Self-Weaning Before a Year

When I became pregnant with my first child, I thought about my pregnancy every second of the day and probably the night too. I thought about my cravings, how big my bump was getting, what his nursery would look like, registering, what his name would be, who would be in the hospital with me and everything else you could imagine. You know what I barely considered? Breastfeeding… and how difficult, emotional, wonderful, time-consuming and fulfilling it would be.

When the instructor at my infant care class asked “breast or bottle?” my answer was immediate. “We plan on breastfeeding.” But I really had no idea what that meant. I didn’t read any books or take any breastfeeding classes (yes, they do exist) and didn’t consult with any of my mama friends.

I was incredibly lucky that my first born was a natural at breastfeeding and so it was a fairly easy experience for the first eight months. My milk came in on day five after my c-section, but B had been nursing and getting colostrum since birth. I was supplementing with formula at the hospital (recommended since he had lost more than 10% of his body weight and my milk was not yet in) and had taken to both breast and bottle just fine.

We were sent home on day five and nursing at home was easy and natural for us both. I just remember having the typical questions that I asked my pediatrician at his first visits, such as “how often should he be nursing and for how long?” Their answers were eight to 10 times a day and for at LEAST 20-30 minutes. He told me that anything less wouldn’t be enough! I panicked slightly when I realized he was only nursing eight times a day and for 15 minutes. Very shortly after only 5-7 times a day once we were on a “schedule.” He was sleeping in very long stretches overnight starting at one week old (yes, it can happen) and I was pumping once before bed to build a freezer stash.

Everything was sunshine and rainbows until just shy of nine months old and I began to prepare to return to work.

I am a teacher and I took a leave from December through the remainder of the year to stay home with B. When September hit and I began to prepare for returning to my classroom and a new set of Kindergarteners, my body, which previously had been successfully pumping once a day for eight months, stopped responding to the pump. I thoroughly washed all my parts, called Medela support, bought new parts and nothing was working.

I was fine when I was home with B, but I was no longer able to pump a drop.

I attempted pumping at work regardless, hoping things would change, but they did not. After a week of trying, I resolved to just nurse B at wake up and bedtime. That lasted about a day. He bit me after just nursing for a few minutes and had zero interest in my milk. So that was it. At nine months, we were done. My body was not engorged and never in pain, so I know that I was ready and he was obviously ready too.

For my second son, K, I had a bit of experience, so I knew more of what I was in for. I nursed for a few days with no issues and then my milk REALLY came in. I honestly thought it was possible that my chest would rip apart from being so full. I was in so much pain and honestly looked like I belonged in adult movies. I began to dread nursing and cringed through every session wishing for it to be over as quick as possible.

Engorgement had hit full force and was no joke. I read everything I could find and got some great advice for other mamas that had been there (including ice packs, cabbage and self-expressing). My nipple on one side was cracked and bled every time he nursed. I was in tears and in so much pain. I knew it wasn’t his latch (a lactation consultant had watched him nurse) so figured the pain was temporary. And thank goodness, it was. After a few days of serious discomfort, we settled into a pattern.

Around six months, I had to return to work after having K and was dreading a repeat experience from my first go-around. Pumping at any workplace is difficult… but for a teacher with no consistent breaks (besides lunch), no “pumping room” and no one to cover my classroom while I pumped, it’s a challenge, needless to say.

I managed to make it work by closing my door and my blinds and putting a sign up (‘Please Do Not Enter’ – with a picture of a cow, lol), sitting at my computer and pumping while I typed or ate lunch. I managed to rearrange my schedule somewhat so that I had a consistent morning break at 10:45 four days a week, along with a 1:00 lunch every day. I was excused from morning meetings a few minutes early so I could pump at 8:50 before my students arrived at 9:10. I also typically pumped while driving on the way home on one side and then nursed on the other side when I got K.

I felt secluded, I never ate with my colleagues, I got used to the sound of my pump while I was working and I was strapped to my desk, but I made it work for four long months without issue. I was pumping what he needed throughout the day, but in December, I noticed a huge dip in my supply (thanks to my period coming back) and things starting going downhill. I wasn’t pumping enough during the day, but he was taking in far more at daycare than I was expressing. He didn’t seem satisfied with when we were nursing at home.

It came to be that in January, I wasn’t pumping enough to make my time worth it just for the few ounces I was getting (and there was no possible way to add more pumping time in during the day). Eventually, he seemed to lose interest at home too. Again, I tried to nurse at wake up and bedtime (and throughout the night) but K wanted none of it. He was just done. I stopped offering and he stopped asking. Just like with B, I wasn’t engorged or in pain and K was happily drinking formula.

I know “all of the books” and pretty much all of my mama friends say that self-weaning before one year is extremely rare, but I truly believe that’s how it happened for my both boys, with just a little nudge of help from the dreads of pumping at work and my periods. I sorely miss nursing and get a little twinge of jealousy whenever I hear someone saying that they nursed their babies until they were a year (or more!) because I wish I had made it to a year both times and didn’t quite get there.

Still, nine months and ten months is nothing to sneeze at and I’m proud of it.

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