4 Moms Q&A on breastfeeding

4 Moms Breastfeeding Q&AThis week’s Q&A is a special topical edition focusing on breastfeeding.  I have nursed all 10 of my children so far, but not without a few bumps along the way.  I learned a lot from my mom’s experience – she nursed 14 children, though her twins required supplementing.  I’m hopeful that my own experience can help some of the other mothers out there.

1. Heather makes a good point that I want to start with: How about posting about not judging mothers who can’t breast feed because they survived breast cancer. I hate when other mothers assume I’m lazy.

The last thing I would assume about a mother who chooses to bottle feed is that she’s lazy.  I think it’s much harder than breastfeeding, and often wonder why so many mothers choose to feed their babies the hard way!  But you are not talking about a choice at all, are you?  If a mother is incapable of breastfeeding for physical/medical reasons, then of course she must bottle feed – or use other methods that are even more difficult.

The real issue here is when we jump to conclusions without information, especially when it’s not our business to begin with.  Is it sin to bottle feed a baby?  Is it sin to bottle feed even if your breasts are perfectly functional?  I don’t think so, and while I might look for a way to tactfully inquire about a friend’s decision to bottle feed, I would not jump to conclusions about the motive and character of anyone who popped a bottle in her baby’s mouth.

2. Michelle’s question makes a good follow-up to the last one: If, for some reason, you were unable to breast feed, what would you do? Formula, make your own, donor breast milk?

I have not yet faced this question, though I thought it might come to that with Bethany.  While I have not done any research at all, I probably would have turned to an inexpensive commercial formula first, then learned about alternatives based on how my baby reacted to the formula.

3. Lois suggests, I think you should share what is hardest for you about breastfeeding, and how you overcome whatever that issue is.

Generally speaking, I have become quite used to breastfeeding, so I don’t think of it as hard at all now.  In the earlier days, I did find it a little frustrating to have my wardrobe limited by near-constant breastfeeding.  Since I have always nursed into the first trimester of pregnancy, I am literally always breastfeeding, pregnant, or both.  I own very few dresses because they are nearly impossible for me to wear.  My wardrobe is skirts and tops.

A very different sort of issue is that of training little ones while nursing a baby.  Almost without fail, the toddler will wait just until a desperately hungry infant latches on and will choose that very instant to test boundaries, make demands, or otherwise act up.  There’s no way around this problem, so I try to face it head-on: requiring consistent, first-time obedience even (or especially) when it’s least convenient is the only way I have found to deal with this, and it does work.  If the 2yo knows that you will lay a hungry, wailing infant on the couch to answer his challenge, you are on your way to more peaceful nursing sessions.  Of course having older children around makes this scenario infinitely easier to deal with.  🙂

4. How did you manage the home while nursing a baby?  How did you manage nursing a baby while keeping an eye on other small children?

Like above, I simply resolved to do what was necessary.  Sometimes the baby had to wait a few minutes or tolerate in interrupted feeding.  I think it was good for the baby to learn to wait a minute or two rather than training her to instant gratification.  I also learned to hold a nursing baby in one arm while I wandered about the house with one free arm to put away dishes and toys, hold a book that I was reading to the others, wipe a dirty face, and start the VCR.  Yes, VCR.  These were the old days.

5. From Ashley, Not strictly bf related, but wondering about those post partum cramps that bfing seems to intensify. (I know they’re good bc uterus is shrinking faster, etc) have you found they are worse with subsequent pregnancies? Any tips on relief?

Ashley, I call those afterpains.  I had them worst after my fifth and longest labor, even though most of the labor itself was very mild.  Those nightmarish pains sent me into tremors that wracked my body every time I nursed, almost worse than labor itself.  My midwife at the time explained that a long labor can seriously deplete your calcium stores, and she recommended liquid calcium.  That magical elixir has become my post-partum drug of choice ever since: a tablespoon or two at the beginning of each nursing session for the first few days after delivery does so much more than ibuprofen or tylenol!  I never take painkillers after delivery now, because I simply don’t need them.  I know I don’t need it anymore when the cramping becomes so mild I forget to take the liquid calcium.

6. From Josalyn, How long it took to become pregnant while exclusively breastfeeding.

I have never become pregnant while exclusively breastfeeding, although I know a few people who do.  I think I’ve read that exclusive breastfeeding reliably prevents pregnancy for about 97% of women.  I have always found that my own fertility returns when two things happen consistently: the baby sleeps through the night without waking, and the baby is eating more than she nurses.  Of course this varies a lot from one person to the next, and having your cycles return does not necessarily mean your fertility has returned with them.

7. Jennifer wants to know, Were you able to nurse while pregnant? My milk dried up really quick. I was fine with weening before the birth of baby three, but not as soon as it happened! I was not emotionally prepared!!!

I always get pregnant while still nursing, although the baby has begun eating a fair amount of solid food by then.  I try to continue nursing as long as I can, because it takes the edge off the nausea for me.  It also makes me even more tired and I do find that I have less milk, so weaning happens naturally at some point during pregnancy.  I think the longest I nursed into a pregnancy was 4 or 5 months.  I wish I could say I had experienced tandem nursing, but I’ve never done it.  Now that the intervals between my pregnancies seem to be lengthening, it looks unlikely that I will ever add that particular notch to my maternal belt.  Joking,  I’m joking!  I don’t have a maternal belt to notch!

8. Angela wants to know, Do any of you find you have less milk as you get older/have more kids to keep up with, especially as you start solids?

I definitely find that my milk supply reflects my own health, diet, water intake, and current level of exhaustion.  Age is probably a factor, too, although it could just be that I’m more prone to exhaustion as I get older.

Starting solids is probably the single biggest factor, though.  As baby becomes aware that there is an alternative to Mom, demand can very easily drop off and supply drops off accordingly.  This can happen gradually without anyone noticing at first, and then one day I stare at the rest of the family and say, “When is the last time I nursed the baby?!”  Of course it depends largely on how long you wait to start solids.  I don’t bother at all with baby food, so solids are introduced directly from the table as the baby is ready for them.  This means that baby is old enough to depend heavily on those foods, and it’s very easy to wean informally and unintentionally at this point.

9. Janelle has a list of questions: If you’ve ever had supply issues…as someone else said, how long does it take for your fertility to return while exclusively breastfeeding? How about how you handle discipline with your other littles WHILE breastfeeding? How long do you typically breastfeed for?

Janelle, I think I have answered most of your great questions already except the first and last:

Aside from Angela’s inquiry about supply, I also had trouble one other time.  Bethany was, I think, slightly tongue tied.  She didn’t latch properly when she was newborn and didn’t get enough milk in the first 2 weeks.  This wasn’t strictly a supply issue since I probably had the milk available for her, but she wasn’t getting what she needed and my supply probably decreased in response.  The answer for us was nipple shields, which guided her into a proper latch while allowing me to heal from the extremely painful damage she had done already.

And you ask how long I typically breastfeed: All have nursed for at least 12 months, but I find that my babies are nursing for longer as I get older.  I think this is probably because I have more help now and am able to nurse more often, in a more leisurely fashion.  When it’s easier to find time to nurse, it’s also easier to keep it up for longer.  My last baby, Parker, nursed just over 20 months.

10. Diana has a list, too, but I’m going to eliminate the ones I already answered: How long do you exclusively BF/ what cues do you follow to start solids? Baby who slept 8 plus hours for months has suddenly started nursing two time through the night and hard to get down, any ideas? Is this common as he hits different milestones?  How do you handle BF at home, especially around your sons? Do you use a cover? Go in a different room? Or just explain that’s how Momma feeds the new baby?

As I mentioned above, I don’t bother with baby food so I exclusively breastfeed until baby is strongly interested and able to handle foods directly from the table, usually around 6-8 months.  They taste food before that, but don’t really eat much.  If they handle it well (swallow easily, no constipation, excessive spitting up, or other signs of discomfort) they gradually get more and more.  Usually by 12 months they are eating lots of solids but also still nursing heavily and regularly.

I shared tips a while back for getting babies to sleep through the night, and several of the ideas relate to nighttime feedings.  This Sleeping Babies Q&A also talks about how I handle an older baby who wakes during the night.

To answer your question about whether and when I use a cover to nurse: Away from home I nearly always use a baby blanket as a cover for nursing.  To be honest, the cover is mostly to a courtesy to avoid making other uncomfortable, if that makes sense.  I have enough experience nursing babies that I can nurse without a cover pretty modestly so it’s not as though my anyone is going to see my exposed breast.  I think many onlookers would assume that I was exposed and (hopefully) avert their eyes, so they wouldn’t realize that my shirt was a sufficient covering.  Rather than make them uncomfortable, I use a cover that is probably otherwise unnecessary.  You can also make the case that the cover draws unnecessary attention to the fact that breastfeeding is happening, and I wouldn’t argue with you.  I used to nurse in public without a cover, and had many people admire my babies without ever realizing they were nursing.  If you tuck your shirt around your baby’s cheek, it really does look as if they’re just comfortably snuggled onto mom’s chest for a nap.

At home, I nurse with or without a cover, taking care either way to keep my breasts covered.  The cover is mostly to keep the baby accustomed to the cover so he/she doesn’t fight the cover when we’re in public.  My sons know how moms feed their babies, so there is no mystery there.  🙂

11. Lauren asks, How to get a bf baby to take a bottle if you try introducing it past 3 months or so. None of my bf babies would drink from a bottle. We just went straight from breast to straw sippy cup, but there were some stressful days at around 6 months when my kids would refuse a bottle.

For my first 7 or 8 babies, I kept a bottle and an unopened can of formula just in case of emergency.  I have never once needed them, so I finally gave up the practice.  If an emergency like that does arise someday, somebody will just have to make a trip to the store.

I’m curious why you were stressed that your 6mo babies refused to take a bottle.  Why was it a problem to just use the sippy cup if you were gone or felt they needed more fluids?  None of my children have taken bottles as babies; they just sip from a cup if they need something other than the breast, and it has worked perfectly.  They have all run into bottles at one point or another as toddlers – usually when someone else’s baby hands them one – and they know exactly what to do with it.

12. Rebecca says, My husband is military and will be gone for the birth of our 4th child. our 3rd is 2 yrs old and VERY attached to me especially since his daddy left. Any suggestions on how to not make my 2 year old feel replaced or neglected while I’m nursing our new little one in a couple months?

I have found that those feelings often don’t originate with the toddler.  Instead, they can come from helpful friends, family, or even mom.  “Is he feeling replaced?  Oh, he’s acting up – he’s jealous, isn’t he?”  So my first suggestion would be, don’t worry about it and ask others not to comment in that direction.  Your 2yo will probably be just as excited about the new baby as you are.

Share the excitement with him, and let him interact with the new baby as much as he wants.  Don’t worry about germs.  Let him touch the baby, hold the baby, show the toys to the baby, help you change the baby’s diaper.  Let him kill 15 minutes trying to put a sock on the baby.  It will thrill him and keep him out of trouble.  It’s a great way to keep him near you and under your supervision so you don’t have to go find out what he flushed down the toilet while you were busy getting the baby dressed.

An added bonus: his learning curve will be significantly shortened.  The more you let him interact with the baby, the sooner he will learn what is appropriate and what is not.

I don’t want to suggest that toddlers never feel replaced or neglected, though.  A common cause of genuine feelings like these is overprotective adults who won’t let the older child near the baby for fear the baby will get hurt, scared, or germy.  Again, just including your toddler as much as possible is the easiest way to avoid this.

13. Leslie wonders, Why do my armpits tingle/itch when I let down some times?? Just me? Common?

I get the same thing, so I googled your question and learned that milk ducts extend into the area under your arms.

14. Lori asks, Any tips for that lovely time when baby starts sleeping for longer stretches at night, you wake up ENGORGED, and baby GORGES herself, only to spit up all over the place?

Deanna was a wonderful sleeper from a very young age and did that very thing All The Time.  Maybe you already know this, but I learned that one very helpful factor was feeding her in an upright position.  If I fed her while we lay in bed, I think she swallowed more air and the resultant turbo-burp was enough to bring up the entire meal with it.  Along similar lines, just stopping a little more frequently to burp the baby could help.  If baby is extra hungry because she slept extra long, and if you are extra full so the milk flows extra fast, she’s just going to need a few more breaks to get rid of extra pressure or something bad will happen – like projectile vomiting of fresh milk that requires a full sized bath towel and a new set of sheets for the bed.  Trust me on this.

15. From Elizabeth, How and when do you wean?

My weaning method has evolved naturally, and I’ve never found it difficult or traumatic for me or the baby.  I’ve shared my weaning procedure here.

16. Amy asked, I started weaning my 14 month old a few weeks ago and cut her bedtime feeding 4 nights ago. She’s been waking up the last two nights around 3:30 w/ a fever & out of habit & sleepiness I just nursed her. Realized today she’s cutting molars… Am I crazy for trying to wean her now? If not, do you have any suggestions for helping her at that early hour w/o nursing her?

Crazy is a strong word, but if it’s bad enough that she has a fever I would probably relax a little about weaning for right now.  If you can easily get her back to sleep without nursing, by all means do it.  A cup of milk, or water?  A quick snuggle?  A back rub to sooth her back to sleep? A dose (or a half-dose) of ibuprofen, if she’s really miserable?  But if she’s really uncomfortable, you and she might both be better off if you wait and try again a little later.  That doesn’t mean you need to go back to full-fledged breastfeeding if you don’t want to; just ease in and out of it enough to keep you both happy. I have found that simply breaking the routine works wonders: if you already phased out the bedtime feeding, a 90 second feeding in the middle of the night could be very relaxing to her and won’t be a big setback in the weaning process.

And of course, this is just what I would do.  I don’t know you or baby, so I can hardly tell you what would work best for you.  If you take free advice for what it’s worth, you can probably get your money’s worth out of it.

Q&A from the other Moms:

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  • July 19 – What did homeschooling look like when your oldest was 5?  How much time?  What subjects?
  • July 26 – What do you do when the children need to learn things you can’t teach (a foreign language, dissecting, trig, etc)?
  • August 2 – How do you handle bossy older sisters
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  1. Thank you for your comments about not judging formula feeders. Due to a combination of inept ‘experts’, my own inexperience and lack of support, and physical issues that may or may not be correctable, I had to formula feed my first and am prepared for the chance I will never be able to breastfeed if the physical issues turn out to be actually physical, and not emotionally fueled. There’s so much pressure and judgment around it these days. When I gave my medical history to the nurse for this pregnancy she asked if I bfed my first, when I said I tried and failed, she said ‘so, how many days did you try?’. DAYS?! She assumed I ‘tried’ for a couple of days and just gave up. I am so glad we’re past 12 months because the judgment I feel around other mums is so strong. I know many of the bfing mums, like you, aren’t judging me, but there is a few that are, and it begins to feel like everyone is watching after those first few vocally tell me how I am poisoning my baby or whatever other nonsense they feel like.

    On that note, for the people with questions about supplementing, my daughter didn’t tollerate cows milk formula well, but there is one brand that does goats milk based formula, and she thrived on that. I’d recomend it to anyone, though it is a little pricey.

    • I’m sorry about that nurse’s comments! And for breastfeeding moms who are making you feel inferior. You’re certainly not. You did what you could with what you had at the time, and sometimes it just doesn’t work.

      If you want to try it again, I’m sure you’ll surround yourself with supportive friends and family, consult with some IBCLC’s and go to LLL meetings perhaps to make those connections.

      And if it doesn’t work out, keep your chin up!

  2. I am thankful you posted this. I was curious about how *you* introduced solids to your babies, and was going to ask you, and now I don’t have to — you answered without me asking! My son is 7 months old and has been breastfed only up until now.

    One quick question, though, do you mash the table food and feed it to them, or just give it to them for them to taste/lick if they want to?

  3. I am curious if you have any tips on thrush?…With either our 3rd or 4th baby I had to take antibiotics and my baby and I battled thrush back and forth for a few months! I told myself never again! Well I am currently nursing our 8th baby and had to take antibiotics. And I already can tell we are gonna have a little bit of trouble with the thrush again! Do you have any suggestions? Thanks 8)

  4. It’s funny how differently everyone’s body works. I’ve been a mother for over 12 years, and in all that time, my fertility has *never* returned until six months *after* I stopped breastfeeding *completely*. Sleeping through the night and starting solids have never affected my supply. Since I am quickly running out of “baby years,” and it’s taking longer and longer to get pregnant each time, I find myself contemplating weaning earlier. I know God opens and closes the womb. I also know that He gave me this body that works this way, and that new life is a tremendous blessing and gift. I’m so conflicted! (Also, menopause comes early to the women in my family, so the idea of a swiftly ticking bio clock is not without cause.)

    • Me too! Little Grant is my first and we had lots of breastfeeding problems, but I was giving less than half an ounce a day when we finally gave up, and my cycles didn’t return until a 2 months later, and they still aren’t regular (not sure about fertility, either–I haven’t gotten pregnant). I think some people’s bodies are just super sensitive to hormones, and others less so. I know women who conceived while fully breastfeeding–no solids at all! The amazing diversity in our bodies is incredible to me. I know that certain ethnic groups carry their babies for longer or shorter, usually longer if the group is from a cold climate, and shorter in a more temperate one. I wonder if there is any correlation in hormonal response to breastfeeding? We should take a poll and see if there’s any relationship. 🙂

  5. Hey, Kim! The bottle situation was stressful mainly with my last baby. My grandmother was dying and in the ICU. I couldn’t take my son to the hospital, so every time I visited her, I had to leave him with someone else. I’d nurse him well beforehand, and never stay at the hospital for more than sn hour or so, but every caregiver complained that he would get fussy and hungry, but refuse a bottle.

    I don’t know if hunger was really the issue, but everyone seemed very irritated that they didn’t have the option of a bottle.

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