugly cry and telling her my story and my son’s FPIES diagnosis and how I was feeling trapped under it. It was the first time I acknowledged to anyone and maybe even myself that I was struggling with breastfeeding. Not because I couldn’t do it, but because I was feeling so much pressure to do it help keep my son healthy until his body was ready to trial food. I cried, and I cried ugly.
One of my favorite breastfeeding pictures take at the hotel I stayed in for MommyCon LA.
The truth here is I think maybe it was not only the weight of admitting my fear and frustration, but also it was the first time in public I spoke about his diagnosis. The weight of everything came out in my tears. Abby was great. She told me that breastfeeding is amazing, but it certainly isn’t only sunshine and rainbows. It’s work, time, and darn exhausting. I felt so relieved to tell someone what I’d kept locked away inside for fear of sounding like a hater, and yet I didn’t share this again in full detail. Looking back I wish I would have written about my feelings toward breastfeeding at this point. I had heard other mothers mentioned that they didn’t love breastfeeding. Now I finally understood what they meant… except in addition to the relief I felt sharing my fears and frustrations, I now felt shame for being one of those moms. So instead of writing about it, I buried myself in our everyday and tried to live in the happy moments of breastfeeding my son and it worked. I fell in love with breastfeeding again. I nursed and nursed and nursed baby D. Morning, day, and so so many times at night. The only thing that was concerning to me at this point was if baby D was getting enough breastmilk. I was worried while my supply wasn’t bad that I was simply not satisfying his hunger needs…
Then it hit the fan…
When my son turned 12 months we had a follow up with our allergist. I had noticed my son hadn’t put on much weight, and I’d actually talked with my husband about what we would do if the doctor suggested trying formula, but I was fully and completely unprepared for what happened that day in his office.
When we put D on the scale we learned that he’d lost nearly 3 lbs since the last time we were in the office 3 months prior. He’d fallen from the 87% of the growth chart to the 12%. He hadn’t grown any in length either. The words Failure To Thrive, and G Tube were thrown around. Baby D would need to start a special amino acid based formula that would help him with his calories. If he didn’t gain enough weight in two weeks we would have to strongly consider a G Tube where he’d be administered formula through his belly. I cried and cried. I felt like a full on failure. I’d been so upset over the pressure to be my son’s sole source of nutrition, and now I was upset that I wasn’t enough.
We luckily FINALLY had success with getting D to take a bottle so introducing formula wasn’t so hard. Baby D took to the formula very well. So well that for the first few weeks he didn’t want to breastfeed much. I decided that I would start pumping full time in addition to offering baby D milk via breastfeeding. After 2 weeks of being on formula we found out that D still wasn’t gaining. Since he was drinking the bottle well enough the doctors simply increased the amount of formula in his bottles. My supply dropped due to his refusal to nurse and I suddenly found crazy respect for all the moms who are full time pumpers. Pumping is SO time consuming and not nearly as efficient as baby. Eventually we settled into a good pattern and my supply rebounded. Baby D took 2-3 bottles a day. 2 formula and 1 breastmilk. He also nursed between 3-5 times a day. He gained 2 pounds that third week. We wouldn’t be needing a G Tube.
My emotions were crazy during this time. I was scared that he began to refuse nursing. I was scared about my supply dropping, and one night I started sobbing to my husband because he mentioned that the baby smelled weird. Breastfed babies smell sweet and heavenly. The formula we were on smelled awful. Like cat food. I used to spend hours sniffing my son’s sweet scent, and suddenly it was gone and replaced by the smell of bad cat food. Over the few weeks he started to nurse more, and we got used to the formula smell, but I still to this day miss the scent that he carried for 12 months.
Nursing for comfort after one of many blood draws.
Once my son started to gain weight he also began to sleep more. First 3 hours, then 5 hours, and then for a little while through the night. I felt completely renewed. I spent that first year in such a state of sleep deprivation, it’s truly a wonder I remember much of it at all.
I went on to pump until D turned 16 months. I felt like I had enough of a supply stashed away and I felt comfortable with the number of times D was nursing throughout the day. As we approached his food trials in Denver I was feeling very happy with our breastfeeding arrangements. I had no idea how we went from that to done in less than a month. I still don’t understand it, but it happened.
Perhaps it was because while he was having his food trials done I often had to tell him no when he asked to nurse so that he would be hungry enough to consume whatever we were trialing. Food trials lasted 2 weeks, but we spent 3 weeks in Denver due to baby’s first big illness. I suppose his weaning also could have started when he got sick. He was so stuffy and congested he could barely nurse. Once he got better and was nursing more, I had to tell him no during the day and his trials. I hate thinking that is what led to the end. Food Trials were supposed to bring good news, and while they did that, they also ended up being SUPER frustrating. We learned there that D had some texture/oral aversions. Really he can’t eat much of anything without gagging.
Had I known, or thought in anyway shape or form that our food trials would contribute to D weaning I would have postponed them longer. A few months earlier, at 10 months the pressure of being his only source of nutrition was overwhelming, and now I’d do anything to have prevented him from weaning… I planned to make it to 18 months. With his FPIES I prayed we’d have nursing until he got more safe foods and through some of his oral aversions. My real goal had been two years. I missed that by 7 months.
So that’s it. We got back from Denver and D stopped wanting to nurse. Maybe it was just his time and on his own terms, but I can’t stop thinking about how sudden it was. I’ve cried every night since he stopped. My body feels like it has been in one gigantic state of PMS since then. I’m moody, and crawling in my own skin. I feel guilty for the resentment I felt for so many months, and would do anything to get it back. And yet in my “right mind” I know that I have NOTHING to feel guilty for. 17 months isn’t a drop in the bucket. 17 months is good. I’ve spent the past few years championing other moms for their efforts whether short or long, and I can’t take my own advice. I don’t feel like a good mom, I feel sad. I feel like I failed. I feel like I should have done more, but I know I didn’t have any more to give so why am I still crying.
Today D asked me to nurse while we were at a birthday party for my older son’s friend. I knew if I gave D what he was asking for he wouldn’t have really wanted it. I know because every other time he’s asked, he won’t nurse and it’s like a knife in my breasts. Instead I told him no, and gave him a kiss and a hug. I held him close and played with his hair. I told him I love him and he smiled and moved on.
I hope I can smile and move on soon too.
I thought after nursing my first I was a pro at breastfeeding. Baby D taught me so much. He showed me that no matter how much you’ve done something you can always learn more. Because of him I’ve been a breastfeeding mom, a pumping mom, and a formula mom. I learned have so much respect for all moms no matter how they choose to feed their babies…. Because let me tell you, they are all hard.
With baby D I’ve been told breastfeeding is gross and I should think about feeding him in a bathroom. I gained so much more confidence when it came to nursing in public. I had turned down many opportunities so I could stay home and breastfeed or because I was on a pumping schedule. With pumping I learned the true meaning of multitasking. I wrestled my own formula demons and faced many a mom who though they knew better than me because they see a bottle in my son’s hands. I was told that I was poisoning my son and was even sent a list of ingredients in his formula (because apparently I couldn’t read it on my own) to show me just how gross it was. I’ve walked a mile in shoes I had no idea I’d be wearing when my second son was born, and while I’m still trying to find peace at the end of our road, I have so much respect and admiration for all the moms who have worn those shoes before me.
Breastfeeding on a Train!
Side Story:After I shared this picture on my social media pages, I got an email from a reader saying that she was inspired to breastfeed in public while out with her toddler and new baby. She said she’d never done it before and it felt totally normal to do it. That email still means so much to me.
In the 17 months I breastfed my son, I loved it, hated it, resented it, was grateful for it, enjoyed it, was empowered by it, and wouldn’t trade a single day of it. Breastfeeding is a journey and no matter how long you are on that road, it will be amazing, and it will be hard, it will always be worth it. I can’t wait to do it all again with our next child.
I wanted to share my story, and our sudden weaning to let other moms know that they aren’t alone if breastfeeding doesn’t always make you feel euphoric. If there are times you hate it. If you wished it was over already. If your child like mine suddenly weans for no other reason than they are done. Sudden weanings do happen. It’s not your fault, and it’s okay to be sad about it. If I can’t find a way to get out of the mild depression this sudden weaning has brought over me, I will ask for help. For now, I’m trying to focus on the positive and accept that it’s okay to be sad.