Tonight, we served Larkin his first bit of solids. He was very excited (bananas were a huge hit!) and did beautifully (not even any mess!). I will post photos and a very cute video tomorrow. But tonight, I need to work out my own mixed feelings about this milestone.
At his four month check up, his pediatrician told us to wait until Larkin was as close to six months as possible before introducing solids. At about the same time as that check up, Larkin started getting very interested in the food on our plate. As he got closer to five months, he began trying to mooch off our plates at dinnertime and mimicking us as we opened our mouths and chewed. Then, last Saturday morning, he was sitting on my lap while I was eating a kolache. After each bite, Larkin would lean in and give me a big kiss. At first I thought he was just being a sweetheart, but then I realized he was trying to taste that delicious breakfast treat!
So, in other words, he has been more than ready to start solids. Turns out, it was me that wasn’t ready. Until tonight, my little boy has been exclusively breastfed. Before Larkin was born, I decided I wanted to try breastfeeding. I knew it was the healthiest choice for nourishing a newborn, and I wanted to attempt it. However, I was by no means adamant about nursing. If it worked out, great. If not, I wasn’t going to beat myself up.
I knew nothing about breastfeeding. My mom didn’t nurse her babies, my grandmother didn’t. None of my friends or extended family had nursed (at least not in my life). I had never seen anyone breastfeed, had never talked to anyone about their breastfeeding experience. I considered taking a breastfeeding class before Larkin was born, but being put on bed rest put a halt to that.
When Larkin was born, we had a rough start. Nursing may be a natural process, but it was by no means easy. I was weak and in pain after my c-section, and the little monster was HUNGRY. All the time, he wanted to eat. My colostrum had come in fine, but it wasn’t satisfying him. Every hour (at least), he would wake up crying, demanding to be fed. I’d put him in the bassinet and Jonathan would help me origami the bed pillows into the best position. Larkin would latch on, and my eyes would pop open and my toes would curl. OUCH. And then, the marathon. He ate endlessly. He would nurse me dry – literally. I could feel myself dehydrating as he chowed down. By the time he would fall asleep and unlatch, my lips would be chapped and my skin dry.
The nurses would come in to check on his feedings, and I would look up with tears in my eyes. “He’s still nursing.” “STILL? Since I was here an hour ago?” “Yeeeeeeeees!!!” They sent me a lactation consultant. She arrived just as Larkin was being wheeled to the nursery for testing. She gave me some tips, hooked me up to a pump, and left. Things didn’t improve. The next day, I begged to see the LC again. Again, she arrived while he was away being checked by the pediatrician. A few more tips, and she left. I didn’t know enough to know how useless breastfeeding advice is WITHOUT THE BABY IN THE ROOM.
When we got home from the hospital, I was getting desperate. Finally when Larkin was a week old, a family friend came by to help. Joan was my miracle worker. She had been a lactation consultant for years, and she sat down with me and Larkin and helped us work out the kinks. She adjusted our hold, our latch, and gave some priceless advice. After that night, breastfeeding began to click for us.
Since then, we’ve never looked back. Larkin lost some weight initially due to our struggles. But he quickly began putting on the pounds. Soon, it was second nature for us. It no longer hurt when he latched on. His feeding sessions were a reasonable length. And in the long run, nursing Larkin has been the single most rewarding experience in my life.
Did I do it on my own? NO. Without Joan’s intervention, I never would have gotten breastfeeding off the ground and she’s been an awesome source of information and support since then. Jonathan’s support has been invaluable. The poor man has run himself ragged accommodating me while I’m nursing. He’s fetched countless glasses of water, juggled baby and pillows and my My Breast Friend, and (my favorite) covered pretty much all of the cooking, thereby keeping me fed while I keep the baby fed. My family has supported and applauded me. The LC at the hospital across the street has helped me, free of charge, numerous times and the local La Leche leader has answered a few frantic calls. These people have my undying gratitude.
Would I have been a failure if I had been unable to breastfeed? No. Would I have let my son down if I had been unable or unwilling to nurse him? No. Would he have grown fat and happy on formula? Yes. Would we have bonded and would he love me even if he ate out of a bottle? Duh. Of course. Does breastfeeding give him magical powers and make him poop rainbows? Nope (although that would be awesome!). But am I so very glad it DID work out? YES. So very.
For the first time in my life, my body did exactly what it was supposed to, in the exact way it was supposed to do it. And that is the crux of the matter. I am finally PROUD of my body. This body has let me down in so many ways. Its suppressed immune system that allows me to get every germ that floats by. Its crooked spine and damaged nerves and muscle linings. Its emotional struggles and chemical imbalances. Its faulty thyroid and stomach and reproductive system.
But finally, when I put my baby to my breast, my body came through. I’ve been proud to watch my son’s legs go from tiny and skinny to pudgy and dimpled. His cheeks have filled out to marshmallow puffs and his belly has grown big and round, all on the power of my milk.
When he is hungry, his head swivels around and searches me out. I am the only one who can satisfy him. When he first latches on, his hands hold me and his eyes stare straight ahead in a determined stare. I can hear his frantic gasps and gulps. Then his eyes slant sideways at me, and I know he’s starting to get his happy fill. His hands reach up to my face and strokes my cheek and tangles up in my hair. He gets indignant when I make him switch sides and he frantically starts the process all over again. This time, his hand will seek out my hand. Then he will either unlatch with a milky grin or his eyes will start growing heavy in that sweet milk coma. Often, he falls asleep there, resting his head on my chest. And I will watch him sleep, working his mouth in a dream-nurse. I duck my head closer, and feel his tiny breath on my cheek.
I know he was ready to start solids. I’m happy that his daddy will be able to share in those moments of bonding that comes during feedings. And we are by no means done with nursing. But it still makes me sad. The beginning of something awesome is still the beginning of the end of something amazing.