Sunday, December 12, 2010

Milking it For All It's Worth

Weaning Allie a couple months ago was emotionally pretty hard for me, but I wanted to write about it, and I think I can handle it now.  There probably is a lot that I am going to write that is too much information, so stop now if you don't want to know, but I think some mother's out there might find my experience useful or at least interesting.

I spent exactly three years of my life nursing my two children.  I nursed Selena for 20 months and Allie for 16.  I spent a lot of time nursing, it was a pretty important aspect of my life.  I truly think that children should be nursed longer than they typically are.  The World Health Organization recommends at least two years but I think even longer than that.  I know people think it is weird, and I did before I had children as well, but when you nurse them every day, and you research the benefits for both you and your child, that continue even when they are older, it just doesn't seem as weird.  The strongest  (but not the only) evidence I've seen for longer nursing is that breastfeeding causes amenorrhea and works as a natural birth control.  The more often a child suckles, the more hormone is produced that suppresses ovulation.  This is also the evidence I believe shows that babies and young toddlers are not supposed to sleep through the night, because if a child goes too long without suckling, especially at night when hormones levels are higher, then menstruation will resume.  I believe that humans were designed to nurse frequently and for a long time.  Doing so would ensure natural child spacing, which would result in less pregnancies and healthier mothers.  I know that on-demand breastfeeding does not result in amenorrhea for all women, but in general that is how it is supposed to work, and it did work very well for me.  Anyways, due to this belief I feel some guilt that I did not nurse either of my children for at least two years.  I truly was expecting to nurse Allie for at least six months possibly a year longer, and there are times when it makes me so upset that I am not still nursing her.

Allie had a ceasarian birth.  Right after she was born, she was being suctioned and was crying, and I was crying too.  One of the nurses asked Floyd why I was crying.  He said, "She wants her baby."  And I did.  I desperately wanted to nurse her.  Luckily I ended up at a hospital that was fairly nursing friendly and I think I was able to nurse her about 30 minutes after she was born.  When I was able to, I finally felt that all was right in the world.

She got off to a good start, but the first night was a bit rough.  She cried and cried and got frustrated trying to latch on.  Floyd had to walk around and bounce her and calm her down and then quickly hand her to me to latch.  I have an inverted nipple and a flat nipple so latching wasn't easy.  I had brought a manual breast pump to aid in getting my nipples out.  It helped somewhat.  From experience with Selena I hardly even bothered trying on my left side.  Various nurses and lactation consultants came to help with breastfeeding.  They all had different advice and different opinions, which I'm sure would be very confusing to a new mom.  My favorite was the lady who came in and asked how long I nursed my older child and when I told her 20 months, she smiled and said, "You probably know more than me"  and didn't say anything else.  But even though I did know more than them, I ended up using a nipple shield to appease the nurse who was making me record every nursing session and how long.  Allie would only nurse for 5 minutes, the nurse felt like she should be nursing longer.  So I put on the shield, which slowed down the flow, and she nursed longer.  But I hated that thing and did end up getting rid of it within a couple weeks.  I wish though that I had simply lied on the recording sheet or just ignored her.  I hate how I feel obliged to obey an authority figure even if I know what they are asking is wrong or doesn't make sense.  

On the second night of our hospital stay I kept her unwrapped after a diaper change (against the nurses advice) and did some skin-to-skin time.  Allie did a breast crawl and nursed and nursed a lot.  After a while I could feel there was less colostrum so I ordered a tuna fish sandwich (that was the one great thing about being in the hospital.  I was able to get food and water delivered at 3am).  That gave me more energy and I could feel an immediate boost in my "supply."  

The next few weeks were a bit hard.  I had some overactive let down and that frustrated Allie.  She would scream and cry while trying to nurse and it really hurt my feelings.  I felt like she hated me.  It took a while, but by 5 or 6 weeks we were doing well.  Thankfully she was the opposite of her sister and never really nursed for longer than 5-10 minutes.  She usually wanted to eat about every 2 hours.  At night she would go 3 - 5 hrs without nursing, but for the most part she nursed every 2 hours during the day until she was about 6 months old.  I also pretty much only nursed her on my right side.  It is possible to provide enough milk with just one breast.  Unfortunately this did have the side effect that I was noticeably, sometimes very noticeably, lopsided.

Nursing was a lot easier with Allie than it was with Selena and I think the biggest reason was because I was 90% comfortable nursing in public.  I didn't use a cover and I didn't really care if Allie latched, or unlatched.  For the most part I'm sure if anyone was looking they wouldn't be able to see much, but even if they could I didn't care.  I had decided that nursing is a feminist issue.  Our society has deemed breasts sexual and make women feel shame for feeding their baby "in public" in the way babies are supposed to be fed.  (Mom's are also shamed for feeding their children formula.  I swear a mother cannot win.)  Some people are so uninformed that they say that women should feed in bathrooms (gross), or feed before they leave(inconvenient and you aren't always able to know, and even if you do they might want to eat again 20 minutes later), or pump and bring a bottle (really inconvenient and many times really inefficient), or give them formula while they are out (destroys your supply and is highly uncomfortable).  Facebook removes pictures of breastfeeding babies, but allows completely more revealing sexual ones.  The hypocrisy of that angers me to no end.  It is horrific to read comments people write on articles about women who were denied their right to nurse in public.  Since I feel it is feminist issue, I figure nursing where people can see, is how to normalize it, and people will stop freaking out about a baby eating in they way that God/Evolution/both (whatever you believe) designed.  I can honestly say that the two women I saw breastfeeding before I had kids had a notable impact on me.  But isn't it odd that I only saw two women feeding their child before I had mine?  (Sorry for the rant.)  

As Allie got older nursing became my parenting tool of choice.  If she was whiny--I nursed her.  If she wanted attention, but I wanted to be on the computer--I nursed her.  If she was bothering her sister--I nursed her.  If she was tired-- I nursed her to sleep.  I she'd wake up in the middle of the night--I nursed her back to sleep.  If I wanted to keep her quiet and from fidgeting and running away when we were out--I nursed her.  I honestly milked it for all it was worth, figuratively and literally.  I wonder if that is where the saying came from?

So when she was 16 months old she was still nursing often enough that I couldn't tell you how many times, maybe 6 -12?  I think she got about 75% of her nutrition through milk and that was fine with me.  She only had 7 teeth so while she was good at eating, I think it was kind of hard for her to eat a whole lot of food.  Immediately after weaning she did frequently gag on her food which made me worried.  Thankfully more teeth came in and now she seems to be okay.

Then I had seizures and purportedly need to be put on medication.  There are lots of anticonvulsant medications available, most are newer and don't have a lot of long term data on them (and most of the data is only for newborns), so most are not recommended for breastfeeding mothers.  Some sources say that the risk is low, and the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the risks of the medications.  I tried one anticonvulsant that was deemed safe, but I didn't react well to it.  I think there were others that may have also been considered safe, but I was allergic to one, and since my doctor didn't recommend the other one I figured it wasn't right for my type of seizure (now I do not think that is the case, but I was not feeling well so had a hard time advocating for myself).  But I decided that in our case the risks probably didn't outweigh the benefits in that Allie was old enough to subsist off of regular food, and I felt that I would be hypocritical in that I buy all organic, avoid plastic containers, use all natural soaps and cleaners because I don't want the toxins in my child, but I would willingly feed her my milk which contained traces of brain altering medications.  If she had been younger, I might have decided that the benefits of breastfeeding were greater since the ingredients in formula contains all sorts of strange chemicals so either way I would be feeding my baby unnatural things, but I don't know, it is hard to say.

So Allie was weaned cold turkey.  I nursed her to sleep and told her that this would be the last time she would be getting milk.  I cried.  When she woke up in the middle of the night I told her that the milk wasn't good anymore.  She cried a bit, but not for too long.  I think she understood.  She ended up sleeping on my bare stomach for part of the night, and for about a week afterwards as well.  She didn't really ask much the next day.  Just before nap, and when she was tired I could tell she wanted to nurse, but I think she was too proud to ask.  It was really hard for me, because she would cry, and I would be engorged and wanted to give her what she wanted, but couldn't.  But after a week she stopped asking.  Thankfully children, are extremely adaptable.  Selena's pediatrician had recommended cold-turkey as the best way to wean, and I was doubtful in that advice, but in this case it went okay.  I guess as good as it could due to the circumstances.  I do think that it helped that Allie had an older sister who did not nurse, so she knew that when you got older you didn't nurse anymore.  She hasn't asked to nurse since we weaned, whereas Selena asked for months after she weaned, granted Selena was a bit older.

So I am done nursing.  We do not plan to have any more children.  It makes me sad.  Allie was sick today and throwing up repeatedly.  I really wanted to nurse her.  It would have made her feel better.  It would have been gentler on her tummy and she probably would have been able to hold it down better.  I wouldn't have had to worry about dehydration as much.  Having those seizures really screwed things up.  

1 comment:

Sascha said...

Oh wow, I just read this post since it came right after the Urban Unisex Hoodie post I was looking for. Lovely story. I am a one boob nurser (all three of my kids). My first born son's ped had never heard of it and said if he wasn't such a humongous baby she would have thought it impossible! HA. I am still nursing my 17 month old last child and I know I will cry when it is over. My husband keeps asking when I will be done especially since my son doesn't nurse for food (he eats a ton of solids and drinks lots of water). He gets comfort mostly. I'm not sure when we'll be done but it'll feel like time just like it did with my first two.