My Milksharing Experience

This week is world milksharing week. Milk sharing is something that I never really thought of until I had a child. Honestly, it didn’t even cross my mind as a possibility or as something people did – which is weird since it really wasn’t that long ago that women sharing breast milk with one another and nursing each others babies would have been a normal part of society (think wet nurses).

I have to admit that even when I first realized that this was an option instead of formula I still felt a little strange about it. I mean I thought it was great and definitely supported women milk sharing, but when I thought about someone else nursing my child or giving my child someone else’s breast milk, well, then I felt a little strange about it. It felt a bit weird to me. I remember when my son was just a few months old talking with a friend about it and about how we would feel having someone else nurse our baby, or giving our baby someone else’s milk. I remember thinking that donor milk is probably the choice I would make if I ever needed to supplement for some reason, but I also remember thinking that I would probably feel a little uncomfortable about it.

But, when I actually had the opportunity to experience another women nursing my baby I felt none of the discomfort that I thought I would feel. In fact it felt like the most natural, normal thing in the world. You see when my daughter was born just three weeks ago she struggled with weight gain. When she was just three days old she had lost 12% of her birth weight and weighed only 5 pounds 2 ounces. Our midwife recommended supplementing with donor milk if my milk didn’t come in by that night. Well, it didn’t (in fact my milk didn’t come in until late in the day on day five). So, I called a friend and she came over right away with some frozen breast milk for us. While she was here she nursed baby Sage. Instead of feeling uncomfortable, I felt relieved and grateful, loved and cared for by a friend and fellow mommy. This simple act, that cost my friend very little, made me feel truly supported during the fragile first days that are the postpartum experience. I will always remember her generosity with gratitude and deep thankfulness.

I think the fact that I hadn’t really heard of milk sharing as a viable option for supplementation until about two years ago, and the fact that I at first felt an underlying sense of discomfort in the idea, even though I support it theoretically, just goes to show what a great job formula companies have done convincing us that their way is normal and best, instead of the more natural way that women have been dealing with things for centuries, through sisters and aunts and friends sharing the breast milk they had in a abundance with those who needed it.

That is why i think events like world milk sharing week are so important. We need women to speak out and help normalize milk sharing so that mothers recognize donor milk as an option for supplementation. So that no women thinks that formula is her ONLY choice. And we need women to talk about their own experience with milk sharing so

that we can begin to normalize societal feelings about milk sharing. I will never forget my own personal experience with donor milk and milk sharing and how significant and helpful it was for me and my daughter. I am so glad that I called that friend and didn’t let my discomfort in asking her to help me, or my uncertainty about how I would feel about it, get in the way. It was truly a beautiful gift that she gave my daughter and I am nothing but grateful.

Rejoicing in the journey –

Bethany Stedman

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Nursing Uncovered

I’ve been wanting to write this post for months now, but haven’t, partly because I knew it would take more time and thought energy then I really wanted to expend and partly because I was a little scared to write it. But, this week is world breastfeeding week, so it seems like the perfect time to just jump in and give voice to my experience and opinion.

I nurse uncovered. Sometimes I’m discreet, but honestly sometimes I’m not. Don’t get me wrong it’s not like I’m just walking around with “the girls” hanging out all the time, but I do choose not to use nursing covers and sometimes when an acrobatic nursing toddler comes off unexpectedly more of my breast gets exposed then I would prefer. But, over the past almost two years of nursing I’ve formed some personal and yet strong opinions about nursing uncovered. In this post I’d like to share some of those opinions.

Let me begin by saying that there are plenty of very legitimate reasons to nurse covered up. I definitely think it is a personal choice for each nursing mama and one that will be determined by each woman’s level of comfort and belief system. If being covered up helps you to feel comfortable feeding your child by all means cover up. I have no problem with women making the choice to cover up. That being said it’s not the choice that I have made for some very specific reasons.

Here are some of the reasons why I am not overly careful about covering up while nursing, even in public.

The first reason on my list has to be pure convenience. Let’s face it, pulling your shirt up or down or just unbuttoning a few buttons is WAY easier than wrestling with a nursing cover, or blanket. But this is never more true than when you are first starting to breastfeed.

When my first son was born I have to admit I was overwhelmed. The weight and responsibility of motherhood was kind of shocking to me. Amidst the waves of emotion and worry I began my journey of breastfeeding my son. Thankfully we didn’t have that much difficulty with breastfeeding and I had a lot of support around me at the beginning. But, there was one part of the breastfeeding relationship that was incredibly difficult for me and even lead to some conflict between me and the other breastfeeding (or previously breastfeeding women) I had in my support system. That area was covering up in public or at private residences were males, older women, or children, were present.

When I could actually see my breast and my sons mouth we got a great latch and our nursing relationship was quite enjoyable. But, when I had to struggle to adjust a nursing cover, hold up a blanket, line up the hole on a nursing top with my nipple, or pull up a double layered shirt to make sure that I was covered…well, let’s just say that our nursing relationship was not “enjoyable” it was frustrating. There was enough new things to be figuring out as a new mom, adding staying covered didn’t help, and often didn’t seem important enough to me to keep up amidst all the other new things I was trying to figure out. I’m sure that for some new moms covering up isn’t difficult and I’m sure that there are those who value covering up more than I did, but I’m also sure that there are others like me who found being a new mom challenging enough and didn’t want or need the added complication of figuring out how to nurse covered up while still nursing on cue and maintaining a good latch. I wish as a society we could at least allow moms of newborns more grace when it comes to exposure. Personally, I think it would help to improve some of the latch problems that so many new moms experience.

One of the strongest reasons I nurse uncovered though is that I believe in breastfeeding and I want to advocate for every woman’s right to nurse her baby whenever wherever and for every babies right to eat the best food possible wherever whenever. The more people see women nursing the more it becomes normalized in society, and the more it becomes normalized in a society the more women will choose to nurse their babies. I don’t what someone to think I’m just holding my baby when I’m nursing in public, I want them to know what I’m doing, because I want the beautiful, natural act of nursing to be a normal, accepted and welcomed act in society. As long as breastfeeding gets pushed behind closed doors and under covers it’s not going to become a normal accepted act in society.

But I don’t just nurse uncovered for the sake of the culture at large, I nurse uncovered for the sake of every future mom out there, every friend I have who doesn’t yet have children, every little girl who dreams of someday becoming a mommy. So many women today have problems breastfeeding, as Best for Babes puts it, they get stuck in the “booby traps”. I believe that one of those traps, one of the things that makes it difficult for women to nurse is that they don’t have a lot of first hand experience with nursing. I was lucky to have a sister who nursed three children before I had my first. I saw my sister nursing, and that was, for me, more helpful than all the books I read or advice I was told. But, my sister was the only women I had ever truly seen latch a baby onto the breast.

In our society we don’t grow up seeing women all around us nursing. But, breastfeeding isn’t something you learn through books, videos, and talking about it. It’s best learned through actual experience and in-person observation. When women see how their aunts, sisters, friends, and the stranger in the grocery store nurse their babies their brains assimilate that knowledge and it gives them a body knowledge that helps them when it comes time for them to nurse their own children. Here is a post that does a much better (and more scientific) job at explaining this idea. I think her comments at the end may be a little extreme, but I do strongly agree that there is value in both men and women seeing women nurse their babies in-person. Both sexes need to assimilate this knowledge for when they have their own children. Read the article for more on this thought.

These are my main reasons for choosing to nurse uncovered, but they are not all the reasons. I didn’t even mention things like babies overheating because of nursing covers in the summer time, or that eating is for us and for our infants a social activity, or the fact that I don’t know any nursling over the age of 12 months who would agree to staying covered (a nursing 1 year old can be very active). For more great reasons why nursing uncovered should be more accepted read this post over at Lactation Narration.

For now I choose to nurse uncovered, it’s what works for me and my nursling. And I encourage you to do what works for YOU and yours.

So, tell me, do you nurse covered or uncovered? Why or why not?

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

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Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean

Around my son’s first birthday I had an experience when I knew that I had crossed a threshold and I was going to continue nursing my son until he decided he wanted to self wean. I was sitting in church and looking around at the other babies in his age group – some older, some younger – and I realized that there was only one other baby in that group who was still nursing. There really wasn’t anything remarkable about the moment or the realization, but for some reason that was the moment that I knew I would be one of the select few who participated in what is commonly referred to as extended nursing.

For months before that moment I had been doing research and gathering information about weaning and when to wean and I had known pretty quickly that I didn’t want to wean my son by a year or anywhere near then, but it was at that moment in church when I really realized that I really believed in extended breastfeeding and I wanted to nurse my son until the day when he and I both felt ready to stop.

When I realized that I wanted to nurse my child into toddlerhood, I was prepared for the social and societal reproductions. I expected that I would face the constant question of “when are you going to wean?” I expected stares when I nursed I public, I expected disapproval from some who didn’t understand the physical and emotional benefits of it for both me and my child. I expected quickly reaching a point where I was nursing the oldest child in my circle of friends. What I hadn’t expected or prepared myself for was what actually happened.

Fast forward a few months to January of this year when I found out I was pregnant with our second child. I was honestly ecstatic. I felt ready to have another child and excited to grow our family. I knew right away that I wanted to keep nursing Thaddeus and tandem nurse my children together. I expected that this too would come with it’s own social stigmas and difficulties. I didn’t expect what actually happened.

Fast forward a few more months… Now my son is almost 19 months old and I am almost five months pregnant with our second child. This pregnancy, and life in general, have been hard over the past few months and it’s taken a toll on my body. I’ve struggled to put on weight and wrestled with severe allergies/sensitivities, regular headaches, hives, and frequent nausea. My chiropractor and acupuncturist have both recommended that I wean Thaddeus for the sake of my health and the health of this new baby. My midwife has stayed more neutral, and although she hasn’t seemed to think that weaning was essential right now, she has also said that weaning might be good for me if things get worse. These aren’t mainline medical professionals, these aren’t formula advocates, these are people who believe in breastfeeding and who encourage extended breastfeeding. These are people I wouldn’t have expected to encourage me to wean.

As I face these recommendations I am once again realizing that sometimes unexpected circumstances get in the way of our expectations for how we want to raise our children and the kind of parents we want to be. I am now faced with the question, “to wean or not to wean?” Do I stick to my guns, hold on to my beliefs about extended nursing and press on hoping that the cost to my health and the health of this unborn baby is minimal or none existent in the end? Or do I let go of my ideal and my guilt and wean, as people I trust have suggested? Is it possible that there is some sort of middle ground between the options?

I don’t want to be pig headed and ignore wise advice. I want to get healthy and do whatever I need to in order to insure a healthy and safe pregnancy for myself and this new baby. But, on the other hand my son has recently gone through a lot of change. In the past month and a half we have essentially been living somewhere different almost every week and he is in the middle of one of the most unstable, insecure seasons of his young life. It’s clearly taking a toll on him already. How do I wean him in the middle of all that? How do I wean him gently and respect his needs?

Honestly, the idea of weaning a 19 month old scares me to death and completely overwhelms me. And my son is not an easy going 19 month old – he’s a rather stubborn, undistractable, determined 19 month old with a mind of his own. A 19 month old that currently nurses more times than I can count in a day, and regularly more than 5 times a night for long periods. I don’t even know where I would start when it comes to weaning.

I’m sure there are others who have nursed into toddlerhood and then ended up weaning for medical reasons, or because of another pregnancy? How did you do it? Right now I just feel stuck and wish someone would help me see the best path through this season, the best way to balance my needs and the needs of my unborn child with my toddlers needs. If you have any advice I’d love to hear it. Thanks!

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

If you like this post please consider buying me a cup of tea (Suggested: $3 a cup)