Bee has turned nine months old this week. Despite the fact that she has blossomed into a walking, talking, independent being who is rushing into toddlerhood with unparalleled determination not to remain a baby, I have kept the promise I made to her when she was born. The first time I held her, comforted her, nursed her, and watched her sleep in my arms I promised her that I would always remember her the way she was at that very moment, and I always have. It is a complete novelty to me to see her standing up, let alone walking! My sweet, tiny, new baby couldn't possibly be capable of that already, but I digress!
There are so many milestones a baby meets during their first year which are celebrated. Their first smile, first laugh, first word, first tooth, first step. So many firsts. Becoming a mother is also followed by several firsts and important milestones, which are often less celebrated - especially in western culture. For everything that Bee has become over the last 9 months and all of the firsts she has completed and moved on from, the milestone I am most proud of meeting is our 9 months of breastfeeding.
There is no debate whether or not breastfeeding is the healthiest choice for mothers and babies. After all, it promotes bonding, protects your baby from a variety of illnesses, lowers your baby's risk of dying from SIDs, boosts your baby's immunity, decreases the risk of your baby becoming obese and reduces their risk of childhood cancer - among other things. For the mother, it can help ward off post partum depression, decrease her risk of several cancers - including breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer as well as lower her risk of diabetes. My favorite benefit of breastfeeding, though, is the time you spend skin to skin with your baby. Breastfeeding provides a unique physical closeness and a cocktail of hormones that you simply cannot get while bottle feeding and it's the most incredible feeling that really can't even be described to someone who hasn't breastfed.
While the benefits of breastfeeding are something that almost everyone is aware of, what isn't talked about so openly is how difficult and challenging and hard it can be. Bee and I have faced so many challenges over the course of our nursing relationship that there was a time when I didn't think we'd even make it to my minimum goal of six months. In the beginning, she had frenulum issues more commonly referred to as a tongue tie. We could not get a correct or deep enough latch, so nursing her was very painful - every time - and she was (is) a very demanding nurser. The first few weeks I cried during each nursing session, it was a horrible feeling knowing that I was doing what was best for her but wondering if it was the best thing for me, and in turn, for our family. Babies need healthy and happy mothers, and I was spiraling further into post partum depression and desperately wanted breastfeeding to work for us. Even so, I dreaded every nursing session. I grew to hate breastfeeding, I felt trapped by it, and I experienced a tremendous amount of guilt for feeling those things.
I met with La Leche League leaders, other mothers, doulas, lactation consultants, and pediatricians. The support I received from them and my husband was so instrumental to our success. I'd tell myself that there were many parts of parenting I might not enjoy, but I had to do what was best, and I'd continue breastfeeding - taking it one day at a time. When Bee was in her sixth month, her father and I made the decision to demand a referral to an ear, nose and throat specialist who could perform a surgery called a frenectomy to clip her tongue tie. Knowing that it would be a short and easy procedure didn't calm our nerves, but we knew that if her latch was not corrected we would not be able to maintain our breastfeeding relationship and she and I would be put at significant risks of everything that comes with weaning, including emotional trauma and an increased risk of illness.
This photo was taken in recovery after her surgery, it was the first time in almost 7 months that I was able to nurse her without pain - it was absolutely surreal and incredible. I knew in this moment that we wouldn't have to wean and that I could continue breastfeeding bee for as long as she needs. It was an amazing feeling because it meant that our entire struggle was worth it.
Though it was only a few months ago, those days seem so far in the distant past. Breastfeeding bee is now one of my favorite parts of our relationship. It's an absolute joy and it's now so natural that I sometimes forget it was ever a challenge. There are times when bee is hungry and nurses with such intensity. There are times when bee is playing and walks by to nurse for just a quick moment to reconnect before returning to her work. There are times when she is upset and I take her into my arms and latch her on and she breathes a sigh of relief and her whole body just goes limp with relaxation. There are times when she falls asleep at my breast and smiles in her sleep when she reaches out to touch my skin. It's so much more than nutrition and something I'm so glad that I can provide to her and so glad that we made it through the difficult times to get where we're at now. To every mother who is also struggling with breastfeeding and worried that you won't make it, I think you are amazing. I am proud of you. It will be worth it.