It is now August and Eleanor is about to have her first birthday. She was further weaned herself to only nursing at bedtime and once or twice during the night, with the occasional mid-day brief “snack.” I’m not sure if we’ll make it even to eighteen months, but I’m okay with that. I’m letting Eleanor decide when she is done and wean herself naturally. In the meantime, I’m enjoying every moment of breastfeeding her that I can. Despite all that I had to give up – my favorite foods, my job, sleep – I still love nursing her. And because of all those challenges, I am incredibly proud of both of us for sticking with it and continuing on our breastfeeding journey.
If you missed yesterday’s post, this is the conclusion of the story of my breastfeeding journey. It has been a long, long road. I originally wrote my story out to accompany the beautiful breastfeeding pictures taken by Emi Halverson as part of an amazing project she was doing to help capture and share the beauty of breastfeeding. Please do check out her amazing talent, as she is an equally incredible person.
Four months after Zoey was weaned, I was pregnant again. When Eleanor was born, in August 2012, it was an entirely different experience. I had a successful VBAC and Eleanor was placed on my chest immediately. Through my state of completely joy and ecstasy over the fact that I had been able to have a normal birthing experience, I was vaguely aware of the fact that Eleanor was immediately latching on and nursing. Wasn’t that what babies were supposed to do? Aren’t there videos of babies “crawling” up their mother’s bodies to breastfeed, moments after being born? Why wasn’t my daughter doing that? It wasn’t until weeks later that I realized the pain medications and epidural I had received in order to make it through my 56 hours long labor without another c-section had probably affected Eleanor and made her more groggy than she otherwise would have been at birth. Within a matter of hours she was nursing like a champ.
It only took a couple of days to realize that I was in for the same problems breastfeeding Eleanor. The difference was that, this time, I had some basic knowledge to start with. While Eleanor would take a bottle and a pacifier (which Zoey never would), she still only nursed from me for a few minutes and was showing signs of silent reflux. I also still had trouble getting milk when I pumped.We started Eleanor on ranitidine for the reflux and I figured out what I consider to be the root cause of all my issues with breastfeeding: I am one of those women who has a very large, fast letdown and then virtually nothing comes out afterward. The enormous volume that comes out in the beginning is too much for a newborn to handle, causing reflux and short, frequent nursing. Also, this means that when I pump if I can’t get a letdown then I don’t get anything out. I learned to wait at least thirty minutes to an hour after nursing Eleanor before trying to pump so that I would be able to get another letdown. I also believe this is the root of the bottle rejection. If you are used to a huge, free flow of yummy goodness for your meals, would you put up with having to work hard for a measly stream?
I wish I could say that things got better once I figured that out, but they actually got worse. Eleanor became severely constipated. She was gassy and screaming all the time, especially at night, and by five weeks old was completely refusing to take a bottle or pacifier. It got to the point that we took her in for tests involving injecting dye into her colon and using x-ray to assess for blockages and defects. They found only a lot of gas. We took Eleanor to a pediatric gastroenterologist who finally was able to give us a solution. I had to give up all dairy and soy in my diet. This was REALLY hard for me to do and came right on the heels of having had to give up a lot of foods due to gestational diabetes (triggered by steroids I had been given during the pregnancy for another condition). Soy was the hardest as it is in EVERYTHING. Even cooking spray!
The way things were, though, failure was not an option. Eleanor wouldn’t take a bottle and, even if she would, we couldn’t afford the very expensive formula that would be dairy and soy free. I had to breastfeed her. So, the big stash of breastmilk in my freezer (that I was so proud of!) was donated to a local Down Syndrome baby the same age as Eleanor whose mom was having a difficult time establishing a milk supply. I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas eating from a very limited menu. Four weeks in, just as the doctor predicted, we started to see improvement in Eleanor. While she followed in her sister’s footsteps weight-wise, hanging out in the first percentile (crazy genetics!) she was much less gassy and screamy and was again the happy, smiley baby we had brought home from the hospital.
The bottle issue remained, however, and now I was working day shift. With Zoey, if she didn’t eat for thirteen hours while I was gone, at least most of that time was being spent sleeping. With Eleanor it meant that she would go all day without eating and then be expected to sleep all night, waking up only occasionally to eat. It just didn’t work with our already underweight baby. So, the day after Christmas, I handed in my notice – effective immediately – and quit my job to stay home and be a food source for my baby.
Things went really smooth for the next six months. We introduced solid foods but breastfeeding remained Eleanor’s main source of nutrition. When she was six months old, I slowly began reintroducing soy and then dairy back into my diet and Eleanor tolerated both well. She learned to take small amounts of pumped milk from a straw cup, but still mostly preferred to nurse. We both enjoyed the snuggling and cuddling, and I finally discovered that amazing breastfeeding bond. It was about this time that I declared to my husband my intention and desire for “extended” breastfeeding. My new goal was no longer just to breastfeed Eleanor for the first year; I now wanted to continue to nurse her for as long as she wanted. I guessed this would be until she was about two. My husband was wonderfully supportive of this idea.
Then Eleanor got a fever followed by a rash. It coincided with the weather reaching ninety degrees in Seattle. She stopped nursing and eating all together, for more than twenty-four hours. Every time I would try to nurse her, Eleanor would bite down on me. HARD. It was very clear she was telling me “No.” I took her to the doctor who diagnosed roseola and moderate dehydration. I then spent the next few days frequently calling an amazing lactation consultant. She gave me the idea of getting Eleanor to sleep and then trying to “dream feed” her, picking her up and getting her to latch on while sleepy and less resistant. It worked! So she got some hydration during the night but still wasn’t eating or nursing during the day. The next step was co-sleeping and lots of babywearing to repair our bond. Finally, Eleanor began nursing again, although much less than she had been. Previous to the infection, Eleanor had been nursing every three or four hours around the clock. Now, she nursed when she woke up in the morning, once during the day, and then at bedtime and once or twice at night. I accepted this as the natural course of baby-led weaning and felt grateful that our breastfeeding relationship could still continue.