“Welcome to the Milk Mama Diaries Carnival (November). For this month, we focus on extended breastfeeding. Participants will share their experiences and tips on breastfeeding their child/ren beyond 12 months. Please scroll down to the end of the post and check out the other carnival participants.”
I recently visited a Lactation Specialist to consult about a blocked milk duct. In the 45 minutes that I spent in her office, we used up 10 minutes for the exam and actual consultation, and the balance time talking about my breastfeeding experience with both my girls. She was thrilled to find out that I managed to breastfeed Sam for 14 months, and that I had the same goals (at least) with Jamie, who is now 8 months old and still fully breastfed. She congratulated me for making it that long and encouraged me as well to try to help other moms achieve the same feat.
To be honest, up until that point, I hadn’t really put much thought into how big a feat it was to breastfeed for so long. Then I did the math: that’s feeding someone multiple times every single day for over 400 days. My that is a lot! All things considered, breastfeeding is probably one of the hardest challenges all mothers need to overcome, but having to sustain it over a long period of time is also yet another accomplishment in itself (Can you imagine, I have good friends who breastfeed for longer! They deserve awards!). I do have a few thoughts as to how I was able to achieve this and I’m happy to share them with all of you, in the hopes that it will help you too achieve your goals to breastfeed for as long as you would like to.
It’s all in the mind
Thinking back, when I first decided I was going to breastfeed my children, it never occurred to me that it would be hard to sustain. It’s not that I played down the importance of breastfeeding or the challenges that came with it, but I also just never assumed there was a better alternative. I had read up on the benefits of breastfeeding to both mother and child, particularly if one was able to breastfeed until the child turned 1. From then on I just knew I wanted to do it for as long as I possibly could.
Of course, after the first three weeks, I was ready to give up. I was tired, sleep-deprived, emotional and all these other emotions rolled into one. My nipples were sore, my breasts were engorged… and it hurt each time Sam latched on! I wasn’t prepared for that. Then when I started to pump out milk, I would spend 30 minutes and get only 1-2 ounces at best. The entire experience was frustrating and discouraging to say the least.
Thankfully I didn’t give in and I pushed through the pain (and the engorgement). I took it — literally — one day at a time, and constantly found ways to motivate myself to keep going. I just convinced myself that if millions of other moms could do it, then so could I. At first, I took a breath each time I Sam was about to latch and say to myself out loud that I could do it again and again. Eventually it got easier, we (each of the girls and I) got the hang of it until I didn’t have to think so hard about it anymore. In the first few months with Jamie, I knew what to expect pain-wise, and so I followed the same techniques which also made it easier faster.
Top Priority: Keep Up the Milk Supply
In all the days that I breastfed, the amount of milk I produced was always at the forefront of my consciousness. I knew that to be able to keep on breastfeeding, I had to keep making enough milk. So that became my top priority. I had learned from my doula that in order to keep the supply up, I had to “trick” my body into thinking it needed to produce more.
So I set aside specific times in the day (and night) to express milk. That meant losing sleep and spending a lot of time (several times a day) pumping. I’d pump out the milk from the breast that was not drank from and completely drain the one that was. I’d even pump in between feedings the minute I felt some sort of a let-down. I took malunggay supplements. I ate all those foods they say you should eat to build your milk supply. Whatever it took to ensure I would always have enough milk for Sam (and now for Jamie), I did.
I brought my pump everywhere I went as well. At first it was an event all on its own; I had to stop what I was doing to get the milk out. Eventually, I learned to multitask; I would breastfeed (or pump) while checking emails, making a phone call, or accomplishing chores that I could manage with one hand. And then I learned from my sister-in-law (who breastfed all her three kids for a year each! Someone please give her a medal…). With her breastfeeding cover, she could walk, shop AND breastfeed all at once! So I tried and practiced. Eventually it became a necessary skill; breastfeeding and chasing Sam around a playground.
Whatever the situation, I looked for ways to ensure that my milk supply stayed constant and that I had more than enough milk for my girls. I know that sounds like a lot, and it is. But once you set your mind to it and make it a priority, then everything else will work its way around it to make it happen.
Have a Pro-breastfeeding Support Group
I was fortunate to have been surrounded by people who encouraged and supported my decision to breastfeed. At the forefront of the cheering squad was my husband. I was lucky enough that he believed his daughters should be breastfed for at least a year, and so he does what he can to help me achieve that. With Sam, it was a matter of coaxing me through the rough times, ensuring I had enough rest and food and even to the point of waking me up so I wouldn’t skip a pump session. Now with Jamie, he helps entertain Sam while Jamie nurses, or he’ll take both girls on the times that I’ve identified when I do need to pump. We’ve learned to adjust our schedule accordingly.
The Midwives (my doctors) and KK, my postpartum doula, all made it their priority to ensure that I had all the information and the help that I needed, particularly in the first few weeks after birth. Those are the weeks which I feel are all moms’ “make-or-break days” in deciding how long they intend to breastfeed (if at all). Everyone was conscious about how challenging it could be for a new mom like me, so that became the focal point for their support. They stuck with me too until the saw that I wasn’t having a difficult time anymore.
I was also surrounded by mommy friends who were going through the same breastfeeding struggles as I was. I learned a lot from friends and new moms in my group who had been there before and have breastfed for longer. They had words of wisdom, insights and tips that one wouldn’t normally find in books, and those helped more than you could imagine.
Having said all of the above, I do commend all moms who take that first step and commit to breastfeeding. Starting out and trying is the hardest part but once you’ve overcome that, it does get easier. I know I got lucky; I had a fairly easy breastfeeding experience with Sam, and that eventually made it easy for me to decide to do the same thing with Jamie. I’ve spoken to some mommy friends who weren’t as fortunate as I was the first time around, and now that they are expecting their second child, they are currently wondering if they could do it this time around.
I say: Unequivocally YES! Most definitely. While every child is different, every breastfeeding experience is also different. I do believe you’d still have to take things one day at a time and set your mind to it so that you can achieve your breastfeeding goals. Ultimately it’s just a matter of finding it in you: a little bit of luck, and a mix of perseverance, resilience, endurance, resourcefulness and a whole lot of love. No doubt about it; breastfeeding is a huge act of self-sacrifice. But this much I can tell you — when you’ve achieved the breastfeeding goals you’ve set out for, and you see your happy, healthy child(ren), the feeling of fulfillment and the rewards it brings are also, without a doubt, beyond words.
Check out our other carnival participants’ blogs:
J and the Three Boys – No more “de-de”
Mommyluscious – Breastfeeding for Two Beyond Two
Truly Rich Mom – On Extended Breastfeeding (a perfectly normal thing to do)
Life of a Babywearing and Breastfeeding Mommy – Still breastfeeding after 2 years
Got To Believe – Breastfeeding Room Story
Chronicles of a Nursing Mom – Barriers/Myths vs. Extended Breastfeeding