One year older and decades wiser

Many families celebrate each birth month of their little ones. I see the pictures of their babies on Facebook, with cute little handmade signs next to them: One month old, two months, four months, ten.

Me? I celebrate the months of breastfeeding. Today we are at 16 months and counting, even as I enter the second trimester of my pregnancy now. Like birth months and raising babies, our breastfeeding journey has had its up and downs.

Like many (most?) first time moms, I had some strong convictions and preconceived notions about breastfeeding. I was convinced formula would be harmful to his delicate digestive system, that my son would have a dairy allergy because I did (he doesn’t), and that the introduction of bottles would cause nipple confusion and/or breast milk supply issues.  I was so determined to EBF – exclusively breastfeed.

I vowed to breastfeed until the age of one, in accordance with the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of “exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer.” After the age of one, we would stop – although at the time, I had no idea how to wean or even that I would have to wean.

Yes, I was a crazy and naive first-time mom.

Granted, our situation was a little different than most. Evan was born with a cleft lip, and later on we found out a submucosal cleft palate as well. He was one of the tiny minority of babies born with cleft palates who could actually breastfeed.

Looking back, I feel our success was both due to luck and knowledge. As for the knowledge, I relied heavily on the websites of La Leche League and even more so on Kellymom. Fenugreek was what got my milk to come in the fourth day – this I am sure of. I had taken it the night before, becoming more and more worried that my son wasn’t getting anything from me, and the next morning I was engorged. It was truly a magical moment for me.

I had also encapsulated my placenta, which was supposed to help with milk supply, and I had taken the pills daily in the first couple of months. I drank plenty of water and ate as much as I wanted.

I’ve been asked if I had a lot of support breastfeeding. I feel like I did, yet at the same time I didn’t.

I had the full support of my husband. Perhaps he was just a clever man, however, as my fear of bottles meant that all feedings, day in and day out, nighttime, daytime, every two hours, every hour, twice an hour – these all became my responsibility. He was in charge of keeping a steady supply of food and water for me, which he did well for the most part.

I had the support of my parents, who were hundreds of miles away, but were my quiet cheerleaders. I had to support of my in laws as well, although my mother in law did unnecessarily and often touch my boobs. She was always worried that in their engorged state, my breasts would suffocate tiny Evan. They didn’t (surprise!).

My mother in law desperately wanted Evan on a bottle. I don’t know if it was because she knew after four kids of her own, how tough it was to be exclusively breastfeeding, or if it was because she yearned to feed him herself. Maybe it was a little bit of both; I don’t know. I bit my tongue, and kept on.

As a new mom, you know, every little decision seems to be one of immense importance with far-reaching consequences. When we realized Evan was a fussy baby, or what Dr. Sears calls “a high needs baby,” I began to obsess over the idea of a foremilk/hindmilk imbalance. I researched gripe water as well as all the ingredients, herbs and preservatives found in all the different brands of gripe water I came across. I polled my friends on gas drops vs. gripe water and called the pediatrician.

I also started a food diary to figure out if something I was eating was causing him pain after breastfeeding. I cut out dairy, onions, and alkaline foods like tomatoes. I then even cut feedings from one boob thinking that positioning him on that side was causing him to suck in too much air through the cleft in his lip and thus giving him gas. I became even more staunchly opposed to bottles. Looking back , it was a classic case of DMF.

Cutting out feeding from one boob caused me to be lopsided. Like extremely lopsided. Like one side of my body was significantly weightier than the other side.

Still, we carried on.

We breastfed through D-MER: dysmorphic milk ejection reflex. If you have D-MER, you’ll know it, even if you (like me) didn’t know there was a term for it. It’s this awful, terrible feeling that you get while breastfeeding, especially during letdown. Fortunately, it eventually went away and I no longer get it.

We breastfed through mastitis and thrush. Through other illnesses by both mom and baby. We breastfed in restaurants, on the plane, in an aisle at Target, and in the backseat of a jeep in Nicaragua while we went on our first vacation with Evan. Apparently no one uses car seats there – I was told a Nicaraguan car seat is your lap.

We breastfed through a lip repair surgery at five months, and breastfeeding was our saving grace then. We breastfed through a lip palate surgery at 12 months, but the pain from the surgery coupled with my attempts to breastfeed resulted in a near two week nursing strike.

The nursing strike and the sudden reduction in demand caused me to become seriously depressed. Apparently weaning and depression in mother is also common, and backed by science, but I didn’t know about it. After I found out about it, I felt better because I knew there was a reason why I was suddenly having mood swings and crying. We spent $200 on a pump to keep my supply up during the nursing strike. We talked through my depression. At the end of it all, although my supply suffered, we did get through it.

We got through numerous periods of teething and biting, and now we’re working on supply issues again as my pregnancy progresses.

Do I wish I would have done things differently? Yes and no. Sometimes I wish we went on a bottle, just because I would have a lot more freedom and a little bit more sleep, as least I’d like to think that. Sometimes I wish I could stick to a weaning schedule and successfully wean him, because I’m not enjoying breastfeeding as much as I used to. Actually, to be honest, I’m not really enjoying it much at all anymore.

But this entire breastfeeding journey – which is still ongoing – has taught me so much. That’s why I wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I’m more open-minded and have willpower I never believed I could have. I believe there are multiple ways to feed your infant and some just as good as others. I am more patient now than I am judgmental. I learned to never say never, and I’ve fed Evan his share of Enfamil and Similac, albeit from a straw or a cup. These are just the things breastfeeding has taught me, which when it comes down to it, are the survival skills you need for motherhood.

Now that I’m a year older and feel decades wiser, let’s see what happens when #2 comes around. Maybe we’ll do a bottle this time.

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