March 31st, 2009 by

Nursing Sabbatical

I am not ready to quit nursing Jonah. Although physically, my body has been handling the weaning process quite well, emotionally I’ve been a wreck over this. I feel a huge contradiction inside of myself over what is right and what is selfish. For those who have just begun reading, or for those with short term memory problems, my son Jonah stopped eating (we’re hypothesizing) around early November. He seemed to be nursing well throughout the day, but we found out that in actuality he was only taking two ounces per nursing session. He began to lose weight, at which point my husband and I allowed medical intervention and he was put on formula. We had the hopes of returning him to the breast for all of his feedings, and I resorted to any method of boosting milk production that I could find. Herbal supplements, changes in my diet, pumping literally around the clock. It all seemed to help at first, but after a week or so of hope, would always go downhill again.

At this point, Jonah is almost completely formula fed. He nurses once a day, either in the morning when he wakes up or at night before bed. He refuses to nurse at any other time. This is heartbreaking to me, as I know the extreme benefits of breast milk that he is missing out on. Our original plan for breastfeeding was to allow him to self wean, and to nurse at least until he was two years old, with one year being the absolute minimum. And so the feelings of contradiction come into play. I feel guilty about giving him formula, but glad to see that he is thriving, and take reassurance in knowing exactly how much milk he is taking each day. I am happy when he nurses, because then I know he is getting something that is the absolute best for him, but I am scared to push him to nurse more often because I know that my body has stopped producing enough milk for him. I feel that it is selfish to give him formula, because that is the “easy way out.” I don’t have to spend days trying to get my body to produce milk if I just chose formula. However, I also feel selfish pursuing breastfeeding as vigorously as I have been. It me who had decided to nurse until two years of age, obviously not Jonah’s choice as he has already self weaned. Perhaps, I sometimes feel, formula is the best thing for Jonah given our past circumstances, and this quest to be back on the boob is just costing Jonah valuable time with his mommy, when I should be putting my efforts into other aspects of parenting. I need finality in this decision once and for all.

And so, this past weekend I have decided to take the drastic measure that many nursing mommies have turned to. My good friend used this method to renew her supply when her son, then nine months old, was showing signs of self weaning at an early age. She went from feeding her son formula almost with every feeding, to being able to completely breastfeed him once again. She was a working, pumping mommy, and after just two days she was able to go on to nurse her son until he was sixteen months old.

I am speaking of the nursing sabbatical. One to three days of nothing but nursing. Nursing and quality bonding time with my child. Everything else gets put on hold, because everything else can wait for three days. Breastfeeding my son won’t wait.

I’ve decided to log the entire course of mine and Jonah’s sabbatical, and to share that here in our journal. Here is what happened, beginning with the preparations. I had originally planned to carry the sabbatical through the prescribed three days, but I was only able to do it for one day. I am rescheduling the full three day sabbatical for later in the week, when my environment is a little less stressful.

On Friday, I prepared for the sabbatical. I cleaned the house, did the dishes and laundry etc. I washed all of Jonah’s diapers to be sure that we had enough to last us through the sabbatical, and made sure that Daryl’s laundry for the weekend was done. As far as preparing my body, I was very careful in what I ate, cutting out all caffeine and other forms of laxatives. I took double my vitamins, and made sure to have my herbal infusions and teas right on schedule. These herbs include fenugreek seed, fennel seed, blessed thistle leaf, nettle leaf, and red raspberry leaf. Some of these herbs are taken to stimulate milk production, and some of them are taken to sustain a healthy feminine system. I take all herbs under the close counsel of my doctors and lactation consultant.

I picked up some books for Jonah at the library, for us to read together and look at the pictures. I gathered the stack of magazines that I have been wanting to catch up on. I washed my water jug that I had gotten for the birth of Jonah and made sure that it was full of water in the fridge. Restocked the tissues, and placed a comfy t-shirt next to the bed. During the sabbatical, I wanted to be topless, but as we share a house with Daryl’s family, I needed to have a shirt handy for quick trips to the kitchen or bathroom. I was set. Here is the timed log for how the next day went:

7:00am Jonah has woken up and gotten a fresh diaper. He is now in bed with us, nursing quite happily and vigorously. I wish he would nurse in this manner all the time.

7:25 Jonah has stopped nursing and is settling in between me and Daryl. He is reaching for Daryl’s arm and laughing as his daddy responds. I love watching them interact.

7:45 Jonah went back to sleep, curled up happily between me and Daryl. It is a Saturday, so Daryl doesn’t have to go to work.

10:00 I’ve woken up to Jonah yanking my hair and squealing with glee. I don’t know what he loves so much about hair, but I hope he gets over this fascination soon.

10:15 I’ve been trying to nurse Jonah for about ten minutes with no luck. He latches, sucks a couple of times, then turns his head and grunts as if looking for something else. It hurts me to give in like this, but I am getting up to make him a small bottle.

12:00 I don’t know if I’m doing this right. I’m trying to offer Jonah the breast, but he is not accepting it for very long. I’ve already used more formula than I wanted to, but then I guess I can’t expect him to stop the bottles cold turkey. I have been offering the breast first, and when that is refused I offer a few ounces of formula. I am becoming discouraged, but it is time for lunch

1:00 I fed Jonah lunch and had something to eat myself. It is time for nap now. I am going to read Jonah a story and then we will have a nap together.

2:00 Jonah fell asleep while nursing. He hasn’t done that since he was only weeks old. I let him stay latched onto the breast throughout the nap. I forgot how much I missed that bond. His soft baby skin against my body felt so sweet, and I marveled the whole hour that he slept at how beautiful and miraculous this tiny being is. I felt as if I were gazing at my newborn again.

4:00 I am beginning to feel stressed. I want to just stay in bed with my son as I had planned, but everyone is asking things of me. “Do this please” or “when will you get that done?” I don’t want to deal with anything but Jonah right now. I am trying to get him to take his second nap, but this time he is refusing to sleep. I might have to take him across the hall to his own room. He is becoming too independent from me. He currently has no interest in nursing, but would rather roll around the bed playing with his toys.

5:00 Daryl has put Jonah to bed in his own room. I have decided to end the sabbatical, as I have felt too stressed this weekend to complete it. Later in the week will be less stressful as there will be less people in the house, and fewer demands on my person. I have learned a lot from this sabbatical, however short it was. I have learned how independent my son has become, as well as how dependent he can be. I definitely feel that our bond has become stronger, and it was a chance for me to hit the reset button and fine tune our communications and relationship. If I have had so many benefits from just one day, I am looking forward a great deal to what we will reap from three days.

7:00 My breasts are leaking, and Jonah is nursing vigorously. We have only used two six ounce bottles of formula today, whereas by this time he would normally have had three eight ounce bottles. I am confident, given his cues and temperament that he has made up the difference by nursing.

Overall, I am very happy with the results of our sabbatical. It has been 24 hours since it has ended, and my breasts are still leaking. I am happy, of course, about the boost in milk supply, but I am even happier to have been able to strengthen the bond between Jonah and myself. I am excited that he is accepting the breast a little bit better at this time, and hope that our next sabbatical will improve that as well.

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One Response to “Nursing Sabbatical”

  1. I just wanted to offer some hugs and a pep talk. I went through a lot of the same experiences as you when I had Brandon. Brandon had failure to thrive due to reflux and feeding issues. He was my third child that I breastfed and the first one I had issues with. I was forced to supplement him because he was just not gaining weight and my milk supply was terrible because of his weak suck. We also did a nursing sabbatical and it made a big difference but I didn’t start our sabbatical until my supply had improved some. Have you considered using a supplemental nursing system? I used this with Brandon and made a huge difference in rebuilding my supply. When we were supplementing he was taking about 2-3 oz of formula per feeding. We eventually were able to completely wean off of formula but it did take some time. I went into see the lactation consultant each week to make sure that he was gaining weight and that I wasn’t weaning off the formula too quickly.

    Try to stay positive. If you end up needing to continue supplementing try not to let that discourage you. Even if you can’t exclusively breastfeed, any breast milk you give your little one is good for him.

    ((HUGS)) to you and Jonah!

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