In early February, Grayson kicked off what we hoped was a nursing strike.
It was just before 11pm on a Friday — his new witching hour. He was reverting to his extra-wake-ups routine just in time for the week Mommy had early meetings, high-level presentations, and deadlines. I knew he didn’t wake up from actual hunger but once a night, sometime between 2 and 3:30. But when he’s teething or Learning Something Big or not feeling well, there’s a wake up before midnight and another around 4:30 or so, just late enough that…
Yeah. Once, maybe twice? He was up FOR THE DAY at 4:45 because it was easier than letting him scream for at least half an hour. Because Grayson.
And things were going on. He was cutting a giant front tooth, and I’d thrown my back out and started physical therapy. There were maybe two days when I could hold him, but not lift him, and a few when I couldn’t get him in or out of the crib. So we tag-teamed night wakings the way we did when he was brand new and I was recovering from the c-section. Graham would go get him while I adjusted to a reclining position, Grayson would nurse in the bed, and Graham would take him back to the crib. (The crib wasn’t part of the new-new-newborn routine, but it took me time to get in position.)
Co-sleeping would’ve been ideal for this, but…nope. Not with this kid. Not until it’s a bit safer and he doesn’t go exploring before his eyes are even open yet. Besides, it was only a few nights and nursing was the most reliable way — the only way, really — to soothe him back to sleep.
That night, he just stopped.
No weaning. No warning. Just…done. I went in to nurse him back down and he wanted none of it. He’d start to latch, then stop and get really, really upset. This was one of the reasons we thought it was a strike, and probably a result of the incoming tooth. Another reason is that he still wasn’t into solids (and he still isn’t).
That first night was rough. He’d had baby Advil (teeth!), and he wouldn’t eat and refused any other comfort (blanky, skin-to-skin, snuggles…no, no, NO) so we eventually set him back down and tried to let him self-soothe, which was a disaster.
He eventually went back to sleep, but not for long. When he woke around 3 and still wouldn’t nurse, Graham made a bottle and I hooked myself up to the pump and began to fret.
The thing about being obsessed with nursing, annoying though it may seem, is that we knew what to do. (Fretting, however, is a thing you’re not supposed to do. Like that’s realistic.) Keep offering. Try different positions and locations. Get him when he’s groggy or asleep. Pump on his feeding schedule to keep up supply. Bottle feed and supplement as necessary, because, when you get right down to it, “Feed the baby” is the only rule that matters.
Nothing worked. Nothing for days. We wondered if missing me when I went in to the office on Monday would help. Nope. Would being topless and accessible take the pressure off? No way. Bait and switch? Oh, HELL NO. Within one day, he stopped even pretending to latch; within two, he was resisting before we even got to the glider, where we normally nursed. By that day, though, my instinct told me he was done. And having him push me away, over and over again, was killing me inside.
We still did all the things. I was pumping like crazy, trying to keep up. We worked out schedules and plans for solids, but we were supposed to do that anyway. I bought formula to have in the house in case the stress of keeping up with his bottles tanked my supply. And the following week, I had a conversation with the lactation consultant who was so helpful in our first weeks.
What she said surprised me…except that I already knew she was right.
“I think he’s telling you he’s done.”
“Wait, what? You’re supposed to be more gung-ho than I am. Why aren’t you pressuring me to get him back on the boob?” (I can be a little direct. I find it saves time.)
“I’m a lactation consultant, yes, but I’m also a nurse practitioner, and I think we have to honor babies’ needs and desires. Someone has to initiate the weaning process eventually, and I think he just did that.”
Graham maintains that quitting cold turkey should not be called weaning. I am inclined to agree.
Our LC was stunned that he wasn’t on solids at all, especially because he’s mobile and likes to chew on everything, and she told me there’s no way my supply could increase enough at this point to keep up with his caloric needs through pumping unless I was willing to pump in the middle of the night…which she didn’t recommend. I could pump and he could still get breastmilk and all of its amazingness, but we’re at the point where other sources of nutrition are more okay than before. (Which is not to say that formula isn’t okay, but we were at nine months, which means he’d gotten the vast majority of the benefits he could get from being exclusively breastfed.)
I was not ready for this. My spirit crashed. I was a wreck for most of the week, most of which I can blame on hormones and some of which was due to the difference in how Graham and I deal with wrinkles in our best laid plans. (I research the hell out of everything and construct contingency plans, and he takes more of a wait-and-see approach.) I was ready to be done with the pump, not with nursing! And before talking to the lactation consultant, I was pumping when Grayson was eating. I went from always feeding him when we were together to never feeding him, and I was NOT okay with it.
Once we worked out a plan, I had to ask Graham about his bottle-feeding routine. I’d never given my son a bottle. I’d also never had to think about taking him out for a few hours — I was always carrying his food with me. We had one boneheaded episode at Ikea when I realized we’d left right after his long nap and he was clearly getting hungry and we wouldn’t be home for at least another half hour…and I hadn’t thought to pack a bottle. The only thing that saved us was a half-empty snack pack of puffs I’d forgotten to take out of the diaper bag. /mommyfail
I pump. I pump when I get up in the morning, once at midday, and once before bed. Fortunately, this has refilled the freezer stash and kept more than enough milk in stock for his daytime feedings, which are usually around 20-24 ounces. My supply is holding out and we do still want him to get breastmilk, but it’s a little bit less each week (thank goodness for our LC, though, whose pumping advice/schedule helped establish a good supply early). He gets a bottle of Vermont Organics formula before bed and finishes about six to eight ounces.
Solids are still a problem. We’re trying lots of things, but we’re also hoping that the impending time change will help with the scramble between when I get home from work and when he goes to bed; we’ve been having a makeshift dinnertime with him, but I get home at or after 5:30 and he’s out by 7 at the latest — the timing just doesn’t work, especially on bath nights or if my train is late… For a while after the time change, bedtime will be closer to 8 and we’ll have some wiggle room. (We also need to get better about meal planning so there’s something for Graham to start before I get home.)
We were so, so convinced Grayson would like Big People Food…ah, well. He’ll get there.
In the meantime, I still offer the breast occasionally, especially if he’s upset, but he wants none of it. I’m still a bit sad, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last 10 months, it’s that breastfeeding is hard and unpredictable, and the duration of it, for those of us who choose and are able to do it, just ain’t up to us. It’s so easy, with an infant, especially as new parents, to get into a groove that you think will last forever. It seems so silly, but this turned out to be the nudge I needed to realize that my son will always need me, even when what he needs from me changes.
Ah, well. Au revoir, nursling. Bienvenue, almost-toddler!