Breastfeeding and Weaning: A Personal Reflection – Part One
Casey Berberich, Grand Forks, North Dakota
Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of Northern LLLights, the Area Leaders’ Letter for La Leche League of Minnesota and the Dakotas
In June of this year, it happened. The day that I never really thought about came and went. I don’t know the exact day. I can estimate, but I can’t remember the last time my last baby nursed. It was a gradual weaning process. For over a year, he had been nursing between two to three times a day. Some days it was less. Very rarely was it more. Slowly the two to three times a day became one to two. There were days when he wasn’t asking for milk at all, and then one day, he never asked again.
He was my fourth baby. He was my last baby. I had experienced the final nursing session with three other children. I don’t remember any of the others’ final nursing sessions either. Each process was slow and gradual and felt natural to both of us. Each time before, though, I knew that I would soon be nursing (or already was nursing) a new baby.
When I began to breastfeed, I did not plan to attend La Leche League meetings or to become an LLL Leader. I started off with a copy of a book that was not breastfeeding-friendly and a baby who was born four weeks early with significant jaundice and a poor suck. We were sent home with artificial baby milk (just in case), a pump, and a nipple shield. Over the next few weeks, I sought out support from anyone I knew. I asked my friends, my mother, and my doctor. I contacted local lactation resources, and looked online. No one else that I knew had experienced anything like I was going through. Eventually, I found an online message board that got me through the first six weeks. Having women who were nursing their babies tell me it would get better and that we would figure it out was amazing. For the first six weeks of Kael’s life, I took breastfeeding moment by moment and feeding by feeding. Something clicked around six weeks and, at that point, I knew my next goal was to breastfeed him for one year. Little did I know at that point that Kael would be my longest nursing baby and wean at four-and-a-half years old!
The transition from frequent, awkward nursing sessions to natural parenting philosophy didn’t happen as quickly. Because the book I read was not breastfeeding friendly and because my baby was born early with weight gain concerns, I was left without a plan. During my moments of frustration, I would say to my mother, “I don’t know what to do!” with tears in my eyes. She would say to me, “Trust your instincts.” At that point, I didn’t know how to listen to my instincts. Parenting felt like a pass/fail test, and I was pretty sure I was failing.
Twenty months after my first baby was born, a second baby joined our family. Having struggled so much after Kael’s birth, I was sure that I was prepared for anything related to breastfeeding. I was wrong. I wasn’t prepared for such a fast labor and for Asa to have a condition called transient newborn tachypnea which led to multiple NICU visits in his first days of life. I wasn’t prepared for a baby who, for over two months, couldn’t organize his suck or latch on his own without 10 to 15 minutes of trying. I wasn’t prepared for a newborn who couldn’t sleep longer than 45 minutes for about a year. Looking back at the symptoms and looking at his tongue now, I also know that a tongue-tie played a part in our struggles.
(Editor’s note: Tongue-tie, also known as ankyloglossia, is present at birth and is a result of the frenulum-the band of tissue that connects the bottom of the tongue to the floor of the mouth-being too short and tight. This restricts movement of the tongue.)
Over the next several months of nursing both a newborn and a toddler, I came to realize the magic of breastfeeding. Someone was crying? Breastfeed. Someone was tired? Breastfeed. Someone woke up way too early and I was tired? Breastfeed. These months were draining in ways I can only feel in my memories but cannot explain in words. The only reason we all made it through that time with our sanity intact was that we were breastfeeding.
After two challenging breastfeeding experiences, I knew I needed a supportive community and I became an LLL Leader. As an LLL Leader, I worked to create the group I needed when my boys were little. It was by encouraging other mothers that I was fully able to embrace my own instincts to mother through nursing.
To be continued…