My wonderful little daughter is now eleven months old. In the last few weeks, she’s been interested in the breast less and less, and now we’ve begun the slow process to wean her completely. By the time she’s a year old, she’ll no longer be taking the breast but instead be eating real food and drinking cow’s milk. A journey we have taken together is coming to and end, and while it makes me a small bit sad, I also know that it’s the right thing for us.
When I was pregnant, it was never in question that I wanted to breastfeed the baby. I figured that it’s what my body is designed to do, it’s what nature intended. That being said, I wasn’t too hung up about it. I’d give it a go, but wouldn’t have been too bother about using formula either. Initially, I figured I wanted to at least get to two weeks. That way, the baby gets the benefit of the initial boost from the mother’s immune system.
As it turned out, my daughter was a natural nurser. She was thriving on my milk. We really had very little trouble, though not everything was smooth sailing. At the start, my nipples were cracked and quite sore, though that soon healed. I also experienced some D-Mer, which I have mentioned on this blog before, and there was a bout of thrush, soon cured with some cream.
The biggest obstacle in breastfeeding, however, was the staff on the post-natal ward. While I was pregnant, the midwifes in hospital really pressed me that I should breastfeed – even though I had made it clear from the start that this was my intention. However, when my daughter was actually born, I found attitudes of hospital staff (aside from the wonderful midwife who actually delivered baby) not rather unsupportive. The staff on the ward had clearly very little idea of what breastfeeding entailed, and were unable to give me any useful advice on positioning when I asked. I eventually figured it out on my own, but it should have been a very basic bit of guidance to offer a new mother. In fact, I got the impression at times that this breastfeeding craic was a nuisance, making their life more difficult as they couldn’t schedule things around predicable bottle feeds. In addition, and to me this was worst, they wanted to keep me in hospital for a second night. Why? Because I was breastfeeding.
When I challenged this, the nurse told me, “even though breast is best (she didn’t sound convinced, but rather like a broken record), we need to make sure your baby is feeding”.
Uhm, hello? She’s been barely of the boob at all. She’s had loads of wet and dirty nappies. She’s lively and alert between feeds and sleep. Of course she’s feeding!
My one and only night was a miserable experience. My bed was pushed into a boiling hot radiator. I felt so hot that I actually thought I was feverish. I couldn’t eat (got my appetite back the minute I got home, funny that). I didn’t sleep a wink the first night although I had been up for 48 hours, given birth, and baby miraculously slept for a good bit as well. I was just to damn hot. I did complain about this by the way, but was told, rather aggressively, that it needed to be warm for the babies. That’s all very good and well, but if I couldn’t even touch that bloody radiator. It would have burned me. It’s one thing keeping the room warm, quite another expecting someone to sleep in a bed touching a radiator.
Anyway, in the end it turned out I could be seen in my own home by a community midwife, so they let me go home. I think I would have checked myself out of hospital anyway. There was absolutely no reason to keep me or my daughter in. It had been a straightforward pregnancy and labour. We were both in excellent shape and there were no complications whatsoever. Nursing was going great, baby was thriving and soon back on her birth weight. We had no trouble making our first target of two weeks breastfeeding.
In fact, it was great. I enjoyed the close bond. It did mean that I wasn’t really able to leave the baby behind much, though I did express milk and she had the odd bottle so I could go out on my own for a few hours once a week. To be honest, I didn’t really want to be separated from my precious baby anyway; it seemed that other people saw a problem here where I did not.
I also found it very convenient. Night feeds in particular, were easy. Just grab baby, attach to boob, feed, tuck back into bed, and go back to sleep again. Okay, I’m presenting an idealised picture here, but I can’t see how having to make up bottles would have been less work. Of course, it meant my husband couldn’t share in night feeds, but as he has a full time job it would’ve been me doing most of the night feeds anyway. If it got too much he would get up and get the baby for me in the middle of the night, in which case I barely had to wake up at all.
During the day, as well, I found breastfeeding most convenient. I could go out without ever having to worry about bringing enough bottles. My milk is always available and always at the right temperature. No need to find ways to sterilise and reheat. Again, this worked in particular because I am my daughter’s main carer anyway and rarely away from her.
Thus, the target of two weeks turned into six, and from there into two months. I felt proud that baby thrived, taking in no other nourishment than what my body made for her. By 5.5 months, however, she was becoming more and more interested the food people around her were eating. When she started to try and grab things of my plate, I started her on her first solids. She continued to breastfeed, but she was no longer completely dependent on me.
As the months went by she began to take more solid food and less milk. We did go back to exclusively breastfeeding just after the New Year, when she became sick, but soon after, she lost interest in the breast again. She’s nearly eleven months now, and only feeding twice a day, first thing in the morning and just before bed. Even then, she’s not really that bothered. For us, this is the right time to wean.
I won’t lie and say that it does not make a me a small bit sad. For me, breastfeeding my daughter was an extension of the special bond I had with her as a mother, while she was slowly growing inside me. Ending the breastfeeding relationship is like seeing her grow from a baby, fully dependent on me, to a toddler, ready to explore the world. It’s right, and it does make me feel proud as well.
I’m very grateful to have been able to share this with my child, and I wouldn’t want to change it for the world. If I’m blessed with more children in the future, I will determined to make it happen again.