Starting out with a newborn just over a year ago, breastfeeding was much more than something I did. It was a way of life. Every decision I made at that time took breastfeeding into consideration. Going to the store, heading to bed, even eating breakfast, I had to ask myself first: had the baby eaten? Did she get enough? Could she spare me for a few minutes or hours? I breastfed to sustain my baby. Though I generally enjoyed breastfeeding even in the early months, the endeavor was undoubtedly exhausting and all-consuming. I was all about my newborn, and so was breastfeeding at that point. In the year that followed and brought my baby's rapid development, however, my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter changed. I have to admit, these days I breastfeed more for me than for her.
Breastfeeding was something my baby and I both had to work hard at. We started out smoothly enough, but at her one-week doctor's checkup I was shocked to learn that she'd lost more than a pound off her birth weight. She was a content newborn who almost immediately slept through the night if I let her. And I was ashamed to admit that I did let her sleep through the night, thinking she must be receiving enough milk to stay down for that long without fussing.
Breastfeeding wasn't just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked.
My baby's typically unflappable pediatrician was concerned by her weight loss, and I followed his orders to wake her up every few hours at night for feedings and made an appointment with a lactation consultant to help with different breastfeeding positions that would help my daughter gain weight. I snuggled my warm little diaper-clad daughter in the lactation consultant's office every week, stuffing my nipple shield-covered breast in her mouth in a variety of different breastfeeding positions. Then I'd wait with bated breath as she was weighed to see how much milk she was getting. A half-ounce per side at first. One ounce as we continued to work at it.
My priority at that time was to make sure my baby was drinking enough breast milk, and my baby and I made a great team in making that happen. With the aid of a little formula, she blossomed into a chubby baby in just a few weeks. I was proud of us for pushing through the difficult patch and making breastfeeding work. And not only did she thrive physically on my breast milk, she also loved the comfort and closeness of breastfeeding. My daughter was most content in my arms, and wearing her in a front carrier was a sure way to calm her down on the rare occasion when nothing else soothed her.
But breastfeeding wasn't just for her. I loved it too. She was my last baby and I knew it, and I relished my time on maternity leave from work, breastfeeding her on the couch and watching Netflix, or feeding her in bed watching her chubby cheeks bob as she sucked. I realized those moments when time seemed to hold still wouldn't last, and I tried to commit her baby smell and fuzzy head to memory.
Sometimes, though, we're in a hurry and she's satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn't seem to mind. But I do.
Of course, those early times didn't last. I returned to work, and our breastfeeding sessions dwindled to before and after work and the occasional lunchtime session. As many times as I breastfed a day, I was hooking myself up to the plastic breast pump just as often. Washing bottles and pump parts was a nightly ritual I loathed. Before long, I stopped pumping and just breastfed my baby on demand when we were together.
Today, my yummy-smelling baby who I used to hold in the crook of my arm has grown into a toddling 14 month old with wavy blond hair past her ears. On most days, I still breastfeed her twice: once in the morning before work for me and daycare for her, and once before bedtime. Sometimes, though, we're in a hurry and she's satisfied by a cup of milk so we skip a breastfeeding session. On these occasions, my girl doesn't seem to mind. But I do.
It would be simple for me simply skip more and more breastfeeding sessions until we stop breastfeeding entirely. My toddler used to pull at my shirt when she wanted to breastfeed, burying her head in my chest, but she does that less these days. Still, I offer her the breast and she half-heartedly accepts, eyes turned towards her older brother or the TV. Sometimes I breastfeed her from the couch as she stands next to me, unwilling to lie still.
Our breastfeeding days are dwindling, and I'm sad about it. I know nursing still benefits her as a toddler by providing immunity and comfort, but it's no longer her sole source of nourishment. What was once our daily constant in those early months is no longer as necessary as it used to be. Soon, we'll be done breastfeeding entirely, replacing those moments when she used to breastfeed with kissing attacks and tickles and hugs. but breastfeeding has not been easy for me to say goodbye to.
For the time being, I'm going to hold my 14 month old close as she wriggles around, and run my fingers through her growing blond hair. I'm going to give myself permission to breastfeed for me. I know soon I'll no longer have the chance, so I'm going to enjoy it while I still can.