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Nearing the End of Our Breastfeeding Journey
If you had told me, when Judah was just three months old, that I’d still be nursing him at ten months, I would have given you a very dubious look, perhaps a doubtful guffaw. Our breastfeeding journey was still so new then, fraught with physical challenges and emotional obstacles. Now, as we’ve been weaning over the past few weeks, I can’t believe I’ve been breastfeeding Judah for this long. The fact that I’m taking my time weaning him reveals just how much I don’t want to end this unique connection I share with my son.
I truly never thought I would have lasted this long and now that our breastfeeding journey is slowly coming to an end, I find it hard to say goodbye.
Before Judah was born, I was fully committed to breastfeeding for at least a year, possibly longer. When our son arrived five weeks prematurely, our breastfeeding connection didn’t exactly start off as I had hoped: because Judah was in the NICU, I had to use a hospital-grade breast pump with a special preemie baby program to help my milk come in faster. I didn’t get to nurse Judah for the first time until he was four days old and even then, we had a rough go of it because he was so small.
And then he got very, very sick. We couldn’t hold him for another three days after he first got sick and then I wasn’t able to breastfeed him again for another three weeks.
Until then, it was me and the breast pump. I couldn’t stand that breast pump: the noisy repetition, that endlessly grating “wahhh-wah-wahhh-wah-wahhh-wah” sound, the uncomfortable breast shields that left marks. It was messy, mechanical, and the furthest thing from the close bonding of nursing that I so desperately wanted to share with Judah. When I did finally get to resume breastfeeding, I had to use a nipple shield because he was still so tiny: that shield was yet another barrier to our nursing relationship, however thin. Thankfully, we didn’t have to use it for more than a month.
When we finally got home to Massachusetts and settled into life as a new family of three, the reflux started. And I’m not just talking about a little spit up here or there: I’m talking about reflux so bad Judah barely gained weight. Our pediatrician recommended supplementation with formula. Larry had to give Judah his first bottle of formula because I was crying so hard. I felt like such a failure. I felt like everything was stacked against me to prevent us from having this joyful breastfeeding experience I so desperately, instinctually longed for.
There were lactation consultants and breastfeeding support groups. There was struggling with the nursing cover in public. There was even a tongue tie, discovered when Judah was already two months old. A simple surgical procedure that took seconds and barely required topical anesthetic corrected an issue that should have been taken care of when he was born. It made a huge difference once we got it taken care of and Judah had a much easier time with breastfeeding.
And then there was colic.
At its height, I decided to stop the formula, since it seemed the only thing that could keep Judah calm on his worst colicky days was for me to hold him and nurse. We exclusively breastfed around the clock – no formula, no bottles – for 8 weeks. It wasn’t easy: Judah still had a weak sucking response, so our nursing sessions often lasted close to an hour every time. And when your baby’s eating close to every two hours… I rarely had time to myself. I pretty much lived on the couch, the rocking chair and my bed.
For a while, I took our breastfeeding journey day by day. I was always ready to quit, often having tearful, conflicted conversations with my husband who encouraged me to do what felt right. Then I began to take it week by week. When Judah was at his most colicky, I promised to reevaluate everything at four months. I kept at it. Four months came and went. At his doctor’s recommendation, we reintroduced formula and eventually solids to help with his reflux. Five months came and went, six months, seven months…
Breastfeeding has never been easy, but it eventually got easier.
By eight months, Judah’s reflux had all but stopped on its own, thank goodness. (Our washer and dryer were perhaps the most relieved!) He was a confident, curious eater. He would always rise for the day and go to bed at my breast, with bottles and another nursing session throughout the day. And then it became just two nursing sessions a day: morning and evening. And now we’ve dwindled down to typically one nursing session a day: mostly in the mornings, sometimes in the evenings.
This past weekend, I went a whole day without nursing Judah, just to see what it felt like, to see how we both handled it. Judah seemed largely unfazed by it: he was just as happy to gobble down a bottle of formula. But for me… I realized I wasn’t 100% ready to wean him just yet. So I’ll continue to stretch out nursing him one or two times a day, because I absolutely cherish our morning cuddles together while I nurse him in bed.
They say “breast is best” but we had to do what was best for us. Even though we supplement and as much as I wanted to exclusively breastfeed, it hasn’t made this breastfeeding journey any less special or valid. It’s been our wonderful, unique, magical journey and I’m just so grateful for every single second of it. Due to another medical condition, I have to wean Judah by the time he’s a year so I can resume taking medications I had to put on hold while I was breastfeeding; we’ll see if my supply lasts that long.
But I can say this with confidence: I know that if I could breastfeed him longer, I would. I never thought I would make it this far on our breastfeeding journey… and despite all the challenges and hurdles thrown our way, I’m so grateful and proud that we never gave up on each other, that we stuck with it, that my husband cheered us on the whole way.
Our breastfeeding journey has been exactly that: ours.
I’ve treasured each and every one of those magical moments with you, Judah. Thank you for that most precious of gifts.