As my son's first birthday approaches, I have so many mixed emotions as I think back on this whirlwind first year of motherhood. Holy cow, does time fly. But, there is a certain landmark that holds an especially significant place for me: 12 months of breastfeeding. It almost takes my breath away to type that, as we are still a little over two weeks away and breastfeeding continues to take up a good amount of my time, energy, and brain space in my day to day life. Actually, I need to finish up this post so that I can go pump. But, I have every intention of getting to that magical twelve month mark. 17 days and counting.
It is funny to think that my son's birthday holds the key to this significant milestone, because in the rational part of my brain, I know that developmentally and nutritionally, things won't be all that different in a couple of weeks time from now. No magic switch will be flipped. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding and continued breastfeeding until that 12 month mark, even after solids have been introduced. Now, truth be told, my son started taking in some solids at around 4 1/2 months at my doctor's recommendation, so we've already broken the rules once. Beyond the AAP's recommendation the World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommends breastfeeding for the first 2 years, citing health benefits for both mom and baby. And this is where the largest conflict lies for me.
Do I continue to nurse my son for the next year? I really don't know. I am honestly not sure I have it in me.
Can I survive another year of pumping on the job? Probably, but I won't love it. I am so ready to kick my pump to the curb.
Is it what is best for my son's health and nutrition? Probably, but I also know he would be "OK" without it.
Does it have health benefits for me as well? Yes, definitely.
Is there some social stigma that I am not sure I want to deal with attached to nursing past the 1-year mark? Absolutely.
Will I miss those moments with my son when they are gone? Of course.
My husband and I have begun actively discussing weaning. My little baby boy is quickly turning into a giant monster wobbler (albeit an adorable one). He has a great appetite, normal growth, and is taking in water and some goat and cow's milk already. Our nursing relationship has already changed, and so has my supply. He nurses for shorter more efficient periods of time and gets pretty squirmy once he's emptied my breast. He does not comfort nurse nearly as much since we stopped co-sleeping.
While I was pregnant, I had a lot of preconceived notions of what I my parenting choices would be about breastfeeding (and all things for that matter, but I was quickly humbled). I thought for sure I would follow the WHO recommendation and go the full two years of breastfeeding and maybe longer! I was open to the idea! Of course, I had no idea the level of commitment on my body and time this was going to take. I also was unprepared for the societal views surrounding breastfeeding after researching and reading breastfeeding from a more clinical and health oriented standpoint. Most of my mama friends have breastfed successfully, but I was very surprised by the women I ran into who promoted formula feeding early on, and our overall cultural view that does not support breastfeeding mothers like we should. The comments about people STILL breastfeeding their toddler and so on, but I digress.
People asked me what the hardest or most surprising or most significant thing about becoming a parent was shortly after I had my son, and throughout the last year, and my answer has almost always been breastfeeding. It was all of those things-hard, surprising, significant. And more-exhausting, rewarding, emotional, all consuming (at points) to name a few. I had no idea that feeding every 2-3 hours 24/7 would be as exhausting as it is. Now to anyone reading this, you might think, well Duh. Every 2-3 hours for months on end sounds exhausting. I guess naivety kept me optimistic. At almost twelve months out, we aren't nursing quite as around the clock as that. I do still pump twice at work and before bed as a part of my daily routine. With my work schedule, I only nurse my son once in the morning when he wakes and just before bed. The rest of my supply is maintained by a pump, and continued indulgence in breastfeeding support teas and foods. And while this might come across as complaining, I do remain passionate about our commitment to breastfeeding, and wouldn't have wanted it another way. But like most things in parenthood seem to be, each family, child, and choice is unique, and you have to do what is right for you and yours.
So at this point I find myself wondering, is it completely selfish of me to want to stop breastfeeding? To end this relationship with my breast pump and fennel teas and in there so of, likely diminish my supply and ultimately wean my son entirely? For my son to miss out on those antibodies and fat during this next year, even when I have all this knowledge of the benefits? Maybe, but I am only human after all.
For now, we continue to look forward to that twelve month mark, and admittedly, I will breathe a sigh of relief on that day. I will have made it to that AAP recommended milestone of breastfeeding (with the unwavering and patient support of my husband), and some of the pressure will be off.
At that time, my plan is to truly take our breastfeeding journey one day, and see where we end up. Maybe we will stop shortly thereafter. Maybe we will nurse for a couple more months, Or who knows, maybe we will go much longer. I do know that my mindset around breastfeeding will be a bit more relaxed.
I do cherish and look forward to those early morning and nightly nursing cuddles, and I know that as much as I look forward to kissing (or perhaps kicking) my pump goodbye, it will be bittersweet to end this intimate early journey with my son.