My Breastfeeding Journey: Nursing and Pumping Through Toddlerhood

My Breastfeeding Journey: Nursing and Pumping Through Toddlerhood

Long before the birth of either of my children, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed my babies for as long as possible. I breastfed my daughter exclusively for the first six months of her life, and then she continued to nurse for two and a half years until the middle of June 2014. Had my milk not dried up as a result of my pregnancy with my son, I am sure that my daughter would have continued to nurse at least once a day for a while longer. Throughout my breastfeeding relationship with her, I also pumped for the first twenty-three months of her life. I have also been breastfeeding my son for over two years, and I pumped once a day almost every day during the first eleven months of his life. I believe that breast is best — at least for me and my babies.

Breastfeeding My Firstborn

Heather Breastfeeding PoppyAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for babies for the first six months of life followed by continue breastfeeding with the introduction of nutritious complementary foods until age one and then continued breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and child. Before my daughter was born, I set a goal to follow the WHO breastfeeding recommendations. I can happily and proudly say that I met my breastfeeding goals with my firstborn.

Soon after my daughter was born, I offered her my breast and began nursing her. She immediately latched on like a champ and continued to be a nursing champion until she was six months old. Up until she reached the six-month milestone, I exclusively breastfed her (with a daily bottle of pumped breast milk from her daddy while I was at work). No other foods or drinks passed her lips until June 12 when she was exactly six months old.

When my daughter turned six months old, my husband and I began to introduce other foods into her diet. The first food that we gave her was sweet potatoes. Our plan was for my husband to feed our daughter while I was at work, and I would breastfeed her most of the rest of the time. My daughter completely agreed with our plans. Although she liked foods like sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, prunes, and bananas, she was still my little boobie baby. My daughter continued to nurse every few hours.

Starting at six months, I continued to nurse my daughter on demand and always offered her some milk before giving her other foods. For the most part, she went no more than four hours between nursing during the day and no more than six hours between nursing at night. I pumped once at work when I am away from my daughter for six hours five days a week. My supply remained as strong as ever even after I returned to work. I also fortunately never suffered from any problems except for one plugged duct that I quickly unplugged.

Making the Decision to Stop Pumping

Making the Decision to Stop PumpingThe day before my daughter turned 23 months old, I pumped my last bottle of breast milk for her at the time. I felt both relieved and a little sad. My making the decision to stop pumping marked the end to a chapter in her babyhood. However, I did meet my breastfeeding goals and continued pumping far longer than most mothers.

I started pumping for my daughter when she was just a few days old. I planned on going back to work, so I intended to build up a huge stash for her. Because of my ability to respond well to a pump, I ultimately ended up donated a huge portion of my pumped stash to two other babies while still providing my own daughter with plenty of milk while I worked outside the home. After age one, I would continue breastfeeding her until she decided to wean on her own. Although I stopped pumping, my daughter continued to breastfeed a few times a day. She nursed to sleep, nursed once or twice during the night, and nursed in the morning. On days that I did not work, she sometimes nursed a few times throughout the day.

Why did I continue pumping for so long? The biggest reason is that the pumped milk was good for my daughter. Even though I had to be away at work, I was still providing her with nutritious breast milk that my husband fed her. I also needed to pump once during the time that I was away from my daughter at work because I would get full and sore after about five to six hours. Finally, once I start something, I have a hard time stopping. I tend to do everything whole heartedly and with great gusto.

I also continued pumping so that I could share my milk with other babies in need. In the hierarchy of infant feeding choices, exclusive breastfeeding comes first followed by a mother’s own pumped milk and then pasteurized donor milk from a human milk bank. Only after the first three options have been exhausted should artificial infant milk, that is, infant formula, be given to a baby.

I personally never experienced any problems with breastfeeding my daughter. Since the time that my milk came in a few days after giving birth, I always had plenty of milk. To avoid overfeeding our daughter as well as to avoid hurting my supply, my husband and I decided to follow the one ounce per each hour rule while I am away. Thus, because I was out of the house for six hours when I initially returned to work, I left behind a maximum of six ounces of milk for my husband to feed our daughter. However, my daughter never really took to the bottle. She would eat when she was hungry, but she never overindulged on the bottle. Thus, after about a month after I had returned to work, I realized that I had a slightly unusual problem: I had way too much pumped breast milk stored in my freezer!

As I continued pumping daily, my freezer quickly became overstocked with frozen breast milk. I usually pumped between eight and fourteen ounces per day. With my daughter drinking only six ounces per day, I was freezing up to eight more ounces daily. Furthermore, although she tolerated the thawed frozen milk, my daughter much rather prefered her bottles to be fresh. Therefore, I usually pump edher some fresh milk before I went to work and froze the rest that I pumped on the job.

Breast milk lasts for only so long, even when frozen in a deep freezer. Therefore, I knew that I needed to do something with my huge stash of frozen milk and that I needed to do something fast. Fortunately, I was a member of a number of local Facebook groups. At the exact time that I realized that I had an overstock of frozen milk, another local mother posted that she was trying to find donor milk for her baby. She had been having trouble with breastfeeding but did not want to give her baby any formula if possible. She and I began private messaging each other. She asked me about my health and lifestyle.

A few days later, she came to my house to pick up some of my pumped breast milk that I was willing to donate to her informally. I was able to give her an entire cooler full. I continued to give her some more bags of my pumped milk over the next few months. I also donated more of milk to a friend who was also looking for donor milk for her baby. I was just so glad that I was able to find someone who could put my extra pumped milk to good use. If my daughter was not going to eat all of my milk, then I was pleased and relieved to have found two babies in need that I could donate to. My freezer was full, and breast milk lasts for only so long!

What made me decide to stop pumping when my daughter turned twenty-three months old? I had originally planned to stop pumping at eighteen months. When that plan floundered, I decided to stop pumping when my daughter turned two. However, a month shy of two years, I decided that I no longer wanted to spend my dinner break pumping. I had never not wanted to pump before. Additionally, my daughter had not been drinking all the milk that I had been leaving for her. Our combined lack of enthusiasm helped me make the decision to stop pumping.

Looking on the bright side, I had my dinner breaks all to myself again. I was no longer chained to my desk by my pump. I also gained about ten minutes before and after work because I no longer had to deal with washing and packing my pump supplies. Although I was a bit saddened, I knew that twenty-three months was the right time for me to stop pumping for my daughter. She could continue to nurse as much as she wanted until she decided on her own to stop. I was also absolutely thrilled with the wonderful breastfeeding relationship that my daughter and I had formed. Nursing a toddler was not without challenges (sometimes she wanted to nurse while practically standing on her head), but I was determined to breastfeed my daughter for as long as possible.

Weaning My Firstborn

I ultimately stopped nursing my daughter during the second trimester of my pregnancy with my son. At one point, she said to me, “No more milky.” Because of the combination of my pregnancy and her dwindling need to nurse, my breast milk dried up. By week twenty, I was no longer producing milk. However, breastfeeding is about more than milk. Breastfeeding is also about comfort. Sometimes my daughter still nursed in the middle of the night when she woke up crying and sometimes in the morning when she woke up cranky. Even without milk, nursing still brought her comfort — and I was happy to oblige. I also assured my daughter that I would make more milk once the baby arrived.

Another reason that I continued to allow my daughter to continue to nurse when she wanted was that I wanted her to maintain her latch. I had a feeling that she would want to continue breastfeeding once her younger sibling arrived. She even expressed her interest in drinking more milk from mommy. As long as she continued nursing, she would maintain her latch and would be able to nurse again once my milk came back in. I would have loved for my daughter to continue breastfeeding once my secondborn arrived. Not only was breast milk still good for her, but having a toddler around to nurse once in a while could have helped me when I was feeling extremely full. Instead of needing to pump, my daughter could help with the excess milk.

However, if my daughter had not wanted to breastfeed any more once her new sibling arrived, I planned on pumping some extra milk for her anyway. I told her that she could either nurse or I could pump some milk for her once the new baby arrived. Depending on her mood at the moment, she either told me that she would want to drink from mommy or that she wanted mommy to pump the milk out. Either way, I planned on giving my toddler daughter some more of my nutritious breast milk once my second child arrived.

Breastfeeding My Secondborn

Heather Nursing Newborn WillPrior to the birth of my son, I expected a breastfeeding experience fairly similar to the one that I shared with my daughter. I nursed my daughter for two and a half years, and, although our relationship got off to a good start very quickly, I vividly remember some rather sore nipples and extremely painful engorgement. While pregnant with my son, I started preparing myself for the same physical annoyances. However, I quickly realized that breastfeeding my second born was much different than breastfeeding my first.

In the days following the birth of my daughter, I remember sending my husband to the store to buy lanolin for my aching nipples. I experienced fairly significant tenderness each time my daughter latched on. And showering was a unique experience — meaning that my nipples burned like hellfire when the water cascaded down on me. In addition to sore nipples, I also vividly remember painful breast engorgement. If my daughter did not eat every few hours, I had to pump to relieve the pressure because my breasts quickly filled with milk and became rock hard.

As an experienced breastfeeding mother, I prepared myself for the aches and soreness during my second pregnancy. However, once my son arrived, I found myself pleasantly surprised. I had purchased a new tube of lanolin for sore nipples, but I used some only a few times. I had hoped that my daughter would continue nursing through my entire pregnancy, not only because breast milk is beneficial for her but also to keep my breasts in tip-top nursing shape. When she stopped nursing months before my son arrived, I assumed that my nipples would become sore again. However, I guess that two and a half years of breastfeeding toughened me up to a point that a few months off did not result in any significant physical changes. Hooray for no sore nipples with my second born!

Along with sore nipples, I had also mentally prepared myself for more extreme breast engorgement. Again, however, I did not experience nearly as much with my son as with my daughter. I did occasionally feel extra full such as first thing in the morning after my son had slept for a few more hours than usual without nursing. But, for the most part, I did not have any painfully hard engorgement. I usually pumped in the morning to relieve myself of some minor pressure and to provide some pumped breast milk for my daughter, but I did not find myself weeping in pain when I woke up. I suppose that my breasts figured out the best way to produce enough milk without going overboard during the two and a half years in which I nursed my daughter.

Speaking of pumping, at the beginning of the twenty-three months that I pumped for my daughter, I had some difficulty getting used to my pump. At first I could not pump very much. After a few weeks, I started pumping on one side while my daughter nursed on the other, and I quickly started responding to the pump better. I was eventually able to pump up to nine ounces in a single pumping session. The second time around, I did not have to train my body to respond to the pump. I easily filled bottle after bottle after just a few days of pumping. Again, my breasts seemed to have remembered how to respond to a pump very quickly — and much more quickly than with my daughter.

In addition to my personal differences, I also noticed some significant differences between my daughter and my son in terms of nursing. Each child is different, and my two kiddos are definitely not the same. My daughter used to gorge herself on milk at each feeding and then tended to go longer between feedings. She used to nurse so much at one time that she spit up often. The house used to be littered with burp rags because I never knew when or where she would spit up. My son, on the other hand, liked to snack. He tended to nurse a little bit frequently throughout the day. He also liked to pop on and off the breast, taking his time while eating. He rarely spit up. He did, however, go longer between feedings at night. My daughter would nurse every few hours at night. My son, though, tended to nurse a lot right at bedtime and then woke only two or three times to eat during the night.

Nursing both my kiddos has been such a positive experience for me. My daughter breastfed for two and a half years and still drank my pumped breast milk until she was three and a half. Despite my nearly identical breastfeeding goals with my firstborn and secondborn, my experiences the second time around differed considerably, and largely for the better, than the first time. As a stay-at-home mom, I was able to pump less often with my son. I still pumped once a day most days, mostly for my own comfort, until my son was around eleven months old. He continued to nurse well and continues nursing strong at two years and two months old. My daughter was my boobie baby, and my son is my milky man. I honestly see no end in sight (especially since my son tells me that he wants to nurse forever), but I know that someday my wonderful breastfeeding relationship with him will come to an end. Until that day comes, however, bottoms up!

Breastfeeding Infographic

Did you know that producing breast milk consumes 25 percent of energy from a mother’s body? No wonder I quickly and easily lost all my pregnancy weight! In addition to helping mothers lose weight, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of cancer among women including breast and ovarian cancers. Babies who breastfeed additionally benefit through a reduce risk of SIDs, a boosted immune system, and a decreased risk of disease later in life. Learn more facts and statistics about breastfeeding in an informative infographic from Best New Moms Magazine.

A Mommy's Guide on Breastfeeding

Image Credits

My Breastfeeding Journey: Nursing and Pumping Through Toddlerhood © 2016 Heather Johnson
Heather Breastfeeding Poppy © 2011 James Johnson
Making the Decision to Stop Pumping © 2013 Heather Johnson
Heather Nursing Newborn Will © 2014 James Johnson
Poppy, Heather, and Will on the Couch © 2014 James Johnson
A Mommy’s Guide on Breastfeeding:

New Year's Wreath Craft

New Year’s Wreath Craft

Star of David Hanukkah Ornament Craft

Star of David Hanukkah Ornament Craft