(NOTE: Story first this time, links below.)
After a stressful but generally successful start, my daughter and I had a fairly strong and easygoing breastfeeding relationship. She has never been one to sit still and nurse but has always been a pretty gentle nurser. I fed on demand day or night, though I did work outside of the home and pump. Even at 14 months sometimes demand was *all* day and sometimes it meant 5-6 times. She got her first teeth at that time, was active and developing language and motor skills like crazy.
I felt so happy to be past a year. By month 15 and 16, I was feeling the best I had felt about breastfeeding, and I felt the best ever while breastfeeding. I rarely felt frustrated and mostly had those “oh, this is too sweet, please never end” feelings. I had nipples of steel that could handle my daughter’s latched acrobatics. I was over any embarrassment about flashed nipple and was just overall confident and calm about the whole thing. I was definitely going to reach my goal of nursing to 2 years. I had a clear vision of nursing into year 3 and 4. This was going to be awesome…….
Then pumping became difficult and stressful. What was wrong with the pump? Where was my milk? Nothing was coming out. Nursing started to get painful. Why was she hurting me all of a sudden? Was something wrong? This was getting to be too much. Then….puking and a positive pregnancy test. By 8 weeks I was nauseous all day, had nipples that felt too sore to nurse (or even wear a shirt) and something worse than anything I had faced before.
Every pregnant woman responds differently to each pregnancy. Some barely notice any changes or difficulties. Others have pain and can get through it, or not. I met and talked to a number of women who have nursed while pregnant. All said it was hard, but they persisted and nursed despite pain. For me, nursing meant that my mind screamed, “NO!!! Shove that thing off you!” at peak volume while my sweet little girl tried to do what she and I had been happily doing for months. I literally felt insane and barely able to let her nurse for 60 seconds, which seemed like an absolute eternity. Enter guilt and sadness. WHY WAS THIS SO HARD?! Was something wrong with me? Did I not care enough about my daughter or breastfeeding? Didn’t I want her to nurse through the pregnancy and long after? Would this end our breastfeeding relationship? 2 years was feeling far, far away, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.
Between me using distraction, hugs, food or water when she wanted milkies during awake hours and her wanting less (because there wasn’t any?), she was only nursing before naps and bedtime. She maybe woke up once or twice at night and then none, when she was waking up 2 or 3 times a night. Just over a month before she was nursing all those times and more during the day. Now she woke up, wanted a cuddle and went back to sleep. After waking every 2-3 hours at 14 months, at 21 months she is now sometimes sleeping 9-11 hours straight.
Shouldn’t I be overjoyed that pregnant, exhausted me is getting to sleep so long? I know some would be congratulating themselves on getting their child to finally sleep through the night (something I had never held much expectation for). I was feeling sad and guilty — how was this child-led weaning? It was confusing and hard to have uncontrollable negative feelings towards my daughter while breastfeeding. I wanted the sleep but woke up all the time anyway to listen and see if she was ok. Mostly, it was the guilt that other mothers were pushing through and nursing away whenever, and I was forcing my daughter to only nurse for one round of the Baby Beluga song before sleeping. [I stay in there with her. She plays about or rolls around on the bed with me. These are some of her cuddliest, kissiest, sweetest moments. She has gotten more cuddly and affectionate since milkies "are sleeping" or "tired" more.]
Despite the drama in my heart and mind, it turns out I am not alone. Yes, there are thankfully lots of women and stories of pushing through, but there are also women who have cut back or set limits. Some wean entirely. I am afraid to do that because I do want to try tandem nursing and would love for my first to nurse as long as she wants (even if that means I have some boundaries).
The point? I don’t have to feel guilty. I nursed my child for 17 solid months and am continuing to conserve a breastfeeding relationship at 21 months. I am taking it day by day and feeling a boost from all the wonderful posts for World Breastfeeding Week at Natural Parents Network. I am definitely going to make it to 2 years, and I am certainly going to do my darndest to tandem nurse. I have a lot of resources to check out and things to learn. Below are some of the places I’ve been online. Everything I’ve read suggests I should acquire a copy of Adventures in Tandem Nursing: Breastfeeding During Pregnancy and Beyond.
Extended breastfeeding can come with challenges. One of those might be nursing while pregnant. Another might then be tandem nursing. I hope the resources below help others on this journey. It can be a tough road, but I have surely found it easier travelling alongside the mamas that make up this large, extended community.
Nursing Two (Kellymom’s Pregnancy and Tandem Breastfeeding site — companion to Adventures in Tandem Nursing)
Links, Recommended Resources and Stories (Kellymom)