Two Daughters, Two Very Different Breastfeeding Journeys

Breastfeeding came easily with my first born. She latched within 15 minutes of being born, and had no latch issues. I had some initial discomfort/rawness as a first time breastfeeder, but nothing an occasional nipple shield couldn’t fix.

I went back to work 6 weeks after she was born, but was lucky to work from home. Plus, it was the fall 2020 so there was nowhere else to be. I was able to keep up regular breastfeeding throughout the day, with the occasional pumping sessions. The only small source of stress for me was that I had no freezer stash whatsoever. My body produced only what she needed, and as she grew and my work schedule got busier, my supply seemed to lag or just barely keep up with her needs. I remember wondering how I would ever make it to my goal of 1 year of breastfeeding.

Taking the pressure off myself

At 4 months we introduced a European formula, just a few ounces to take the stress off of me and ensure she had what she needed. That little bit of formula was so freeing. Combo feeding is much more common than I realized–it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. 

Given my earlier concerns about how I would make it a full year, it still surprises me to say that I ended up breastfeeding my first born until the day my second daughter was born. I breastfed her through two pregnancies–including one that ended at 11 weeks in a loss. I considered weaning her when I got pregnant just before her first birthday, but after experiencing my loss I was glad I didn’t and that I still had that bond with her. 

However, it’s worth noting that breastfeeding a toddler is very different than breastfeeding a newborn. I didn’t realize that as a new mom wondering how in the world I would make it past a year (the AAP now recommends 2 years). The demand on your body is less (as you aren’t nursing around the clock), and your output will likely be diminished. But, it can also sometimes feel like wrestling an alligator–far from the relative peace of nursing a sleepy newborn.

Breastfeeding while pregnant

Breastfeeding while pregnant presents its own challenges. It’s common to feel nipple pain and to experience a decline in supply. I experienced both, but kept going as my daughter showed no signs of wanting to stop. Then around her second birthday when she started school, she started getting sick with constant toddler viruses, and I wanted her to benefit from the immune support of breastfeeding, so I just kept going.

When my second daughter was born, my eldest was 2 years and 2.5 months old. I briefly considered tandem feeding, but felt that my eldest and I were both ready for our breastfeeding chapter to come to an end. 

My second breastfeeding experience 

My second breastfeeding experience started out like my first. I had even less discomfort than with my first, and there were no apparent latching issues. My midwife even commented on how great my daughter’s tongue movement was–we thought there was no way she had a tongue or lip tie. 

Because I nursed until the day my daughter was born, my milk supply didn’t have to “come in”--it just vastly increased in volume. My letdown was really forceful, sometimes overwhelming my baby. Despite her having a good latch, she seemed to choke on the letdown, and she would frequently pull off. I tried breastfeeding on my side and in a reclined position to slow the flow of milk for her. I tried pumping before latching to ease the letdown, but that just contributed to an oversupply.

Breast to bottle

2 weeks in, we tried giving her a bottle and found that she was swallowing much better than at the breast. I kept up a mix of bottle and breastfeeding until around 8-10 weeks, when she started to refuse breastfeeding. She would cry and pull away anytime I tried.

We worked with a lactation consultant, and we had her evaluated for a tongue and lip tie by a pediatric specialist. Both confirmed there were no apparent issues. I took her to weekly craniosacral appointments to see if this would help her release tension and develop her swallowing reflex. I tried coaxing her back to nursing in the bath and other low stress environments. 

Every journey is different

Eventually, I came to accept that this was just our journey. Every pregnancy is different, because the baby you are carrying is different from your last. The same is true with feeding journeys. 

We’re now 10 months into our breastfeeding journey, and I’ve been exclusively pumping for most of it. It still surprises me that I could barely get one daughter to stop breastfeeding, and I can’t get the other one to start back up. But, that’s all a part of parenting. 

My lessons learned

In my 3 years of motherhood (and breastfeeding), I’ve learned that there is so much on the journey to parenting that we can’t control. I try to focus on what I can. For me, that’s nourishing my body to ensure the breastmilk that I pump is as nutritious as possible, keeping up my supply with the right electrolytes, macronutrients, and stress reduction, and finding other ways to connect with my baby outside of a physical breastfeeding relationship. 

Feeding a baby isn’t easy no matter how you do it. I’m in awe of all of the parents that are constantly washing bottles or pump parts, and the parents that go to great lengths to keep the breastfeeding relationship intact. It’s all hard, and it’s all beautiful.

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