Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Breastfeeding: Trials and Tribulations of the 1st Year

My sweet baby girl turned one a few weeks ago... ONE! At the risk of sounding cliche, where did the time go?

We had a Monster's Inc. themed bash!
But, one year was a big milestone, not just for baby, but for mama. I did it, I survived a year of parenthood! And with that, a year of nursing.

Nursing did not come easy to me... not in the least. It's about 50/50: Half of all moms I've talked to will say that nursing came easy and the other half will tell you about how it was hard. Hard enough that they give up. Having been through the difficulties, I can absolutely understand WHY people give up. So, if you were one that had to hang up your dream of nursing your baby, I truly completely understand and do not judge you one bit.

The first six week of nursing went something like this:

  • Sore and cracked nipples so bad that I'd stick to my clothes
  • Mastitis--first round of antibiotics
  • Thrush--undiagnosed for a week
  • Baby not gaining enough weight/Mommy not making enough milk
  • Formula supplementation
  • Pumping in addition to nursing to boost supply
  • Ending formula supplementation---YAY!
  • Really bad ear infection, so bad the doctor can't see the ear drum---and another round of antibiotics
  • Second round of thrush
  • Food poisoning
  • Low supply again...

The big birthday girl!

I could write a novel on the troubles we had the first 6 weeks, but I'm too stubborn and pigheaded to give up. I was determined to make it work. I distinctly remember 2 or 3 times where I'm on the ground in tears, praying with all my might to just nurse my daughter one more time, while daddy's holding a screaming baby saying, "I can't sacrifice my wife for my daughter, I will go get a bottle." 

All that does feel like it was a year ago. But now we're entering a whole new world of "extended breast feeding." I don't feel like what I'm doing is weird or unnatural. This has become a big topic since a certain TIME Magazine article. First, let's point out that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: Babies should continue to breastfeed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.  And the World Health Organization recommends: Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. I look at my sweet baby now and I still see a baby. It's not like she turned one and all of a sudden was grown up and doesn't need her mommy any more. She's not ready to be weaned from the breast. Just this past week, she refused to eat any solid food. I don't know what I would have done if it were not for nursing. She didn't feel well and wanted to nurse for comfort. But with her high fever, vomitting and diarrhea, I was worried about dehydration and malnutrition---nursing addressed all three things.

We did not enjoy the cake smash AT ALL...
My writing this has made my choice to "extend" nursing very public, but the truth of the matter is that nursing has become a very private thing. My little girl is so fascinated by all things around her now. If we're out anywhere, she's just too busy to nurse. She wants to see everything and wants nothing to do with mommy's milk. But, when we're at home, she will crawl over to me and sign "milk" just to cuddle close and take her nap. We still nurse her to sleep at night. There are millions of articles and studies about the benefits of extended nursing. But I made the decision to continue nursing because she's still a baby. She doesn't understand this big world around her yet and this is the one source of comfort for her. Also, with us becoming vegan, it strikes me as weirder to wean a child off his/her mother's milk to the milk of a whole other species...

Our little dragon girl on Chinese New Year!
One of the biggest lessons I learned this past year is that Gabriella will make decisions on when she has outgrown something for herself. For example, I was asked once by someone how I would "wean" her from being worn. Something, I had never thought about, I wore her all the time. But I found that she slowly, didn't want to be in the wrap all the time. At about 3 months old, she'd start fussing whenever we sat down to dinner, insisting on sitting on my lap to watch everything and grab at my plate. We didn't push solids on her. At 6 months, she just wasn't interested. We'd give her little tastes here and there, but most of the food we put out in front of her was just played with and fed to the dog... totally okay. By 9 months, she was feeding herself. I couldn't will her to do any of these things any faster than I could have willed her to crawl, roll over, and teethe---things she did all on her own time. Why would nursing be any different? She has slowly weaned herself over time. She used to nurse every couple of hours and now we go closer to 4 hours in between. And as time continues, the time between nursings will just increase until they are nonexistent. That will not be my doing, she will decide herself. I'm raising a human being--we as humans have our own thoughts and feelings and I feel that it's important that my daughter is raised with the confidence to know that her thoughts and feelings matter and are heard by her mama.

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