Learning From Two Years of Breastfeeding and Adding A New Baby
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I’m thinking about my experiences with breastfeeding in the 28 months since my son, Joshua, was born. I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed my children, since I grew up in a home where full term nursing (also termed “extended breastfeeding”) was the norm.
We had a rocky start due to my mature milk not coming in until my son was four days old. The pediatrician’s concerns about weight loss lead to a few bottles of formula to supplement. With support from my husband, mom, mother-in-law and the rest of my family, however, Joshua and I were able to develop a healthy nursing relationship, and I was thrilled to be able to nurse him exclusively from that point on.
When Joshua was five-and-a-half months old, I went back to work and expressed milk for him, which presented a whole new set of struggles with maintaining my milk supply, battling daycare policies, finding time in my busy day to pump, and dealing with the pain of having to be away from my son each day. Since nursing when we were together and providing expressed milk when we were apart was such a priority for me, I was thrilled to be able to reach my goal of pumping at work until his first birthday. After that time, I slowly and happily weaned from the pump and weaned him onto bottles of cow’s milk while still maintaining our nursing relationship when we were together.
I was so happy to meet the goals that I had set for myself: exclusive breastfeeding for six months, providing expressed milk until one year, and continuing to nurse until the WHO recommendation of a minimum of two years. I have continued to nurse my son on-cue throughout his 28 months, though he asks much less frequently now. Just before Joshua’s second birthday we discovered that we were expecting our second child, and I have continued along the path of following my son’s cues and focusing on child-led weaning. My family and my doctors support my nursing through pregnancy, and despite the occasional tenderness I am happy to continue our nursing relationship.
What I Learned from My First Breastfeeding Experiences
Looking back on over two years of nursing, I realize that the struggles we have had pale in comparison to what some mothers and babies endure in order to breastfeed successfully. I’m thankful that breastfeeding has been a mostly positive experience with only a few blips of difficulty. But I’m still learning from my struggles and setting some goals to hopefully help breastfeeding go even more smoothly after my second child is born.
I have set out to learn why it took four days for my mature milk to come in with my son and have developed a few hypotheses. It turns out that having IV fluids during labor can lead to delays in mature milk coming in. Knowing this makes me even more determined to have a natural birth this time around, since I made the educated decision during a long labor to get an epidural (which required an IV) when I had my son. I’m taking steps now to learn even more pain management techniques so that I can have the natural birth I would like.
I also think that I will be able to encourage my milk to come in more quickly the second time around with my own practices in those first few days. I plan to keep my baby skin-to-skin for as long as possible in those first few days, which I only did for about an hour after Joshua was born. I may use a wrap or a blanket over both of us. I also plan to keep my new baby at the breast instead of continuing to allow visitors to hold him (sorry, visitors, it will be a quick visit!). I think my own confidence as an experienced nursing mom will help in this respect also: it won’t feel so weird for me to nurse my child in front of others this time around. My confidence will also help me to relax and follow my instincts about unnecessary formula supplementation and frequent weight checks. Finally, if my then almost three-year-old has not weaned yet, that stimulation will also help to bring in my mature milk.
When the time comes for me to return to work, my experience will allow me to be a pumping pro as well. I already know where, when and how to pump at work in order to keep up my milk supply. My colleagues are a great source of support, since many of them are former nursing moms or the dads of children who were breastfed. I made the conscious decision to switch to a more breastfeeding-friendly child care provider to reduce my own stress and anxiety, and again I have the confidence of knowing that I achieved my goals the first time around and that I will be able to do it again.
I do of course recognize that every child is different and that I may encounter different challenges this time around. However, I have a fantastic support system, both in real life and online, to help me figure out and brainstorm solutions to any setbacks that may arise. I am very much looking forward to another healthy breastfeeding relationship and the possibility of tandem nursing.
What did you learn about breastfeeding with your first child that helped (or will help) make it easier with future children?
I’m celebrating World Breastfeeding Week with Natural Parents Network!
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