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four years of breastfeeding

august 1-7 is world breastfeeding week (WBW). the world health organization (WHO) states this week is celebrated to "encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world."

i've been working on this post about my breastfeeding experience off and on for several weeks and did not realize that world breastfeeding week was upon us until a friend mentioned it. what a perfect time to share my experiences. i browsed the websites for world breastfeeding week and the world alliance for breastfeeding action (WABA). both great resources. the WABA site unfortunately seems to have quite a few broken links, but the ones that do work are helpful and informative. in a nutshell, breastfeeding is AWESOME and contributes to better health for both mom and baby.

the center for disease control (CDC) reports: "among infants born in 2015 in the united states, 4 out of 5 (83.2%) started to breastfeed, over half (57.6%) were breastfeeding at 6 months, and over one-third (35.9%) were breastfeeding at 12 months. compared to rates for infants born in 2014, rates for infants born in 2015 increased for breastfeeding at 6 and 12 months."

essential to the breastfeeding journey is support. support from family, friends, employers, medical professionals. my own journey may have ended prematurely if not for the support i received from a lactation consultant during maternity leave and my supervisors when i returned to work. though i had been breastfeeding for almost four years when juniper was born, i needed to brush up on my technique as nursing a newborn is much different than nursing a three year old. a quick session gave me the adjustments i needed to make to ensure a proper latch and this time around i have experienced zero nipple trauma as baby was leaning to breastfeed properly and efficiently.

johnny cash's song "i've been everywhere" could be re-written for me as "i've nursed everywhere."

i've breastfed:

  • using cradle hold, football hold, side lying, tandem

  • around the clock, twice a day, two tiny humans a day, two tiny humans at once tandem, including my two, mine and a friend's, a friend's

  • while sitting down, laying down, standing up, walking, pushing a shopping cart

  • under a cover, topless in my house, in nursing tops and dresses, in a formal dress, in swimsuits, in regular clothes layered for nursing access and discretion, in regular clothes without discretion

  • in my house, in friends' houses, in family members' houses, on my porch, on my deck, in my driveway, on the toilet, on the floor

  • at splash pads, pools, by the lake, on the beach

  • in cars, at rest stops, on busses, in airports, on airplanes, boats

  • in a coat closet, at a convention center, in hotel rooms, at the detroit zoo, the detroit institute of art, the ann arbor hands on museum, dollywood

  • while shopping in target, ikea, meijer, costco, at malls

  • at the gym, in the locker room, the childcare center, the cafe, the parking lot

  • in waiting rooms, at counseling, the pediatrician, the pediatric emergency room, the ophthalmologist, the dentist, the dermatologist, the obgyn, the endocrinologist

  • at the car repair shop, the dealership, hair and nail salons, the movie theater

  • in restaurants, bakeries, ice cream stores, coffee shops

  • at church, during small group, classes, in meetings, during bible study fellowship (BSF), mothers of preschoolers (MOPS)

  • at the library, parks, indoor playscapes, during music class, play dates, at country clubs, tennis clubs, on a farm

  • at birthday parties, weddings, holiday gatherings and parties

  • for nourishment, to fill a hungry belly, for comfort, to calm an angry baby, meltdowning toddler, disintegrated preschooler

  • when it hurt, when it didn't hurt, while pregnant, through nursing aversion while pregnant

  • while suffering from post partum depression, while sick with a stomach bug, with colds, with allergies, with anxiety, depression, insomnia

  • when i wanted to, when i didn't want to

four years of nursing and still going strong. it is quite fascinating to me how different my two nurslings are. sabina wanted to nurse constantly. and forever. like 45 minute nursing sessions every two hours. she has nursed in the night off and on throughout her entire four years of life. only recently has she begun to sleep through the night more consistently. if i let her she would probably be breastfeeding five times a day at the age of four. but instead she is limited to mostly just before bed, occasionally when she wakes up for the day, and if she is upset beyond any other kind of consolation. juniper, on the other hand, nurses very quickly. her nursing sessions are usually five minutes tops and she goes three hours between nursing, sleeping 12 hours straight through the night. at the stage when sabina begun waking multiple times in the night, juniper began regularly sleeping 12 hours. baby girl loves her sleep, only eats when real hungry, and eats efficiently. as a newborn she nursed more frequently at night than sabina did, but in general she has been a rockstar sleeper from the start. i am convinced that temperament is a big factor in the realm of eating and sleeping.

i never thought i would be nursing a four year old and an almost six month old simultaneously. i never thought i would be nursing this long non-stopped. it just kind of happened. and it's all i know so it is no big deal to me; this is our normal. the american association of pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and then for as long as both mother and baby desire. the world health organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and then up to two years of age or beyond. only about 35% of breastfeeding mothers make it to the year mark in the united states.

my initial goal was to make it a year with sabina. we moved from austin, texas to livonia, michigan when sabina was 11 months old. i wanted to quit so many times because i was tired of pumping at work with little output. but when we made the decision to move to my home state so i could be at home with sabina full time, i knew i wanted to keep going so that i could drop pumping and only nurse when we made the move. so i kept at it.

when we decided to pursue domestic infant adoption i began pumping as we got closer to approval, anticipating that we might be placed quickly and wanting to be able to breastfeed our adopted babe. we did not get placement quickly and i quit pumping after a couple months. it was too taxing on me mentally and emotionally to continue pumping. but i did continue breastfeeding sabina. after seven months on the waiting families list, david and i decided to give a baby by birth another try for our 10th wedding anniversary. and we conceived a 10th anniversary baby (!). i kept breastfeeding. mostly out of the desire to survive sabina. ha. but i resented it pretty much my entire pregnancy. nursing aversion is real, guys. and i had it bad during pregnancy. then juniper was born.

my milk supply has been CRAAAA-ZAAAAY since juniper's birth. milk for all and all for milk. we have not successfully given juniper a bottle so far. she goes to sleep early, sleeps long, and can go three to four hours between feeds during the day. so we just do not really have a reason for her to take a bottle, and i have not made it a priority to force that option. also. i hate pumping. so now i have a baby that is anti-bottle and i am actually ok with that. we just schedule date nights for after she is down for the night which is typically by 6:30pm. it all works out.

so here we are. of course, breastfeeding a four year old is not for everyone. but it is for me and sabina. nursing a four year old and an almost six month old is not for everyone. but it is for me and sabina and juniper. this is our normal. it works for us. we fall into the "as long as desired by mom and baby" category. if you are a mama reading this, you do what works for you and your baby. breastmilk is the best nutrition, hands down. breastfeeding is also surely taxing on mama and is a relationship that has to be desired by both mom and baby. formula is a great thing if mama is unable or not wanting to breastfeed for whatever reason. i'm a big advocate for taking care of mama and mama's mental health. a mentally and emotionally healthy mama is essential for baby, and i think more important than breastfeeding if mental and emotional health are at stake and the stress of breastfeeding is contributing to the imbalance. at the end of the day, mama knows herself and baby best. recommendations are just that, recommendations.

when i was facing post partum depression i constantly thought about quitting breastfeeding and switching to formula. several friends spoke of that dramatically improving their mental and emotional state and attachment to their babe. i was just scared that would not be my experience and i would be giving up this relationship i really wanted for no improvement in my mental or emotional health. so i kept at it. and it was the right decision for me and my babes. every mama and every baby is different. find your people. if you want to do this breastfeeding thing, seek out the support you need to do it. it takes initiative, mamas. don't be afraid to ask for help. god knows we all need it. don't be afraid to tell the ones close to you what you need from them to meet your goals. whether that's encouragement, moral support, help finding a lactation consultant or other breastfeeding resource, purchasing products to help you reach your goal, etc.

the hard part for me initially with sabina was that i didn't really know what i wanted or how others could help. or i did but was too mentally and emotionally distraught to communicate it. i did not want people telling me it was okay to quit and switch to formula. i did not want people telling me wow breastfeeding is so hard i cannot believe you're doing it. what i needed was for people to come around me and rally. be my biggest fans. tell me i CAN do this. tell me that it surely is hard, and the hard is worth it. tell me they will help me get the support i need to meet my goals. tell me we will exhaust all our options before we think about switching to formula. tell me that i can do this one day, one hour, one minute at a time. one feed at a time. so when i see a new mama setting out to breastfeed, i try to ask what SHE needs, what she wants. because truly only mama herself knows that. sometimes it is hard to articulate. and that is okay.

nursing juniper was not like riding a bike. i stumbled a bit at first, forgetting what it was like to teach a brand new baby to nurse after being so used to sabina who was four months shy of four when juniper was born. i asked to see the lactation consultant at the hospital and she gave me pointers on positioning and ensuring a proper latch. even a seasoned breastfeeder like myself needed a refresher course, though i had been nursing almost four years straight. before juniper was born i attended a local la leche league international (LLLI) group to talk to mamas with experience tandem nursing as i did not have any friends in my circles who had pursued tandem nursing. i knew they existed and i found them at LLLI and got the encouragement i needed. for me, successful breastfeeding has required the seeking of resources and support. i had to take the initiative. support does not just show up in your lap. if only, right? breastfeeding is most definitely not something that came naturally. though now i sure do feel like a breastfeeding pro with my two babes.

i looked back through all of my photos documenting my breastfeeding experience. so many photos of me with sabina in her first weeks and then they kind of tapered off. they picked up again after the typical 12 month mark. more at the two year mark. three year mark. then juniper's birth and the start of my tandem nursing journey. this journey has been beautiful. broken. sweet. sour. energizing. exhausting. it has been nothing like i expected. it has continued longer than i anticipated. it has been fraught with heartache and tears and frustration. it has humbled and challenged me mentally, emotionally, and physically. it has been quite the unexpected, satisfying, and gratifying adventure. i have so much gratitude for my body, my milk jugs. juniper's chunky thighs? all my boobs. that babe has not had one drop of formula. sabina had a couple bottles of formula in the hospital; one i authorized and one i did not. i contemplated formula in her first months and even had it prepared in the fridge ready to feed her. but we never ended up using it. and when we moved from texas to michigan, we moved lugging six gallons of breastmilk on dry ice. that gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment. my body has nourished the bodies of my two children. my body provides perfect nourishment for them. i am so thankful that my body has been able to do what i wanted it to do. through mental and emotional health challenges. through periods of the darkest times and transition, tension, and toxic stress. i have persevered and not only achieved my one year goal but far surpassed it.

so three cheers for these boobs of mine. the producers of liquid gold. and here's to however long they continue to nourish these sweet babes of mine.


hello there.

brittain here. just sharing my journey day to day with lots of laughs along the way.

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