The first few weeks of breastfeeding are notorious for being difficult. You and your baby are both learning how it works, how to latch, etc. You are sleep deprived and hormonal. It can be rough. Then, it all falls into place, you and baby work out a rhythm and it becomes a wonderful, snuggle-filled, oxytocin-boosting way to meet your baby's needs. If, like me, you become pregnant before your baby is ready to wean, you may decide to continue to breastfeed through the pregnancy and beyond.
I was aware of all the recommendations to breastfeed for a minimum of two years, so I had committed to myself to nurse that long. I also knew that the American Academy of Pediatrics had deliberately chosen not to set an upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding, and that all the other organizations recommended continuing as long as the mother and baby wanted. I believed that it was important to respect my child's readiness and not wean before she was finished. I also knew that breastfeeding through pregnancy was safe, and might even help my toddler to avoid jealousy of the new baby. Sounded good.
I also knew that many women experienced a drop in supply towards the end of the first trimester, and that some babies decide to wean because of changes in the milk, or the decrease in amount of milk. I was really, really worried that my daughter would be one of those. Like most moms that bring a sibling into the life of their baby, I was concerned about the transition, and wanted to do everything possible to reassure her and meet her needs. Nursing was such a special, love-filled time for us. She would laugh delightedly just before latching on, and I was so happy to be able to give her something she wanted and needed. But it changed.
The changes were both physical and emotional. My nipples were sore, regardless of her latch. Then as the milk started to dry up, so did my emotional well. The creepy-crawlies hit. I don't know how to describe it if you have never experienced it. Maybe like a million ants on you. I don't know. I wanted to scream and shriek, "Get off me!" It was awful. I would grit my teeth, and try to concentrate on anything except the horrible sensations. I was afraid that if I limited her too much, she would wean completely, so I endured it as much as I could.
People expect pregnant women to complain of backaches, tiredness, swollen ankles and things like that. But I didn't feel like I could complain about this. Most people thought I was crazy for doing it to begin with. If I opened my mouth and let on how much it was bothering me, they would reasonably suggest I wean. And I still didn't want to do that. So I kept it to myself, and even with my husband I was reluctant to express just how loathsome it seemed.
And the guilt! Oh, the guilt! How could I feel this way about something that was so important to my daughter? What if she sensed my feelings? Would she feel rejected? Would it actually be better to wean her than to continue doing something that felt so negative?
Those are important questions, and I would never presume to answer them for another nursing mom. I agonized over them. I prayed. I thought. I went back and forth. Ultimately, I kept reaffirming that this was a choice that I was making, and that I was doing what I wanted to do because I believed it was worth it.
It got easier when the colostrum came in. It got easier still once my son was born and there was an abundance of milk. Seeing the joy on her face as she gulped leche is still one of my favorite memories. But, the feelings persisted, although much less intensely than during the pregnancy. There were times when I would turn my face as she latched on because I didn't want her to see the tension in my expression. Then there were other times when I enjoyed it as much as before the pregnancy, where we smiled tenderly into each other's eyes.
Gradually, those times became more frequent and the icky feelings disappeared. For the last year and a half that she nursed, I was able to welcome her nursing wholeheartedly without any reservations. She eventually weaned in the last trimester of my third pregnancy, a few months after turning four. I went on to nurse through two more pregnancies (nursing two kidlets while pregnant) and for the last nine months I have had three nurslings.
I was really worried that those feelings would come back in subsequent pregnancies, but although dry nursing was always uncomfortable, it was never as bad as the first time around. In my last pregnancy it wasn't an issue at all, at least in part because of my coping strategies. I share all the things that I learned to make it easier in this post. :)
If you are nursing through a pregnancy, hugs to you. If you are going through nursing aversion, please let go of any guilt so that you can objectively evaluate what is best for your family. I can say in all honesty that I am very, very glad that I stuck it out. Those feelings went away and breastfeeding was even better after having worked through that. The benefits were totally worth it for us. But if it is different for you, that is OK. I know how hard it can be, and would never judge another mom for choosing differently. Your experience is your own, not mine.
I know that it is hard to talk about, because it is hard to tell your fellow breastfeeding advocates that you hate to breastfeed, and you are probably already feeling judged by others for nursing while pregnant to begin with. I want to give you an ear and a hug and no criticism. If you decide to wean, that it OK. I also want to give you hope and encouragement. It does get better and it can eventually result in tremendous joy.
Note: I decided to include this post in the Tandem Nursing Blog Hop, because I wish someone had shared it with me my first time through. Here is the linky to more tandem posts: