This ended up being a lot longer than I intended it to be… But I really wanted to take a moment to put my breastfeeding journey down in words, for myself, for others, to remind myself later on in life, maybe even for my daughters to read in the years to come.
A little over a year and a half ago, or maybe more than that, I wrote an article on breastfeeding, after randomly reading an excellent article by Annie Reneau from Motherhood and More that popped up on my newsfeed. I was new to the whole motherhood thing and new to breastfeeding and having a baby attached to me 24/7. Breastfeeding was a no brainer for me while pregnant, my mother breastfed us all, and I was going to breastfeed mine. Such a natural act should be as easy as pie, no? (If the pie is one of those intricate models of patisserie artistry maybe). A couple of people warned me that it wasn’t as easy as I expected it would be, and a family friend suggested I read a book before I gave birth to help navigate any difficulties with latching and all the rest, so I skimmed through it and hoped for the best. I’ve always been stubborn. In some ways it can be a downfall, but in many ways it just means I will persevere until I get something right. This trait really helped me in those early days.
And here we are nearly 2 years later, a 23 month old, still breastfeeding, and a 6 month old, exclusively breastfed. I breastfed Luna through my entire pregnancy and have now been tandem nursing for the past 6 months, with no end in sight really. Both births were very different, and so were the girls’ breastfeeding stories. Luna’s birth was long and difficult and breastfeeding was so hard for several reasons, Aurora’s was fast, easy and completely unmedicated, and breastfeeding was the most natural thing in the world. Everything that didn’t happen after Luna’s birth happened after Aurora’s: I got to see her crawl instinctively towards my breast and latch on without any issue. The latter was also due to several reasons, most importantly that I learnt what not to let happen. Breastfeeding is completely natural – but if you don’t have the support of your medical professionals, family and/or friends, then it can become a lot harder than it appears to be. This support goes the same way however you feed your child – no one should judge a parent by how he or she feeds their child – as long as a child is thriving, healthy and happy, and as long as parents have found a way that suits them, then as fellow parents (or non parents) we should not provide unsolicited advice or “concerns”. I’ve read way too many mean-spirited comments bashing mothers on how they “should” be feeding their children and it always makes me want to slap people. Exclusively breastfeeding as well as what is apparently called “extended” breastfeeding works for our family, and I hope to help normalize this again without insulting anyone.
After Luna’s birth I got to hold her for a few minutes and then she was whisked away for a few hours. I was so overwhelmed and exhausted that I couldn’t find my voice, and when she was finally brought to my room I couldn’t get her to latch on. I had repeatedly asked to see the lactation consultant, but when she arrived she didn’t do anything. Luckily one of the nurses was there and showed me what a proper latch looked like. From that moment onwards, by trial and error, Luna and I figured it out together, through being told I was starving my child by a nurse, through cracked nipples and pain, through clogged ducts and endless hours of nursing. Ten weeks later and all of that was forgotten, apart from the endless hours of nursing. Luna was gaining fast and breastfeeding had become a second nature to me. Nursing in public was hard at first as I was uncomfortable, and Luna would scream if covered (she still hates to be covered in any capacity, especially while sleeping), but in the end I gave up worrying about it. I sometimes received a strange look, but nobody has ever said anything to me. I suppose there is always a first, but I’m not concerned about that… Luna now can request to nurse herself by saying “dootie!!!” and requests it pretty often still. I say to myself that if we both managed to get through a pregnancy while nursing then it’s for a reason. She’s definitely not ready to give it up just yet.
Nursing through a pregnancy is interesting. Strange, normal and somewhat painful towards the end. When I found out I was pregnant with Aurora Luna was only 8 months old and I was so worried that I was going to have to deprive her of those last few months of breast milk. “As long as we can make it until her first birthday” became my benchmark. My (new) doctors had no issues with me nursing while pregnant (some OBs don’t recommend it) and told me to continue for as long as I felt comfortable. Around 15 weeks Luna became very agitated whenever she nursed and I thought that my supply had disappeared but now I realize it was most likely the combination of a growth spurt on her end and a slight drop on my end. Everything evened out again and we made it past her birthday and all the way to 36 weeks where I had to spend a night in hospital, the first night that Luna spent without me. No issues, she went right back to nursing again, but at that point we were down to two or three times a day and night, before naps and bed time. I thought that was perfect – a great transition point. I laugh at myself now with hindsight as she now nurses all throughout the day again (but finally less at night). Anyway, if you have a tenacious child who will not give up then be aware that nursing is not comfortable during the last weeks of a pregnancy. Latching on is painful. Luna started putting on a little weight again so I assumed my milk had reverted to colostrum, and she didn’t have an issue with it. I didn’t really have any problems with contractions, some Braxton Hicks here and there but nothing real until I was in labour. I also think I am a great example of how the whole breastfeeding as birth control DOESN’T work. We followed all of the “rules”, no bottles or pacifiers, breastfeeding around the clock (literally), exclusive breastfeeding etc etc, and Aurora still arrived a little over 16 months later…
Left - Taken by Cesar just a few minutes after Aurora was born. Right - A tiny Luna a few weeks after birth.
Aurora’s labour was so easy, so fast and so intense that I still remember it as a blur: one moment I was waking up to a contraction, the next I was in a hospital bed, half dressed with one part of a monitor stuck to my tummy, the other hanging on the side as the nurse hadn’t had time to place it. As I mentioned previously, Aurora latched on all by herself and nursed for 20 minutes before she was taken to the nursery to be checked (she was born in meconium stained waters). Cesar took a photo of me right then, tired but wide awake, so happy, and so peaceful. Aurora was brought back to me within the hour. I tandem nursed for the first time that afternoon, both children together, holding this tiny baby above my tiny toddler, hoping that I would be able to get the hang of it without any issues. With Aurora breastfeeding came completely naturally, she ate and unlatched when full, there was no round the clock nursing or cluster feeding – very efficient. From day one, despite her jaundice, she has thrived, weighing in at 20lbs at 6 months. I do feel that tandem nursing ensured that there was always more than enough milk waiting for both of them. Aurora started sleeping 6 plus hours a night very early, and Luna helped keep any engorgement at bay. I’m assuming that I will just keep nursing Aurora until she is ready to wean too, whether that be at one year, two, or three.
Tandem nursing isn’t easy. I don’t feel like a superwoman or powerful, but I do feel like it is completely normal. Sometimes though, I just want to sleep for 4 hours without having a child attached to my breast. Sometimes I want to be able to go out by myself for a few hours without worrying about a child who refuses to take a bottle. Sometimes I really want to be able to write for an hour without being interrupted by the words “DOOTIE!!!!!”. Other times I am so grateful to still be able to comfort Luna whenever she needs it. And to make sure that she is still getting some kind of nutrition even on the days that she refuses to eat. I am happy that I can help Aurora through growth spurts, teething pains and any other worries she has by providing her with what she now feels is comforting. I am happy that I don’t have to actually get out of bed when one of them wakes up. I’m really happy that I don’t have to pack or clean bottles or have to worry about making sure that the diaper bag always contains more than a few diapers, wipes and clean baby clothes. I sometimes think that I must just be lazy, because I’ve made everything about ease for all of us. I’m so happy that I don’t have to spend money on formula, because it’s so expensive. This does also mean that my inability to actually make Aurora drink from a bottle results in me not being able to leave her for more than a few hours. And that Luna may rely on her “dootie” every time she feels even the slightest bit upset or uncomfortable, and every time she wakes up at night. It also makes me wonder how long I will be nursing two, because I am so adamant that I will let them self-wean, but at the same time I have no idea when that will happen. I think I need to find a cut-off point, maybe three years old, but at the same time I am pretty sure they will both be less reliant on me by then. Maybe Luna will decide in a few months that she doesn’t need her dootie anymore. Who knows? I do know that I’m not interested in nursing three children at the same time, so if we do end up having a third then some serious decisions will need to be made. But we aren’t there yet, and I’m not making any plans on that subject. I’m sure anything is possible though, women breastfeed triplets and quadruplets (I always wonder how they do it; it’s so interesting and intriguing). In the meantime I feel like I should finally start working on that breastfeeding counseling course that I have wanted to do for a while, and obtain a certificate so that I can officially help people.
Nursing a toddler is both easy and annoying. Easy because you don’t need to actually do anything, and there are no worries about making sure they are getting enough milk. It is annoying because it often becomes an acrobatic art, swatting away pinching fingers and feet that find their way kicking you in the head. And annoying because you lose the ability to “time” feedings yourself, or at least work your activities around nursing times. Most of the time Luna will all of a sudden drop everything she is doing, wherever we are, and demand “dootie” right then and there, for reasons unknown to anyone except for herself. Sometimes a”not right now love” works, other times the demands become more insistent and the only way to avoid a tantrum is to give in. Nursing a toddler is never boring and rarely relaxing.
All the above to basically say that breastfeeding can be hard but it can also be very easy. If you are a first time mother I advise that you make sure you are surrounded by people who support you, including medical professionals who understand that it is important for you and your baby. La Leche League is a great support group and you can go to a meeting before you have your child, just to make friends and learn from other mothers. And lastly, it’s important to believe in yourself. Just because your baby is feeding every hour doesn’t mean you don’t have enough milk… If your baby is producing the correct amount of diapers and putting on weight there is no need to worry. Real supply issues are actually pretty rare as long as you nurse on demand, eat well, drink your water and try to rest and relax. I wish I had known a lot of those things during those first weeks with Luna; it would have saved me so much worry, stress and pain. I pushed through it, but it would have been so easy to give up too. Everyone is different, and every family is different, but if breastfeeding is really important to you, don’t give up on a bad day. I’ve posted some links below to articles and groups that really helped me along the way, with the first few weeks, nursing in public, “extended” breastfeeding, tandem nursing, nursing through pregnancy and any other question that I may have had along the way. And I still have questions and feel very lucky that I have friends who also breastfed or still feed who I can call to ask for advice, give advice to or just to commiserate with.
And lastly, take pictures! I regret that I don’t have many photos of breastfeeding both girls as tiny babies and none of me breastfeeding Luna as a toddler (must work on this). I love the #normalizebreastfeeding movement and have no issues posting photos of myself breastfeeding online now (I was very nervous about doing it a few years ago though), but photos don’t have to be for the world, they can just be for you - these years are so fleeting and while one, two or three years may seem like a long time in the moment, they aren’t in the grand scheme of a life. I love capturing memories on the fly, moments captured in time for oneself and for others. And now I am off to ask Cesar or my mother to take some photos of us before I post this!