Friday, June 17th, ended my 13 glorious months as a milk cow. I spent over a year of my life as an on-demand, round-the-clock milk-machine. And I loved it.
I was one of those on-the-fencers during my pregnancy, when it came to the decision of nursing vs. bottle. In our age of Mommy Wars and in-your-face social media, where everything you want to know (and don’t) is on the internet, I was torn! I knew that “breast is best” but I also knew that my husband and I were both pretty darn healthy, even though both of our mamas raised us in the era when formula was the latest greatest thing. I had friends bottle-feeding and friends who nursed, and everyone I talked to thought their way was best. I finally just gave up trying to make my own plans, and figured I would “let go and let God.” I would give it a try and if I didn’t have any luck, I had a drawer full of free formula samples to fall back on. Well, everything worked just dandy, and apparently God bred this skinny lil’ mama with a +1 score for milk production, which I think surprised all of us! At his 1-year check-up, our prize calf was ready to wean at the 93rd percentile for height and the 83rd percentile for weight. So, yay for the whole milk-cow mama thing working out! And yay for kicking off the calf! (WEANING=WINE.)
Growing up on a ranch, I was lucky enough to get a lot of first-hand experience calving. One thing I learned from seeing the trauma of birth on our big Hereford calves, was that a mama cow’s colostrum was a magic elixir. Those completely dumb 110-pound bull calves we had to pull on occasion – who seemed to not care if they ever stood up once they hit the ground – were living proof. Get them up standing next to mama in a nursing chute and squeeze those first few gulps of milk down their throats, and they perked right up! Any time we had bottle calves on milk replacer, we even gave them colostrum paste in a tube, so they would get that same jumpstart.
With my calving knowledge tucked in the back of my mind, the personal goal I set was to nurse my baby for at least a week. Even if that was as far as I got, I figured he would at least get that first liquid gold, jam-packed with all the goodness that science can’t quite seem to replicate. His instant immunity, the antibodies I read about in all those pregnancy books; that first amazing jolt of life that would make him want to kick and play like those big dumb bull calves who bounced right back from their own traumatic births.
After the first week, with only a few minor roadbumps, I was still going strong, so I stuck with it. Thirteen months and one chubby baby later, I can proudly say it has been one of my greatest accomplishments. Were there days I wished I had listened to my formula-feeding friends? Yes! Many, actually! But I am stubborn and I had an annoying little voice in the back of my mind that kept telling me to keep the milk flowing, so I did. And so, for any of my mama friends who may be on the fence about it, too; here is a brutally honest little look at both sides of my dairy-barn fence. And a little humor thrown in there as well, because nursing took me (way) out of my comfort zone, and the best way I dealt with it was by laughing about it!
The Hardest Parts
- Nursing sucks, at times. (Literally. Ha! Take that free lanolin sample and use the hell out of it! Then buy two more bottles when that runs out. Lanolin is your friend.)
- Nursing made me HANGRY. I have never been so hungry in my entire life! Nobody could touch my Oreo’s, or they knew they were in grave danger.
- Three weeks of counting to 10 at the beginning of each feed because of the let-down pins-and-needles pain. (That did finally go away.)
- Night feeds. For an entire YEAR. (And more specifically, every 2-3 hours, for about 9 months.)
- That one time I got the clogged milk duct. Painful does not even begin to cover it.
- Awkward! At times, especially in a house full of boys. “What’s he doing under there?”
- No wine! I even tried the little breastmilk/alcohol test strips one time, and yep, it showed up. So yep, I pumped and dumped. And I cried equal tears while pouring out the milk and the wine.
- Limited nursing wardrobe. (Seven different colors of nursing tops, one for each day of the week. And, repeat. For 13 months.)
- Nursing a baby on 5 flights, sitting next to several strangers. Talk about uncomfortable. Can’t all planes have two seats on a side instead of three? Or automatically upgrade nursing moms with babies to First Class?
- Pumping every day for almost 9 months. (I can still hear the ch-whoosh ch-whoosh sound in my sleep.)
- Teeth. Enough said.
The Best Parts
- Breast milk is FREE! (Well, pretty much. I did have to buy freezer bags and a few pump parts. And a nursing cover-up, as I am not one of those let-it-all-hang-out-kind of moms. Kudos to those of you who are, but I am a bit more bashful.)
- Sitting in a cozy La-Z-Boy feeding a beautiful baby on your lap, listening to Enya playing quietly and the birds chirping outside the window, while he drifts off to sleep = bliss. And I got to do just that, many times a day.
- My fat little baby, who gained weight like a pro!
- Nursing could calm that baby down from ANYTHING, no matter what. If he was crying for any reason, nursing him would fix it. Always.
- I didn’t need to hold a bottle, so I had two hands free to read a book, scroll through my news feed on my phone, inhale snacks, or actually get some work done at the computer. I got to where I could actually do most of my office job at my desk while nursing the baby on the boppy.
- Never having to worry about bottles in the middle of the night.
- Never having to worry about bringing bottles with me anywhere I went – I had the baby’s milk ready to deliver at the perfect temperature, on-demand.
- Those 50 pounds I gained while prego (yep you read that right, 50) melted off pretty fast since a lot of my calories went into milk production every day!
- I truly appreciate both sleep and wine more than I ever did before I was a milk cow for 13 months.
So, my stint in the dairy world was life-changing. I felt like a living, breathing, walking, milk-producing little Mother Nature in human form. Not only did I miraculously grow a human in my tummy, I also fed him for over a year (six full months, exclusively) thanks to that magical mother super-power that I got to tap into. That to me, is one of the coolest things I have ever done. And if I weren’t completely certain that this little guy is my one and only, I would do it all over. In a heartbeat. So I guess I made the right decision.
Hank, I am happy to report, has happily moved on to whole cow’s milk, so thank God Costco sells it in 2-gallon boxes! So far between him and his brothers, we kill about 4 gallons a week. I may be looking for a milk cow to throw in the corral here soon. And I will be happy to let her take over the farm’s milk department. My dairy days are over!