A Year of Breastfeeding

Holding Theo in the hospital after I nursed him for the first time. (I was so incredibly sick that I couldn't even hold him for the first 3-4 hours of his life.)

Holding Theo in the hospital after I nursed him for the first time. (I was so incredibly sick that I couldn't even hold him for the first 3-4 hours of his life.)

About a month ago, I fully weaned Theo, marking the end of a year plus of breastfeeding. For me, breastfeeding has been a highly emotional, intimate and personally significant experience. Although it was not without some frustrations and struggles, it was relatively easy and, more importantly, profoundly meaningful. My body’s ability to feed Theo, and the resulting bond, has meant everything to me. Particularly after an extremely long, difficult labor and birth in which nothing went as I had hoped, it was incredibly empowering to nourish my son’s life from my body alone. My body didn’t fail me with breastfeeding as I felt that it had with Theo’s birth. Neither supplements nor any other person could do what I could do for him. For the first six months of his life, he grew and developed, fueled solely by my breast milk, which my body tailored and adapted specifically to him and his needs. In the second six months, although he started solids (mostly for fun and exploration), my breast milk still provided the majority of his nutrition. I alone was accountable for feeding him and helping him grow. This huge responsibility was intense and at times overwhelming, and yet, it was one of the most amazing, strong and beautiful things I have ever done. I felt womanly, motherly and emboldened, and I am deeply proud of what I gave to my son.

Breastfeeding also got me through some of the toughest months of my life. It was my purpose. It motivated me to take good care of myself as best as I could. I ate a balanced diet, drank a ton of water (about 100 ounces a day!) and avoided unhealthful foods. I tried to sleep and rest as much as possible so that my body could recover from pregnancy and birth and produce milk for my son. Breastfeeding gave structure and meaning to my days, even throughout one of the hardest times in my life. It made me get out of bed and start the day. It made me keep going.  

dinner

There were some moments that were difficult, painful and downright exhausting. Truthfully, there were a few brief periods in which breastfeeding became stressful and difficult and felt nearly impossible. Yet, it was all immensely beautiful. There were so many intimate moments. I remember the night feedings in the first few months of Theo’s life. He slept in a co-sleeper next to my side of the bed. Every time he awoke and cried out from hunger, I winced and struggled to sit up and bend over; I then brought him into bed with me to nurse him lying down. It was just the two of us, lying belly-to-belly, warm and cozy in the quiet, dark room in the middle of the black night. My breasts gave milk and my heart swelled and Theo received, our bodies connected and our spirits bonded in the profound stillness. Sometimes he smiled and made little sounds of satisfaction, expressing his gratitude and satisfaction. I stroked his hair or rubbed his back, admiring his features in my half-awake, wearied state, amazed at how my body had created him and now sustained him. Afterward, his needs met, he looked deeply satiated, calm and happy. I swaddled him again and rocked or bounced him and then settled him back into his bed for sleep. He often fell asleep with a sweet half smile on his face.

As he got older and had a consistent wakeup time and bedtime, I always nursed him lying in our bed in the morning and then sitting in the glider in his room before bedtime. In the morning, there was no rushing the moment, as his morning nursing session was often his longest. While we lay there, he ate and I rested, my eyelids heavy with fatigue, light streaming in through the windows, the house quiet, our dog Zoe curled up near my feet. At night in his room before bed, with the lights dimmed and Theo's favorite rain sounds on, it was just the two of us again, holding him close in my arms. My body and heart offered the utmost nourishment and love, and he embraced all of it gratefully.

Our nursing sessions eventually shortened in frequency and duration as Theo got bigger and became an extremely efficient eater (4-5 minutes total, on both sides!). Nonetheless, they were constant bookends to each day with him. Each day in the entire first year of his life! I treasured those brief moments, especially in the last few months when I knew the end was nearing. Breastfeeding became the only time in which Theo slowed down and stayed still with me. Sometimes he stroked my skin with his hand or played with my finger or the buttons on my shirt. As he looked up at me, smiling, I savored it all, stroking his hair or rubbing his back, feeling his warm, soft skin, smelling his sweet scent, bonding in the way that only the two of us could. It was our special time, ours alone, and it always will be. I am profoundly grateful for all of it.