Preparing For Breastfeeding

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This post will not contain antiquated ideas of toughening up your nipples, nor advertisements for breastfeeding gear or strange apparatuses to purchase.  That’s not really helpful in preparing to breastfeed.

No, this post is a look back on my breastfeeding experiences and sharing little tidbits that made it not only possible, but enjoyable.

As of today I have been breastfeeding for 11 years, 11 months and 11 days.  Straight.  My daughter is almost 12 and that is the beginning of my breastfeeding journey.  But, since then I have had six other children and am expecting another in July.  I have nursed through seven pregnancies and tandem nursed, allowing my children to lead the way in weaning.

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11 years.  11 months.  11 days.

There have been great days.  There have been really tough days.  There are definitely days I felt like quitting.  Some children have been “easy” nursers.  Some have been finicky.  Some caught on right away and some took their sweet time and had quite the learning curve.  But, we have persevered.  I’m not afraid to say that I am proud of the fact that we have been breastfeeding this long.

I absolutely always knew I would breastfeed. There was never another consideration.  But, truth be told, I did have a very Western understanding of breastfeeding.  You know, you breastfeed exclusively until 4-6 months when you introduce solids–and by solids I mean that paste-like substance they call baby rice cereal.  (gag!)  And somewhere around a year you wean your baby intentionally by little-by-little or all at once saying no to nursing.  I don’t know where I got these ideas, except that I just absorbed them from living in America and from very “helpful” books like “What To Expect….”  (which I most whole-heartedly do not recommend).

Then I had Meg.  And we had a great nursing relationship.  I tried introducing solids at about 6 months, but she wasn’t so into them.  I tried “weaning” her, but just didn’t have the resolve.  BUT, I was already pregnant with Israel.  I just assumed that I would have to wean her before the new baby arrived.  Everyone I talked to assumed the same thing.  Time ticked by.  Closer and closer to the birth of our second baby.  Then a nutritionist at WIC of all places said, “Why do you have to wean her?  Nurse them both.  At least you won’t get engorged after birth because she can take whatever the new baby won’t.”

Well, that sealed it.

I tandem nursed.  One day when Meg was about 1 1/2 years old, I offered to nurse her and she said, “No thanks.  I’ll have an apple.”  So, I just had Israel.  But, Luc was born right before Meg was 2 1/2 and so I tandem nursed Israel and Luc. Until Israel was done and I just had Lucas.  And the story goes on.

When I moved to Mongolia a friend who had recently had a baby was not producing enough milk.  So, they asked me to nurse the baby.  I was uncomfortable with nursing someone else’s baby.  It didn’t fit in my Western Nursing Paradigm.  But I was willing to express.  So, every day I expressed a bottle or two for their baby.  They came over one night and all the friends were just sitting around the living room when the father of this baby warmed up the breastmilk.  Then put the nipple in his mouth and tested it.  Another friend said, “Man, you know that’s Daja’s breastmilk, right?”  He said, “Yes, but I wanted to test the temperature.”  The friend replied, “Why don’t you use your wrist like everyone else?”  The father said, “I trust my mouth.”  The friend said, “I hate to see how you test her bath water.”

Shortly after that I had some expressed milk in the fridge that they weren’t able to pick up.  I didn’t want it to go bad, so was considering what to do.  My mother-in-law said, “Can I have it?”  Ummmmmmmmm……..  Apparently, breastmilk is very good for one’s liver.  And she should know.  She’s a research physician.  So, she drank my breastmilk.  My Western Nursing Paradigm was not in Kansas anymore.

From that point on my mother-in-law frequently drank my breastmilk.  And when we go to Mongolia, even now, I express some for her everyday.

When we moved back to America, a friend of mine who was a doula was at a birth that took much longer than expected.  She had expressed milk ahead of time for her baby, but it was now gone.  Her husband brought the fussy wee one to Bible study.  The baby cried and cried and cried and refused to take a bottle.  Without permission I slipped to a quiet room and nursed her baby.  She calmed and slept.  Everyone was greatly relieved not to hear a screaming baby.  But I made the other moms that saw me do it swear to secrecy.  About a month or so later, Gana and I went to a wedding and these same friends watched our children.  It took longer than we thought to get home.  When we picked up the kids my friend said, “Um, I hope it’s OK, but your baby was so fussy and wouldn’t calm down.  So, um……I nursed him.  Is that OK?”  I started laughing.  “OK, well, now I can tell you.  Last month I nursed your baby when you were at that birth.”  We both cracked up.  From then on I regularly nursed her baby when babysitting.

Breastfeeding has changed me as a mother and as a person.  I’ve grown into a better understanding of the world, of my children, of my own body.  It has been a physical journey and a spiritual journey

“May the God of your father help you; may the Almighty bless you with the blessings of the heavens above, and blessings of the watery depths below, and blessings of the breasts and womb.” Genesis 49:25

Preparing For Breastfeeding

You need to understand a few things.

1. When your baby is born you will not have milk in your breasts.  This can freak a new mom out and they can sometimes falsely assume that they won’t be able to nurse.  What is in your breast at the time your baby is born is colostrum.  It’s liquid gold as far as nutrition goes.  But there isn’t a lot of it.  And that’s actually OK.  Your baby’s stomach at the time of birth is about the size of the tip of your pinkie finger or a marble.  It’s not big at all!  So, whatever you have, no matter how small, is likely more than enough!  Let your baby enjoy that powerhouse of nutrition!

2.  Your milk supply is established on simple supply-and-demand.  The more you put your baby to your breast, the more your body will make.  Sometimes, again, we can falsely assume that if the baby is at the breast constantly that is because there isn’t enough.  When in fact, having the baby at the breast is what will increase your milk supply.  Your baby innately knows this to be true and so will sometimes nurse constantly in the first week of life and then right before a growth spurt when their caloric needs will be higher.

3. Your milk will typically come in 3-5 days post-partum.  Some women fill up like crazy, leaking milk and cleavage everywhere.  Some women do not.  It is not an indication of the ability to nurse at all.  The way you will be able to tell if your baby is getting enough and if you are making enough is to check the diapers.  Disposable times are too absorbent, in my opinion, to be a good indicator.  You just can’t tell what’s going on.  So, with a cloth diaper you can certainly tell if the baby has peed or not.  If your baby is having 6-8 wet diapers a day, he is getting enough.

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Overcoming Obstacles

There will be obstacles to overcome if you intend to breastfeed.  Physical challenges such as sore nipples, engorgement, maybe a plugged duct.  Logistical challenges such as what to do if you have to leave the baby with a sitter  or have a medical procedure.  The key is perseverance.  Seriously.  You need to decide if you really believe that breastfeeding is a gift to your child, the most natural and healthiest thing you can do to nourish your child, with long lasting physical, social and spiritual benefits.  If you believe it, you’ll find a way to make it work.  You just will.

From my first child, until my fifth child I struggled in a constant cycle of breast infections.  They were debilitating.  My fever would spike to like 103.  I’d have chills.  I’d be exhausted.  My breast would be hot and painful to the touch.  It got to the point that at the first hint of one coming on I would start massively flushing my system with water, taking Grapefruit Seed Extract (GSE) and sleeping it off the best I could, while nursing as much as possible.  (Not an easy thing when you have other little ones to care for.)  I could never seem to get to the bottom of what was causing the infections.  Anemia was most likely a factor, as was not adequate gut flora.  My story has a great ending as the Lord healed me in a single moment at a healing service at our church.  However, I truly believe that we have to be good stewards of the gifts God has given us, including healing.  So, I’ve tried to maintain my good health by adding lots of fermented foods, upping my protein intake, eating more clean and organically.  The fruit of it is that I haven’t had a breast infection in years!

Nutrition While Breastfeeding

There are two schools of thought when it comes to nursing nutrition.  One is that you can eat everything and anything and it will have no effect on your breast milk or milk supply.  The other side says that there is a long list of contraindicated foods and drinks and everything you put in your mouth goes straight into your breast milk.  So, you have to be uber-careful.

Well, I feel like both sides of that spectrum are ridiculous.  First of all, of course what you eat will effect your breast milk!  If you are malnourished, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, smoke, etc., it WILL effect your milk.  You are what you eat, right?  Your breast milk can only come from what your body has!  On the other hand, to burden a new mother with a long list of things she can’t consume is not at all helpful.  Some will say she can’t have broccoli, cabbage, tea, coffee, tomatoes, dairy, peppers, spicy foods, foods that are too rich, wine, eggs, pineapple, fish, etc.  Ack!  Who would want to nurse an extended amount of time if you must live off chicken breast and green beans, which is sort of what you’re left with.

Nursing just doesn’t work that way.  It’s not like if you eat a piece of steak, suddenly your body turns it into liquid steak and your baby drinks it, so now the baby has to digest steak.

Also, your breasts aren’t storing milk.  It can’t go bad, sour, or stay there.  So, the idea of, “I’ll drink/eat/take this medicine, pump and then dump” might appease our minds, but does not necessarily effect our milk.  Waiting several hours before nursing is more effective than pumping what you can out of your breasts and dumping it out.

All that said, it does take an enormous amount of calories to produce food for another human.  It takes, so they say, 500 more calories a day to breastfeed than to be pregnant!  So, when you’re really eating for two is when you are nursing!  The more you care for your body and make those quality calories from nutrient dense foods, the better you will feel and the more nutrient dense your milk will be.  What do I mean by “nutrient dense” foods?  Well, all food have calories, that is units of energy.  And some food has precious little else aside from calories (think chips, soda, processed foods.  You get calories, but little or no other nutrition).  Then there are foods that not only have calories, but are also rich in minerals, vitamins, healthy fats, etc.  Those are the foods you should partake of liberally!  Not only will you have the energy you need, but you’ll have the nutrients you need to feed your cells and create that breast milk!

So what do I eat while breastfeeding?  Pretty much what everyone else in the family eats–just a little more of it!  Organic and pastured meats, full-fat dairy, fatty fish, fruits and vegetables–especially those with deep colors, pastured eggs, bone broths, fermented foods (kefir, kombucha, etc.), whole grains and lots of water!

Avocado and eggs

Avocado and eggs

Grass fed beef and vegetables

Grass fed beef and vegetables

Spirituality and Breastfeeding

One of the names God uses to describe Himself in the Old Testament is “El Shaddai.”  It is translated “God-Almighty” and sometimes “God of Enough.”  The literally meaning, however, is “Many breasted one.”  We are quite accustomed to thinking of God in purely male terms.  But, remember it was male and female who were created in order to together bear the image of God.  God is the one who sustains us, with nourishment and care from God’s very nature.  This is the feminine side of God that sometimes we don’t see.

When I sit down in the middle of a busy day or a busy place and I put my baby to my breast, suddenly that baby is sheltered from the world, in the safest, most secure, most loving and nurturing place anywhere.  It’s a very real way I experience the nature of God.  “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the [Many Breasted One.].”  Psalms 91:1  At my breast my baby does not experience lack, discomfort, fear, or loneliness.  His needs are met completely.  And oh!  That’s how it is when we allow ourselves to be sheltered by the Lord.  We are there…comforted, loved, accepted, nurtured–at rest.  If only I can learn to take my time and rest in the Lord’s shadow, imagine the peace that could fill my being and carry me through every circumstance.

Breastfeeding is a mother’s gift to a child.  But, it is also God’s gift to women.  It is one way we bear His image.  It is one way we have to stop what we are doing and we have the opportunity to partake of the divine.  And in those sensitive early days, weeks, and months when we are most susceptible to depression and/or discouragement, we have to stop the most–every two hours or more.  More time with El Shaddai.  More resting in the shadow.  It was designed for our blessing and our good.

So, sisters, ENJOY your breastfeeding journey!  Whether it lasts a few months or 12+ years, it is a gift.  A treasure.  Believe it.

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  1. Hi Daja,

    I love this post. You will be featured in our Top 10 on Saturday, June 22. Please watch out for it. Thank you for sharing and joining the Pin It Monday Hop. See you soon.

    Judy
    Pursuit Of Functional Home

    • How wonderful!!! Thanks for featuring us! We will share the link with others for sure!

  2. I’m not even close to a place for children yet, my husband and I just aren’t ready just yet. But when I saw the title I thought woah you breastfeed an eleven year old, I thought surely that’s not it and I saw your picture!! Goodness you’re my hero, I so badly want to breastfeed my children when the day comes and I had never given much thought to when I would stop. Now you’ve got me thinking that maybe they can do it on their own!
    Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Alicia - June 19, 2013

      The number one thing I would say to prepare is to read as much as you can before baby comes. And another huge thing that was helpful was the breastfeeding support group that met weekly at the hospital.

      I was so glad that I had read a lot about breastfeeding before I had my first. I had assumed I would have time after I had the baby to learn more but I didn’t (we had trouble with nursing and he wasn’t a good sleeper).

      I was assured at the pre-baby meeting with the hospital that all the nurses were trained in breastfeeding but while they were all supportive their advice was all over the place. He wouldn’t latch. I had to insist that they teach me to finger feed him and not do a bottle. I started pumping even though no one had told me to b/c I knew that i needed too.

      I saw that lactation consultant 24 hours after I had him and they were wonderful and very informed but that first 24 hours is very important and I would have had a worse start if I hadn’t already known a lot.

      Despite the very rough start he went on to nurse for 5 years, I nursed while pregnant and tandem nursed for 3 1/2 years. But that had not been my plan from the start. I would have told you that you were crazy if you had suggested that before I had my babies. I had planned to nurse for 1 year at least to minimize allergies (family history). Having babies changes what you think and believe.

  3. Wow Daja this is amazing. I am breastfeeding our 2nd child and by far the longest time I am nursing – 1 year. hehe. But you see I salute women who do things like you did.

    I would like to thank you for joining the Pin It Monday Hop Pinterest Party.

    Judy
    Pursuit Of Functional Home

    • Good for you! You’re doing a great thing–the gift of a lifetime!–for your baby! 🙂

  4. Such as moving post. Will share with my nursing DIL. Thank you.

  5. Sarah - June 12, 2013

    I’m nursing my fifteen month old and have felt pressure to “wean” her. This post was so supportive of my current choice for my daughter, I’m glad I found it.

  6. Sarah D - June 12, 2013

    Wonderful post! I’m always amazed to learn that what we do in the USA is very strange to those is other (non-western culture) countries. I think we Americans have become to “modern” and lost our roots, i.e. God’s purposes for our bodies and lives. Breastfeeding is the most “natural” thing a woman could ever do! =)

    I have nursed our three children, the oldest being 4 1/2 yo. The first child, Xander, I nursed ’til 12 1/2 mo. I was pregnant with our second at that time and having a terrible time with being sick and tired. Xander didn’t seem to mind being weaned, probably because I was pregnant. Titus, our second child, nursed until 17 mo. and self-weaned. I discovered a week later that I was pregnant again. I guess my babies just didn’t like the pregnant milk flavor! lol I’m still nursing our little girl, Terra, who is 13 mo.

    All of the children have been fed “baby food”, but not until at least 6 mo. I just haven’t been able to break away from the pureed baby foods… One step at a time! =) Children will let you know when they are ready for “real” food, though. 😉 I figure the more teeth they have, the more foods they can eat! lol

    • I’m in the phase of my pregnancy where my mind is searching, even subconsciously, for names. Titus is one cool name!!! 🙂

      Good job with the extended breastfeeding! A lifelong gift to your children!

      You are right about other cultures. We somehow think that our understanding of things is what is “normal” and “right” and I don’t know, somehow more enlightened. But, around the world people breastfeed much longer, differently and with a completely different understanding of what is taking place and what it means. I guess we should take our Western breastfeeding view with a good dose of humility. 🙂

  7. What a nice article! I especially like your explanation of how God is like a nursing mother; that is explicit in some places in the Bible but rarely noticed by Americans.

    I loved breastfeeding, and I hope you won’t mind if I reassure your readers that it’s really possible to breastfeed even after returning to work outside the home–I met SO many people who assumed I must be an at-home mom who never got to go anywhere because I was breastfeeding. It’s true that being with your baby all the time is the most natural and least complicated way to do it, but it is not the only way to give baby and yourself the advantages of breastfeeding.

    I had that same sling you are using in the last picture. 🙂

  8. Beautiful, valuable post! ELEVEN years!!! I have been nursing for three years, two months and tandem nursing for 11 months of that! Thank you so very much for sharing your post with us at Eco-Kids Tuesday. Hope to see you back next week! http://likemamalikedaughter.blogspot.com/search/label/Eco-Kids%20Tuesday

  9. Awwwwww… I love you, Daja. Thanks for not “going with the flow” just because it has been the norm for so long here in America. Thanks for thinking outside of the box and challenging the rest of us to do the same. Your article is very eye opening and insightful, and should I ever be blessed to breastfeed again, I’ll definitely take what you have said here into consideration – a definite paradigm shift for me.

  10. Maegan Bonner - June 11, 2013

    Finding a support group was crucial for me. My first was jaundice so he was very lethargic. It took him a while to latch on. The lactation consultants at my local hospital hosted a daily support group that I started attending…daily. They are the ones who discovered that he was also tongue tied, which explained why he was making me bleed. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t think I would have been able to stick with it.

  11. Awesome post! I only nursed my 1st for 6 weeks. I had no support from family, and no idea what I was doing. I decided to try again when the next one came along 7 years later. I nursed him the longest, about 18 months. With the others, I went along with their schedule; they all ended around 10 to 12 months. I loved nursing because it was generally easy and I could do it anywhere. No fussing with bottles which we had with the first. If I could do it again, I would definitely try longer with my 1st son.

    Thanks for linking up at Motivation Monday!

  12. 6 arrows - June 10, 2013

    Beautiful post! It brings back fond memories of the twelve precious years I spent nursing my six children. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything! 🙂

  13. I am new to your blog, this was written perfectly. I too have had issues with breast infections. thank you for sharing.

  14. loved reading your journey! you’re amazing!!

  15. Thank you! I love this post, and I’m so inspired by your story. I am currently nursing my second child, and wouldn’t trade that time for the world. I can’t say thank you enough for this post. You make breastfeeding sound so beautiful!

    • Thank you so much for the encouragement! Good job breastfeeding your second baby! It’s the gift of a lifetime to be sure!

  16. What an amazing story. I’m going on 3 years of constant breastfeeding my two girls (except 3 months between my first weaning herself and my second being born – so I was still pregnant during that time) and I know there are days when I just feel like I want to be done. I want to have my own body back. But then I remember how good it is for them and I keep going. Thank you for sharing your story. I found your through My Pregnancy Journal.

    • I’ve been through all those phases! “I’m so done!” But, if I just wait it out and persevere, soon I love it again! 🙂

  17. Celeste - June 9, 2013

    I have loved my breastfeeding experience so far. I nursed David for just over 2 years and Matthew is 10 months old and mostly still exclusively breastfeeding. He is just now showing some interest in tasting some solid food. The thought of not breastfeeding never even crossed my mind. I love the special nurturing time with my baby.

  18. love this post!!!

  19. Claire in CA, USA - June 8, 2013

    Lovely! I was so blessed to have my La Leche League breastfeeding sisters, and one in particular, to help me along the way. For two kids, I breastfed straight for a total of about 6 years! Wouldn’t trade that time for the world.

    Is that Cappy in the picture where you’re wearing green pants? Just curious. 😀

  20. Loved this, Daja! So helpful!

  21. Loved this, Daja…so helpful!

  22. Amen and amen! Daja- you are my breastfeeding hero. Thank you for sharing your journey and inspiring me as I embark on the first steps if this wondrous adventure!

  23. Sharon - June 8, 2013

    Thank you for sharing! I’ve nursed for 4 years and it was very special to me and my children.

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