I am a working mom of two awesome kiddos – Gus (4) and Teddy (5 months). My husband and I chose to exclusively breastfeed. That sounds weird to say. The truth is more like, I wanted to breastfeed and my husband was very supportive.
We call it nursing around here, so that’s what I’ll call it. I wanted to nurse Gus long-term, at least 2 years.
I know there can be a lot of controversy about nursing, and I don’t want to participate in that here. Parents make the best choices they can for their families and there are good reasons to breastfeed and not to breastfeed or to partially breastfeed. We didn’t know what kind of parents we would be and we became the type of parents we are only a little bit by explicit intent, mostly by just falling into patterns according to which we get the most sleep and don’t want to kill the children or each other. Which sometimes actually seems like a really high bar!
I ended up nursing Gus until he was almost 3 1/2 years old. The date was September 26, 2013! Yes, I remember the day, it was a big day for both Gus and me. I was about 6 weeks pregnant with Teddy. He had started Montessori a couple of weeks before and caught Hand Foot Mouth (ugh). He’d had so many sores in his mouth and throat that he could not nurse for about 4 days. I had pretty terrible morning sickness and had made a one day round trip to New York City on the train to be filmed presenting a CLE on real estate law. He was feeling better by that Thursday but my milk was all gone. “There’s no more milk in there, mama. Can you pump some more milk back in there?” My milk was gone. He cried. I cried. My husband comforted us both. Recently I heard Gus tell someone that was the day he grew up. I wanted to cry again! But, like my husband says, he had a good run.
Months later, while in my third trimester, Gus put both hands on my big belly and told his baby sister that he had two dogs and he would share them with her and also that mom would have “hot milk” (what he called breast milk, as opposed to the cold milk from the fridge) for her and that hot milk was “sooooo yummy.” It made me smile, but I also caught on that he was offering her a quid pro quo – he’d share his dogs if she shared the hot milk. We had the pediatrician explain to him that baby sister would need all the hot milk. He has adjusted himself just fine. A couple of times, while I’m nursing Teddy, he’ll sit at my feet, lift up his shirt and nurse a dinosaur. His face looks really bored and serious as if he’s annoyed that his kid dinosaur is forcing him to stop playing to nurse him. He knows that dinosaurs don’t have “hot milk” but he asks me to pretend with him. All I can do is laugh.
I don’t know how long I will nurse Teddy. With Gus, nursing was the answer to everything before he was 2. He nursed when he was hungry. Nursing got him to sleep. Nursing helped him feel better when he was sick. When he came in from the cold, he warmed himself up with nursing. I will never forget that little guy, he was almost 2, knocking on my home office door in his little puffy jacket after coming in from playing outside in the Winter of 2011 and asking to nurse to warm himself up, taking a few sips then marching away to play with the au pair. He liked to nurse right when he woke up. He liked to nurse when he was bored. When he was upset as a toddler, he would also want to nurse and it always calmed him right down.
A lot like me and gelato when I lived in Italy in 1999. Getting gelato book-ended pretty much every activity I did. Gelato before the movies. Gelato after dinner. Gelato before school. Gelato after the museum. Gelato when I was hating life. Gelato when I was missing the States. Indeed, after Gus stopped nursing, he would eat a Gerber’s Organic Banana Mango fruit puree every night before going to sleep. We let him.
Teddy just nurses when she’s hungry. That girl chugs the milk, though, she’s got no time to waste. They are like night and day in that way and almost every other.
I was thinking back lately to how nervous I was to go back to work after I had Gus and how I was pretty sure I would not be able to nurse him long term because I wasn’t staying at home. Other working moms were so helpful. I ended up pumping at work until Gus turned 3 and we started IVF for Teddy. Yes, I pumped at work for over 2 1/2 years! I was able to pump in my office and could close the door and lock it. I used my friend Gaby’s Medela Pump in Style for one year, then she needed it back and I bought my own that I used for almost 2 years. One of my colleagues gave me some great advice on “cutting corners.” Once I assembled the pump for the first session, I would not take it apart or wash it until I went home at night. I also did not refrigerate the milk but kept it with an ice pack in my desk drawers. This same colleague assured me her breast milk had never gone bad. She told me human breast milk was nearly indestructible. I will always remember that line!
For the first long while I pumped at least 3 times per day. Once he got older, like 2, I cut down to twice a day because he didn’t need as much milk. I made just enough milk for Gus for the first 2 years and I had some anxiety about that. The good thing about subsequent kids, I’m told, is more milk and that’s been true! I’ve also taken Fenugreek seed this time once I went back to work; something I could have done before but didn’t think of it. Looking back, more contact with a lactation consultant would have been so helpful in cutting the anxiety. At one point I toyed with the idea of cutting out pumping during the day since I co-slept and nursed him throughout the night (until the end of his nursing days). Another colleague told me she had done that and her milk had gone away. So, I didn’t try it.
What’s different this time around, so far, is I have more milk and am less anxious about it. I also can do all sorts of things now while pumping, I have full use of my mouse, I can read and scroll, make personal phone calls. I just can’t type! And, I do draw the line at making work phone calls because you can hear the pump! Also, if I pump only twice one day a week, I know this will not affect my milk supply, so am able to be more flexible with myself.
Has it been hard? Nursing my son at night between 18 months and when he stopped was hard because I became his human pacifier. He rejected his pacifier completely by 18 months and at night he could not sleep without some kind of pacifier. We could have handled it differently as parents at the time, but we didn’t. We ask for a lot more help and guidance now than we did when we were new parents. Our wonderful pediatrician told me this time around, “when the pacifier falls out at night, don’t put it back in.” Soft and simple. She knows I didn’t sleep for years! Now, I’m used to co-sleeping with a baby and with long-term night nursing. I am more balanced in attending to both baby’s needs and my needs. I am sleeping more now with the new baby than I’ve slept in a couple of years!
I’ve really loved nursing my babies.
This post was inspired by Blogging 101’s October 1 assignment Try a New Posting Style.
Did you do extended breast feeding? Do you like co-sleeping and night nursing? Do you pump at work? Please, share your experience and start a conversation.
The featured image is “The Boating Party” by Mary Cassatt. All work by Cassatt (1844-1926) is in the public domain.