If you had told me a year ago that I would share pictures of my breastfeeding journey, or nurse Polly in public, or nurse her at all, I would have called you a liar. I had very strong ideas about how this third round of parenting would go, and breastfeeding was not on my radar.
Mothering has changed quite a bit since I dipped my toe in the water, almost thirteen years ago. I remember thinking that I had to choose sides for almost every issue — breastfeeding or formula-feeding? Co-sleeping or crib? Cry it out or gentle sleep training? It seemed like everything I read pointed to one side or another and it was overwhelming to choose when I didn’t have any experience at all.
This choosing of sides carried over into subsequent pregnancies. When I found out I was expecting our third baby, I decided I was going to have an amazing sleeper (just like the first two times), the baby would be in a room of its own almost immediately, and I would not be breastfeeding. The motivation and assumptions about most of these topics related to my age. At almost forty, I was determined to make this my easiest pregnancy and postpartum period yet — I didn’t want to introduce anything that would be stressful or unknown.
I told my husband during the first trimester, that I wouldn’t be nursing this baby. I hadn’t had the greatest luck with our older children, and I assumed baby number three would be just as difficult. Our oldest wasn’t a great nurser and my over-supply made it hard for her to keep up. I pumped exclusively for twelve weeks, before deciding I couldn’t live like that any longer. She never even noticed the transition and we were all better for having formula in our lives. My middle daughter was an exceptional nurser, but with hardly any milk and excessive weight loss, we were forced to supplement with formula and eventually switched over completely. In the years following, it seemed hospitals were pushing breastfeeding and I heard horror stories about nurses withholding formula and militant lactation consultants. I was more confident at forty than I had been at twenty-six and decided to pack my own formula and remain steadfast. My husband has always been smarter than me and, while he never pressured me to breastfeed, he gave me just the right amount of support and encouragement. I packed all kinds of wonderful things in my hospital bag, but I left the can of formula at home. I went into our birthing experience with an open mind and couldn’t believe the change that happened in my heart, as we delivered our third daughter.
I wouldn’t say things were easy, but they weren’t nearly as difficult as I suspected. For once, both my baby and my body got things right. Polly latched on immediately and seemed to know exactly what to do. My supply was strong, my husband was a huge help, and my lactation consultants were rock stars. There were days when I wanted to give up — cluster feeding is miserable and I went months without getting a sufficient amount of sleep. Breastfeeding was so painful in the beginning and I was sure I was doing it all wrong. Was she getting enough to eat, was my supply strong enough to support her, would my mental health suffer this experience? Then one day, it wasn’t hard anymore. I remember nursing her in bed one afternoon and realizing, for the first time, that it was easy. We both knew what to do, my nipples were no longer cracked and bleeding, I didn’t have any questions, and I was confident enough to nurse anywhere she needed to eat.
Every baby is different, and what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. Polly didn’t sleep in her own bed (or through the night) until she was nine months old. Part of that was because co-sleeping made breastfeeding infinitely easier, but part of it was embracing that I was a different kind of mother than I was the first two times. I had to allow myself to do what worked best for us all, without the fear of judgment over our parenting choices.
We’re nearing Polly’s first birthday and are down to three nursing sessions on most days. As we started introducing solid foods and she became more mobile, her interest in sitting still began to wane. I’m not pumping at work anymore and I can already tell that my body has begun to adjust to this natural weaning process. This part of our journey is bittersweet and, while I’m looking forward to having my body back, I’m sad to see this time together end.
Several months ago, a friend recommended that I document our breastfeeding journey with photographs, and that seemed so out of character for me. Did I really want pictures of me nursing? Would I regret it if I didn’t? I had my sister photograph a nursing session during Polly’s six month session and they are some of my favorite photos from her first year. I can’t look at these without smiling — they were exactly what I needed to remember this incredibly important season of life.