"It’s the lucky baby, I feel, who continues to nurse until he’s two."
-Dr. Antonia C. Novello, during her tenure as United States Surgeon General, Parade Magazine, Nov. 11, 1990.
As many of you know, I am in love with breastfeeding. All of it. The emotions, the bonding, the nutritional value, the health benefits, the science behind it...all of it. However, nursing my babies has been one of the biggest challenges I have even faced. In fact, I gave up on it three times. Consequently, those are the three biggest (and really only) regrets I have. I am still working on forgiving myself for allowing myself to fail at breastfeeding and giving the boys formula. At the time, I thought I had given it my best shot. I was convinced I couldn't breastfeed, and I wasn't alone. My midwives thought I couldn't breastfeed either. Madeline proved all of us wrong. When I unexpectedly became pregnant with my first baby girl, I decided once and for all I was going to breastfeed. I felt like I had been given another chance at motherhood, and I was going to take advantage of it. My daughter, come hell or high water, was going to get the best stuff on earth. Liquid gold. There was, however, one little problem. I was afraid of my right breast. Terrified really. When I miserably attempted to nurse Cole, I was infected with the worst case of mastitis I could possibly imagine. This led me, and other medical professionals, to believe that my right side was broken. So, with the help of the most amazing lactation consultant ever, I proceeded to feed Maddie on only my left side. I had visions of lovingly cradling my new daughter in my arms, holding her to my breast, and gazing into her eyes. In my fantasy there was no pain, no breast pump, no nipple shield, and definitely no formula. Unfortunately, these things became my reality. In order to nurse pain-free, I needed to use a nipple shield. After practically starving my baby, we realized this was causing my milk supply to drop. Enter the pump. Even though I religiously pumped after marathon feedings (we are talking hour long sessions), my supply continued to go down. Enter formula. Luckily, there was no nipple confusion. I weighed her almost every other day to make sure she was getting enough to eat and to make sure I was giving her the right amount of formula. I never had to give her more than 8 ounces a day. Just enough to keep her satisfied and keep her gaining. I hated nursing. It was nothing like I had imagined, and it was nothing that I ever wanted. I had to set mini goals for myself in order to make it through the day. I would say to myself, "if I can just make it through the next ten minutes...if I can just make it through the next nursing session...if I can just make it through today." I told myself I would be successful if I lasted until she was eight weeks old. I told myself anything I could to force myself to keep going.
Then, at seven weeks, my world changed. I bravely attempted nursing with no shield. It was still painful, but by no means unbearable. Slowly, I started to add more and more feedings without the nipple shield. By eight weeks, about the time I returned to work, I was nipple shield free. Success! Shortly after, she was no longer requiring supplemental feedings. I was producing enough milk for my daughter out of one, lone breast! Even more success! My beautiful baby girl was now exclusive breastfed. She quickly became quite the picky little thing too. On her own she decided to reverse cycle and started taking all of her meals when I was home at night. Very early on she gave up the bottle completely.
At first, my goal was to nurse her until she was 6 months old. Once nursing started going well, I quickly upped it to 12 months. As 12 months approached, I said sometime after she turned one. Then it was definitely by age 2. At some point I realized I had no real intention of stopping. It worked for us. At no point did I think Maddie was ready to be nursed, and I certainly wasn't going to take it away from her. She took such joy and such comfort in it.
When she was about 20 months old I became pregnant with Eleanor. Nursing became quite painful pretty early on. For me, but mostly for her, it was worth the pain. She still needed it so much. Not so much for the milk, there hadn't been any for while...it was purely for comfort at this point. Near the end it was almost unbearable, and she was nursing probably only once or twice a day for only about a minute. I was open to, and almost excited about, tandem nursing, but it seemed we could be on the path to weaning.