Breastfeeding Goals for 2009
January 20, 2009
Welcome to the Motherwear Carnival of Breastfeeding! For many of us, our New Year’s resolutions include some breastfeeding goals…
My breastfeeding relationship with my 19-month-old daughter almost ended a few days before 2008 came to an end. I had thought that plugged ducts and blebs were a thing of the past for me, but a painful breast and bloody milk had me seeking out a doctor in a town far from home, where we were spending the holidays with my in-laws. Although I only had to wait about half an hour in the gynecologist’s waiting room, I was so weak and in so much pain that I had to ask the nurses to find a spot for me to lie down while I waited. When I described my symptoms to the doctor – painful breast, bloody milk, pain in my back, neck and head, chills, hot flashes and swollen glands – she smiled compassionately and said that yes, mastitis could cause all those symptoms and more. She asked me whether I definitely wanted to continue breastfeeding. I answered yes, in theory.
She didn’t push me one way or the other, but she gently suggested that I consider weaning – not because there was no good reason to continue nursing, but because she suspected that this bout of mastitis was a cry for help from my body. She asked me about my general health, and it seemed plausible that my body had just run out of fuel. I admitted to being exhausted all the time, and stepping onto the scale confirmed what I had been suspecting for a while – not only had I gotten back down to my pre-pregnancy weight long ago, but I now weighed just over 15 pounds less than I did before pregnancy. I was underweight by any standard, and this despite the fact that I easily eat more than my husband and daughter combined! Feeling as miserable as I did and faced with what I knew to be at least partially true, it seemed to make sense that it was time to wean. The treatment the doctor prescribed included lactation suppressants, which are approved in Germany, where we live (the FDA has not approved them for use in the U.S.). I went back to my in-laws feeling somewhat relieved but also defeated.
I nursed my daughter for what I thought would be the last time. It broke my heart. I took the lactation suppressants and slept for most of the day. After putting my daughter to bed that evening, I ventured downstairs and had a bite to eat, got comfy on the couch and did a little Internet research on weaning, particularly sudden weaning. Two things in particular bothered me:
1. Marie was definitely not ready to be weaned. I was sure she would cope with it somehow, but nursing was still a big part of maintaining her equilibrium. The thought of taking that away from her made me feel sick to my stomach.
2. Sudden weaning can be very hard on a mother’s mental well-being, in part due to the massive change in hormone levels. I have been battling major depression for years now, and I considered it a miracle that I hadn’t suffered from postpartum depression as well. Having dodged that bullet, it seemed reckless to put myself at a heightened risk for a relapse into more severe mental illness. There was a purely pragmatic concern, too. If my body was falling apart already, how was I supposed to give my daughter the extra love and attention she would undoubtedly need over the next few weeks? How was weaning going to improve the state of my health if it was going to be so much work?
I shared my thoughts with my husband, as well as with other nursing moms in the kellymom discussion forums. One mother suggested that I postpone my decision regarding weaning until after the mastitis had cleared up, that perhaps I shouldn’t make such an important decision while I was feeling so sick. That logic struck a chord with me, and I resolved to go back to the doctor the next day and tell her that I wasn’t ready to wean my daughter yet. To my relief, she completely understood my change of heart and immediately adjusted my treatment. But she also impressed upon me the importance of taking better care of myself, reducing stress and getting more rest. Otherwise, she said, I would continue to be susceptible to infections. I agreed with her even though I had no solution. I still wasn’t really sure how things would continue.
A 48-hour migraine that began later that day would prove to be the turning point. The doctor who treated me praised me for breastfeeding my daughter beyond infancy, and my husband was able to keep Marie happy for an entire breast-free night. As I drank water out of a champagne glass and rang in the new year, I realized that night-weaning our daughter was feasible – something we hadn’t dared to hope for in the past – and it has become the cornerstone of my goals for improving the breastfeeding relationship I almost lost:
- Go to bed early. I can’t honestly pretend to be surprised by my exhaustion when I go to bed after midnight, night after night. I may be a night owl, but for now, getting enough rest takes precedence. I will aim to get ready for bed at 10, meaning I’ll be in bed by 10:30. Realistically, this won’t happen every night, but if I make it 5 out of 7 nights, it will make a big difference.
- Eat nourishing food at every meal. Avoid empty calories. Most of the food we buy is locally grown, organic, healthy food. But it often spoils before we use it, and since we don’t plan ahead enough, we find ourselves hungry and in no mood to cook. The result is to eat something fast and unhealthy. Inspired by Half Pint Pixie, I started meal planning a few weeks before Christmas. I intend to continue this, as it has made it much easier to eat healthy, well-balanced meals every day. It has also made it easier to eat our meals together as a family, and we’ve hardly thrown away any food since starting this either! My body needs all the nourishment it can get, so this is a big part of my plan.
- Strengthen my body. I walk a lot, but I don’t do anything to strengthen my body anymore. I’m no longer into a lot of the high-impact sports I used to play in years past, but a weekly yoga course would do wonders for my creaky back. And as soon as the weather gets a little less sub-zero, I can add riding my bike to the mix. We don’t have a car, and using a bicycle is a great way to save money on public transportation. I’ve wanted to return to regular yoga for a long time now, but I’ve been postponing it for over a year, mainly because the Iyengar class I want to take is concurrent with Marie’s bedtime. But bedtime shouldn’t be an issue anymore if we …
- … night-wean Marie. I don’t merely need more sleep. I need uninterrupted sleep. After over a year and a half of waking up every 2-3 hours at night, I simply can’t go on. This means my husband will take over the bedtime routine and all night wakings for a while. It will be hard, but we’re hopeful.
I think these steps will go a long way to giving me the physical, mental and spiritual energy I need to continue nursing my daughter, but there is another important aspect to the breastfeeding relationship that I need to address: our actual nursing sessions. For a few months, I have come to enjoy feedings less and less. In fact, there are days when I spend the time in between feedings dreading the next time Marie asks to nurse. On weekends, when I am at home by myself with Marie all day, it has been hard to enjoy nursing x times a day when I know that I’ll be nursing her on and off at night as well. So I am optimistic that night-weaning will give me the break I need to enjoy daytime nursings.
The trickier part will be improving the quality of our nursings. My daughter likes to twiddle, knead, pat, pinch, poke, prod, scratch and otherwise explore my face and chest while nursing. Some of this is fine – I don’t mind it when she pats my breast, and I love it when she points at different parts of my or her face, expecting me to name them for her. But when she scratches my face, pulls my hair or just plain hits me, I get exasperated pretty quickly. I know she doesn’t do any of these things maliciously, but I have yet to find the right tone of voice that gets the message across that hitting and scratching don’t go with breastfeeding. Her reactions to my attempts to change the behavior range from laughing at me, to becoming very distressed, to hitting me even harder. But she rarely stops. Sometimes redirection works, but it’s the exception, not the rule. Behavior like this, though, is a big part of why I have enjoyed nursing less and less over time, and solving this problem is going to be a big part of making the breastfeeding experience pleasurable again.
I’m optimistic because I’ve noticed that my daughter is more and more capable of cooperation and compromise. When I was laid up with my migraine, for example, she seemed to understand that I wasn’t feeling well, and she made no attempts to nurse. Instead, she came to visit me in the darkened bedroom, briefly cuddled with me, gave me a kiss and ran off to play with her father again. This gives me hope that she can learn to cooperate while nursing as well. Maybe it will be a little like brushing her teeth – one day, after months and months of crying and fighting us off every single evening when we tried to brush her teeth, Marie suddenly decided to cooperate. We have no idea why, but all of a sudden, she started letting us brush her teeth without a fight, and now, she even enjoys it!
2009: the year of tear-free dental hygiene, breast-free nights and cooperative nursing. This is how I hope to make extended breastfeeding fun again!
Don’t miss the other carnival participants’ breastfeeding goals!
Misty of Secrets of Orual writes about relaxing and being brave.
Tanya at the Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog writes about her many goals as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding activist.
Zen Mommy writes about relaxing and breastfeeding advocacy.
Hobo Mama reflects on her personal breastfeeding goals, as well as her wish for breastfeeding to become normal again worldwide.
The Beautiful Letdown writes about nursing on demand while tandem breastfeeding.
Angela of Breastfeeding 1 2 3 writes about exclusive breastfeeding and introducing solids.
Blacktating writes about child-led weaning.
Mama Knows Breast sets the goal of making other breastfeeding moms feel more comfortable.
Breastfeeding Mums on publishing her breastfeeding book.