Does the internet need more breastfeeding advice? Maybe not, but I hope that this post at least shines a light on how breastfeeding “success” doesn’t look the same for everyone, not even for one person from baby to baby.
I didn’t know if I could make it 8 weeks breastfeeding my first baby in 2008, so the fact that I would go onto breastfed 4 babies for over 103 months (and counting!) would blow my 27-year-old mind back then. That’s assuming it survived the explosion from finding out I had 4 babies.
Each breastfeeding journey was different. Each child breastfed longer than the last. Wallace, my 4th, turned 3 a month ago and we’re still going today.
I’m not the type of mom who I once thought would breastfeed a 3 year old. Not that there is a “type.” Just that I foolishly once assumed there was.
But here I am now, a pretty typical suburban mom who feeds her kids frozen chicken nuggets, lets them drink soda, cleans her house with bleach on occasion, and also still breastfeeds her toddler.
I actually didn’t even think I’d make it this long as of only a year ago. A year ago, I assumed 2019 would be the year we said goodbye to diapers and breastfeeding for good.
Probably the biggest difference between breastfeeding my first and my 4th is that I don’t have an exit strategy this time. But the first time around, I knew exactly when I wanted it to end. More on that in a bit.
So how long did I breastfeed each baby? Time’s a little fuzzy for the ones in the middle, but to the best of my recollection, it goes like this:
1st- 13 months
2nd- 22 months
3rd- 32 months
4th- 36 months and still going
Biggest Breastfeeding Regret
Looking back, I can’t believe I lived with the pain I endured for the first 8 weeks of my first-born’s life. It’s clear now we had some serious latch issues, and I wonder if he had a lip or tongue tie. But after a consultation with the LC in the hospital and a couple follow ups at lactation support groups provided by the hospital, I was convinced the pain was just “normal” and something I had to push through.
Back then- 2008- lactation support was expensive and it was hard to access. I can sit here and say I should have pushed harder and advocated for myself more, but the truth is I was exhausted and we were financially strapped. So I don’t know if this bit of breastfeeding advice would have even made an impact on me back then. I did the best I could with what I had (and the mental state I was in).
The good news is lactation support is much more accessible now. Heck, you can do video consults with lactation consultants in 2020! And there are a ton of great online resources, like KellyMom & The Leaky Boob (her FB community is especially great), and some fantastic books.
Quick plug for my newest book- LACTIVATE! A User’s Guide To Breastfeeding. I wrote it with the help of Chrisie Rosenthal, IBCLC. It’s a science-backed, quick reference guide for breastfeeding that keeps mom’s mental and physical health top of mind.
I am so proud of it because it’s unlike any other breastfeeding advice book out there!
Code 024: When Baby Feeds, It Feels Like Crushed Glass Or Sandpaper On My Nipples would have SAVED ME 12 years ago.
My first baby was challenging in so many ways. He had what we generally call “colic,” he refused to take a pacifier or any bottle, and there was that whole latch issue.
I wish I would have tried to give him a pacifier sooner. I wish I would have listened to his feeding cues more, and focused on a routine less, and I wish I would have given myself permission to supplement with formula when I needed a break.
I can’t say I regret not doing any of that because I don’t know if that would have changed anything for us, but I do wish I would have at least made space in my rigidity to try.
I was so scared of screwing up breastfeeding that I held myself to some insane standards as I worked though life with my first baby, when it was already super hard.
By the time he was a year old, I was READY to be done. Of course, my high bar for breastfeeding excellence meant I felt I had to breastfeed until he was a year old. Once we got to that milestone, it was not all that hard to wean- from what I can recall. I’m sure I felt emotional about it, but I also expected I would have more children soon, and he seemed more than ready to move on.
The Beauty Of Loosening Up & Embracing Pacifiers
I realized if I wanted to maintain a loving breastfeeding relationship with my 2nd, 3rd and 4th babies, I would have to make breastfeeding work as part of the whole of our relationship, and not put it above my mental health and our happiness.
To start, I needed my nipple to not be the sole pacifier. And with babies 2, 3 and 4, I introduced pacifiers right away. I brought them to the hospital for baby 3 and 4.
This is covered in my book LACTIVATE, but I’ll also add it here:
You DO have to be careful when offering pacifiers to newborns because they CAN get in the way of establishing a milk supply IF you let baby use it when they should be nursing and telling your body to produce milk. But if you are mindful of hunger cues, and put baby to breast as often as you need to, it’s possible- in my opinion- to introduce them right away with little to no impact on nursing.
And that really saved my sanity a whole lot. Baby #2 took a paci until she was 4 and I don’t regret the decision. (Her teeth look fine, BTW.) Baby #3 ditched it on his own at 6 months, which at least got me through the newborn fussiness. Baby #4 literally threw all his own pacis in the trashcan at 2.5.
Bottles were also introduced early and often to all 3. There was always a stretch after my milk came in and engorgement set in that I would need a bit of a break. I would pump bottles in the shower, and hand off to my husband to feed while I washed my hair. Subsequently, I never had to stress about leaving any of the last 3 babies for longer than an hour or two because they never refused a bottle.
Formula Can Be A Part Of Any Successful Feeding Journey
For many parents, feeding a baby means feeding formula. That’s a fed-baby success story! And for many breastfeeding parents, their fed-baby success story can involve formula, too.
I began traveling a lot for work after I had my 3rd baby, and there was a moment when I was so scared about pumping enough breastmilk for a trip when my husband looked at me and simply offered, “Let’s just give him some formula while you’re gone.” It never occurred to me until that moment.
And it was great. I never pumped and stored milk for an upcoming trip again, and I went on to breastfeed that baby a lot longer than I thought I would.
There are a lot of reasons you may consider supplementing with formula. Just make sure you’re pumping to replace that feeding if you want your body to keep up with the same level of milk production. For example, I still pumped on those work trips. I just tossed the milk out usually, or sometimes I found local moms to donate it to.
Chrisie and I both felt strongly that we needed to include breastfeeding advice that made room for formula supplementation in LACTIVATE. There are a lot of reasons people combo feed! No reason not to put that information in a breastfeeding book.
Your Mental Health Is As Important As What Your Baby Eats
At the end of the day, you need to feel ok and healthy as much as your baby needs to be fed. I’m forever grateful for all the moms who shared their postpartum mental health struggles with me, and all the ways they were honest about how it impacted their feeding journeys.
I am grateful that when I put the pieces together that I was dealing with some acute postpartum anxiety and OCD when my 2nd baby was around 9 months old that I knew there were medications I could take that were safe for breastfeeding.
For me, I was able to heal and work through my PPA while maintaining our breastfeeding relationship because of medications (Zoloft and then later Lexapro).
You do not have to white knuckle your way through a mental health crisis in order to keep breastfeeding. Get help. Take medicine. Talk to someone. Prioritize yourself.
This post is already really long, and I’ve just skimmed the surface of the deep experience of breastfeeding 4 babies. I’ll leave you with a few pieces of advice I would go back and tell myself 12 years ago, as I was expecting my first baby.
If it hurts so bad you yell out in pain and dread the next feeding before the first has stopped, there’s something wrong that should be fixed. You don’t get a medal for pushing through the pain. You deserve to feel better.
Safe co-sleeping is a sanity saver, and the sooner you can master the side-lying breastfeeding position the better.
Your feeding choices are yours to make and to own. You don’t owe anyone an explanation or apology for where you feed your baby, what you feed them, what you’re wearing when you feed them, or how long you feed them that way. There is literally nothing you can do that will shield you from judgment or criticism, so just do what works.
You can always change your mind. What works for you can change. You are allowed to evolve when you have more information. If your baby is fed, you’re not failing.
Your health is just as important as your baby’s. Take care of you.
You can read more of my practical tips, along with expert advice from my co-author in LACTIVATE! A User’s Guide To Breastfeeding. I’m really, really freaking proud of this book, y’all. I hope this breastfeeding advice finds it’s way to parents who need to know that every feeding journey will look totally different, and it’s crazy to hold yourself to rigid ideas and rules.
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