Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Story: Nursing Through Pregnancy, Triandem Nursing, Child-Led Weaning & Milk Donation

Breastfeeding has been an AMAZING journey for me and my babies. It has offered me so much, and I feel so blessed to have had this time with my children and look forward to it with future ones. Even though I've been blessed with a massive milk supply (though I share!) and have continued nursing my babies well past toddlerhood, we've still had our share of struggles...but it's been worth every second, even in the difficult times. And while I feel like my experience has been quite easy compared to what some mothers and babies have to go through, my story is also one of the more uncommon, which often translates to less support. I don't know anyone (personally) who nurses through pregnancy. I only know one person who nurses a child over 3 years old. I don't know many people nursing 3 children. I don't know many people who pump for donation. And many of the people that I DO know seem to think that what I do is odd...sometimes they even imply that it's wrong. So the internet has been a HUGE support and encouragement to me, because this is the one place I've been able to find common ground with other breastfeeding mothers. And that is the reason I want to put my story out there as well.

My husband and I got married when I was 18 and he was 21. We wanted a baby whenever God would give us one, but it took 18 months and we had several miscarriages along the way. But during that journey I had a lot of time to "plan out" my parenting. I never gave much thought to feeding though. I remember asking my husband what he thought we should do, and he said, "You'll breastfeed, of course." LOL (He comes from a family of 6 kids where each was breastfed for at least a couple years) So that made my decision for me, no qualms about it. Clearly I wasn't very concerned either way at the time.

So when my first daughter, Miss I, was born in February 2006, we began our breastfeeding journey. I was very blessed to have it come easily and naturally for both her and I. There was that normal, toe-curling discomfort for the first week or so, but we got the hang of it. I never really had any issues while breastfeeding my daughter alone. We had a short bout of thrush at about 4 months but it cleared up only days later, and around 7 months I started to get really sore when she'd nurse for some reason (still not sure why that was), but that was about it. Pretty uneventful!

When Miss I was almost a year old, my sister-in-law had a baby girl. 2 weeks after she was born, my sister-in-law got an infection and was hospitalized for another week. God was able to use me and I went and nursed my niece since her mommy couldn't, and she wouldn't take formula. I am very grateful to have been able to provide that for her.

I got pregnant again when Miss I was 18 months old. I continued to nurse her during my pregnancy, even despite my fear of miscarrying again, though I knew God had it all under control. I chose to nightwean her during the early weeks, primarily because I was SO uncomfortable laying on my side in bed that it made for a miserable experience all night long when she wanted to nurse. It took us about 2-3 weeks but worked out well in the end. My milk turned to colostrum at 16 weeks, but there was still enough to satisfy my daughter for the rest of the pregnancy. It went pretty well until the last 6 weeks or so, at which point nursing became VERY painful. We toughed it out though, and it was a blessing in disguise because when my new baby, Miss B, was born at home, we didn't experience ANY of that "new nursling discomfort". So we just sailed smoothly into our tandem nursing experience.

Nursing my two girls went very well. They were both nursing champs, very efficient (neither one of them ever, even from birth, nursed for more than 5-10 minutes per session and emptied the breast(s) each time). Miss B, however, slept through the night (we're talking 6-8 hours at a time) a LOT during her first 5 months of life and even though most mama's would consider that awesome, I didn't feel that way! I had read so much about deep sleep and increased SIDS risk and it worried me! I wasn't quite as worried about my milk supply though, since I still had Miss I nursing, but I would still try to wake her at times in the night to see if she'd nurse, and she just had no interest. So I learned to accept it, and lo and behold she started waking again to nurse throughout the night before she hit 6 months of age.

When Miss B hit 6 months I started to pump milk for donation. I feel like that if God has given me so much milk, even more than what I "need" for my own babies, it's only right that I should make it available to other moms and babies who haven't had as much success with breastfeeding. Most people are still getting used to the idea of donated breastmilk, but to me, it's only natural that we offer up human milk first! I hadn't done much in the way of pumping before, but with a simple Avent Isis manual pump I was getting 6-7 ounces per session and after a few weeks I had quite the stash built up. It took me a while to find someone to offer it to, but eventually I found a couple local mom's who needed milk and was thrilled to be able to share it with them.

Shortly after that time, when Miss B was about 9 months, I had to have my wisdom teeth out. I wasn't concerned about how it would affect nursing, because it was a short procedure and I was able to nurse immediately prior to it and as soon as I got home from it. However, the one thing I wish I never would have done was accept the antibiotics. I am not a fan of them (at least not used as often as they are), because of how they truly do so much damage to the gut and it's colonization (and therefor having a domino effect on the rest of the body), but for some reason I opted to take them after my procedure. And that's when my first big breastfeeding struggle began. We ended up with thrush (despite me taking quality probiotics regularly even prior to the procedure). Badly. After 2 weeks I was just starting to get on top of it, but then I got an infection in one of the tooth sockets and ended up going BACK on antibiotics, despite knowing there were many natural alternatives I could have tried (I guess the desperation got to me?). Of course the thrush came back with a vengeance. It took me 3 months to get rid of it, and even though it was gone for the time being, the damage the antibiotics did has stuck with me...I've struggled with candida issues ever since. (If anyone is interested I do have loads of information and natural treatment regimens and dietary changes for candida/thrush) It was an extremely discouraging and painful time.

I got pregnant with my third child when Miss B was 13 months old. At this time she was still nursing regularly throughout the day and night, and Miss I, who was 3, was only nursing maybe once or twice a day, and sometimes she'd even skip a few days in between. Just by chance, Miss B ended up sleeping through the night (completely) one night early on, and so I just went with that and choose to use that as the beginning of our nightweaning experience. Normally I wouldn't nightwean a baby under 18 months but since she sort of started on her own (and did well continuing with it), we chose to go ahead with the process.

I ended up dealing with thrush several more times during the pregnancy. My natural treatment regimen usually cleared it up. The girls nursed well and normally the rest of the time (again my milk turned to colostrum at about 16 weeks), but once again, about 6 weeks prior to delivery, I started to get VERY sore during nursing sessions. Just like last time, I sucked it up and just dealt with the pain, hoping it would lead to another comfortable transition with a new nursling.

I ended up with a yeast infection in the last 3 days of my pregnancy. Honestly, I was terrified. Not because of the infection itself, but because I knew that, because the baby's gut is colonized during delivery through the vaginal canal, it could very likely cause my baby to have candida problems from the start, which in turn would probably mean dealing with thrush. Again. And the thought really depressed me. I treated it and just prayed that everything would be okay. My new baby BOY, Mr. C, was born in March and it was another beautiful home birth. Mr. C was a big boy...born at 9lb 10oz, 22 inches, and a 15.5" head! SO glad I was at home for his birth, as I have no doubt I would have been told I "had" to have a c-section if I was in the hospital because of how things went (and then who knows how breastfeeding would have gone for us!?!). He nursed well from the start, quick and efficient just like my girls (though I did have some longer nursing sessions with him, which were new to me!). Nursing 3 kids wasn't any more difficult than just nursing two of them, and I'm VERY glad I was still nursing Miss B as she was still fairly young when Mr. C was born and it was important that she still have that consistency. Miss I still just nursed once every 2-3 days, sometimes every day, and I was ever so thankful for my older nurslings when my milk came in and I was dealing with painful engorgement.

As I had suspected, we did end up getting thrush. I was able to treat it naturally, but it kept coming back, and eventually seemed to be cyclical. We dealt with it for about 5 months, and even more so than the last time we had it for months, it was an extremely painful, trying and discouraging time. Mr. C is now 6 months and we've only been "thrush free" for about 4 weeks, and unfortunately I have a feeling it's coming back (cyclical, remember?). I am confident that this all began with the antibiotics throwing my natural got flora out of whack, because never in my life had I dealt with these kinds of candida issues until that point. So we're on the road to healing...slowly, but surely. The most difficult thing has been knowing that if we ARE passing it back and forth (though I treat all of us, we all take probiotics regularly (thrush or no thrush), etc), it's so much harder than when just nursing ONE baby since it's harder to pinpoint and more difficult to get under control. I struggled with the decision of whether or not to wean Miss I, and possibly even Miss B, just to lessen that, but I'm SO glad I haven't. I admit I even had thoughts run through my head about weaning all three of them, even my baby Mr. C, and THAT is one of the things that scared me the most, because obviously breastfeeding is extremely important and special to me, and it had to take a LOT or discouragement to get me to that point.

Shortly after Mr. C was born, and before we started dealing with thrush, I started pumping for donation again. This time I was able to use a Medela PIS double electric pump from my cousin, and I was SHOCKED at how well that thing worked. The first time I used it I got 10 (yes TEN) ounces on ONE side (and six on the other that Mr. C had just recently nursed from)- granted, it was shortly after birth so I had loads of milk as my supply hadn't regulated, but wow. I was flabbergasted! Previously I wasn't aware that an electric pump would make that much of a difference. I was wrong. LOL I wasn't able to get more than just over 100 ounces total before the thrush took over, at which point I stopped pumping. I was so excited to have found a young mom to donate to. She was actually located at our vacation destination so we traveled with the frozen milk and dropped it off with her. It was a neat, blessed experience for me. Again, I thank God that I'm able to share what he has so abundantly blessed me with.

And here we are today. Mr. C is still nursing strong, every 2-3 hours (sometimes longer) during the day, and every 1-4 hours (depending) during the night. Miss B, at 2 years old, still nurses 2-3 times a day, sometimes less. Miss I, at 4.5 years old, is still nursing anywhere from once a day to once a week. I have to say, it's been VERY neat to watch the natural progression of child-led weaning. The circumstances that have led to where she's at today have been natural life events, not anything forceful on my part, and I can testify to the fact that they DO slow down on their own, and I know that soon I will also be able to say "they do STOP on their own." I admit it makes me sad to think about. I know we will be ready, but one of the hardest aspects of child-led weaning, for me, is knowing that we won't know that her last nursing session IS her last until hindsight, and I don't want to miss it! It's going to be a milestone for us both when that day comes, as my first baby, my first nursling, will have moved on. I'm SO grateful for the time I've had with her though. It's been absolutely precious.

A few other notes...

All of my babies have dropped over a pound of their birthweight and it takes them about 2.5-3 weeks to regain it. While according to some that might have indicated a need for supplementation, my mommy instincts knew better. It was normal for my babies (especially considering they all have my husbands lightening fast metabolism...wish I could say the same!). I'm so glad I never interfered with that. They had adequate diapers, were alert, still gaining (just slowly at first), very healthy...no reason to add anything artificial into the mix for the sake of numbers.

Cycles..oh cycles... Oddly enough, for me, it seems like more nursing equals less time away from my favorite (sarcasm intended) monthly visitor. Though that's not entirely accurate, as I don't get "normal" cycles back immediately, but with Miss I, I was nursing constantly around the clock, naturally following the "rules" of LAM (co-sleeping with baby, no pacifiers, feeding on demand, etc) and got my first period (albeit anovulatory) at 4.5 months postpartum. I was not thrilled. It wasn't until about 10 months postpartum that I actually started ovulating again, though. Then after Miss B, who nursed LESS during those first 5 months (since she slept through the night so often), but still following LAM "rules," I made it to 7 months postpartum before my first cycle. I hoped for a longer break after Mr. C (considering I'm nursing 3 kids and was pumping for a while too!) but it didn't happen...at only 3 months postpartum I had my first anovulatory period, and it's happened twice since. Despite keeping track of my temperatures and all that fun stuff (think NFP), I am at a loss as to what my body is doing this time around!

One of the hardest things (for me) that I encountered along the way over these last 4.5 years was just the negativity from some people around me. I don't live in an area where a ton of people breastfeed- at least not where it's KNOWN that people do. As I mentioned before, I definitely have never personally encountered anyone locally who tandem- or more, triandem- nurses. Or even nurses through pregnancy. I have, thankfully, met one person who nursed her children until they weaned on their own, both around 5 years old, and she has been such a blessing to me. But it seems like most people are just anxious for me to wean my babies, and are bothered that I'm nursing them past a certain age. I've never figured that one out- my babies are healthy, social, advanced, independent (as much as they need to be), and breastfeeding is doing them absolutely no harm. In fact, they BENEFIT from it. But even as confident as I am in our decision, it's still hard to hear the negativity. I just wish more people were educated on the benefits of breastfeeding (including tandem nursing and extended breastfeeding).

And so that (a novel later) is my story. I realize it's not a typical one, nor is there anything super exciting about it, but it's been my experience nonetheless, and I hope that somehow it might encourage someone else out there.

If anyone ever wants to chat about breastfeeding, or if you need any support or help dealing with thrush (which obviously, unfortunately, I have plenty of experience with), feel free to contact me on my blog (Joy Filled Frugality). I'd love to offer up anything I can!

-Brynna, 25
Mom to Miss I (4), Miss B (2), and Mr. C (6 months)

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