When I first started writing this post, I was a week away from my son’s first birthday.
This was not the first birthday we had planned. There would be no big party with family and friends and no smash cake photo shoot. But there was one gift I planned on giving, though: to continue breastfeeding him past his first birthday.
Our breastfeeding journey has been the hardest of all three of my children.
It’s been a battle with blood, sweat, and tears. His teeth came early at four months, and he drew blood at six months. I’ve struggled with plugged ducts, engorgement, and cracked nipples.
But in the face of a pandemic and flu season, this is the first time I have felt that I needed to try breastfeeding past the one year mark.
Fast forward to two days before his first birthday. I spent my Friday night sitting in an urgent care with a fever over 101. This alone was a bad way to end the week, but it was especially awful because my whole family had been sick all week with a cold. Oh, and it was the baby’s first cold. So, my first thought when I started shaking violently with chills on Friday afternoon was that I must have COVID.
Through my panic, I noted, however, that my right breast had gotten incredibly sore over the course of the day. Then I remembered that my baby and I had slept the night before, going 11 hours without nursing. That much-needed sleep my body craved, coupled with his inefficient nursing from a stuffy nose, had planted the seeds of what I would soon realize was a very sudden onset of mastitis.
As I sat on the exam table, the doctor told me it was time to wean him.
She pointed out that he was eating solid foods and sleeping for long stretches at night. Unfortunately as anyone who has had mastitis knows, you have to nurse more or pump frequently to get rid of it. At the same time, the very last thing you want to do is touch that throbbing breast that feels like someone sucker punched you. And let’s not even get into how comical the at-home care instructions are, the foremost being “rest.” As if any mother of small children will be getting that. So weaning was not an option yet.
When I began considering continuing to breastfeed past the first birthday, I started doing some research. Many of us have heard that the statistics for breastfeeding in the United States are far lower than that in the rest of the world. But, I was shocked to find that according to the CDC’s most recent survey, which includes infants born in 2017, only 35.3% of infants are breastfed at 1 year. That’s any kind of breastfed, not just exclusively.
Many factors contribute to this low number, including unsupportive employers and communities. Personally, I also feel like there is just not a lot of information out there for American mothers about breastfeeding toddlers. My assumption was proven correct as I started reading more about caring for mastitis when nursing an older baby. Again, just not a lot of information available.
Although those closest to me are supportive, I felt pretty doubtful of my choice sitting on that gurney being lectured by a medical professional. Like my desire to put my baby’s immune system first had compromised my own health. Maybe it had? But, maybe the fact that I was already fighting a virus, was under a tremendous amount of stress caring for three sick kids by myself while I too was sick, and had gone too long without nursing were to blame?
I haven’t decided how long I will keep breastfeeding.
My first goal was to not end up at a surgeon’s office having an abscess in my breast drained. After that, I don’t know. Like all things 2020, my best laid plans were met with some serious interference. But I know that my decision at the time and now was the best decision for myself and my child.