Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Nursing Story

First of all, on a totally unrelated note, I'm supposed to have my major anatomical ultrasound tomorrow (20 weeks!), and I'm terribly excited to find out if my boys are getting a brother or a sister. Hopefully baby will cooperate. I'll be sure to let you know as soon as I can. :)

Obviously, I don't have a nursing story about my first son, except what I've already written about. But I nursed my second son until he was 25 months and stopped because I needed to and he was ready. It's hard to remember all the details going back to when he was born, but I want to share with you my experience as best I can. I feel I had a fairly middle-of-the-road nursing experience. Nothing too dramatic, no major struggles, but some frustrations and idiosyncrasies that might make someone else in the same situation feel a bit better about what her baby is doing.

Because I'd had so much trouble the first time with not having all the right information, with my traumatic birth experience and hospital re-admittance, with my general dislike of the brief nursing episodes I had, and without someone to take the journey along side me and encourage me, I was terrified of what might happen the second time around. I had resolved to move mountains to make it work this time if I had to. I knew all about handling food intolerances, avoiding nipple confusion, and I was ready to take on whatever challenge was thrown at me. I hoped.

It turned out, most of my emotional girding wasn't needed, thank goodness. But it's good to know these things even if you don't need them.

When the birth went smoothly and he latched on to my breast for the first time and didn't let go, I knew I had experienced a miracle. The incredible differences between the births of my two sons still fills me with wonder. I think because I was so committed to breastfeeding the second time, I didn't let "difficulties" get me down. That's not to say I didn't get frustrated with marathon nursing sessions, or that I always loved that I couldn't be away from him for more than an hour at a time, or that I liked hardly getting to sleep through the night for over two years. But at the same time, every time I squirted milk at the shower wall in the morning, every time I woke up to a soaked bed (until I started sleeping on a towel), every time I found a new way to nurse more comfortably while I went about my business, I smiled. I smiled because I was so thrilled that my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, and I was giving my son exactly what he was supposed to have.

So. As I recall, for the first few weeks, he nursed pretty much every hour during the day. That is to say that sometimes I got no more than a 20- to 30-minute break in between nursing sessions. I had enough milk that he only needed to nurse on one side in any given nursing session, which was kind of nice. I did have a little trouble with his latch in the beginning - he was a bit lazy about always opening his mouth as wide as he should, and I was a bit lazy about correcting him. When you're nursing so often, you just want to let him eat and be done with it. I did go see a lactation consultant when he was about three weeks old, and she showed me how to fix his latch and told me more about the practical side of breastfeeding than I had learned in the two preceding years. I highly recommend taking an actual breastfeeding class before your baby is born, or scheduling a consultation with a certified LC if you think you're having any problems. Sometimes a simple 30-minute consult can make your life with your newborn oh-so-much more bearable!

I tried using a Boppy pillow for support at first but found it cumbersome. I' well-endowed, and therefore I was actually more comfortable just sitting cross-legged on the floor and letting his bottom rest in my lap than I was surrounding myself with pillows sometimes. As the baby gained strength in his neck and jaw, he was able to keep himself latched more easily, which meant I could nurse one-handed and surf Facebook or whatever while he nursed. I used to make sure to get in some computer time whenever he was nursing on the left side (so my right hand was free to use the mouse!). This was also a good time to sneak in a meal for me!

For the first few days, I swore I wouldn't co-sleep. I didn't want to get "trapped" into having him sleeping in my bed for three years. But most nights, I'd pull him into my bed to nurse him and fall asleep that way. I remember waking up an hour later and he was still there, latched and happily sucking. So I gave in and "admitted" that I was co-sleeping. He nursed a lot at night, but also a lot during the day. He was what they call a snacker. Lots of little meals instead of a big meal every few hours. It seems this is actually more biologically "normal," but it isn't exactly "convenient." As it were. He's actually kind of still that way, liking to eat snacks and small meals throughout the day rather than sitting down and eating a big meal for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I guess it's just in his personality.

I did try introducing bottles of expressed breastmilk and a pacifier at four weeks of age (the recommended age to start introducing artificial nipples). He didn't take well to either, although I admit that I didn't push hard with the pacifier because my first son was still addicted to his and still used it 'round-the-clock when he was two years old. I didn't want that to happen again. So, though it resulted in my becoming a "human pacifier" (oh NO!), I did end up with a kid who doesn't use a pacifier. I'm still, 28 months later, not absolutely certain how I feel about that.

As for bottles of expressed milk, in the few weeks after introducing the bottle (and having my husband or mother-in-law feed him), he would drink fairly well, but after mostly being alone with me all day and not needing one, he pretty much rejected it. I still kept milk in the freezer on the off chance that he would take it once in a while if I had a baby-sitter, but mostly the milk collected in the freezer and didn't get used. I think I mentioned before that I donated a few hundred ounces to other moms, and I'm very proud of that and hope to do it again in the future. I also found that expressing and storing was a pain when I could just simply nurse him instead.

Digression: I know some moms like to take a bottle of expressed milk with them when they go out, so they don't have to stop and nurse while running errands, but I found stopping to nurse less trouble than expressing, so it wasn't for me. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it if it makes you more comfortable, though. The main thing to remember is that whenever you give a bottle of milk, you're signaling your body not to have a feeding at that time. If it's not a regular thing, then it shouldn't affect your supply. But, if you always give a bottle at, say, 10:00pm, then you might find that you don't have much milk at 10:00pm if you want to just nurse at that time instead. Most experts recommend pumping near a time when the baby is receiving a bottle so that your body knows to continue to make milk at that time. (Obviously, different advice applies to mothers working outside the home who have to pump to provide expressed milk for their babies to eat while they're at work! I'm not really talking about that here, although I may discuss it in a future post.)

Figuring out how to nurse in the mei tai (front carrier) helped immensely. One gloomy Sunday when my husband was at work, I was trying to figure out what to do with my two kids. We had a zoo membership at the time, so I decided to brave the zoo alone with two kids. I put the baby in the mei tai and took the stroller for the toddler. We were watching the zebras for a while, with no bench in sight, when the baby got hungry. I found a way to pull down my shirt collar far enough for him to get boob access, and I nursed him right there standing watching the zebras. That opened up a whole new world for me. First of all, no one around me even knew what I was doing, and it meant I was still mobile and accessible to my 2-1/2-year-old who wanted to continue exploring the zoo!

I wasn't squeamish about nursing in public (NIP) even though I expected to be. I found very quickly that my attitude was, "Baby's hungry. People would much rather see me feeding him (or avert their eyes) than to hear him screaming." Plus, I found that when we were nursing, I felt like I was in a little bubble. Even though I was aware that there were people around me, I didn't care what they thought. And you know what? I didn't get a single negative comment, a single impolite stare, I was never asked to leave or move to a more "private" location. My NIP experiences were always either neutral or positive. I'm grateful for that.

The couple of times I did manage to get away for more than a couple of hours, I ended up with a plugged duct after missing a feeding. OW! Fortunately, I was able to get them to release relatively easily. Only once, I ended up with the beginning of mastitis, but fortunately I was able to identify the symptoms for what they were and take care of it before I needed any medical treatment. Treating plugged ducts and mastitis deserves a post of its own. If you have a pressing question, though, please feel free to ask in the comments!

Anyway, people kept reassuring me that their babies nursed every hour like that for three months and then spread out their feedings after the three-month growth spurt. Or that they nursed like that for six months and then spread out their feedings. Or that once they started solids, you could put them off longer between feedings.  Well, my son continued to nurse about every hour until he was seven months old, when he finally stretched out to every two hours. He pretty much never slept more than a three-hour stretch, even past one year of age. I wasn't as proactive about giving solid foods as I thought I would be, finding it ever-so-much easier just to nurse than to set him up in the high chair to feed him. Plus, he decided he'd much rather feed himself "real" food than have someone shove purees into his mouth with a spoon, so it was hard to get a full meal into him until he was a bit older, anyway.

A few times, I attempted to teach him to fall asleep "by himself," i.e., without a nipple in his mouth. I failed every time. I finally decided that he wasn't going to stop nursing at night until he stopped nursing altogether, and by the time he was 25 months old (and I was one month pregnant!), he was really only nursing at night, and hardly at all during the day anyway. At some point, I realized he had started eating solid foods on a regular basis and only nursed mostly for comfort and not for nutrition. Sure, I enjoyed that he was still getting the benefit of my antibodies and the healing power of the milk, but he was nursing so rarely and getting so little that it ceased to matter. In fact, when he had a double ear infection on his second birthday (poor baby!), I knew he really wasn't getting much milk anymore. I prayed for a good night's sleep more often than once in a blue moon, and I knew that, being pregnant, I needed it more than ever. So, one day in January, he nursed at about 5:15am and then not again the rest of the day. When I put him to bed, I refused to nurse him and told him that the milk was "all gone." "All gone?" he asked, with wonder. How could there be no more? But I gently told him again that the milk was "all gone," and that he needed to go to sleep. I lay with him until he fell asleep. He awoke a few times during the night for the next few nights, asking to nurse, but he was finally convinced that there was no more milk (and there really wasn't after a point), and started falling asleep on his own. He still woke a few times during the night for another few weeks, but now, for the most part, he sleeps through and falls asleep on his own, with no formal "sleep training" from me. In fact, my two sons have about the same frequency of night wakings, and they were "sleep taught" very differently. It's kind of interesting. I'll probably talk more about sleep in another post, since it's an important topic that deserves more attention than I can give in this paragraph.

Anyway, he slept in our bed until he was a year old, at which point I put him in a crib in a room with his brother. That meant I had to get up and go to him every few hours, and we would nurse on the floor and then I'd put him back in his crib. That was hard, but the advantage was getting to sleep in whatever position I wanted in my own bed! It's a trade-off. I think a year was a fair amount of time for him to sleep with us, though, and it did get frustrating not to have the bed to ourselves.

The other reason I finally weaned was that I was getting recurrent bouts of what I think was thrush about every month for about a week. I would get it cleared up and then it would come right back. It never affected him, but it became very painful for a week or two out of every month to nurse him, and I got tired of not being able to completely get rid of the nipple pain, whatever might have been causing it. The pain of latching the baby on when you have thrush or other nipple pain is kind of indescribable and is enough to make you dread a feeding. This is another topic I'll cover more in-depth in a future post.

I'm not really complaining. Yes, I hope this next baby is "easier" in some sense. I hope that she or he nurses less often and likes food more and sleeps better. But at the same time, I know I can handle it and make it work for me if I have to, even with two other kids to chase around. Yikes?

I think it's all about attitude, really. I was so grateful to have a successful nursing experience, and I saw every ounce of milk I produced as a miracle. It was such a rewarding and wonderful time, and sometimes I do miss just cuddling up with him and letting him nurse. Sometimes I'm sad that he doesn't really even remember nursing and simply stopped asking for it after a reasonably short time. But, I'm looking forward all the more to nursing this next baby, for all the same reasons!


  1. I was just reading through this looking for something related to your document, and this jumped out at me:

    The other reason I finally weaned was that I was getting recurrent bouts of what I think was thrush about every month for about a week.
    A lot of women get nipple pain related to ovulation or menstruation. Could that have been it?

  2. Interesting...It's possible. I think I was also having vaginal yeast infections concurrently, but I don't remember precisely. It usually went away with Lotrimin or other cream, so I assumed it was yeast...

    Either way, it was REALLY painful. Heh.