On STILL breastfeeding. And doing it while pregnant. Part 1.
August 02, 2012

We’re a mile into the canyon.  Trees hang thick and green over the trail.  Speckles of sunlight dance along the ground.  A bird to our left is releasing a piercing cry, single loud chirps over and over again.

We’re standing in a circle, the three of us, laughing about jokes in a stand-up comedy show when it happens.  When Charlotte comes to me.  When she grabs my shirt and whimpers MOMMA?!

There is earth beneath her fingernails.  There are leaves in her hair.  A cobweb is stretched across her dress.  Her feet are bare.  Her chin is covered with cashew butter from the sandwich we shared at lunch.  “Momma?“ she says.  “I need some milk.  I fell down and I feel so sad and I would REALLY REALLY like some milk please.“

So I gather her in my arms.  I find a spot in the shade to sit down.  And I offer her my breast.

“You’re still nursing?” says the first woman, stunned.

“THAT IS SO AWESOME!” says the second woman.

“But she’s…three.  Isn’t it time for you to let her grow up?” says the first woman.

“She’s ONLY three,” says the second woman.  “I nursed all of mine until they were five.  She’ll grow up when she’s good and ready.  Why force her before she’s ready?”

- - -

The women are still volleying their opinions, back and forth.  “I agree that she’ll grow up on her own time table,” I say.  “When she’s ready.”  The first woman shrugs.  Each to their own.  She asks me a question and I say nod.  So she calls over her son.

“This is what breastfeeding a three-year-old looks like,” she says.  “Some people call it extended breastfeeding.”

“It should be called full-term breastfeeding,” inserts the second woman.

“We can probably just go with plain old breastfeeding,” I say, hoping to diffuse the tension.

The boy is twelve.  He has never seen this before with a child as old as my daughter.  He has never seen this before with a pregnant woman.  He has never given much thought to breastfeeding before and he is not biased one way or the other.  He doesn’t seem to think it is sexual.  He doesn’t seem to think it is abnormal.  He doesn’t seem uncomfortable.  He has questions.  The three of us answer them.  He loses interest and returns to play.

- - -

Soon enough, Charlotte is gone.  I have re-threaded her leaf crown and she has flitted away, a stick in hand and a smile on her face.  The children gather to embark on a great adventure in the brush.

While they frolic in the sun, the three of us talk about it.  We talk about breastfeeding and culture and weaning and formula industry.  We talk about terminology and books and choices and education and sexualizing the breast.  We talk about guilt: the first woman felt guilty for not breastfeeding “long enough” and the second woman felt guilty for breastfeeding “too long.”

I joke that I must be broken.  I feel parent guilt about many things, but my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter isn’t one of them.

Three different women.  Three different perspectives.  We laugh.  We think.  We poke fun.  We learn.

I wish the world beyond the canyon were like this, accepting of new ideas, thoughtful, tolerant.  I wish the magic of moments like this were never beaten out of me.  I wish that as a parent, I would find the courage to embrace differences the way my friend did with her son.

But of course, it ends.  Eventually we say good-bye and walk out of the canyon.  At home, I offer Charlotte my breast again.  Our bodies fall against each other, warm and sticky in the summer heat.  Before I drift to sleep, I have time to make only one more wish.

I wish that when my daughter is older, she will smile to herself when she remembers breastfeeding.

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  1. By on August 02, 2012

    Dearest Sarah, you have the ability to write from your heart deep into mine, and many others I suspect. Thank you.

  2. By on August 02, 2012

    I love your blog.  I’m the mother of three amazing little boys, 4 year old twins and a 7 1/2 month old.  I’m breastfeeding the 7 1/2 month old.  I only breastfed the twins for 2 months, they were premature (in the NICU for a month) and I was worried they weren’t getting enough after they came home.  I felt guilty I didn’t do it longer.  So, I was quite determined to make breastfeeding work for the new baby.  I love breastfeeding him.  It was kind of crazy around here at first, with three children 3 years old and under, but we have found our grove (kind of).  I can’t wait to read your blog when your new baby arrives!

  3. By on August 02, 2012

    I wrote a while ago about nursing a toddler and not getting pregnant.  I am interested to see that you continue to nurse and know how much toddlers can love it.  Yesterday my 2.5 year old fell into some stinging nettles and the only thing that make her feel better was some “milk from Mama’s body”.  I still worry that nursing is preventing me from getting pregnant for a second time, but not to the point that I would wean her just to see.  If I weaned her before she was ready and I still didn’t get pregnant, I would be a mess, a guilty mess.

      Tell me, does the nipple tenderness pain subside as you get farther in pregnancy?

  4. By on August 02, 2012

    Im am pregnant with my second baby, 18 weeks,  and have been dry nursing my my 15 month old son for two weeks, did your supply diminish? i am hoping to get some colostrum or SOMETHING in soon.

  5. By Lindsey on August 02, 2012

    I don’t have kids yet and I don’t really know how long I will breastfeed (fingers crossed I will be able to because I really, really want to!), and I can’t imagine doing it past around the 2 year age mark…but you…you inspire me to do whatever the heck I want! I used to say 1 year was the absolute cutoff and now I say, “We’ll see” :)

  6. By christy on August 02, 2012

    what a wonderful story!  i hope to BF until he’s ready to quit [he’s 2], but it is my wish that when he’s older, he can’t remember it!  don’t want any trouble at school when he’s telling stories to friends. ;)

  7. By Sarah Christensen on August 02, 2012

    Lindsay - Your poor baby!!  Stinging nettles are no fun =(  I’d want comfort for that too!

    To answer your question, the amount of nipple tenderness I feel seems to directly correlate to how often Charlotte nurses.  My nipples are always a little more tender during pregnancy and I’m always a little more reluctant to breastfeed, but when she nurses several times a day for a few days in a row they feel much better than when she only nurses twice in a week.

    Josette - My supply diminished pretty significantly, but I never went to the point of dry nursing.  Around 18ish weeks, my colostrum came in and Charlotte’s interest in breastfeeding increased dramatically.  She DEFINITELY likes the new flavor =)  Once she began nursing more frequently, my supply evened out again.

  8. By Karen on August 02, 2012

    Again, such a beautiful post. I love how you so eloquently describe the journey of your nursing relationship with your daughter. I so wanted my son to be able to nurse until he didn’t need to any longer. I had to wean him this past month and it was one of the saddest things I’ve ever had to do. 14 night of listening to my 2 1/2 year old sob with every awakening, this beloved child that I have never before allowed to cry when it was in my power to comfort. I am pregnant again, and having read Adventures in Tamden Nursing I fully planned to nurse through the pregnancy. Unfortunately I have morning sickness on overdrive. I’m currently down to 97 pounds and still losing weight. Not only did the nursing burn precious calories, but it heightened the nausea and became simply unbearable. I tried just night weaning, then decreasing the amount of nursing to what was “managable”, but eventually it became impossible to continue at all.  I hope maybe my son won’t forget how to nurse and maybe we can pick up again later. He definitely wasn’t ready for this. I so wanted for him to be able to look back on peaceful, contented memories of his time nursing. Either he is just too young for that now, or if he can remember then he will remember this awful weaning. I’m honestly not sure which is worse.

  9. By Catherine on August 05, 2012

    I think it’s wonderful you’re still breast-feeding Charlotte.  My daughter stopped nursing at 2.5 when I was four months pregnant with my third child.  One day she just looked at me, said, “Mama, Boo is broken” and no more.  :( :(  I know my milk must have changed by that point (as that was the same time my son stopped breastfeeding - four months pregnant with my second child) and maybe it just wasn’t satisfying them (it was also excruciating for me!).  I still ask my girl (who is only three and two months old) if she remembers nursing.  She says she does.  It’s only been eight or so months since she stopped but since she nursed the longest so far (my son was only 15 months old) I wonder what her memories of it are.  :)

  10. By on August 05, 2012

    If your colostrum came in, would there still be enough for your new baby once it’s born? And are you worried your supply will decrease as your pregnancy progresses? I’ve heard its common in pregnancy which much be frustrating! I know very little about how all this works! Sorry for the dumb questions. :)

  11. By Sarah Christensen on August 06, 2012

    Kara - They aren’t dumb questions at all!  I wondered the same things before going through this myself =)

    To answer you, my supply decreased early in pregnancy, but once my colustrum came in, Charlotte enjoyed the flavor of the milk and began nursing more frequently.  Even during pregnancy, more nursing stimulates greater milk production, so my supply recovered pretty quickly.  I also do not worry about the amount of colustrum made available to the new baby.  I began producing colustrum again several weeks ago (a thicker, sweeter colustrum than the saltier weaning colustrum I started producing nearly a year ago when Charlotte decreased her milk consumption pretty significantly).  My body SHOULD keep making this colustrum until a couple days after the baby’s birth, when my milk should come in again.  When Charlotte was born, I produced enough colustrum to feed two or three babies, so I suspect that I will do the same this time around as well.  I expect that I will probably produce colustrum enough for the new baby and that Charlotte will enjoy the excess, and then my milk will come in and change flavors yet again =)  How Charlotte likes that remains to be seen, but given how much fattier my milk was at the beginning of my nursing relationship with Charlotte than it was at the end, I suspect she’ll be willing to give it a shot!

  12. By on August 06, 2012

    Thanks Sarah! That makes a lot of sense. We are having our first in the next few weeks (I’m due Wednesday) and are talking about baby #2 already. If we are blessed with another kiddo soon after (like 6-12 mo) our first is born, I want to ensure I can keep my supply up as long as I can. :)

    Congrats on your pregnancy and on your amazing Charlotte. She is a lot of fun to read about!





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