This is going to be a lengthy post, so grab a cup of coffee or tea and settle in! I’m going to share with you how I made the decision to “dump the pump” (breast pump, that is) and go back to nursing my 18-month-old toddler.
Before my daughter was born, I imagined I would nurse and pump equally. Or perhaps nurse at the beginning and then pump full time until she was 12 months old. Boy, was I wrong. I had a full range of issues with breastfeeding, which you can read about in some of my other posts that will be coming soon. As it turns out, I enjoyed nursing much more than I anticipated and continued to do it until she was a year old (not without some bumps along the way). My husband and I planned to try for another baby around then so it made sense to me, at the time, to get her off of the breast and start pumping. My logic, if you can call it that, was that I would teach her how to use a cup and then also be able to measure how much milk I was producing in the event I became pregnant. (Insert evil laughter here, because this is where all the craziness begins.)
On the night of her first birthday she began sleeping through the night for 11+ hrs. How was that for a gift?! This meant no more night nursing. Woo hoo! However, I didn’t want my supply to decrease, so I decided it would be a good idea to wake up at 1:30 am to pump (whaaaaaat?). I continued to nurse her in the morning when she woke for the day. I began decreasing the frequency of her nursing and replacing that with a sippy cup of pumped milk. This continued for about 6 weeks until I had gradually weaned her from the breast completely with the exception of the morning nursing session. I should also note that by this time my period was back in full swing and had been for a few months. (More on that in another post.)
I had set times that I would pump throughout the day to ensure I maintained a strong supply (and, of course, the dreaded 1:30 am pump). This was important to me because I did want to maintain her breastmilk nutrition and immunity benefits. She had been sick prior to this and it was amazing how quickly she recovered, which I attribute in large part, though not entirely, to the breastmilk.
Now that I was pumping the majority of the time, my life revolved around the pump. Pumping, itself, only takes 20 or so minutes. Once you factor in setting up the pump, cleaning the parts, storing the milk, etc., the process can take roughly 30 minutes or longer depending on your methods. By this point, I had gone from 10 minutes of nursing 4 or 5 times per day to a pumping process that took 30 minutes per session just to yield the same amount of milk. Let’s do the math: Nursing 5 times X 10 minutes = 50 minutes. Pumping 5 times X 30 minutes = 2.5 hrs. Yep, I gave myself an extra 1.5+ hours of work per day. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
The process continued for about 6 months. Yes, even the 1:30 am pump. I was obsessive about the number of ounces I was producing. My supply continued to dwindle with each period I had, which meant I was adding in more pump time or sessions to attempt to make up for it. I was becoming seriously depressed. I was not getting more than 4 – 5 hours of consistent sleep at night, I was miserably tied to that pump. The pump was ruling my life and schedule and I had fewer hours in the day to do other things (like, oh, I don’t know . . . be a fun mom). It was ridiculous. My daughter was sleeping through the night, but I wasn’t. I knew that if I dropped that middle of the night pump, my supply was really going to take a hit since the 1:30 am session was yielding the highest output for me. The lack of sleep played a huge role in my depression. I was so obsessed counting ounces, my lack of sleep being a big culprit in the irrational thought process.
My husband and I decided to pump (no pun intended) the breaks on baby making, largely due to the fact that my headspace wasn’t where I needed it to be. My toddler was thriving and becoming such an absolute barrel of fun and laughter to be around as she continued to develop her personality and sense of humor, and here I was . . . depressed from the pump. Yes, I let an inanimate object bring me down. How dumb is that? So you know what I did? I finally got some sense and dumped the pump!
Just before my daughter’s 18-month mark, I woke up one morning and realized I could not do it one more day. I just couldn’t do it. Once I had made this decision, I was fully prepared for her to wean. I had accepted it, embraced it, and had readied myself mentally and emotionally for the worst. I just felt so sure the weaning process would begin and I was ready to accept it if it did.
That day, I decided instead of her sippy cup of milk, I would try to nurse her. Guess what? It worked, and it was fairly easy to get her back on the breast and not wail her head off for a sippy! Yes, I had to distract her with a toy and tell her a story as she waited for my letdown, but it worked! She nursed again later that day and yes, she did become agitated and impatient. I exercised my patience and continued to talk to her, play and distract her and eventually she nursed happily. This was all pretty awesome, but the one nursing session I was most worried about recovering was the one before bedtime.
She had been receiving a bottle/sippy from my husband since she was 6 or 8 months old, even when I was still nursing full-time the rest of the day. That was their special time and part of our bedtime routine. To change a routine that had been ingrained in her for almost a year was going to be tough. Or so I thought.
That night we did not even make her a “back-up” sippy. Man, was I nervous. As I lifted her down from her dressing area, she ran to her daddy as normal saying “Miiiillllk” with a giggle as she always had for the last many months. When she got to my husband, he said, “Go see mommy. She has mommy milk for you!” She looked at me and wailed, “NOOOOO! No mommy milk!” I said, “Mommy milk or no milk, it’s up to you.” I did this with a smile and affection, definitely not a tough-love demeanor. (Of course, if she had been younger than a year, I would have never done this. I knew at 18 months she did not need the bedtime milk for nourishment, it was purely a treat and comfort. She was getting plenty of good nourishment throughout the day and is well-fed, trust me.) She hesitated, looked back at daddy, then whined for a little bit. Less than a minute later, she walked over to me and said, “Mommy milk!” I picked her up and she nursed away, then ran back to daddy for her bedtime story and prayers as usual. You cannot imagine the huge sense of relief that washed over me in that moment. I almost immediately felt like a new person. Really.
That night I did not get up to pump in the middle of the night. Instead, I packed up my hospital grade pump that I had rented, sterilized my parts and put everything away. For good. I went to bed, watched a tv show, read part of a book, and woke up more refreshed than I had in the last almost 18 months. It was a total reset for me.
You may ask why I didn’t go back to nursing full time earlier? Early into the process, it wasn’t so bad. I had found my groove and it was tolerable. It was after an extended period of time, and after several more dips in my supply, that it began to wear me down. Couple that with the fact that my daughter was now used to having milk flow freely from her cup without having to wait for a letdown. Try to rationalize instant gratification and delayed gratification to a less-than-2-year-old toddler. It’s not happening.
Some things you might wonder:
- Did you wake up engorged the next morning?
- No, I really didn’t. It had been 12 hours since my last nursing session. My breasts were pretty full, but I was not engorged, in pain, leaking or anything of that nature. After a week or so, my breasts were noticeably less full upon waking and my body adjusted.
- Did your supply decrease overall?
- Probably, but I’m not counting ounces or obsessing anymore so I’m not worried about it. I’m still producing milk, for sure. As a matter of fact, my daughter and I both caught a cold several weeks ago. She never woke in the middle of the night feeling bad, played and stayed as active as usual. She was 90% better within 48 hours. The breastmilk must still be doing its job because I don’t typically use conventional Western medicine to treat cold symptoms.
- What is going on today and is she still nursing?
- Yes, totally. She is 21 months now, and she is all about the boobs. She always asks for mommy milk and her nursing frequency ranges from 3 – 6 times per day depending on her mood. I am in happy disbelief. I really thought it was going to be the end when I made the decision to stop pumping. I am happy to give it to her anytime she asks for it (aside from the other day while we were shopping in Target)! I’ll deal with weaning when she and I are ready, and at this point neither of us are!
I write this post because it was a life-changing moment for me and I hope that it will help another mom out there who wonders if she can get her toddler to the breast full time again. It IS possible, with some effort and patience. Do remember that my girl was still nursing once per day so she was never fully weaned from the breast. I am sure this did play a role in getting her back to nursing exclusively, but I have heard other stories from moms with toddlers younger than mine and older than mine who were not nursing at all (but had at some point) and got the toddler back to the breast exclusively. I hope this gives encouragement to someone out there that may be having the same struggles.