Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Nursing Dreams and Dream Feeds

Tonight is Kevin's last "dream feed" with Abby.  A dream feed is a bottle you sneak to your baby in her sleep, right before YOU go to bed, with the hope that the little extra will be enough to keep them asleep the rest of the night.  We didn't really start off with that intention.  At the beginning, when we gradually weaned to breastfeeding from full-time bottles, and were still trying to get in 9-10 feedings a day, Kevin wanted to hold on to this one.  It was one less nursing session I had to figure out how to fit in, and Kevin loved this special daddy-daughter time.

When I mentioned in an online mommy-group that we were still doing dream feeds around six months, some gently mentioned that most babies dropped the dream feed around this time.  Kevin practically turned pale when I told him this.  At this point, Abby was sleeping through the night, while most breastfed babies wake at least once during the night for a feeding for at least the first year.  "So," I told Kevin, "maybe the dream feed is like, her night feeding, so you might as well keep giving it to her."  We agreed to wean her off of it around a year.

Abby is nearly 14 months old, now.  We've kept it a little longer than originally planned, because our girl had some other plans.

See, I had planned to breastfeed at least until I get pregnant again, if I do.  Which, if things go as we have planned, would be around 18 months.  I figured she'd probably wean herself around then, anyway, since my supply would most certainly drop.  I always intended for her take the lead, though, and while I don't love the idea of nursing while pregnant, I would've tried it for her.  I imagined we'd drop a feeding every couple of months until we were down to one or two, and gracefully stop.

After a feeding, around 2 months
She did take the lead.  She surprised and confused me by weaning during her eleventh month.  It was very unusual, because it was early (before 12 months), and abrupt.  Both of those usually signal a nursing strike (where a baby won't nurse for a few days for some reason, then hops back on the train).  Around Thanksgiving, she began biting more often than not after nursing...then at the beginning of nursing, repeatedly, so no nursing actually happened.  Within a few days, it was every feeding except for the morning one, and then it was that one, too.

I tried for weeks.  All time, at first, then once or twice a day, then every few days.  I tried every trick in the book to discourage biting.  I was firm, I was calm.  I offered her a teether, I fake cried, I put her down, I left the room.  As it stretched from a two-week, "Well, maybe this is just a long strike" into Christmas, I had to accept that our nursing relationship had ended.

This was the last time she fell asleep after nursing.

I think you may have to be a mother, but maybe not, to understand how devastated I was.  I want to tell you, in case you've been through it and you can tell me I'm normal, or in case you're going through it and I can tell you you're normal.  I loved nursing, once we got the hang of it.  I know not all mamas do, and that's okay.  I loved the calm, the sweetness, the excuse to just "be" with my baby.  It was special to nurture my baby in one way no one else could.

When I wasn't sure if she was striking or weaning, I was almost as emotional as I was postpartum.  I'm sure it was partially hormones. But a lot of it was also the "not knowing," and the intense feeling of rejection every time she would bite me or turn her head away.  One of the worst things was, she had just learned the sign for milk, and would do it.  I'd offer her the breast, and she'd bite.  But she kept asking, and it broke my heart.  I don't think she thought the sign meant what I thought it meant.  I cried a lot, and I cry thinking about it now.    I would think crazy, irrational things like, "She doesn't love me," or, "I bet she never did like to nurse."  I had to stop trying, because I couldn't take her refusal.  I was so heartbroken.

I'm mostly past it, now.  Although it happened in an unusual way and at an unusual time, I know it's just the first of many things that I'm going to let go of as a mama, as my baby girl grows up.

Which brings us back to the dream feed.  When Abby's first birthday rolled around, we still didn't know what she was doing with this nursing business, so we thought it would be good to continue the dream feed to make sure she was getting enough milk.  Now that she's pretty well established with cows' milk, I'm weaning off of pumping, and her daddy is weaning from the dream feed.  He's been gradually skipping more nights in between feeds for the past few weeks.  At first, we thought she'd wake up hungry, but not a peep.  Not a single time.

I know it's a little the same for him.  Probably without the crazy hormones, though. But that special, quiet, daddy-daughter time that has become so familiar to him.  How he still holds her like a tiny baby when he feeds her, although she has grown so much since he started.  How he has cuddled and snuggled her the same way before putting her back into bed, although it's been months since her head would rest comfortably on his chest.  He will have to let go of this, too.

I didn't have any pictures of him giving her a bottle, so here's just one of their first pictures.

Our little girl still needs us.  She'll just need us in new ways as she grows up!

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