Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Is this normal?

I've been at my new job for around a month and a half now, and things are going well. Before all of this started, I had been terrified at the prospect of partially weaning Will. At 12 months old, he still nursed at least 5 times a day, and nursing was by far his favorite pastime. If I went too long without nursing him, he would begin to wail, crawl over to me, and pull down my shirt. I almost did not take this job because I didn't think Will would be able to handle going 8+ hours without the boob. He steadfastly refused to take a bottle, so it wasn't like sending him off to daycare with pumped milk would be an option. Besides, my bottle-feeding mom-friends told me that by this age, you're trying to get them off the bottle, not start them on it.

I just sort of closed my eyes, took a deep breath, trusted that it would somehow all work out, then called the department head and formally accepted the position. As soon as I hung up the phone, I wondered what the hell I was thinking.

But it has worked out. Somehow. Not perfectly. My god this has been stressful. You don't even know how stressful. I couldn't even begin to tell you the half of it. I'm pretty sure Will has developed dental enamel hypoplasias from drinking my stressed out milk and from living and breathing all the stress around him. It continues to be ridiculously stressful, but luckily, I am so busy that most of the time I do not even have the time to notice how stressed out I am. So I just keep going.

At any rate, since the beginning of August, I slowly worked at cutting down the amount of times I nursed Will each day. His nursing took a more dramatic hit when I started work on August 23rd, and an even more dramatic hit when he formally started daycare on September 7. Since then he has nursed only twice per day. I nurse him early in the morning as soon as he wakes, and then I nurse him once again in the evening before he goes to bed. On the weekends I sometimes nurse him more.

The thing is, it has been going pretty well for the most part. At least, I thought it was. He is just shy of 14 months now, and he is perfectly fine going without nursing all day long. That part is wonderful. It is a huge change from an entire year of my life, when I nursed him pretty much every 2 hours, all day long, just to keep him happy. In many ways, I feel like this is the best of the all possible worlds. I'm still nursing him, so he's getting all the health and immune benefits of breastmilk, I'm just only doing it twice a day instead of all day long like we had been doing for his entire life.

Here is the problem though. Now that we've been on this twice a day nursing schedule for a month or so, I am starting to feel like I've got no milk at all. It felt frighteningly like the first several months of his life when we were dealing with the hellishness of Low Milk Supply. I mean, I knew that I should naturally expect my milk supply to decrease as I decreased the amount of times I nursed him. But here is what I am afraid of: I am afraid that my milk will totally dry up and he'll end up weaned before either of us is ready.

Within the past week, I've really noticed how astonishingly little milk I have left. My nursing bras are gigantic on me. There are times when I'm nursing him when I don't feel a let-down and it really doesn't seem like there is any milk coming out at all. That's the thing that worries me the most. I really noticed it over the weekend when we were all sick. Will and I were both feverish and congested; he was fussy and I was too tired to do anything else to entertain him, so I just decided I'd nurse him multiple times throughout the day. And nothing came out. At least, it seemed like nothing came out. I was kind of too sick to notice or care about it a whole lot, but by now I am starting to freak out. Is my milk going to dry up completely? I am so not ready to wean him.

I realize, in the greater scheme of things, having nursed this baby for 14 months (and never given him one drop of formula, not one drop!), is nothing to sneeze at, and even the most dedicated lactivist (is that a pejorative term? I don't mean it to be so) would probably congratulate me on a job well done even if I were to stop nursing him today. Hell, I practically got a standing ovation at a La Leche League meeting when I told my story of everything we had been through to keep nursing and fend off formula when Will was just 4 months old. But I am not ready to quit nursing. I don't really have a target weaning age in mind, other than say, kindergarden. I mean, I personally see no reason not to nurse him until he is at least 3. Or at least 2. Whatever. Just something older than 14 months.

So, I just don't know... is it normal to have vanishingly little milk left at this point in the game, or have I reverted to the terror of Low Milk Supply that I somehow managed to get us through after Will was first born? Am I just extra paranoid about milk supply issues because of everything we went through? Is my milk going to completely dry up? Should I take something to prevent that from happening? Recall that I tried everything and nothing worked. Except for Domperidone, after about 8 weeks of 9 pills per day. I rifled through my stash of nursing supplies and found that I have about a week's supply of Domperidone left. Should I take it?

It's just that this is all kind of emotional for me. Realistically, I will probably never have another baby. I don't think there's anybody out there working on finding a cure for Hyperemesis Gravidarum or Babies That Cry 12 Hours Per Day, and I can't imagine ever living through either of those things again. So once we're done, we're done. Nursing has been hard, unimaginably hard, what with the low milk supply and the constant crying, and did I mention the low milk supply? But I am nowhere near ready to end it, and it makes me very sad to think that one day Will will be done nursing and that part of my life will be over forever.

At any rate, I'm in uncharted territory. I would appreciate feedback from anybody who's been there, done that. Is what's been happening a sign that my milk is on its way out? Or is it normal to have a low milk supply at this stage and maintain it for as long as you and the baby see fit?

Thanks for reading.


Rixa said...

I recently had a scare that my 17-month-old had weaned. He got sick and stopped nursing for about 2 weeks straight. I tried and tried every day to get him to nurse and he just wouldn't. Thankfully he started up again 2 days ago as if nothing had ever happened. So I know how it feels to not be ready to be done nursing! I have no supply right now, but that's due to me being 20 weeks pregnant.

Could you try pumping once at work, just to keep your breasts stimulated? Even if you don't feed this to him (and of course you could mix it in foods or give it with a sippy cup) it would send signals to your body to produce more. Anyway if it adds even more stress to your life, then don't try it. But if you wouldn't mind taking a pumping break during your workday, then perhaps give it a shot.

Of course you might not see much come out with pumping, especially if your supply seems low right now.

Anonymous said...

I don't know too many people who nurse past a year, so it doesn't seem normal to me. Just remember it's not about mother, it's about the child.

Melissa said...

Rixa-- Thanks so much. Things seem to be going well at the moment, but I may search out the pump and bring it to work if I notice a further decrease in my supply.

Anonymous-- Maybe you should consider becoming informed about breastfeeding before you make ignorant comments on other peoples' blogs.

Cathy said...

Oh hon, like you haven't had enough to stress you out. I know this is very important to you. And my experience says, yes, this is normal. I nursed Chris to 18 months, and Sam to 17. We've only been off a month. I pumped to donate to the Milk bank, and I noticed a significant quantity dropoff at 9 months. I couldn't pump more than 2-3 oz. in like half an hour which weirded me out. But all the stuff I read said quantity will drop as they eat more solids, drink from other sources. OK, it does.
Will has just done it more of a cold turkey style, so you're noticing the greater effects. I don't think you should be still feeling a significant letdown after 12 mos. though, so to lose that is probably fine. Don't take the drugs to boost up. What he's getting from you has changed, I just don't think it would be worth trying of drugs.

What he's not getting in quantity, he's still getting in Quality, twice a day, and if he's ok with it, then you should be too. Making it this long is better than lots of moms make it. You can try pumping, if you're really worried, but the milk bank wouldn't take mine after a year because the composition changes. I think it might be more upsetting to you to try to drain yourself.
It is about him, Anonymous is right in that regard. And only that. About Will getting that immune boost for As Long As He CAN! And for Will to be able to seek and recieve Comfort, which he's getting.
You're doing a Great Job, and you just keep doing what you're doing if it works for you and Will, then keep at it, and he'll stop when he's ready. Try not to stress so much.

Sarah said...

Gwen weaned herself by 11 months. My supply started to drop pretty dramatically when I started the advising gig (around 9 months)and had to pump for one of her feedings. The pump just wasn't enough to keep up my supply. So we let that one drop and just kept up with morning and night sessions, or really any other time she wanted it when I was home. I could have kept up with that indefinitely, but I think there were two reasons why she quit. First, she was too interested in playing to take time out to nurse. Second, when she did nurse, it wasn't as satisfying anymore because I didn't have my supply. I felt some sadness when she weaned as well, but eventually appreciated the freedom that came with not nursing (Steve being able to take more responsibility and being able to eat whatever I wanted). You've done an excellent job nursing him under not the easiest of circumstances for 14 months, so I would focus on that and just try to go with the flow. Just listen to your instincts and the two of you will figure it out together.

gutzville said...

Sorry to hear that you are both so stressed out. I remember when our stored milk supply hit an inflection point, then a peak, then extrapolating the end of the expressed milk. It was all very sad in a mathematical way. But, somehow we survived and thrived and Ashlynn seemed to be much less worried about it than we were.

Its not good for anyone to stress over everything. And besides there are so many things that are much more enjoyable to stress about, like which convertable car seat to get, and what new and exciting foods to try.

I hear howler monkeys also don't nurse much past the first few months (perhaps I can find someone w/ some good data on that:) I know that you'll continue to do whatever is best for Will, and keep his best intreests in mind. I am certianly excited for all of the milestones to come and I will certianly mark them with pride in what we all have accomplished, and a small amount of sorrow that no matter what I do little girls become women, toddlers become little girls, babies ween, and the passage of time continues unrelenting into the future.

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
-- Havelock Ellis

Rachael said...

Hi, I'm a new reader of your blog. I am very much enjoying it. (I am a postdoc in biomedical sciences, and I have a 12 week old son).

I am so sorry to hear of the stress you are going through with milk supply. If this is worrying you so much, perhaps you should talk to a lactation consultant?

Also, an idea -- if pumping at work is too much, you could always try hand expressing some (would probably still want to lock your office door ;) but no washing/sterilizing of pump parts). I wonder if that extra stimulation would help boost your supply (and at the very least remind you that there is still milk left).

Best of luck with this issue. I'll be continuing to read.

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled across your blog. You seem like you’ve had a rough go with pregnancy and parenting. I can relate. I was bitterly ill for the about 3/4 of my pregnancy and had a very high-need child. One issue for us was nursing too, and I’m really glad my DD and I made it through the first six months. I wasn’t sure that we would make it, but we did, no formula ever, and I am happy to say that we made it long past a year as well. A lot of people can’t relate to how challenging it is to think about weaning after having so many challenges at the beginning. As the anonymous post above indicated, most people can’t even relate to nursing past a year. To someone educated, such comments seem ignorant and soo closed-minded. Despite his/her ignorance, anonymous did point to some sort of wisdom about taking cues from our babies… I guess I realized through my difficult experience with pregnancy and mothering that my choices shouldn’t be based only on what I want and my feelings, but focused the little one in my care. Sure, I am an adult and a person with important knowledge, wisdom, and values to impart through my parenting, but I had to adapt (a lot) to the person that my child is. I thought I would be a very different mother, but I was blessed (in retrospect, it is easier to use that word) with a very challenging pregnancy and mothering experience that I’m proud to say changed me for the better. By the time we got to weaning, my initial reaction was still really sad and bittersweet that something I had fought so hard for was fading and that a special, unique, (finally) positive part of my relationship with my DD was going to be lost. Eventually, I realized (albeit, through tears) that as with every other part of my pregnancy and mothering experience that I was not rightly in control of the decision. When my little girl was ready to wean, we moved through that stage together as brightly as possible. From the couple of posts I read, you sound like you are doing that already and are probably further along at breathing, smiling, and just being at peace with life and your relationship with your little one than I was at 14 months. Keep being brilliant and lots of love to you and your son as you reach new milestones.