feeding Finch: our breastfeeding journey

 photo by Shandy Mikkelsen

photo by Shandy Mikkelsen

If you've followed my blog for a while, you might remember that my breastfeeding journey with Rooney ended after only three weeks. It was a huge disappointment — I felt like I let everyone down, especially my sweet little baby. There were lots of tears. I still get middle-of-the-night comments and emails about that post from moms who are struggling with the same issues we did, and my heart breaks for them.

The whole experience was sort of scarring — it physically hurt, did not feel "natural," etc. Eric and I became bottle-feeding pros, which seemed so much easier and simpler. Rooney turned out to be a very scheduled and healthy kid, and I wondered if I would even want try to nurse my next baby.

Fast forward three years and after hearing other mamas' stories of how much they loved nursing, the incredible bond, the properties of breast milk, etc., I decided I would try again. And it was a completely different and redeeming experience.

After two and a half years (!), our amazing breastfeeding journey has come to an end. It is one of my proudest accomplishments. It was hard hard hard, but also beautiful and easy and special. I remember after making it six weeks, I thought I deserved a parade! The growth spurts were the hardest parts. Sometimes it felt like that's all I did, and at times it really bothered me that it took me away from Rooney, Eric, my friends, my hobbies, etc. It felt like the whole world was moving on with their lives and I was just stuck on the couch, feeding a babe.

I thought about quitting until he was about 4 months old. That was when we finally had his tongue and lip ties revised, which changed everything. His ties were less severe than Rooney's, which almost made it harder because we didn't catch it very early (he was gaining weight like a champ and it took me a while to realize it wasn’t normal to still have pain after four months). But a couple weeks after his revisions, his latch improved and I really started to enjoy it and even look forward to it.

I often wondered why I kept going even when I wanted to quit. I think that being a very competitive and stubborn person really helped. I felt like I should do it. I wanted to do it, and I wanted to be able to say that I did it. I also didn’t want to quit on a bad day. I would often ask myself, "Is breastfeeding still mutually beneficial?" And the answer was always "Yes. He is getting fed. I don't have to get out of bed to make a bottle in the middle of the night, I get lots of cuddles, and I nearly die with delight when I look down and see his tiny hand holding my breast. I'm proud of the milk I'm making for him." So day after day we just kept going.

In the end, it really did become easier than bottle-feeding (three years ago I could not have understood how this could be true, but there was no measuring, no leftovers, no bottles to wash, no formula to pack — he just latched on and ate). And thanks to an on-site daycare and the fact that he wouldn’t take a bottle (and I had no social life — ha!), I had to pump no more than 10 times in those two years.

Praise God I never had to deal with mastitis or thrush or any of the other horror stories that some mamas go through. I did have blanching and my fair share of milk blisters, though. I still remember popping them with a needle — yikes!

My favorite part was the special connection we had. It's hard to explain, but it was like a secret language we spoke to each other. I could tell if he was happy or sick or tired or teething or congested or alert or sad or content just by the way he nursed. I felt like I knew him so well and could meet his specific needs.

Once we got to nine months, I started to wonder about weaning. What would be our experience? When would he no longer be interested? I knew I wanted to make it at least a year and then see how it went from there. I prayed that it would be mutual and gradual, and I'm so incredibly thankful that it was. We took it nice and slow.

I logged every single one of our feedings in an app called Baby Nursing. In the end, I nursed him for more than 1,600 hours. That's 66 solid days! I told Eric that it will go down as one of my top 10 experiences in life.

Because I've been on both sides (breast and bottle), I can totally sympathize with moms who are struggling with poor latch, tongue ties, milk blisters, blanching and nipple pain so bad you cry. What I have learned is that even when breastfeeding works, it is still hard and requires a lot of troubleshooting. At least it did for me. It was a sacrifice for our entire family and Eric played an incredible and important role by helping me stay hydrated (especially in those early weeks), never pressuring me to continue, making protein-packed meals and bringing me breakfast in bed, encouraging me, seeking to understand extended breastfeeding, and taking the lead with Rooney's care since it took so much of my time. In the end it was an amazing gift and I'm so thankful we stuck with it!

I have a lot more to say about our nursing journey — a couple more posts coming soon!