This portion of my breastfeeding story is the most personal and the Internet is an admittedly intimidating place to tell it. Without this part, however, my story is not complete and I can only hope that by sharing it I can help another mom who may be experiencing a similar situation to mine.
Once I made the decision to extend breastfeeding beyond a year, I embraced it. The more research I did on breast milk, the more confident I became in my decision. I learned that Meghan could get a large percentage of her nutritional requirements from my milk into her toddler years. So even on the days when she was being a typical toddler and not wanting to eat a lot of nutritionally dense foods, I knew she was still getting excellent nutrition through my milk. I took great solace in the fact that she was getting the milk that was perfectly designed for a growing human baby and fit her needs perfectly.
I also learned that she was getting an abundance of antibodies through breast milk that would build her immune system. She turned one in September, so I felt great knowing that she had some natural defenses during the cold and flu season. Even though her doctor strongly recommended it, I refused to let her get the N1H1 flu shot. Although I don’t know for sure if extended breastfeeding had anything to do with it, she made it through the sick season without getting the flu or even a cold.
It was all the wonderful benefits of breast milk that kept me going through her second year, because breastfeeding a toddler wasn’t always easy. If I had to compare what it was like breastfeeding Meghan during her first year and her second year, I would say it was like I was breastfeeding a different child. During most of her first year, she didn’t even seem that interested in breastfeeding. You’ll recall how I mentioned she usually nursed for about 5 minutes at a time on one side. As she got older, she was very distractible and it was hard to get her to even nurse that long. Then she officially graduated from being called an infant, into her toddler years, and something changed.
The change started around 13 months or so when Meghan finally figured out the silly movements we’d been doing with our hands meant something. We’d used sign language with her for months, but it took a while to click. Once it did click, however, and she figured out she could squeeze her little hands in and out and that meant “milk”, her (and my) world changed. I don’t know if it was the fact that she could communicate with me better now, actually tell me exactly when she wanted milk, that made her want it more or if it was just a coincidence. But once she started signing milk it seemed she was a whole lot more interested in it. She could now ask for it whenever she wanted it. And ask for it she did.
By 15 months I had a full-fledged milk addict on my hands. On a typical day, she nursed when she woke in the morning, for morning snack, before her afternoon nap, after her afternoon nap, and before bed. And yes, she was still waking up to nurse once a night much of the time. Thankfully she would nurse and go right back to sleep, but when she finally started sleeping through the night consistently around 17 months, I was a happy mama. She was nursing longer as well. This could have been because my supply was lower (I may have had an oversupply when she was an infant) or she may have just enjoyed it more. I have no idea. It was very strange. Sometimes I loved it, other times it drove me crazy. Despite all of this nursing, she was still eating her solid food well, so I really couldn’t find a reason to not allow her to nurse.
Then, the dreaded sore, tender nipples from the beginning days returned. Meghan started looking at me funny after she started nursing, pulling off to smack her lips, and then say (and sign) “milk” as if that wasn’t what she was getting.
I was pregnant.
Tim and I decided to start trying but I didn’t think it would happen right away. My periods were still very irregular and it took me 8 months to get pregnant with Meghan, so I was shocked when it only took us two months of trying to conceive.
Breastfeeding while pregnant was hard. It was painful, my supply dropped, and judging by Meghan’s expressions when nursing, my milk tasted weird. It was frustrating for both of us, but I was determined to continue breastfeeding her until she was two. My initial appointment was with a nurse practitioner at my ob-gyn’s office. When she found out I was breastfeeding, she said, “You need to quit right away.” I was furious. I had done my research and knew there were many, many women who had successfully breastfed through pregnancy with no problems. She seemed uneducated in this area and it was hard for me to hear and try to explain to Tim, who seemed ready to have me quit. I compromised and said we would try to cut down on the breastfeeding sessions.
Getting Meghan to cut back was tough at first. My goal was to get her down to three nursing sessions a day, morning, before nap, and before bed. I had to hide the Boppy pillow because that was a trigger for her. She saw the Boppy pillow and wanted milk. It was really hard for me to say no to her when she wanted her milk, even though I knew it was probably the best thing for both of us. There were plenty of tears, but she eventually got used to our new routine and stopped asking for milk at other times.
My pregnancy started out roughly. When I was pregnant with Meghan I experienced all day sickness (I refuse to call it morning sickness. Who ever came up with that name, anyway?) that extended into the second trimester and this pregnancy seemed to be following the same pattern. Of course, it was more difficult with a breastfeeding toddler to take care of. Then, at 8 weeks, my symptoms started to subside. I thought I must be lucky and maybe it was a boy since I wasn’t feeling so sick anymore. It turned out that my symptoms stopped when my baby stopped growing. I didn’t find out until my 12 week appointment when the doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat and an ultra sound confirmed the baby wasn’t alive.
Not willing to wait an unknown amount of time for the baby to pass naturally, I was scheduled to have a D & C. Physically and emotionally, this was one of the most difficult days of my life. I can’t describe the pain and emptiness that enveloped me while I recovered in the cold hospital. The only saving grace was Meghan’s smiling face, waiting for me at home, reminding me to be grateful for all God has blessed me with. I wasn’t allowed to lift her, but being able to breastfeed her was a gift.
The first thing my doctor told me was, “Your breastfeeding had nothing to do with this.” I believe him. I have to believe him.
Despite believing that breastfeeding Meghan did not cause or contribute to my miscarriage, I knew I couldn’t do it again. I would always associate breastfeeding while pregnant with my miscarriage, and those are painful memories I didn’t want to re-live. If the pregnancy would have lasted, I can’t say how long I would have breastfed Meghan. There’s a chance I would have tandem fed her with her sibling. While the thought of it seemed strange to me, I also knew how much I wanted to let her lead the weaning process. In an ideal world, I would have waited until she was ready to wean to get pregnant again. But I’m no spring chicken over here and who knows how long this child would have continued. She showed no signs of slowing down, so I decided to delay trying to get pregnant again, and then in a few months begin the weaning process and have her be finished when she turned two.
The weaning process went much smoother than I anticipated. My plan was to cut out one of her remaining three feedings each month. We started with the morning feeding. This was easy. Daddy went in to get her instead of me and straight downstairs she went where breakfast was waiting. Yummy smoothie ready to go? Who needs Mommy’s milk? 🙂 She never asked for it in the morning again. The second feeding to go was her nap time feeding. This was the most difficult and took about a week before she stopped asking for it. There were definitely some tears with this one, but she got used to it. The last to go was the before bed feeding. I thought this one would be hard, but by this point I guess she was used to the process and it was pretty easy. She had her last drop of breast milk on her second birthday. And that was the end of our breastfeeding story.
While there were ups and downs, I have no regrets. I loved breastfeeding Meghan and am proud I was able to do it for two years.