My Journey~ Ann, Phoenix (5 years) & Forrest (20 months)
I always knew I was going to breastfeed, it actually never occurred to me that I wouldn't. Did I think I would still be nursing my recently turned 5 year old? The honest answer to that is nope!
I had always imagined a peaceful water birth with my first-born but instead it ended up being a very medicalised and traumatic birth. She was forcefully pulled out with forceps, I ended up having an epidural and then an episiotomy. When I finally got to hold her and breathe her in I remember how she immediately started rooting for my nipple and latched on without a problem, it was the most incredible feeling and I’ll never ever forget the little sounds she made while she had her first taste of my milk or I guess it was colostrum at that time. From that moment onwards breastfeeding became as normal to me as breathing was.
As a family we followed attachment parenting and respectful parenting philosophies. We co-slept which made nightfeeds especially in the early newborn days so much easier and helped us all sleep so much better. I was very lucky and never had to deal with mastitis, in the beginning there were periods of engorgement and I vaguely remember cracked and sore nipples but lysine was my friend and it never seemed to hinder us for too long.
For the first 10 months she wouldn't even let me put her down for a nap so she spent most of her time in the wrap or just snuggling up close. She nursed to sleep and never took to a bottle. I remember mentioning this to some other mums and they replied with such sorrow and were sorry I had to go through that but to me it wasn't a bad thing at all, I loved it, I loved the closeness I felt and knew these moments were fleeting. Most importantly we were both happy. She barely cried during her first year, nursing seemed to be the solution for most things. Everyone around me was supportive and I had no issues nursing her when we were out and about without a cover.
I remember when I was pregnant with my daughter and I was visiting my husband at work when a woman asked me if I was going to breastfeed? And before I could answer she added "you're not going to be one of those mums that breastfeeds until two are you?! She assumed I was going to laugh and reply with a no but instead I said how could I possibly know the answer to that?! I told her I planned to stop when my daughter decided it was time to stop. I find it so strange that women who don't have children can have such strong opinions about something they literally know nothing about.
As my daughter approached two, there was still no end in sight and we were both happy with the way things were. Nursing my daughter was still a beautiful experience and I cherished the stillness and loved the connection we had through it.
A couple of months before her third birthday, things started to change for me. Breastfeeding is a relationship and it's important that both feel good about it. I started to struggle with the night feeds, she was still nursing at least three times a night and I was losing too much sleep and it started to affect my mental health so I tried cutting out the night feeds. It wasn't the greatest experience because she wasn't ready for it but it needed to happen. She would wake in the night asking to nurse and I would just say not now, my boob's need to sleep but in the morning you can. Sometimes she would get very upset other times she was OK with it. It was around the same time that she decided to sleep in her own bed in her own room. Although it didn't last for long until she was back in the family bed. And the night feeds started back up again but this time I didn't mind it because they weren't affecting me negatively.
Just after she turned 3, I found out I was pregnant, she actually knew before I did! During one of our outings in the forest she laid her head on my tummy and said there's a baby in there. She was right. I struggled with awful sickness and extreme lethargy for the first 16-18 weeks. She was still nursing in the mornings and going to bed and sometimes during the day. We had started back up again nursing in the night but it didn't happen very often.
When I was around 15 weeks pregnant it became so painful to nurse her and I really struggled. There were times when I wouldn't let her nurse because I just couldn't do it, it just hurt so much and I needed a break and this made her so upset and angry and left me feeling awful. Each day was different, some days I felt I was able to and it wasn't so painful but on other days I just couldn't. It must have been so confusing for her.
It was around this time where she fell asleep without boob for the first time and I remember at the time being in shock because I don't think I thought that would ever happen! Instead we just snuggled until she was sound asleep. But also around this time I started experiencing nursing aversion. I had never heard this term until I started researching what I was feeling and trying to find a solution. I started taking magnesium which I had read could help. It's honestly the most awful thing if you've never experienced it before. It made me feel really guilty that I was having such negative thoughts about nursing when it was something I had always cherished and something that really brought us together. It was always our special time. The next few weeks were very up and down, the nursing aversions felt worse some days than other days and I even had days where I felt no aversion whatsoever.
When I was around 21 weeks pregnant she had stopped nursing during the day other than the odd occasion and she started going to bed without boob again and it started happening more and more. This was a very challenging period. Bedtimes were awful, it was like without boob she didn't know how to fall asleep but when I would offer her boob she didn't want any. It felt like we had officially weaned.
But it took a long time before our bedtimes got better. She would get angry and just struggled with going to sleep but refused boob. A few weeks later on a couple of different bedtimes she ended up having boob to sleep and then another few weeks went by before she had a couple more bedtime nursing sessions and even asked once to nurse in the morning. There was no consistent pattern. I was 27 weeks pregnant at this point. Kevin had started putting her to bed on his own which was such a huge thing, it was the first time in 3.5 years where I experienced some time on my own in the evenings.
By the time Forrest was born on Jan 21, 2019 she had pretty much weaned herself, she was 3 years 8 months. Nursing Forrest also came very naturally. It felt amazing to be having the experience of nursing a newborn again, it felt so gentle and soft and each time he'd nurse I would fill up with oxytocin and just loved the little bubble we were in. When Nixie saw me nursing him she wanted some too which was great actually because Forrest only wanted to feed on my right side leaving my left boob engorged so she was able to help me with that. In the beginning I was tandem nursing them both. She started to want to nurse more again and it really helped us through the transition and her not feeling left out and helped her feel secure and still connected with me. I knew how much her world had changed and understood how hard it must have been for her especially being used to having me all to herself.
After a few months she started to want boob less and less again. Days could go by before she would ask for some. Mostly she'd ask if she was feeling a bit poorly. Forrest on the other hand was nursing all the time but still only on the right side (in the beginning he favoured the right side but would still at times have the left side but when he reached around 4 months he completely refused the left side) and it made me extremely lopsided! I would have to pump my left side to keep it from getting engorged (I used a haakaa on my left side while he nursed on the right side), sometimes Nixie helped out. At first I was worried that maybe there was something wrong with it but Nixie didn't have any issues nursing so that relieved any concerns and I also spoke to my GP about it.
We all still bedshared but Nixie eventually started sleeping in her own room more and more. She realised she slept better when away from Forrest because he woke up a lot throughout the night to nurse.
Now at the point of writing this she's almost 5 ½ and for the past year and a half the times she has asked for boob is continually less and less. First it was several days or a couple of weeks that could go by but now several weeks can go by without her asking for boob. She never really asks anymore if we are out, she only seems to ask when she's going through something that she finds really hard or if she's in the midst of a meltdown or feeling poorly. It seems to be the one thing that can restore her peace and recentre her when needed. A good example was just this past Friday (Sept.25, 2020) when we sadly lost our cat Mariam. She was heart broken and wailed her heart out but in the midst of the deep sorrow she felt, she came to me in tears and asked if she could please have some boob.
I feel so happy I'm able to offer this to her but it hasn't been an easy journey. Ever since I was pregnant with Forrest and I first started to experience nursing aversions they haven't gone away completely. They come and go. I don't experience any aversions with Forrest only with her which makes me feel really awful at times but if they do arise when she wants to nurse I'm usually able to meditate through it or I just tell her she can nurse for a certain amount of seconds. Some people have asked why don't you just stop with her if its so hard? The reason is because I know how beneficial it is for her and how much it can restore her sense of calm, it is such a source of comfort especially in the uncertain times we are living in. Also it's one of the ways we connect with each other and I wouldn't want to just take that away from her.
I really never could have imagined that Nixie would still ask for boob even occasionally at the age of 5 but I have always known that I wanted her to be the one to choose when it ends. Nowadays when she has boob I always think that it might be the last time.
Forrest is only 20 months and I suspect we have at least a couple more years to go of breastfeeding but it's something I can't predict, it could even end sooner. All I know is that I want him to be the one to decide when he's ready to stop too.