Feeding Elijah

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My milk came in just like Elijah, an unannounced whirlwind – this, one of hormones, tears and fullness of milk. I collapsed on the floor of Elijah’s room on Night 3 and cried from sheer exhaustion.

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Elijah latched easily and ate efficiently. I breastfed on demand during those baby months, and demand he did. At the height of things, we were nursing 12+ times a day, every hour in 5 or 10 minute spurts. The kid likes snacks, just like his mama. We had an easy start to our feeding relationship, with minimal pain and no bleeding nipples. I know now how good we had it in those early days as I’ve watched friends fight to keep breastfeeding, but even easy feels hard when it’s new and weird and there’s so much to figure out. Elijah went on a 12-hour nursing strike once that remains one of my most frustrating parenting moments to date. I must have spent hours on KellyMom.com and called my mom a million times.

It didn’t take me long to realize that breastfeeding in public was the only way we were ever going to get anywhere, and I quickly shed the gentle protection of the nursing cover my mom made. A baby blanket sufficed for a while, then that was dropped for the convenience of nothing but common sense and discretion. I’ve become a staunch advocate for normalizing breastfeeding wherever and whenever. I didn’t expect that of myself. So much of parenting is a surprise.

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At Elijah’s 4 month appointment, our beloved pediatrician casually mentioned that we could start infant cereal. My throat tightened and I felt the anxiety fall over me. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t have words to express my discomfort, and Chad and I went back and forth back and forth. But as Elijah’s primary caregiver, my No became the default, and we continued to exclusively breastfeed through a rough 4-month sleep regression, and well into the fifth month.

One day when Elijah was 5 ½ months old, with a perfectly ripe avocado in hand, I realized how much I wanted to see his reaction to its creamy summertime goodness. He had been eyeing our food for weeks, and eating without him grabbing a bite had become difficult. My resistance to starting cereal was ultimately trumped by my delighted curiosity in Elijah’s discovery of the world. I was somehow able to let go of my need to be the source of his sole nourishment even though I still couldn’t define it then.

Elijah took quickly to avocado, then sweet potato, then anything he could get in his mouth. With every new food we introduced to his palate, his nursing slowed naturally, until we settled into a new routine around 7 months. 7am, wake and nurse. Then breakfast. Nurse and nap at 9am. Wake up and nurse. Play, then eat lunch. Nurse and nap around 1pm. Wake up and nurse. Play, then nurse around 3pm. Afternoon snack around 4pm. Dinner at 6pm. Nurse before bedtime at 7pm. Occasionally wake up once overnight and nurse. Typing that out is amazing – even when his breastfeeding slowed, we were still nursing 7 or 8 times a day, plus 3 meals and snack. My life revolved around Elijah’s food.

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I knew that I wanted to breastfeed through a year, but really couldn’t see myself nursing a toddler, and I definitely didn’t have a desire to tandem nurse – nursing while pregnant or nursing an infant and toddler. Weaning was inevitable.

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The first feed I dropped was the mid-afternoon. That first day, around 10 months, I mustered all my courage, wore a crewneck sweater and stood up the whole afternoon lest Elijah try to climb into my lap to nurse. He didn’t know what was going on but he knew he didn’t like it. By the time Chad got home, we were both in tears. Day 2 I got smarter, and planned a well-timed trip to the grocery store, armed with Elijah’s favorite little snacks. By Day 4, he was over it, and our afternoon progressed smoothly. A week or two later, I dropped the feed after morning nap, going straight to an earlier lunch. One by one, week by week, we slowly managed to wean until he was just nursing before nap and bedtime.

That was maybe not my smartest move, since I was left breaking the sleep association. Elijah wasn’t nursing to sleep, but it was definitely part of the before-sleep routine. I stalled for a while, then Chad and I figured out that bedtime went fine on nights I wasn’t around. Elijah went down for Chad or a babysitter with a cup of milk or water, no big deal. So for 6 nights in a row, Chad put Elijah to bed like a champ. Night 7 Chad had a meeting, and it was rough for Elijah and for me. He was sad and confused. We both cried. But we got through it. We can do hard things.

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We dropped nursing at afternoon nap pretty easily a few weeks ago, and the morning nap nurse went by the wayside last week. So now we’re just nursing at 5am when he inevitably wakes up. Best case scenario, he nurses a bit and goes back to sleep until 7, but that doesn’t always happen, and sometimes he’s up for the day. Help me Jesus and send coffee. Elijah loves all the foods now and I’m pretty sure nursing is just habit and comfort at this point. For me too, kid.  For me, too.

I stopped wearing nursing bras a month ago, and I love having my old undergarments back in place. The days of engorgement are long gone, and no one tells you (no one told me!) how weird it feels to have (almost) non-nursing breasts again. They’re not pre-pregnancy breasts, for sure. The girls will never be the same again. Womp womp.

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A friend asked for weaning advice a few weeks back, and I knew I wanted to document it all. This took a lot of words but I don’t want to forget the strange richness of being the primary source of food for my son for so many months. Sure, I’ll pass on the cluster feeding and season of biting and leaking at night and clogged ducts and your battle with the bottle, but really, Little One, I’ll take it all again, and I wish I had taken more pictures. There’s so much shame and guilt around breastfeeding or not. Breast is best except really a fed baby is best, and we’re all just doing the best we can. I’m so glad this was our story.

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Edited to add: I started pumping when Elijah was about 8 weeks old. I produced plenty and easily pumped 5-8 oz at a time.  I begrudgingly pumped once a day for a few months and built up a stash. Good supply or no, pumping is a hassle.  Bless all you EP mamas, and those that pump at work to send milk to daycare etc. Chad bottle broke Elijah while I went to a movie, and Elijah took a bottle from a babysitter without issue until 4 months. While I was getting ready to be a bridesmaid at my best friend’s wedding, during a long night in a hotel when I was battling a UTI, Elijah decided to strike against the bottle, and refused one for the next three months. After he was eating solids confidently, he took up bottle drinking again, until 9 or 10 months, when he refused again. I donated my freezer stash, sanitized my pump and said a grateful goodbye.

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