|Breastfeeding in very early pregnancy|
during the photo shoot for my babywearing book
I chose to breastfeed Mikko through Alrik's pregnancy because, ahead of time, I saw no good reason to quit, and plenty of good ones to continue. Mikko, then three, was showing no signs of wanting to stop, and so many of his nutritional and emotional needs were being met through nursing. Plus, I knew tandem breastfeeding would help smooth his transition from an only child to a big brother of a much-younger sibling, and I'd always hoped for child-led weaning.
But then I actually did it. For plenty of those who try, the experience is bearable and even enjoyable. For me, and for many others, nursing during pregnancy and the resulting breast tenderness was very painful – very. My milk dried up by the end of the first trimester, taking away that benefit for Mikko (and leading to some very sad nights for both of us). And as much as I enjoyed the extra snuggliness and sharing of tandem nursing, I was wholly unprepared for an unwelcome side effect: nursing aversion, and how. I couldn't stand nursing Mikko for a long time, and put up with it long enough to move through it and out the other side to a gentle, mama-directed weaning just after he turned five. (Yep, even then, Mikko wasn't ready, but I was at that point.)
So why make a totally opposite decision with Alrik and this pregnancy? For one thing, I can. It was always my choice to continue nursing Mikko (not coercion on his part, too much guilt on mine, or external pressure from the dear fellow hippies I consort with — they were sympathetic and supportive in whatever choice I made). One reason we waited two and a half years to get pregnant with our third, even though I ain't getting any younger, was to give Alrik his chance to continue nursing.
For another, Alrik is a totally different child. Each one is, right? Unlike Mikko, Alrik eats a much more varied and extensive diet. I was less concerned about lack of breast milk stunting him nutritionally (not that I have a choice one way or the other — once again, my milk was gone by about 10 weeks). Though Alrik has loved nummies wholeheartedly, it's not quite the same all-consuming passion Mikko had. He's more easily distracted, which has meant he's been less likely to want to nurse in public, when things around him are more interesting. It's especially come in handy at night. Sam took the initiative early in Alrik's toddlerhood to figure out how to get him to bed without nursing to sleep, which meant less of a transition for all of us. It might also help that Alrik is slightly younger than Mikko was — only by about six months, but the bulk of his weaning happened during an agreeable two-year-old phase. Mikko was also a much less predictable sleeper, whereas Alrik at a younger age started going to sleep pretty easily and staying asleep till morning.
And probably the most obvious reason I chose differently this time is I know now what to expect, and I know it pretty much sucks for me to nurse through pregnancy and tandem nurse. People suggested it might be different this time, so I gave it a shot — but it wasn't, at least so far. I'm even willing to try tandem nursing again if Alrik's interested at that point, but I doubt I'd stick with it long if the nursing aversion strikes again.
So here's where we are now, and how we got here. Alrik still asks occasionally, every few days or so, for nummies, usually in the morning as he wakes up. He'll have a seconds-long session at one side or the other, rarely at both, and then be done. He doesn't seem upset that nursing is no longer in his daily life and is pretty chill about the whole thing. I have noticed he's sucking on his fingers a lot more, a trait I noticed in Mikko during his slow-down and weaning as well. This could be just a developmental phase, but I wonder if it's a comfort substitute.
Speaking of comfort, Alrik is super snuggly and loves to sit on laps, get hugs and kisses, and be attached to Sam and me throughout the day. (I'm trying to write this post with him on my lap….) It's in a very sweet and welcome way for all of us, so it's clear he's getting his emotional needs met still.
Since I knew my milk was likely to dry up during pregnancy, but I didn't know exactly when I'd get pregnant (or if I'd miscarry again), I didn't want to wean prematurely but did want to do what I could to prepare Alrik for the change. I hated the thought of him going super-strong and then having to stop cold turkey, abruptly, but I also didn't see a big advantage to making him slow down and stop months before it was relevant.
It turned out to happen pretty organically that I was getting a little tired of nursing him after he turned two, so I was using techniques of distraction and limiting in any case. Is it bad to admit I was getting tired of nursing a toddler? Well, it's the truth. I knew what was in store for us, and I think it was a way of emotionally preparing myself for the weaning to come. I was still sad to think of stopping nursing him, but I knew we could both be ultimately comfortable with the new situation.
In the end, I didn't do as much pre-pregnancy weaning preparation as I'd intended — I didn't talk much about the idea of weaning with Alrik, sort of putting it off. As we tried to get pregnant, I in fact let him nurse more, since I knew it would be ending soon. I tried to drink in those last weeks of closeness.
When I did become pregnant, I had a strong suspicion before I even tested due to the pain on nursing, that all-familiar pain. I kept up nursing at wake-up, during the day a few times, and at bedtime for a few weeks, but I started suggesting alternatives more and more often, as well as cutting the duration shorter — first with the day sessions, and then, with Sam's help, with the bedtime nursing. The last to go, as mentioned, has been the wake-up nursing, which was a regular thing for quite awhile and has gradually lessened and spaced out.
I won't say it was always easy, and there were times Sam and I were nervous that we'd failed, that Alrik was traumatized, that this was all going to be a disaster … and then it was fine. There were moments when Alrik would cry for nummies, or cry that he hadn't gotten as much time or milk as he'd wanted, or cry that I was evidently upset by the pain, but we were able to comfort him through, and he quickly adapted. When all was said and done, both Sam and I said to each other, "Wow, that was a lot easier than we thought it would be." It's kind of like any phase of child rearing, where you build it up in your mind as something that will never get better (e.g., potty learning, separation anxiety, etc.) — and then it does, and you wonder why you were so anxious.
Do I feel bad that I chose a (relatively) early weaning for Alrik but let Mikko nurse till age five? Sometimes, I do feel a bit regretful about that. But I'm a big believer in not "playing fair" with siblings, because you have to meet each kid where he is — there's no point in sticking doggedly by some blanket decision that doesn't work for the other child or for you any longer. Plus, I know logically that nearly three years of nursing is a generous amount by pretty much any standards — since I don't fault other mamas for choosing to wean when they need to, why should I beat myself up?
So there it is — a different choice this time, and the (fortunately) good way it's worked out so far. We'll see how much longer the occasional nursing persists (it's still painful, but I'm willing to deal), and whether he's interested in tandeming for a bit, but for now, we're content where we are.
Did you breastfeed through pregnancy or tandem nurse? Did you have to wean before or during a pregnancy, or would you choose to?