She was about a week old, nursing every hour 24 hours a day. I had waited until I was 28 to become a mother, so I thought I had this in the bag, but here I was, almost 20% of my maternity leave gone, with engorged breasts and cracked, bleeding nipples. My partner would be going back to work soon. We had been supplementing a few ounces of formula every day, per the doctor’s orders, due to jaundice. As her bilirubin numbers got to a normal range, her pediatrician gave no encouragement either way, just information: we could stop supplementing if desired, or continue.
I wasn’t sure I could keep breastfeeding, and there was still plenty of pre-mixed formula the hospital sent home with us. It was like it was staring at me. I had researched parenting and feeding baby like a crazy woman, took parenting classes, and kept reading and hearing “breast is best,” but I knew plenty of babies who thrived on formula. I was on the verge of giving up and switching to formula, but my wise older sister and mother of three stopped in to check on my brand new baby girl and me.
I told her how I was feeling — the physical pain of breastfeeding, the exhaustion, the guilt over not being able to do it, and the temptation to give up. I asked how she managed to breastfeed three babies successfully because I wasn’t sure I was cut out for it. She was kind and told me how she never breastfed her oldest (she was only 20 and I was 8, so I must have been too young to remember). Her first breastfeeding experience was with her second child, and she said that is when she realized what she missed out on the first time around. She told me about how it gets better, that after the second or third week your nipples heal and the lovey-dovey hormones kick in. She explained proper positioning and latch (which was a game changer), and all the money you can save by breastfeeding.
Then she got very serious, put her hand on my shoulder and spoke to me in a way that only my big sister can, “You are going to feed this baby. Whether it is from your breast or a bottle, you feed her. Take it one day at a time, you can do it. But remember, this isn’t just about you. You’re a mother now.” I’ll never forget her words or that moment. I decided to stick it out, one day at a time, and she was right. With a little luck, I did it with no supplementation after 2 weeks. I started pumping at 4 weeks, back to work full time at 6 weeks. Pumping wasn’t my favorite, but thanks to brilliant federal laws, my job had to give me breaks and a private space to do it.
I stopped pumping at my one-year goal when the daycare switched her to cow’s milk, but baby girl had other ideas. We continued nursing at night and on the weekends, and night weaned at 17 months. She self-weaned a few months after her second birthday. Breastfeeding a child is one of the most amazing experiences — it’s almost magical. The end was so bittersweet for me, and I have to say, nursing my baby felt like the thing I was put on this earth to do.