If you could give only five pieces of breastfeeding advice to a new mother, what would you say? Here’s what I’d tell her.
I make lots of milk. I won’t hesitate to admit I’m satisfied with this fate. That said, it is a little harder to explain how my overly zealous breasts have also caused several of my main nursing challenges.
After a third official run-in with mastitis since giving birth seven months ago (fifth time between two babies), please hear me when I say… sometimes this blessing feels a bit like a curse in disguise.
Is circumcision the ‘Voldemort’ in a conversation about early breastfeeding difficulties? Though it’s a studied certainty that infant circumcision can have ruinous effects upon breastfeeding, it seems only the rare or high-profile breastfeeding expert dares to mention this risk by name, much less maintain an official protocol for assistance if challenges arise.
I know he is only three and a half. He’s still such a little kid. Next to me, he doesn’t look so little, being more than half my height and all. It’s like that 2012 TIME magazine cover, you know, when Jamie Lynne Grumet nursed her three-year-old, balanced with his feet flat on a chair, and everyone thought he must’ve been graduating elementary school.
MaiTai is an old soul, this kid. But he’s still just a kid, or transitioning to what most people imagine when they think of a school-age child (he’s not quite there yet), and only four years ago he was a floating fetus.
For whatever reason, child-led weaning is controversial in our society (the superstitions surrounding it are unfounded, of course). Many a mother is pressured with interrogation into why her child is “still” breastfeeding, “when are you going to stop this,” declarations of “at his age he shouldn’t be so dependent” and the classic “I’m all for breastfeeding BUT…”
At a wedding one year ago, MaiTai was 2.5 years old and I hadn’t yet encountered a situation when I needed to make him wait to nurse. Some of the messages/comments on the post I wrote about our experience nursing there said he should’ve been able to wait “at his age.”
Really? Are two-year-olds really all that great at waiting for anything? In any case, sure, he could’ve waited long enough for us to relocate to a dungeon or wherever they deemed more appropriate — but there was no reason for me to say “not here, not now,” therefore it didn’t even cross my mind.
There was no good lesson in making my child wait for something he felt he needed — in a moment when I was perfectly able and willing to give it to him — just to prove to overly-interested others that he can hold his shit together.
In this story of a mother and child forced to quit nursing to appease family, the author writes: “Those who had demanded that she wean her toddler didn’t even know what that breastfeeding relationship was; they didn’t know what they were asking; they were ignorant, and didn’t even know what they didn’t know.”
That said… Now that I’m tandem nursing MaiTai and his baby brother Julep, we do often find ourselves in situations in which MaiTai has to wait to nurse.
(Scroll to the bottom of this post for ideas about how to set boundaries).
Breast pads? Ha. What a joke.
I hate wearing bras, but in public they’re my only hope for a solid enough barrier between my trigger-happy nipples and my shirt. I don’t know why I bother because I still get soaked. Maybe it just makes me feel proactive?
I don’t stand with my arms tightly crossed in public because I’m a haughty snob. It’s just because I’ve got to muzzle the mammaries somehow, and pressure works well. More subtle and civilized than cupping them with my hands, anyway.
I don’t wear thick tops in the Texas summer heat because I want to live in a microwave. Milk leaking? Can’t disrobe? Layers, friend.
This is the story of my second child’s birth. My first son MaiTai was born three and a half years ago in a hospital. (I’ll share details of that tale in a future post).
***BEFORE YOU READ: Again, this is a birth story. If you’re not accustomed to reading real birth stories, are uncomfortable with images of birth-related nudity, or have a very particular definition of what’s TMI, you might consider skipping this post.***
Instead of cutting Julep’s umbilical cord we held a sacred severance ceremony, an ancient ritual that involves using flame to slowly burn the cord.
It was a beautiful and peaceful few minutes dedicated to Julep’s final step in the separation from his uterine life.
**All photos in this post credited to Stephanie Shirley Photography.**
Julep latched for the first time twenty-four minutes after he was born on April 28th. I remember the feeling was… beautiful. It felt right.
Memories of MaiTai’s first latch attempts in the hospital three and a half years ago came flooding back. Was I really doing this again? How lucky am I! And what work we have ahead of us…
Other details of the moment are all a blur now. I nursed this bright-eyed, alert baby on and off during my time on the bed right after birthing him in a pool several feet away.
*All photos credited to Stephanie Shirley Photography.*
I wrote a post a while back about wondering whether 3.5 year old MaiTai would tandem nurse with his baby brother, Julep. MaiTai was still nursing regularly then, and it wasn’t until my eighth month of pregnancy that he stopped altogether (minus a few ‘test tries’ to see if the milk had changed its taste yet).
Between then and now, he’d accumulated a host of new bigger-kid needs and the long-standing breastfeeding one got booted to the back of his priority list.
This weekend, I joined with advocates from across the nation to Chalk The Walk with our favorite peaceful parenting messages.
As always, this is a family-friendly event and all ages are welcome to participate. Perfect for us — especially this time with a 1.5-day-old baby and a 3.5-year-old kiddo in tow!
A variety of peaceful parenting topics were on display: Informed birth choice, breastfeeding, nighttime parenting (no CIO), cloth diapering, babywearing, gentle ‘discipline’, genital autonomy…
It’s pretty sucky when you’re up to your armpits in swollen milk machinery, none of your clothes fit, and your boobs suddenly feel like they might actually burst open as if they, too, overindulged in too much Easter feasting the day prior (ugh, when will they start making nursing bras out of stretchy pants?).
I had oversupply, and would wake up many mornings for months so engorged that I could see my milk ducts rippling through the taut skin, totally horror flick style. The problem was exacerbated during my four months -long pumping stint, which tricked my body into scrambling to provide for MaiTai’s nonexistent twin, or so it felt convinced. And so, every day it made sure my milk-makers were stretched out to wazoo. It defied the laws of physics, really.
Alright. It’s time I write about this.
About being tired of breastfeeding.
So tired I was hating it. So tired… and no longer looking forward to it. How could all of me feel like “I love him and I love this” and “I don’t want this to stop yet,” but at the same time all of me worried about feelings of “I hate this.”
I wanted to feel normal again; I wanted to feel my breasts cry of milk instead of pain.
- Can You Supplement with Cow, Goat, Soy or Nut-Derived Milk?
- Homemade Formula
- Formula Supplementing Help
**Also read Part One (Why Isn’t Every Baby Breastfed?), Part Two (Cow-Made, Man-Made, or Mother-Made?), and Part Three (Making a Baby-Friendly Culture Amid formula Marketing) of this series.**
One of THE most important things to remember for those who are struggling to meet the recommendations for mama milk exclusivity: Breastfeeding does NOT have to be ‘all or nothing.’ If you cannot breastfeed but can express some breast milk, some is better than none for as long as you can. If you’re a full-time working mom who cannot nurse on the breast very often, it will help to breastfeed when you can, even if it’s only at night to put your baby to sleep, or only on the weekend to mostly dry-nurse, or something in between.