We had always planned on breastfeeding. Two years, we said. We read the breastfeeding books. We attended a breastfeeding class. I swore off alcohol for two years.
Things didn’t go as planned. Breastfeeding turned out to be far more difficult and much more painful than I imagined. I cried in pain, and I dreaded feeding Lucas. It took conversations with all the breastfeeding mothers I knew, and a home visit from a lactation consultant, before I found out how to feed my son in ways that were comfortable for both of us, before I learned how to fall asleep with my child latched on to my breast.
Pumping was such a production. At work, I had to find a quiet, private spot where I could pump. More than a few times I pumped during meetings, at my desk. When possible, I would go to the clinic or to a breastfeeding room. I had to bring sealed containers and ice packs and cooler bags. I never bought a manual or an electric pump because I knew I would have to carry and sanitize so many things. There were a few times that I forgot my pump at home, and I was lucky that my officemate Rose had a manual pump I could borrow.
I felt like a failure if I produced such small amounts of milk. I could only hope I had enough milk in the freezer for when Lucas was at home with the nanny. I put malunggay in different dishes. I bought lactation cookies. I got a lactation massage.
There was a week that my mom was in the hospital, and I would travel from our home in Paranaque to stay with her in Quezon City. On the day my mom was about to be discharged, Lucas was down to one bag of breastmilk. Oneal and Lucas were waiting for me in Cubao, so that I could feed him directly.
When we were out with Lucas, feeding was a challenge too. He would get so distracted by sights and sounds, and he would turn his head–while he was still firmly latched–in the direction of the stimulus. It was difficult to keep looking for breastfeeding rooms when we were out. I wasn’t concerned about exposing myself; I was concerned with having a peaceful, pain-free feeding session. At one point I was obsessed with finding and reviewing breastfeeding rooms in public places.
I fed him at meetings and at my desk. I fed him in coffee shops and museums, park benches and mall benches, clinics and convention dressing rooms, in the car, at weddings and wakes. I fed him upon waking and at bedtime, in the early hours of the morning and in the middle of the day. I fed him at one breast while I pumped at the other breast.
I literally cried over spilled milk, when Oneal or I would accidentally knock over my uncovered pump.
I bought breastfeeding bras and dresses and tops. I had to choose clothes that were loose or easily opened, so that I could easily lift my dress for feeding or pumping. I packed breast pads in case I leaked through my clothes. I kept a spare shirt in my office drawer, and another one in the car.
I think Lucas was a year old when his pediatrician said he could start having cow’s milk. It was a relief, because then there wasn’t such a desperate need to pump and to store milk. We gave Lucas cow’s milk, and yogurt drinks, and chocolate milk. On nights that I had to be out late, he could have one of those, instead of my milk from the freezer, instead of waiting for me to get home.
When Lucas started going to daycare, there was really no choice but to feed him only in the morning, upon waking, and at night, before going to sleep. Sometimes, if I got up and got dressed before he woke up, we even skipped the morning feeding. As he got older, there were mornings when, even if I offered, he wasn’t really interested in feeding from me. Only when we were at home together did he ask to feed throughout the day.
Over the past year, we’ve been feeding less and less. In the mornings, upon waking, he would snuggle next to me and ask to feed, then we would both fall asleep. At night, after his bath and his bedtime story, he would feed and fall asleep, and we would put him in the crib.
In the middle of this year, Lucas heard that his cousin Ate Nixi promised to stop having mommy milk when she turned four. He said he would stop too. So in the months leading up to his fourth birthday, we fed less and less. We stopped morning feedings. We made sure he only fed for a few minutes at night, so he would learn to fall asleep on his own, in the crib.
Eventually my own body forced us to wean. Early this year, my right breast had a cut on the nipple, and it hurt to feed there, so we stopped. Just over a month ago, my left breast had some pain and a rash, and some swelling. I consulted a doctor, and the conversation went like this:
Me: I don’t think it’s clogged milk ducts, because it doesn’t feel the same.
Doctor: Okay, well I can’t give you antibiotics because you’re breastfeeding. Teka, ilang taon na po ba si baby?
Me: He’s turning four na, sa December.
Doctor: Uhm. Okay, mommy, sa tingin ko quota ka na sa breastfeeding. Pwedeng pwede na mag-wean si baby. Palagay ko nakuha na niya lahat ng antibodies sa yo!
I was happy to tell her that we were in the process of weaning, and it was okay to put me on antibiotics because then I’d be forced to stop. True enough, I had to tell Lucas that I had an ouchie on my boob, and he couldn’t have mommy milk. (My boobs are fine, thank you, no need to worry!)
I think the last time I fed him was before Halloween, and he hasn’t asked for mommy milk again since.
It’s been a relief to be free of breastfeeding. I told mom friends, “I’m free! I’ve graduated!” I breastfed for nearly four years, far longer than planned, far longer than I thought I could. My milk was always just enough.
It was difficult, and I won’t get sentimental and say I miss it. But I do appreciate how easy it was to just offer my breast to comfort him, how easy bedtime was because he was feeding. If we were in a strange place or he was in pain or discomfort, I only had to put him to my breast, and he felt better.
He may no longer be feeding, but he still keeps a hand under my shirt at night, pinching my breast or my nipple as he falls asleep. He still buries his face in my side, like a kitten.
Sure, there are studies that quantify the benefits of breastfeeding, the cost savings, etc. I think the best thing is that we built a trust and closeness, that he knows he can just snuggle up to me, that I can wrap him in my arms, and he’ll be safe. We may have stopped breastfeeding, but I think that bond will be forever.
Thanks, bewbs. We did it!