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This week, we’re covering breastfeeding. Tandem nursing and child-led weaning are both controversial in today’s society where breastmilk and the breastfeeding relationship isn’t valued. When bottle-feeding is the norm, we see that pro-bottle-feeding language has invaded even the talk of breastfeeding mothers. Unfortunately, today, being a breastfeeding mom doesn’t mean that you don’t have a pro-formula mindset. This week’s posts by our participating bloggers are to give some personal experience and positive information about the breastfeeding relationship. Click here to read about my breastfeeding positively impacted me. Click here to read about the cost of raw milk infant formula and the financial impact on families. We’ll be back on Monday with more.
I blogged in this post about how I did not have confidence in my body about my ability to successfully birth and breastfeed a child after going through infertility and repeat miscarriage plus being bombarded with the cultural message that women’s bodies aren’t good enough.
Baby B was born a couple of weeks before her due date, around 38 weeks. Because she was born in a freestanding birth center, we headed home about 12 hours after her birth, before breastfeeding was well-established. I really struggled with her latch. For the first six months, she clicked and would easily pop off the breast. She tired easily, which meant small, frequent feedings.
We sought help through lactation consultants and La Leche League. My LLL leader encouraged me to keep going and supported my decision to co-sleep in order to maximize her milk intake. She took hours out of her own life to assist me, even outside of meetings. She truly had a heart for helping nursing moms and she was such a blessing to me. I shed many tears to her and to my family through the difficulties and they encouraged me to keep going despite the difficulty. Despite the problems, she continued growing and stayed on the charts, so we continued to work at it. It wasn’t easy, but I was committed to providing her with my milk. I had not been breastfed and was put on soy formula as a child, and I knew it had had health effects on me that I didn’t want her to suffer through.
It turned out, despite the fears about lack of supply I discussed earlier in this series, I had high levels of prolactin due to undiagnosed celiac disease. This gave me over-supply and over-active let down that was only contributing to her latching problems- when my milk would let down, it would practically drown her. Lack of milk wasn’t a problem I would suffer from.
It took six months of consistent work to finally reach the point where it was going well and we were both happy with the relationship and she was growing and thriving. The clicking stopped and she finally developed the suction she needed to keep the breast in place. Things improved and we finally settled into a happy nursing relationship.
T was born after a harrowing homebirth that was as good as it could have been under the circumstances. My skilled midwife successfully dealt with the cord around his neck over 3 times, shoulder dystocia and a sunny side up baby whose hand was up, above his head and tangled in the cord. She was able to handle it all without injuring either one of us (I did break my tailbone during pushing, but it wasn’t her fault), although I know we added a number of gray hairs to her head that afternoon and her assistant got a great deal of education on how to handle true emergencies like a professional. This birth, while very difficult, further strengthened my belief in my body’s abilities despite obstacles.
T latched on easily and nursed like a champ, despite my fears he would have severe nursing problem due to his very difficult birth. My husband brought my daughter into the room and she sat happily beside him and watched him nurse for the first time.
No Sibling Rivalry
I had been quite concerned about how B, a bright, spirited, vocal child who was able to talk and emote beyond her years, would handle sharing me and my milk. She was quite opinionated about all things. She didn’t like to share with other children in social situations. All of those fears melted away when I saw the happy look on her face the first time she saw her new little brother. He was nursing and she never complained. She asked if he was going to share nursing with him and I responded that, yes, he would nurse and she would continue to nurse as much as she wanted to, too. When he was done, she immediately asked if she could nurse. I handed my baby over to my husband so he could finally get a chance to hold him and B only nursed for a brief period of time before hopping up and running off to other things.
Soon my milk supply was back up and after a brief period of making sure that I was true to my word and that she really was going to get to nurse when she wanted to, she returned to nursing on her normal routine- a couple of times a day. I quickly found that she would gladly and patiently wait her turn, preferring to have my undivided attention to nurse after my son was asleep, instead of them both nursing at the same time. Since my son would nurse down to sleep, she found that if she stayed awake, she could have a turn with my undivided attention and then she could take her nap. Only rarely would they both nurse at the same time, usually when my daughter was ill and was nursing extra to help with comfort or dehydration.
Despite B’s strong personality, I believe tandem nursing actually stopped the sibling rivalry instead of making it worse. She finally learned how to share with other people in the same way that she had learned to share me through nursing. As soon as we began venturing out in public again after his birth, we saw immediate improvements in how she would interact with other children and her ability to share. She also began to understand the meaning of the word ‘patience’ as she started learning that momma will nurse her, just not this second. I was shocked and thrilled all at the same time.
Nursing Older Children
Nursing through toddlerhood and beyond gradually becomes not so much about the milk as it is about security and the child’s desire to know the mother is still responsive to their needs. It became a way to reconnect after a long, busy day, a way to calm down when scared or tired, a way to fall asleep when over-stimulated or too tired, a way to soothe them when they were sick.
Does an older child get a lot of milk? Not really. They aren’t stealing anything from the baby. Most people wrongfully assume that an older child nurses around the clock, every hour or two, until the mother forces them to wean. Not so. They gradually space out their nursings and shorten the duration when they do nurse. By the time they do wean, there’s usually very little milk available and the mother has little to no engorgement while the breast quits making milk.
By the time they wean themselves, they might only be nursing once every week or two. It’s so gradual that most mothers don’t even realize it when the child has nursed for the last time. My son weaned himself without me realizing. It was so gradual that it came as a great surprise to me when one day, I realized that he hadn’t nursed in a long while and I asked him if he wanted to nurse. His response was a cool and sweet ‘no thanks, mom’ and he went back to his toys. I never offered again, and he never asked. He had weaned without me even realizing it. I don’t even remember the last time we nursed.
My experience of tandem nursing and child-led weaning was positive and empowering. While nursing two at once does have its challenges, the rewards far outweighed the difficulties.