I've breastfed my children since I became a mama more than five years ago. Honestly, I can hardly believe I've been nursing one or both children for five years straight, but my firstborn daughter continued to nurse through my pregnancy with her little brother, and now he's two years old and still breastfeeding a few times per day. How much I've learned about breastfeeding in these five years! Here's what I think you should know too:
1. The beginning of breastfeeding is nothing like the later months (or years). The intense early days and months of nursing a newborn are a unique challenge, and breastfeeding absolutely gets easier with time. Those long and frequent nursing sessions lead to quick nursing pit stops as your infant grows into a toddler. As a whole, the experience of nursing is joyfully different at each age and stage.
2. Formula use is a path leading away from breastfeeding. For mamas who can't breastfeed or get access to breastmilk, formula is a blessing. But many mamas are told inaccurately that their baby needs formula to gain weight. Breastfeeding doesn't have to be an all or nothing choice, but most often, formula use is the beginning of the end of the nursing relationship. For more about this, read What should I know about infant formula? at KellyMom.com.
3. Weaning happens. It doesn't have to be forced. People have asked me worriedly, "What if (s)he doesn't wean?" "What if he nurses 'til he's in college?" This question mostly stems from a lack of experience with extended nursing. We don't worry that children won't potty train or learn to dress themselves because we are aware that all children eventually arrive at these stages, whereas natural weaning is a less familiar and less visible milestone. Many factors influence a child's readiness, and while we can influence or force certain stages of independence, the child's initiative counts for a lot.
I thought it would be great if my daughter nursed until she was two. When she was still nursing somewhat frequently at four, I wondered if she'd really wean on her own. But she stopped nursing to sleep at four-and-a-half, falling asleep on her own while I nursed her brother to sleep. In the months afterward she stopped asking to nurse so frequently, eventually stopping altogether. Change and maturity is inevitable in children, but it's most peaceful when it happens at the child's pace.
4. Nursing through pregnancy is perfectly safe, though not easy. There is no evidence that breastfeeding a child while pregnant has any negative effects on mama or on the developing baby, though it can be uncomfortable. After a few months, I found that my milk supply dropped and I had to cut nursing sessions short to ease soreness, but my daughter didn't mind the increased saltiness of the milk. La Leche League can provide the information you need to feel confident about nursing while pregnant.
5. Nursing two children is possible and manageable. This is called tandem nursing, and while I'd never say it's absolutely ideal, it has it's benefits--like when I was able to nurse my infant and toddler to sleep for simultaneous naps! Adventures in Tandem Nursing is a humorous and informative book if you're headed towards this situation. (That's an Amazon Affliate link.)
6. Breastfeeding is such a blessing to mother and child. It has has enabled me to heal my children's pinkeye infections, sooth children through painful medical procedures, and travel fairly easily with small children. It has helped my children connect with me in a loving way while developing their confidence and their independence. Breastfeeding has also helped me significantly lower my risk of breast and ovarian cancer. I'd never urge my children to breastfeed beyond their own initiative, but I'm grateful to have had extended nursing relationships with each of them because of the health and emotional benefits for us all.
How do you feel about the nursing journey you experienced with your child? Were you able to get the breastfeeding support you needed from caregivers, family, or friends?