My son, Allen, is one week shy of 9 months. He’s spent almost as much time outside of me as he did growing in my belly. And for the last two nights, he has refused to nurse.
I’m itching to post something to the mommy boards I’m on for advice. I’m thinking about frantically texting other mommies with sad-face emojis to ask what I can do. I’m considering all the things to try. But honestly, I’m pretty spent on trying different things out when it comes to nursing. And so I’m writing this blog post instead of launching another investigative campaign to figure out what I/we could have done differently.
A Rocky Start
In the first few hours after Allen was born, he latched on like a champ. Only it hurt. So badly. The lactation consultant at the birth center said his latch looked fine, and it shouldn’t hurt. Within 12 hours, my nipples were swollen and several blisters had developed. Within 18 hours, the skin was open and I shuddered every time he latched on. But I was determined, and he was hungry. So we kept at it.
When we got home, I reached out in desperation to several local lactation consultants. I eventually connected with Jenn Sullivan at Waddle N Swaddle, who connected me with an amazing community of mamas during WnS’s free, weekly nursing circles. I quickly found out that I wasn’t alone. I had been feeling like an absolute failure — shouldn’t this part of momming come naturally? Easily? It made me feel a million times better to know that it was anything but easy for quite a few new moms out there.
For the next few months, Allen did well and rode the 50th percentile growth chart line, right where he was born. He hit cognitive and motor development milestones on target, and the moment he started smiling, I melted. He was doing great.
And then I went back to work.
Allen’s weight dipped around the 6-month mark. I had been back at work for about a month, and was struggling with making enough milk to leave for him the next day. I tried everything from eating galactagogues to massage techniques, and event rented a hospital grade pump and tried to pump while nursing to squeeze out a few extra ounces. It was acrobatic. Exhausting. Mind-numbingly hard. I gave it my all, but nothing seemed to help boost my pumping output.
So we turned to donor milk.
Really? Donor Milk??
At first, I was weirded out by the idea. Accepting donor milk that’s not screened through a milk bank is like accepting a blood transfusion straight from a stranger’s arm. But this was our dilemma: 1) nutritionally, breastmilk is superior to formula, 2) Allen was showing signs of a dairy sensitivity, and most formula is a derivative of cow’s milk, and 3) formula is expensive.
We did our research. And in what felt like an act of serendipity, an article featuring milksharing was published in a local magazine right around that time. We talked to our pediatrician, who suggested that as long as the donor(s) tested negative for Hep C and HIV, it was no problem. So we took the donor milk plunge.
The anxiety of not being able to produce enough milk was quickly replaced by the anxiety of watching the donor milk stash diminish every week or so. Thankfully, there are a few places to connect with mamas who donate milk — I’ve found several through a local mommy board and Eats on Feets, both on Facebook. About a month ago now, we hit the mother load (no pun intended) and found a donor a few hours away who said we could take as much as we could fit in our car. We filled the freezer to the tippy top.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief that day. I knew that nursing had a shelf life, if you will, but also knew that no matter what my breastmilk supply did, my son would be easily nourished for the near future. We have a few more weeks before I have to worry about where the next stash will come from…
A Slippery Slope
In theory, when a baby gets more bottles than breast, their affinity for the former grows. There are ways to prevent this from happening quickly — you can make sure that nipples for the bottles you use are the lowest flow and are replaced frequently, and you can use a paced feeding method. We have done both. But despite our efforts, Allen stopped nursing during the daytime about a month ago now. I’ve continued to offer, but when your little one repeatedly arches his back away from you and screams when you try to nurse him, it’s tough not to take no for no.
Until a few nights ago, he nursed at night still. Last week, it dropped to only once a night. Two nights ago, he refused to nurse at all. He latched on for a few seconds, and then cried his little heart out. He wouldn’t settle until we gave him a bottle.
The same thing happened last night.
And here I am, exhausted, sad, and feeling a little jilted because I didn’t get to have input in the decision that our nursing relationship is (probably) over.
Not the End of the World
I had no idea how long I wanted to breastfeed — I just knew that I wanted to have input in making the decision. When we hit 6 months, after all the struggles we had, I was amazed that we’d made it that far. When things slowed down at 8 months, I knew the end wasn’t too far away, but figured we would make it longer than this. And I figured it would be more of a negotiation, and that it wouldn’t end so suddenly.
There are a lot of posts on the mommy boards I’m on about mamas and babies making it 12 months, 18 months, 24 months, and beyond. It’s unlikely I will be posting about any of these milestones. It’s more than a little bittersweet — the fact that I didn’t get to have a say in the end of our nursing relationship has me a little down today. But…I also know there are tons of mommies and babies who simply cannot nurse. Others who don’t have access to help when a latch isn’t working. Others who struggle so much with being touched constantly and can’t wait for nursing to end. And others still who have not thought twice about nursing as a challenge because it’s been smooth sailing from the start.
As the breastfeeding trend turns upwards again — which I wholeheartedly support!!! — there are those of us for whom it doesn’t come easily. For whom it always felt (and probably looked) awkward. For whom it was really, really challenging. So I write this post for those mamas — the ones who have struggled before me, alongside me, and those who will after me. For the mamas who have lost countless sleep, work, and self-care hours trying to express milk (or heal from trying to express it). And, of course, for the mamas who have donated all the milk and nourished my little one in the last few months when I couldn’t. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I know there are others out there who are wondering about donor milk, or who think they might be the only ones who feel a mixed bag of relief and sadness when their little says thanks but no thanks to nursing. You are not alone! I write this blog post for you.