Would you accept donated breast milk from another nursing mama? To take that a step further, would you allow your baby to literally nurse at another’s woman’s breast?
After having two very different EBF (Exclusive Breastfeeding) nursing experiences with my children, I’ve now been the mother on both the donating and receiving end of frozen breast milk stashes. Though I haven’t always felt this way, I’ve realized that if needed, I’d happily nurse another child or give my child to another mother in order to nurse, without hesitation or reservation or shame. I wasn’t necessarily against it before having children, but it seemed like such a weird abstract thing to do that milk sharing was never something I had seriously considered (and I think this applies to both nursing mamas and non-nursing mamas who want to provide breastmilk for their babies). Now that has all changed!
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of breastfeeding. I’ve written a lot about it, and it’s a topic I am passionate about normalizing because it’s not something most women can “fall into” without education and support. I know that it’s not physically or logistically possible for everyone to do, but it was important to me to be able to breastfeed my children, and I was lucky to be supported in that wish.
With both of my children, I was blessed to work at a job that supported me stepping away from my work multiple times a day in order to pump, and with Stella I was lucky to have had relatively few struggles when it came to latch & supply. In fact, my neighbor (a twin mama) was struggling with her supply when her daughters were around eight months old, and I was actually able to donate some of my freezer stash to her to help her get by without having to supplement with formula.
As I mentioned last fall, breastfeeding started out fine with Harvey as well. I had forgotten about the toe curling pain in the beginning when your nipples are sore and your infant wants to nurse non-stop, but as soon as that stage passed, we were in our groove and breastfeeding was honestly quite easy for us. I was pumping 1-2x/day to build up a nice freezer stash, he nursed every 2-3 hours, and I was excited to be doing this again. Then when Harvey was around 8-9 months old my body decided to basically quit responding to the pump. It was hard. I cried a lot. You guys offered me up some amazing suggestions and advice (seriously, check out the comment section if you’re struggling with your supply!), and I stuck it out for 1 more week of pumping at work until my co-worker (and good friend) left on maternity leave. At that point it was just impossible for me to take pump breaks, so the pump was retired. A month later I wrote this post about how we were trying to make it through the last couple of months, and a good blog friend reminded me that she had a stash of frozen milk she was willing to send me if I wanted it.
At that point I had already fed him milk donated by my cousin in Minnesota while we were there on vacation last summer (her daughter is just a few weeks younger than Harvey) and milk donated by that same blog friend in September (she had been in the area on vacation with her husband, and instead of flying with it she just left me the 25-30 oz she pumped over the weekend). For some reason it was still just hard to “give up” and accept that kind of help, but man… when 200 oz of breastmilk showed up on my doorstep from her a couple of weeks later, I cried. I cried and I cried. It was just such a relief!
With that generous gift from my blog friend, we were able to easily make it through to a year. When Harvey turned one in January, we started offering whole milk during the day and he would still usually nurse first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but that was it. Stella was always such a comfort nurser, but Harvey never has been. He is my snuggler for sure, but I think since he is a thumb sucker, he’s happy to be just snuggled in my arms with his right thumb in his mouth and left hand clutching his blankie – no boob needed.
Because of that, this has been an entirely different experience than I had with Stella. With her, I dreaded the end of our nursing relationship. I cried and refused to wean her for weeks, even though I was pregnant with Harvey and horribly sick and exhausted. When I finally weaned her cold turkey because my body just couldn’t do it anymore, I literally had to spend a couple of days apart from her to stick with the plan. She asked to nurse for a couple of days once she got home, but it was honestly startling to me how easily she moved on with life once we were done (she was about 17.5 months old).
When the time came that Harvey and I both seemed ready to close the door on our breastfeeding connection, I was a bit sad and nostalgic, but I was okay. I would miss that connection, but he was 14 months old and barely interested in nursing as it was, so I was just ready to be done.
On March 15th, 2011, I began the cycle that finally conceived Stella. For the next four years, I was pregnant or nursing every single day of my life. I’m proud of that fact, and slightly in awe that my messed up broken body cooperated and did a fantastic job of growing and nourishing my babies.
On March 14th, 2015, I nursed Harvey for the last time at 7am when he woke up that morning. I took this picture…and we were done.
I’m honestly surprised by my reaction to weaning this time around. Though I enjoyed nursing Harvey and loved those extra cuddles and quiet moments together, I’m at peace with how we reached the end together. Maybe it’s because he wasn’t much of a comfort nurser, and I’m happy that after all of my struggles to even get to 12 months of EBF with him, we were able to make it 14 months and 3 days before hanging up our hats. Maybe it’s because I’m not 100% sure we’re done having kids, and being able to conceive him without difficulty has given me hope that might happen again someday, so maybe I’ll get the chance to do this again. Maybe it’s just because I’m so darn busy with two kids that I haven’t had as much time to sit and think about it.
Whatever it is, I know that I’m sad to have that chapter of lives complete, but it’s pretty neat as well to have my body back to myself after four years of being attached to another human being day in and day out.
About a week after we were done, Harvey was really sick and crying inconsolably, and I actually offered him my breast. He declined after a quick latch, and I felt both rejected and relieved. I was telling my coworker about it the next day, and she commiserated with me before offering me some of her frozen breast milk if I wanted it to help him get better without yet another round of antibiotics.
It takes a village, y’all. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s pretty darn awesome.