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.

9 Responses to “Breastfeeding Goals for 2009”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story — I was riveted to see what you would decide. It sounds like you have a good plan in place to keep yourself healthy so that you can start feeling better, which I hope you do!

    I’ll have to think about meal planning and check out halfpintpixie’s posts on the topic. We also let things spoil too much. :(

    Tell me if you find the definitive answer to twiddling. My son’s 19 months old, too, and his free hand just won’t stop. Like you said, some of it’s sweet, but the gouging of the eyes, the clawing of the chest, the twisting, the pulling…ack! He doesn’t respond well to being stopped or redirected, either, and I struggle not to get outwardly annoyed and blaming. That said, your teeth-brushing story gave me hope, because we’re still in the hate-it stage! Lately, I’ve tried goofiness and “taking turns” brushing each other’s teeth. Not sure how to translate that to breastfeeding, but maybe there’s something there in making a joke of it…

  2. berbsca said

    Wow! It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. What a lucky girl your daughter is to have you work so hard to continue nursing her.

  3. misty said

    i could relate to several aspects of your post… and i’m so glad you found support both on kellymom and thru your doctors. sometimes that is the most crucial part! and it sounds like you have it from the most important person–your husband! i have never made it as long as 19 months, but i plan to with this little one… i pray you have completely healed from the infection and work well towards your BF goals!!

  4. Angela said

    Good for you for resolving to take care of yourself, and for recognizing that with a few changes you would be happy to continue nursing.

    Your situation sounds familiar to the experience I had with my first daughter, so I want to mention a possibility that might or might not apply to you in case you want to get it checked out if you haven’t already. How’s that for a disclaimer LOL! I was exhausted and hungry all the time, and had lost a significant amount of weight. Turns out I had postpartum hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid that revved up my metabolism. I also dealt with a few cases of mastitis. Of course a lot of mothers are tired and exhibit the same symptoms without thyroid problems. It’s easy enough to test for with a couple of blood tests (TSH and Free T4) if you think it might be a possibility for you.

    Good luck with your goals!

  5. milkmaid said

    Thanks for the tip, Angela! I’ve heard about PP hypothyroidism from several moms, and I think it might be worth having my doctor run a test. I haven’t weighed this little since I was 14! But like you also said, a lot of nursing moms experience this without having any kind of medical condition. But it would be good to rule it out.

  6. Wow, this was a great story and reminded me so much of my own experiences with breastfeeding that it brought tears to my eyes.

    With my last child, like you I began to dread breastfeeding, particularly night feeds. It was very brave of you to admit that and to admit your depression.

    My son was very demanding too and his feeding pattern sounds similar to your daughter’s. We finally stopped at 27 months and haven’t looked back. I’m proud that I made it so far with him but physically I was so exhausted that for the sake of the rest of my family and for my own mental health it felt like the right thing to do. I just gradually cut out the night feeds, knowing he wasn’t hungry and started giving him water instead which worked a treat. This allowed us to continue breastfeeding for several months longer than we otherwise might have managed.

    I fell and broke some ribs in the shower when he was around 2 years old and my doctor also recommended sudden weaning but thanks to Tanya at Motherwear Blog I was able to continue. Like your daughter, my son seemed to know I was unable to feed him so often and he used to come for a cuddle although we did just about manage to breastfeed throughout. It was painful with broken ribs but we adapted and thankfully didn’t stop until we were both ready several months later!

    thanks again for sharing this inspirational post and good luck for the new year :)

  7. MoDLin said

    Good for you for finding a middle ground. Sounds like you’ll be feeling better as you get healthier and your daughter will benefit from that, too. Thanks for the inspiration.

  8. smashmom said

    I’ve been considering weaning my daughter for various reasons, mostly because she is biting me so often… but you have inspired me to do some more research before I do. Thank you.

  9. RaiulBaztepo said

    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

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