It feels like ripping off the world’s largest band aid in slow motion. You know you’ll be okay, you know it has to be done, but it still hurts a little.
I know in my heart this is the right choice for me. Even before the mild bout of mastitis at 10 months postpartum tanked what was left of my milk supply, I was already starting to waver.
I know we’re weaning. I know this is it. I just wish trusting your gut and knowing you are making the right choice automatically makes things easier.
As much as I am ready to be done—to trade in my flanges for a day when my entire schedule doesn’t revolve around my next pump—every time I debate putting up a good fight versus just throwing in the towel, all the mom guilt comes pouring in.
I know Tank will be fine. Just like his brother, he got his first taste of formula before we left the hospital, so I don’t doubt that he will be fed and content with formula until he hits one year old and we have other options.
In fact, other than a brief period in his early days, we chose to keep a small amount of formula in his diet for peace of mind. With Little Dude, my supply had never been enough, and I did not want the anxiety of always chasing those dwindling ounces despite having a better supply for Tank.
So what is my problem?
A side effect of doggedly soldiering on with this whole breastfeeding thing, particularly for a pumping mom, is that the more time goes by, the more you just train yourself to keep on pumping.
You take things day by day, pump by pump, and never quit on a bad day.
Now I’m done—really done—and I know it, but I still haven’t fully given myself permission to quit.
What if this is just a string of bad days? I wonder. What if I don’t realize that until it’s too late to backpedal?
My reluctant, sad surrender during the final days of our nursing journey surprises me.
As much as I’ve enjoyed nursing Tank, I don’t particularly enjoy pumping. I psyche myself up for it by marveling at what my amazing body can do. I count the numbers—58.5 gallons; 2,547 pumps; and 43 days (and 9 hours and 28 minutes) to date over the course of two nursing journeys—and celebrate the milestones.
Beyond that, let’s be real: nobody really enjoys forging a close personal relationship with a milking machine. And for me, pumping has been the bulk of both nursing journeys.
So what is my problem?
I reflect back on the beginning of my nursing journey with Tank. It paralleled the rocky beginning I had with Little Dude in so many ways, but this time I was different. I had knowledge and agency and made so many good choices. I’m proud of myself for that.
I got to decide when and how Tank got formula based on better information from the doctors.
When I was told in the operating room he needed formula, I asked if it was absolutely necessary. The doctors conferred and told me exactly what his blood sugar level was and where it needed to be so that I could understand the necessity of the intervention. The doctors assured me he was getting just enough to stabilize his numbers and then he would be given back to me for nursing.
In fact, even when I balked at the next bump in the road, the decision by someone on staff that Tank needed repeated supplements of high-calorie formula to maintain his blood sugar numbers, I was able to be the advocate instead of the hysterical mom.
Okay, I freaked out a little bit too (watching formula shoot out of your baby’s nose because his little belly isn’t having it is not fun), but I also kept questioning everyone who came into his room about the choice for high calorie. Eventually someone agreed with me that it was overkill and we were done.
I took so many lessons from feeding Little Dude into this nursing journey. I pumped religiously (under the guidance of an IBCLC) after every bottle we fed Tank, even if I didn’t get anything much.
My doula even opened the door to hand expressing and gave me my first lesson when she came to do her followup hospital visit (doulas: worth their weight in gold).
From Little Dude, I learned that you don’t sit on nursing issues.
We made it home, we saw our IBCLC at 7 days postpartum, and we got a tongue tie revision at 12 days postpartum. We followed that up with several visits to oral motor therapy, and slogged our way as best we could through our “homework” exercises.
Acting fast definitely paid off this time around. I celebrated the difference early intervention was making: for a couple of glorious months, we ditched the formula and Tank was exclusively breast fed.
It was only when I decided to exclusively pump that we eventually made the choice to give one formula bottle a day. Although I was pumping upwards of 25–29 ounces a day, which was a new and amazing victory for me, I didn’t want Tank losing his taste for formula if my supply dipped (as it eventually did).
So what is my problem? I ask myself again, reflecting back on all the successes we witnessed along the way.
Fear. This time, it isn’t guilt over all the missteps along the way, or all the inadequacies I feel as a mom, that is nagging me. No, it’s fear.
I fear that I am robbing Tank of the bond we have created while nursing, and it’s all because of the monkey wrench he threw into the mix.
Several weeks into my exclusively pumping journey with Tank, he surprised the heck out of me by latching again. I tentatively explored comfort nursing before bed, then we eventually worked our way back to morning and evening nursing sessions.
More than his brother, he seems to still want the patchwork nursing relationship we forged for ourselves.
Sometimes I wonder whether the day I lost confidence and switched to exclusively pumping was just a day of cluster feeding that I should have muscled through; however, I do not doubt my choice to switch to exclusively pumping. I carried enough anxiety and baggage from my journey with Little Dude that pumping was definitely the right choice for me to make.
I trusted myself to decide to pump, just as I trusted myself and Tank the day I offered him the breast again. That day he taught me the most amazing lesson: breastfeeding does not have to be all or nothing.
I am so damn proud of every single thing we have achieved, but now I’m in uncharted territory again.
I always thought that if I reached every breastfeeding goal I set for myself, the final goal would be to let my baby decide when to wean. If things were going 100% okay, why wouldn’t I do it that way?
So now that I find myself with a suddenly dipping supply and an almost-11-month-old Tank who likes to latch and nurse to sleep at night, I worry that no matter what I do I’m about to rob him of something precious.
Listening to others’ weaning stories is helping.
I have learned that, by and large, the kids are okay. Babies adapt, sometimes better than we give them credit for. They’re resilient.
Obviously, as I learned along my journey, you need to “listen” to them; they’ll let you know what you need to do.
Tank certainly did.
In this weird paradox, my kid who loved to latch and comfort nurse was absolutely fine skipping a day of nursing to sleep while I went out with friends.
The next few nights, he nursed for a few minutes, despite the dwindling supply, and then popped off to play with Little Dude or get rocked to sleep.
I still offer when it’s convenient, but the last time I offered, he seemed to understand there wasn’t much milk there, popped off, and with his bright little smile thanked me for still trying to provide.
We are finding a new way, and we are okay.