Like so many others, I planned on exclusively breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my first child. I had seen my mom, aunts, cousins, and older sister nurse their children all my life, and without much thought, I knew that I would do it too. I also found myself with some innate desires that I hadn’t for the most part seen carried out by family members, one of which was to nurse my child as long as he or she wanted, regardless of how long. Weeks and months turned to years, and eventually I was nursing a two-year-old who showed no signs of stopping; meanwhile, my husband and I were ready to have another child. Because we practice Natural Family Planning, I knew with certainty that I was ovulating regularly and I wasn’t concerned about the frequency with which I was breastfeeding impacting my ability to get pregnant. Happily, we conceived shortly before our oldest turned 26 months.
Nursing through my pregnancy
When I got pregnant, I was nursing my son on demand, including to sleep at nap and night (he self-weaned during the night around 24 months), which amounted to around four nursing sessions per day. Many people in my life mistakenly warned me that continuing to do so would deprive my baby in utero of nutrients, lead to miscarriage, or cause pre-term labor. Unfortunately, while those myths have been debunked, they are still present culturally and in the medical field. Thankfully, I had one friend who had recently nursed her son through a pregnancy, so I had a calm voice of reason and a wonderful example of a healthy breastfeeding relationship during pregnancy; I also had the support of our midwifery practice.
My supply dropped around 7 weeks, but I continued nursing as much as my son desired. He didn’t mind dry nursing, and although I experienced significant nursing aversions (not to mention the physical discomfort of nursing through normal pregnancy nipple pain), I knew that stopping simply wasn’t right for us. There are few resources for mothers seeking to nurse through a pregnancy, so I didn’t know what to expect. Thanks to science, books, and the Internet, we have a roadmap for a lot of what life throws at us. While it felt confusing to not have that same map for breastfeeding through my pregnancy, it ultimately didn’t matter as much as I thought. My son and I found our way and my mothering instinct provided a lot of guidance.
What breastfeeding through pregnancy taught me
Two benefits that I experienced during this time were: a continued closeness with my son (so precious to me as our world was about to shift); and an opportunity to refresh and practice my Hypnobirthing techniques for labor. When nursing him felt difficult, I would do calm breathing, grounding my body and letting my mind remain unencumbered by its physical state. It was a fantastic preparation for birth; I delivered my 8 pound, 8 ounce daughter in a 9-hour unmedicated and completely painless – yes, really! – home birth. I truly attribute much of that success to my extensive Hypnobirth preparation and practice through nursing sessions.
I ultimately went on to nurse my son and daughter in tandem for over 15 months. By the time he decided to stop, my son was a little over four years old. My daughter went on to nurse for 2.5 years total, before deciding on her own to stop nursing. Tandem nursing two children of different ages was a very sweet experience for me; my children would become calm and cuddly, often holding hands while they nursed simultaneously. In total, I have nursed for a whopping 65 months of my life – longer than I was in college and in the workforce between college and the beginning of motherhood! I’m very proud of the time I spent nursing, and the time that I will nurse our future children.
In a story for a different post, I suffered from birth trauma and postpartum depression following my first birth. Motherhood didn’t go as planned for me in almost any area, so breastfeeding became something to which I could cling. It was a shining example of what I was able to rescue from the ashes. 65 months have seen so much change in our lives. It has taken me from a frightened new mother to a seasoned mother of two and pregnant with another. I have changed from a woman unsure of her voice to a woman confident and capable of saying hard things.
At the end of the day…
None of this is to imply that exclusive, extended, or tandem breastfeeding is right for every mother or child(ren). It’s also not to say that my experience nursing my children has been entirely easy or joyful. Someday I’ll write about the mountains we climbed and the battles we fought together to make our nursing relationship work. But I do think that it is important to talk openly about what nursing meant to us as mothers. Let’s talk more about how we fared, how we overcame, what we saw along the way. Seldom do mothers speak openly and without embarrassment about the experience of nursing toddlers or preschoolers through a pregnancy. Culturally, there seems to be an air of shame associated with “not being able to stop” (as one mother put it to me recently) or nursing a child who doesn’t look or seem like a baby. (And this is to say nothing of nursing a child who is not biologically your own, which is a wonderful practice common in many other societies!) If you are considering doing so, are doing so, or have done so, cheers to you!
Are you thinking of nursing through a pregnancy or tandem nursing afterward? Here are some links that helped me tremendously: