My breastfeeding journey has spanned 88 months of the last 8.5 years. When I was a new mama at the age of 31, I never imagined that almost one-quarter of my life would be spent breastfeeding. This is one of the things I got to do on my 40 birthday in June:
I had the basic challenges feeding our first two children: uncomfortable engorgement, pain latching on one side, raw nipples. I was so determined to breastfeed that I persevered without help. I was working at the time, and the only breastfeeding support group in my area met at night. I didn’t want to take away from the time I would spend with my husband and daughter as a family to leave the house, because after all, this was natural! I assumed pain was part of the process. Thankfully, I did not suffer any permanent damage. The pain subsided around two months postpartum and I breastfed those children for 22 months and 18 months, respectively.
I got pregnant with our third child much sooner than we expected, and because I was having contractions every time we breastfed, my doctor recommended that I stop breastfeeding. I was heartbroken about that because of all children, our second really needed the benefits of extended breastfeeding. He has had food allergies since birth, and on top of that, he had an episode of RSV as an infant that left him with symptoms of asthma. He definitely could have benefitted from the extra immunity and nutrition of toddler feeding. However, I knew I would regret a miscarriage so we weaned within a week of deciding to preserve the pregnancy.
Because our third was breech before he was born, I sought out chiropractic care. We continued chiropractic care after his birth. Although this is not the answer to everyone’s discomfort while breastfeeding, a little adjustment at ten days postpartum made all the difference to us! I breastfed without pain and learned that just because breastfeeding pain is common, it is not normal. I now know that any mama who is experiencing pain needs to get help early and often from qualified lactation educators to address any issues, and to prevent further complications or damage to the nursing relationship.
After he was born, I started the process to become a childbirth educator. As part of my training, I had to attend two La Leche League meetings. At one of the meetings, I met a mom who was in her third trimester and still nursing her toddler. After the initial shock and heartbreak, I pulled myself together and started asking her questions. Did she have contractions when she nursed? Was it uncomfortable? What had her doctor said? I learned that nursing through the pregnancy had been possible for her, so that was one sliver of hope that maybe I wouldn’t have to do an emergency weaning if I got pregnant again.
I also got more involved with our local birth community. Thanks to the different events around birth and breastfeeding, I kept running into a mama who nursed through her pregnancies and was nursing toddlers! Not just one nursling, but two at a time!! Wow! This really opened my eyes to the possibility of nursing past the second birthday – here was living proof that tandem nursing was not just for twins. Tandem nursing could also apply to siblings of different ages.
Empowered by these examples, I was determined to at least try to nurse through a pregnancy. My original goal was to allow our child and I to determine the end of our breastfeeding relationship together. From the anecdotal stories I have heard about pregnancy and breastfeeding, I figured one of two things would happen. Either our third child would stop nursing if and when the milk changed flavor after the pregnancy was established, or that he would lose interest once the milk dried up or changed to colostrum.
Well, much to my surprise, I neared the end of my pregnancy and I still had a nursling. Now he was two years old. I could see that I had colostrum – and I could smell that it was salty. I asked our child, “Are you sure you still want to nurse,” to which he emphatically shook his head, “yes,” and continued on.
Besides the mama example, I credit my success in tandem nursing to the support from my local La Leche League chapter. One of the leaders had nursed an infant and a toddler and she told me what to expect. She also told me how to handle inquiries about the amount of nutrients for each child. Here is what I learned:
By educating myself on the possibility of nursing through a pregnancy, and preparing myself for tandem breastfeeding, I was able to accomplish my goal: I was allowing our child to determine his weaning schedule. I was honoring his need to breastfeed, and I was not feeling any remorse about the choices I made. We welcomed a healthy daughter in October of 2011, and I have been breastfeeding both children since then.
Yes, both. As it turns out, we have just celebrated his fourth birthday. I have never nursed him out in public since his second birthday, and very few people know that he is still nursing. It’s not what you imagine with a newborn, round-the-clock and on cue. We nurse in the morning when he wakes up, he tends to as
I didn’t think anything of nursing a two-year old…I started to wonder more about weaning when he was 3.5 over the holidays and we had houseguests. However, the relationship has still been beneficial to both of us. He is one of our healthiest children – any cold he does get passes quickly and without incidence. Last winter, his little sister went on a nursing strike. With his help, I was able to keep my supply up between his nursing and some hand expression. He got a nasty stomach bug this spring – while it lasted 24-48 hours in the rest of us, he and his little sister only had it for a few hours. Recently, he caught a cough that was going around. As an experiment, I increased his breastfeeding – it seemed to help!
In the last two weeks, I have definitely started to see a decrease in his interest to nurse. Part of it has been the emphasis we made that he was going to be four, and we wanted him to start finding other ways to self-soothe when he was tired or upset. My husband and I agreed that it was important to expand his repertoire of coping techniques. I also think part of it is the natural weaning – although he still asks, he nurses for literally 30 seconds and then he is off and running in a different direction.
I am finally going public with our nursing story because it may help another mama look at her choices differently. I want other mamas to know they are not alone if they want to breastfeed through a pregnancy. I want to lend courage to another mama who may feel pressure to wean a toddler although she and her nursling might not be ready. My favorite idea that has guided me through this extended breastfeeding relationship is from our La Leche League leader: Breastfeeding is a dance. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow.
I have extended that thought: You continue the dance as long as it is mutually beneficial. When one of you is ready to stop dancing, you honor each other with a mutually peaceful and loving transition.
Wishing all breastfeeding mamas a beautiful dance with their nurslings!
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It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult her or his healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation. Krystyna and Bruss Bowman and Bowman House, LLC accept no liability for the content of this site, or for the consequences of any actions taken on the basis of the information provided. This blog contains information about our classes available in Chandler, AZ and Payson, AZ and is not the official website of The Bradley Method®. The views contained on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Bradley Method® or the American Academy of Husband-Coached Childbirth®.
Other blog posts in the Nursing Freedom and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Blog Carnival
August 1: Community and Online Support