Little Brother N lay in my arms screaming at me to feed him; desperately pleading with me to give him what he wanted. I tried to remain calm and rely on the different ideas and tools I had read about or learned while nursing our older son for more than 14 months. I used a soothing voice and tried to coax him to me. When I switched sides, he still wasn’t interested. When I moved positions, he looked at me like I was the worst mom in the world. After what felt like hours but was likely a handful of minutes, I gave in and offered him a bottle. He settled in and smiled at me with his eyes.
Four years earlier, within hours of Big Brother N’s birth, I transitioned from a mom who would “try breastfeeding and see how it goes” to a “devoted and committed breastfeeding mom” that would do whatever she could to give her babies breast milk. As an 80s, formula baby myself (who thinks I turned out fairly okay), I was never interested in breastfeeding. When I got pregnant and began researching and reading about pregnancy, motherhood, and parenting, it was clear that there are so many benefits and I should “at least give it a whirl.” The moment I laid eyes on my first born, I knew I would do anything to make his life better and easier, and one way I could do this was through breastfeeding.
Don’t get me wrong; breastfeeding did not come easy to either of us and it took far longer than I anticipated for both of us to get the hang of it. We did have obstacles in our way including a tongue tie, a nipple shield, and slow growth and supplementing to overcome. We initially tried supplementing with my pumped breast milk, but Big Brother N still didn’t gain enough weight to consider him a thriving baby. We eventually found a routine that worked: offering a small bottle of formula after he nursed to top him off and help him keep his reflux in check.
Nursing Big Brother N was an awesome experience I will forever treasure. It offered quiet moments for just the two of us, a bond that grew while looking into each others’ eyes and playing with each other’s fingers, and a feeling of accomplishment as I gave my son the benefits of breast milk.
After Big Brother N and I got our routine down, we both loved nursing, and continued until he was 14 months. Between nursing and supplementing, he eventually ended up a chubby cheeked and rolly legged baby. Because of this success, I never considered that Little Brother N wouldn’t be successful at nursing.
Fast forward four years to Little Brother N debuting earthside at 6 lbs 3 ozs, three pounds lighter than his big brother. I knew arriving so little, it’d be more important he maintain weight and start gaining quickly. Having a successful breastfeeding and supplementing experience with Big Brother N, albeit with challenges, I was sure I could easily do the same with Little Brother N. But, like his big brother, Little Brother N was slow to thrive.
For the first 14 weeks of his life, Little Brother N primarily nursed and then received a small bottle of pumped breast milk at every other feeding. I was even less concerned about offering him a bottle because I knew Big Brother N did so well going between bottle and breast. Starting around eight weeks, he began to make strong gains. I was happy and ecstatic that I didn’t need to supplement with formula this time and there was a potential end in sight to supplementing all together.
At the end of December when we were in my hometown for Christmas, we believe Little Brother N experienced a growth spurt. This growth spurt put our nursing regimen into a tail spin. Since he had been given a number of bottles from just days old, Little Brother N seemed to know he could get milk faster that way. He started boycotting nursing and was inconsolable at feedings until presented with a bottle.
I tried pumping before I nursed him so my body had already let down, dropping milk into his mouth with a syringe to get him a quick fix and encourage him to suck, different positions, different sides, different locations, and a tiny bottle before and after nursing. While each of these things worked at one time or another, nothing stuck and he would let me know he wanted a bottle.
At first I thought it would be temporary and we’d work through it. But, more and more time went on and I wondered how long this could go on. We certainly weren’t bonding; while he was upset and screaming because I wouldn’t immediately just give him a bottle, I was getting more and more worked up and my heart was breaking little by little. I tried and tried for weeks to bring him back to nursing; and for weeks he fought and fought.
I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster. One minute, I’d feel frustrated because he wasn’t interested in nursing anymore. The next, I’d be calm and try to give myself grace because I was giving him what he needed. It was torture to listen to and watch him scream at me.
I so badly wanted to nurse Little Brother N through his first year, just as I had with Big Brother N. I was willing to work hard and knew the challenges we were experiencing and any others that came along would be worth it in the end. But Little Brother N was deciding he needed something different.
Interestingly, through all of the boycotting and fighting, Little Brother N always wanted to nurse first thing in the morning when he woke up. Initially, I think it was because he was still sleepy and he was patient enough to wait for the let down. By the time he was more alert in the mornings, it had just became our routine and he never fought me like he did in those weeks around Christmas and other times of the day.
Today, Little Brother N is eight months and still nurses every morning. I treasure this time and am probably even more grateful for it because it’s so limited. I pump throughout the day and, so far, have been able to feed him solely breast milk. Occasionally, he’ll want to nurse at other times of the day but for the most part he still lets me know he wants a bottle. This is certainly not how I pictured our feeding regimen but I’ll take what I can get.
Motherhood has taught me that most things are out of my control and life is better and happier when you can just roll with it. So, while I can tell you I’m still committed to nursing and pumping for him today, I can’t promise what I’ll be tomorrow.
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