Google “breastfeeding,” and you’ll get tons of information on its benefits, tips on how to make it work and how to pump, advice on whether you should “pump and dump” and testimonies from women advocating for their rights to nurse in public.
All of this talk can bring about this notion of “all or nothing breastfeeding” that can be intimidating, limiting or outright scary to a new mom or a mom-to-be. However, being a breastfeeding mom comes with a lot of nuances and in-betweens that we should talk about.
I originally planned on breastfeeding for six months, but when I got there, I wasn’t ready to give it up. I had worked so hard to get to this point. Doctors and other moms tell you to keep at it for a year, but in reality I didn’t know how I was going to make it work for that long. By the time he was 6 months old, my baby started regressing to newborn nursing with hour-long sessions, often distracted by everything else in the room. My doctor urged to keep going, but I was conflicted. Everything I read online told me that babies don’t self-wean before a year, yet it felt like my baby was.
After a few months of working and pumping, I began to produce less, even though my baby was growing and drinking more. As he became more mobile and more interested in solid food and in the world around him, he also became too busy to want to nurse. I don’t blame him—why spend an hour eating when you can hold a bottle yourself for 10 minutes and go back to playing? And as he started to play with everything around him instead of eating, the whole breastfeeding thing became frustrating for the both of us.
So I asked for advice around me. Some of my mom friends continued to breastfeed for over a year, but most of them stayed at home with the baby all day. One friend weaned her baby at seven months and confessed that it was the best decision she’d ever made. But it was my sister who made me realize that breastfeeding didn’t have to be all or nothing. “You make it work for you,” she said.
So the day my son turned 7 months old, I decided to wean daytime nursing and pumping sessions for bottles of formula. I kept breastfeeding in the morning and at night, when he was generally calmer and more focused.
Within two weeks, I felt like I had my life back.
I had freedom to be out or working all day and not have to worry about pumping every few hours. I didn’t have to lug a bag of supplies with me everywhere I went or remember my milk in the refrigerator. The milk blisters I got on my nipples from wrestling him to nurse the few months prior finally went away.
Though I thought I’d really enjoy not having to worry about a wardrobe limited by nursing access, I continued to use my favorite breastfeeding-friendly clothes even when I didn’t have to nurse or pump. Sure, it was great to be able to shop at many different stores without concern about boob accessibility, but nursing-friendly clothes turned out to be so much easier.
But I did worry about leaking. So I invested in many (many) pads and wore dark colors more often to avoid that awkward moment when you realize you have leak stains on your shirt in the middle of meetings. Ultimately, I never really leaked and now have more nursing pads than I know what to do with.
At 8 months old, my baby grew disinterested in our bedtime nursing session, which used to be my favorite time of day—a time to unwind and cuddle after a long day. But it quickly became a wrestling game, and we often had to supplement with 4 oz of formula to get him to stop crying and fall asleep.
If I give up this session, it means it’s really the beginning of the end, I told myself. My husband, who suggested we stop breastfeeding at bedtime, couldn’t understand why I wanted to hold on to an experience that had already given me so much grief. And I couldn’t quite explain it either.
Was it the forced cuddles with my busybody baby? Was it holding onto his infancy? Would giving up nursing mean that he didn’t need me more than anyone anymore? Not to mention the calories that I was burning through breastfeeding, as I was still working on returning to my pre-pregnancy weight.
We don’t nurse at night anymore, but we do nurse in the morning; and I am hanging onto it until I’ll get signs that it doesn’t work for us anymore. It could be tomorrow; it could be in a few months. Whatever it is, I’m so grateful I had this emotional and beautiful experience with my baby… even if it wasn’t always easy or pretty.