Maxton is 13 months old today, and tonight I gave him a bedtime bottle of whole milk for the first time. I’ve been weaning for a month and saved his nighttime feeding for last, and the last time I breastfed him was two nights ago. Last night my husband put him to bed while I cried in the bathroom… He’s out tonight so I thought I’d be even more of a mess, but I actually feel pretty fine… it’s fitting that our breastfeeding adventure isn’t ending how I expected because it has been full of curveballs from the start.
Five weeks early, Max was whisked away to the NICU shortly after he was born. A nurse showed me how to pump before I was able to try breastfeeding. When I finally did he wasn’t really able to latch, so the nurse tube-fed him my colostrum. I think she said something like, “It’s okay – his first feeding is still from you,” and it wasn’t until she tried to make me feel better that I started to feel bad. Or it may have just been the drugs wearing off.
Max was on donor milk until mine came in, and then I pumped away while he was in the NICU for a week. I would go the hospital every day and try breastfeeding for a few feedings, and then set an alarm to pump at night. Trying to breastfeed apparently burned more calories than he was taking in, so sometimes he would be too worn out to drink a bottle after and have to be tube-fed. Another issue keeping him in the NICU was jaundice, which takes longer to go away in breastfed babies.
My desperation to get Max home and my determination to breastfeed were turning out to be conflicting interests. I talked to every lactation consultant at the hospital, and the only thing they all seemed to agree on was an inexplicable obsession with the “football hold” breastfeeding position… I tried the Supplemental Nursing System (which requires four hands to operate), “sandwiching” my boobs (still don’t understand what that means) and nipple shields (godsend). Little by little, feeding by feeding, I figured out how many pillows and what positions worked for us, and we started to get the hang of it.
After being discharged and seeing yet another lactation consultant, Max and I finally got into a groove. In the beginning it felt like I would never be able to breastfeed without the perfect back support and pillow placement, but one day I found myself sitting on a hale bale, nursing Max under a scarf in the middle of an apple orchard.
We spent a few glorious months in that sweet spot, and then Max changed the rules again. When he was seven months old, he started getting really fussy when he nursed. At first the pediatrician thought it was because he had a virus, then they thought it was reflux… and then after medicine and giving up dairy didn’t make a difference, I consulted Dr. Google and realized I might have just been feeding him too much. Turns out you can’t keep a baby on the same schedule for seven months! Oops!
Prematurity, reflux, dairy sensitivity… these are things I was determined to power through, but what really scared me – teeth – ended up not really being a big deal. Max did bite me a couple of times, but after frantically Googling what to do (Google to the rescue again!), the seemingly idiotic advice to tell him to chew on something else actually worked. (Shouting “NO!” just made him laugh.) What ended up being more irritating was the constant boob slapping, hair pulling, nose grabbing and nipple scratching at 10ish+ months. But then he would fall asleep on me or take a break to smile up at me, and I would forget all of the abuse. And there was that one time milk squirted out when he pinched me, and we both started cracking up.
I was afraid those moments would end when I stopped breastfeeding, but tonight Max smiled up at me when I laid him down and kicked his legs when I fluffed out his robot blanket on top of him – just like he’s been doing all week. Then he waved at his mobile when I turned it on (a new level of cuteness) and went to sleep without a peep. I think I’m ready for our next adventure, and so is he.