Friday, August 3, 2012

Breastfeeding baby #2: Reflections at 1 year

Alrik is 14 months old, and I've been wanting to look back at this past year of breastfeeding my second child. The thing is, I keep thinking I have nothing much to tell you. It's all been delightfully, boringly normal.

I've now been breastfeeding for five years total, and tandem nursing for one year. As much as I realize this time of my life is fleeting, it is, for now, predictable and routine, just a usual part of mothering young kids. And that's not a bad thing.

Early days

With newborn Alrik, I had none of the drama of my rough start to breastfeeding with Mikko. Having a peaceful and uncomplicated birth at home and then being pretty much left to my own devices during a long babymoon worked out great. Alrik latched within minutes of his birth, it felt perfectly natural and (thankfully, after nursing through pregnancy) pain-free, and we've had smooth sailing since.

I say that with full consciousness that many second-time (or higher) mamas do not have an easy time breastfeeding, despite trouble-free nursing in the past, so I relate my story not out of pride or carelessness but with gratitude. Things have been easy for us, which I didn't earn, but I do so appreciate.

Here are a few things I've reflected on this past year when it's come to breastfeeding my second-born:

  • I had to get used to breastfeeding in public again.

    It had been so long since Mikko had nursed in public that I found myself sheepish at starting again — and then sheepish that I felt sheepish. People would come over to view Alrik, and I'd freeze at the thought of lifting my shirt or possibly flashing a nip — and then realize how silly that was, given all I believe about breastfeeding. And, note, this wasn't even breastfeeding in public, just around friends in my own home! Don't worry, I got over it quickly, but it was funny how I had to move beyond the culturally induced squeamishness again, rather than just skipping over it entirely.

  • But then nursing in public became even easier.

    After that initial discomfort, breastfeeding in public has been much less fraught with anxiety. Not that I was all that anxious with Mikko, but I was more circumspect about how much side and top boob people saw, and I did wonder who might ask me to stop breastfeeding where. It's never actually happened, which I guess has led to some complacency on my part, because I really just don't give a crap anymore. I typically pull down from the top, because that's easiest for me, and I nurse wherever Alrik needs it. I don't think about the fact that he's over a year now; having breastfed a five-year-old, a one-year-old is most definitely still very little! I'm feeding my baby; I'm doing it in the way that's comfortable for us; we don't have a problem with this, so neither should anyone else. A big part of the increased confidence for me is actually hanging out with more natural parenting folks in real life and getting to see how matter-of-fact they all are about breastfeeding and babywearing and EC and the like. (I will give a shout-out to Shannon, Jennifer, Kristin, Amy, and Moorea as some of my local and appreciated role models when it's come to that sort of thing.) I highly recommend finding a tribe, y'all.

  • I find setting boundaries easier.

    It's interesting, because True Confessions of a Real Mommy and Momma Jorje just wrote on this subject, and I've been thinking about it, too. It's not as if I've been doing something other than nursing on cue with Alrik, but I've definitely been more aware about my own place in this nursing dyad, and I've continued to place limits on Mikko's nursing. As a mini-update there, he's still not weaned, but he's definitely moving more precipitously toward it, mostly of my choosing, and I've felt all right about that. My boundaries for him have obviously been much more stringent. But with Alrik, too, I haven't felt (much) guilt, especially as he's gotten to the year mark and now beyond, at not responding immediately to every request to nurse but weighing which ones require it. I don't know how to express that without making it seem like I'm withholding nursing; I mostly mean I'm more confident about waiting a beat to figure out what's prompting the signal (which is tapping my chest, by the by, as his modification of my already modified ASL sign for breastfeeding) — is it boredom, habit, or does the tapping turn to rapping? Hee hee; when my collarbone's bruised, I know it's for reals. I've also felt it's appropriate to console him in other ways as I move to a comfortable place to nurse him, such as happened yesterday when I was in a line at the cash register with both hands full; I know he can wait, despite the fussiness, and he'll still feel loved and connected and my milk supply won't suffer.

  • Sam has taken on more parenting tasks.

    This goes along with the previous point but is worth highlighting on its own. As a huge difference between Mikko and Alrik, Sam early on took it on himself to learn how to soothe Alrik to sleep — without lactating! I was uneasy the first few times, because wasn't that my job? But now I'm just appreciative. Someone besides the one with the boobs can get both boys to sleep now! We can trade off who's in charge of bedtimes, sometimes with one or the other of us taking on both boys, and sometimes trading off one kiddo or the other. I'm still the on-call boob bar for in-the-night feeding, but I (usually) don't mind. I should get Sam's take on this, but I know for my part it's made me reaffirm how much of a co-parent he is. Attachment parenting can sometimes overemphasize the mother's role, in a way I think can be unfair to non-lactating partners or allomothers. I love seeing that our children have deep connections to both of us, that they have needs that both of us help meet. (It's funny, because even writing this, I fear a backlash due to the AP, mother-centric fundamentalist dogma running in my own head. But I feel more balanced this way, so that's how it is.)

  • Breastfeeding is awesome.

    Ok, all the elements above have been points of distinction between Mikko and Alrik; now I just want to emphasize the similarity: I freaking love breastfeeding. It's so simple, so nurturing, so astonishingly beloved by my babies and, therefore, by me. To have something to offer when Alrik's upset? Better than a sparkly bandage. To feed him and not have to worry about calorie counts and nutrient tallies and portion sizes? No worries there. I always have a portable snack at the perfect temperature and in a pleasingly attractive container. (Heh heh.) I can usually get Alrik right back to sleep at night with just a touch of the juice. And there's something so meaningful, so perfect, about looking down into his face as he snuggles into my lap.

Proof that nummies are a favorite.

  • Breastfeeding is normal.

    I've touched on this, but I'll say it again: Breastfeeding is just what I do with a baby. I think that's a good thing, that it's so unremarkable. Even Alrik's new toddler acrobatics seem so familiar to me: Breastfeeding in a triangle position? Yup. Breastfeeding standing up? Uh-huh. It's all just … normal. Which is good. In fact, it's how I hope it can be for all of us. For those of us who breastfeed and those of us who do not (or not yet), I wish that breastfeeding will become regular like this: just a part of parenting, just a completely routine act of feeding a young child. As special, and as ordinary, as any other loving parenting motion. Breastfeeding my second child gives me hope that we can move toward that goal, that the more we each become accustomed to breastfeeding and seeing breastfeeding among ourselves, the more we can spread that simplicity and matter-of-factness to others.

For me, for now, I need to wrap up and get to bed. Because my younger nursling will be waking up soon and I know my cue when I hear it!

What are your hopes for breastfeeding, either for yourself or — let's talk big — the whole world? If you've nursed more than one baby, what have the subsequent experiences been like for you?

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Photo Credits: Hobo Mama & Shannon / Pineapples & Artichokes

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Brandi said...

Your Alrik and my son are about the same age, and I love reading your blog. I still haven't found my "tribe," and I just want you to know that I appreciate the sharing and pictures and details of your experiences as a mama. It makes me feel less isolated, and I love your little family. I love breastfeeding, too! I have to pull my shirt up from the bottom, so even though I'm comfortable with everyone in the world seeing my breasts, I still get shy about my belly showing. Hey everybody! Here's my fat, right here! Still, it's a fleeting embarrassment.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Brandi: Glad you're here! Having an online tribe is a huge first step, and how I met the local ladies I now know. I'll hope things will move that way for you, too.

I totally get the belly embarrassment! And my back fat, heh heh. I always wear two shirts: a light cami underneath and then whatever on top. That way, my sides and belly are covered if I pull the top shirt up. So there's an option for you if you like.

Momma Jorje said...

I think we've written and read a lot about the balance of parenting. I think AP should definitely include coparents.

That milk drunk photo is awesome!!

As for my hopes, I hope to see more women NIP and that I'll be brave enough to thank them. I hope to continue reaching out to women in a supportive role as I know I'm running my last BFing leg. And I hope that my last BFing relationship is as long as Spencer chooses it to be... preferably 3+ years!

lisa c. baker said...

Love love love this post. My daughter is 4.5 and my son is 7 months, and I'm tandem nursing, so I'm pretty much exactly where you were about half a year ago. :) I love when you write about your breastfeeding journey, because so much of what you say is true for me, too. I love breastfeeding and it feels so normal...and it also feels like I've been doing it FOREVER -- and like it will never stop!

Would love to hear more about how you're working on weaning Mikko, because I am so ready for my daughter to quit! Also about how Sam got Alrik to sleep without it! -- my husband *can* get the baby to sleep, but I think he's kind of scared to because our daughter was such a terrible sleeper and she was such a nut when sleep deprived (i.e., all the time, ha).

Inder-ific said...

Awww! Alrik!

I'm feeling a little sorry for myself right now because I'm trying to soldier through a bad case of thrush with my little teeny one. I know it will get better and be just a memory soon, but OOOOOOW. Waaaaah. But even though my second baby hasn't been a total piece of cake nursing-wise (she was tongue tied, didn't gain weight that well at first, and now this, blah) I am so much more confident this time around. I know when something is "off." And I know it will get better. So it has been a breeze in comparison to the first time.

In the meantime, just don't touch my breasts, 'kay? Thanks! :/

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