In Our Own Time

I still remember the first time I was asked when I was going to stop breastfeeding my first child. Nursling 1 was probably only 10 months old at the time, and I was still well and truly confidently feeding her around family and in public. I’m not sure exactly where we were, but as it was my Gran, who was unwell at the time who said something along the lines of: “You’re not still feeding her are you? When are you going to stop?”

Hold on a second! I thought, We haven’t reached the Australian guidelines of 12 months yet, let alone the WHO guidelines of 2 years and beyond. I chalked it up to generational difference, and the fact that my Gran never did mince words.

Then, when I was in hospital with Postpartum Psychosis with nursling 2 when she was only a few months old, again the question came up, but this time it was around psychiatric illness, their associated medicines and what the doctors were willing to give me whilst I was breastfeeding. “Will you stop breastfeeding, as the drug we want to give you is not advised during breastfeeding?” My husband and I fought to protect my girls access to breast milk, and ultimately we had a good outcome. We found a suitable medication and both my girls remained breastfed without any significant need for ongoing observation.

Fast forward to the last few months, and it being winter here, plus me having some challenges with recent medication changes, we’ve been frequenting doctors offices of late. Once again the question has come up: “Are you still breastfeeding? Just the little one or both of them? When do you intend to stop?” (Nursling 1 is 2 years 8 months and nursling 2 is almost 16 months, just in case you were wondering)

I used to think the answer was simple. Way back when I first started breastfeeding nursling 1, before I was pregnant again, or tandem feeding, and medication became a complicating factor. Quite simply, I was going to breastfeed for at least 2 years. Well, that target has come and gone for nursling 1, and I fully intend to do the same for nursling 2, if God be willing and my health cooperates! I have realised that despite all the complications that have come our way, the answer to when will I give up breastfeeding my girls remains simple: In our own time.

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A New Kind Of Tandem

We have reached a milestone! Nursling 2 has decided she is happy to, and now quite regularly does drink a bottle of warm cows milk. Just over a year ago the feed before afternoon nap consisted of a lot of wrangling to get 2 girls attached, fend nursling 1 off of the few months old nursling 2 and then the dilemma of transfers hen everyone was finished and sleepy. Now I make 2 bottles of warm cows milk, cuddle one with each arm as they wrangle their own bottles and kick each other’s legs. When both are finished I put nursling 1 in her adult sized bed, and then rock nursling 2 to sleep in our room. Then walk away…..tiptoe…hush…hope it lasts!

In Public?

It’s always been my goal to breastfeed for 2 years and beyond, just as the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends. Nursing 1 has been quite agreeable with this, and, now at a month past 2 years of age is showing no signs of losing interest. In fact, she seems to be showing renewed interest!

Feeding at home, in private, has always been comfortable and easy. But I must admit that the further past 12 months Nursling 1 got the less comfortable I have felt feeding her in public. It’s not that I think there is anything wrong with it. There isn’t! Feed your kids for as long as you and they want to! But I have feared other people’s judgement and having to deal with their reactions, especially on days when I’m already struggling with my mental health, or otherwise just having a challenging day parenting 2 insanely gorgeous, but also cheeky and active girls.

One morning a week I rush the girls out the door to attend a free parenting course with a creche (which, just quietly is very nice). Because I struggle to get up any time before 8:30 due to the anti-psychotics, this usually means Nursling 1 misses out on her morning breastfeed because we’re pressed for time. So after a missed morning feed and 2 hours in creche I was hardly surprised when upon picking her up, she wanted a feed even more than Nursling 2 did.

So, a little apprehensively I picked both of them up, sat down on one of the couches they had at the creche and settled in to feed them both together. I was pleasantly surprised when I didn’t even get one funny look, and the other parents even commented on how cute they were there together and how nice it was.

A shout out to the other parents, thanks for normalising toddler breastfeeding for me, and making me feel comfortable by doing so. You guys rock!

Breastfeeding through PP

Breastfeeding through Puerperal Psychosis was a very different experience to breastfeeding through Postnatal Depression. And to any mums out there who have had PP who are reading this, whatever your experiences and decisions were I respect them. I can only reflect on what mine were.

Unlike Nursling 1, Nursling 2 emerged hungry and fed very soon after birth, and has fed well ever since. For the first 6 weeks breastfeeding both girls was a great way of sharing my attention between the two, and began a bond between my 2 girls as well, as Nursling 1 would often be very affectionate towards Nursling 2 while they were sharing a feed together.

Then when Nursling 2 was about 7 weeks old PP hit. The emotional swings that came with PP very much impacted on my feeding. At times, breastfeeding became a magical experience and I felt like I had an amazing bond with my children, as if we were at one with each other. Then, although breastfeeding my girls had always been very important to me at times I was convinced my milk was harming them, and at other times I became very annoyed at having to feed the girls because I was forced to sit still and it kept me from doing very important other things (like cleaning the house and solving the worlds problems). Still, I had enough insight to remember how important breastfeeding really was to me and persisted.

Things became more complicated when I was admitted to Helen Mayo House. Firstly, because of how important sleep is to recovery from PP, it was decided that the nurses would care for and feed Nursling 2 overnight. I already had a pump and an abundant supply, so I would pump first thing in the morning about double what was actually needed and Nursling 2 had her breastmilk from a bottle overnight.

What really complicated things was medications. Some Psychiatric medicines are among the few things that are truly contraindicated (in lay mans terms a huge no-no) when breastfeeding. There are other psych drugs which are not recommended but breastfeeding can be possible under tightly controlled conditions. But the doctors were perinatal specialists, and kept me on medications that could be breastfed on for as long as possible, and alternatives were discussed, albeit they sounded more scary than stopping feeding, when it began to look like I might need the “not recommended ones”. We had in depth discussions with the doctors and pharmacist about a particular drug, lithium, and whether it would be possible to continue to breastfeed on it, but thankfully were spared having to make that decision when the antipsychotic I was on started doing the job.

Being separated from Nursling 1 was tough as well. Breastfeeding became an important point of connection between us when she visited, and helped in the transition to home as well.

As if psychosis wasn’t enough, PP is often followed by depression, and it can be pretty severe. For me, I experienced is much as a pendulum on an old clock swinging between mostly okay, perhaps even tending towards mania, and really down. Once again, breastfeeding became something I could always rely on to work, something that I was good at, and helped me to have a little self confidence, and importantly stay bonded with my girls during that time.

I’m still recovering, and I am so thankful that despite the challenges that we faced, that we managed to keep breastfeeding all the way through my experiences of mental illnesses.

Breastfeeding through PND

Breastfeeding is always one thing that has worked well for me. I should clarify that “worked” includes cringing through the early days (or with nursling 1 weeks) of totally normal nipple tenderness (tenderness is an understatement), enduring oversupply for weeks with nursling 2 and months with nursling 1 and, working our way through the “biting” phase, and more recently, battling nipple thrush (which is rather painful). Still for the most part, breastfeeding has been comfortable, easy and joyful. But mental illness throws a spanner in the works, and I cannot separate my breastfeeding journey from my mental health journey. I want to share with you breastfeeding through mental illness has been like for me.

I was always adamant that I would breastfeed my babies. The more we learn about human breast milk the more we discover that it is quite literally the perfect food for human babies. The WHO’s recommendation is to breastfeed for 2 years and beyond. I wasn’t sure that I’d quite make it that far, but I was going to try (and we’re almost there).

When nursling 1 was born I fell in love with her straight away. I know this doesn’t happen for everyone, and that is fine, but for us some combination of having a natural labour and birth with all the rushes of oxytocin and other hormones just as nature intended, and God’s blessing it did for us, for which I am very grateful. Breastfeeding didn’t happen for us straight away after birth, but it came together over the first few days and soon we were pros. For me, breastfeeding solidified the bond that had begun in the moments after birth, and it would become an important anchor through my PND journey.

I know that many mums who have mental health struggles also struggle with bonding and attachment. At times, during PND it was very hard to feel anything positive at all, even love for Nursling 1. But somehow, sometimes, breastfeeding seemed to have the power to break through that, particularly when she would then contentedly fall asleep on me, affection for her would rush back. I think it helped her form a secure attachment too.

At times not even breastfeeding could shift the dark cloud, and sometimes at those times I didn’t want to feed her at all. I didn’t want to touch her at all. I found a way to breastfeed her, side-lying so that only her mouth was touching me, nothing else.

Breastfeeding was an anchor to my baby. At times, when all I really wanted to do was run away, I told myself that she needed me to feed her, at least for the first 6 months, and after that point I told myself she wasn’t ready to give it up yet. And just knowing that in at least one way I was most definitely wanted and needed by her helped me to keep pushing on.

As the depression began to lift and I began to enjoy her more and more, breastfeeding still remained a way to keep us close, even when after falling pregnant and my supply dropped, it wasn’t providing much in the way of nutrition.

Then, when the depression came back later in pregnancy, it once again helped me feel affection for her again when I felt the worst. It also helped launch labour, and then softened the blow of having to share me with another little person once Nursling 2 came along.

 

Scritch Scratch

Nursling 2 likes to hold her food now, whether it comes on a spoon, in rusk form, or from the breast. At the same time, her rate of fingernail growth seems to have doubled. No matter how much I cut the things they remain sharp and scratchy!

As she breastfeeds her little fingers grab fistfuls of skin and scratch!

They make nipple shields to protect that part but I need something to protect the rest. I wonder if such a thing exists.

Almost Civilised

We haven’t done a together feed in a while. Nursling 2 is getting bigger and bigger and there is only so much room on my lap, and besides that, the girls have very rarely wanted to milk at the same time. But the other day they did. So we curled up together, the three of us, in the rocking chair for both girls to have milk at the same time, and I was surprised to find that the experience had become civilised. There was no kicking, no squirming, no poking or hair pulling. Nursling 1 looked lovingly at nursling 2, nursling 2 looked back at her and reached out her hand, and they held hands peacefully. Not needing to fend either child of off the other, I relaxed and enjoyed the moment.

Well, that is until nursling 2 finished. At which point, smiling happily she commenced poking, hair-pulling and kicking her sister, who admittedly took this pretty well and continued to feed undeterred.

Sigh.

I will revel in that small moment of peace and perfection.

The Best Thing on Offer

We have officially reached toddler hood with Nursling 1. While this is a wonderful age full of discovery it definitely comes with its own challenges, especially when it comes to food. Foods that were favourites yesterday, and literally disappeared off the plate before you can say ‘Amen’ are left to go cold and eventually end up in the bin the next day. Foods that have been asked for are then rejected when offered, only to be asked for and rejected again. Yoghurt has to be interspersed with precisely the right amount of Weet-Bix. One day the whole bowl full of food is downed and then some, and another day hardly any is eaten at all. Food is also often used as a toy and shoved into the crevices of any actual toys that it will fit in, leaving a trail of crumbs in its wake.

And yet, despite all the fussy, messy changes of mind there is one food that is never rejected.

Yes, you guessed it… breast milk!

Boob Biscuits

I decided to make a batch of lactation cookies, or boob biscuits (because I am Australian, not American).

Reasons normal people make lactation cookies:

  • Their milk supply is low
  • They want to increase their milk supply

Reasons that I made lactation cookies:

  • I felt like making eating biscuits and needed a good excuse to do so
  • Brewer’s yeast and flaxseed meal are expensive so I don’t want to waste them (and since I’m not normally into “health” or “super” foods I don’t use them otherwise)
  • Procrasti-baking and avoiding dishes while making more
  • Nursling 1 is having an extra long sleep so I have time up my sleeve

Any resulting boost in supply will be a welcome surprise for nursling 1, who certainly won’t mind the extra “gok”.

 

Love Bites

One year old girls are very distracting. They’re cute, noisy, sometimes annoying, constantly sucking up new knowledge like the proverbial sponge and ready to engage with pretty much anything around them, especially the things they’re not meant to play with.

I love playing with nursling 1. It’s so much fun teaching her new skills and joyful to watch her proudly use them, awesome to hear the new words that she has picked up (there seems to be more every day) and sometimes pretty amusing hearing her pronounce them with a few wrong letters or use them in not quite the right context but almost.

Isn’t it amazing and fascinating the way God designed little bodies and orchestrates their growth?

The upshot of this is that sometimes I’m quite busy and distracted playing with nursling 1 when it is time for nursling 2 to feed, maybe reading a book or building a tower. So after attaching her I get back to playing with nursling 1 and become distracted again. So distracted that I sometimes don’t notice for quite some time that she’s slipped off and reattached herself. Being only weeks old, she’s not quite as proficient at this as her sister. And when I finally notice I realise that she’s attached herself somewhere other than the nipple…

…and my boobs are slowly getting covered in hickies.

Thanks for that little one!