A Breastfeeding Journey: night weaning and nursing while pregnant

As the Mama of a just-turned-two-year old, I’ve been breastfeeding for 24 months. This feels both commonplace and absolutely extraordinary. I’m fortunate that my breastfeeding journey has been relatively easy. Other than my blistered nipples and her blistered lips that first week, and a few bouts of clogged milk ducts along the way, it’s been a pretty smooth journey.

With my supportive husband by my side, I’d call the first two years of my breastfeeding journey successful and fulfilling.

The fact is, I’ve loved breastfeeding. Loved it. Knowing that I’ve given my daughter, Zinnia, the absolute most perfect food coupled with the profound connection we’ve shared leave me feeling that all is right in the world.  I’ve nursed her on demand since day one – while grocery shopping, on thirty-three airplanes, at restaurants, while in the backseat leaned over the car seat (I don’t really recommend this, but we do what we have to do, right?) on the beach, in the shower, in the garden, while sewing, and while hiking.

You get the idea. I’ve breastfed any where, any place that she needed it. And all along I’ve had no complaints.

That is until recently.

Any Mama who’s breastfed into toddler hood knows that it’s a game-changer, on many levels. They’re squirmy. Demanding. And mine, well, she’s insatiable. “Mama’s milk” is her absolute favorite thing. Ever. As we started our breastfeeding journey, my goal was to nurse her as long as she wanted. I liked the idea of her self-weaning. I pictured the end would be as smooth as the beginning, where her desire for the boob would gradually lessen over time. I still like the idea of baby-led weaning, however, the reality these days is much different.

What’s different? you may wonder. I’m currently twenty weeks pregnant and breastfeeding a toddler who shows no signs of giving up the boob. I am certainly not the first woman to do this. Many women breastfeed with relative ease while pregnant.  For me, however, it is one of the most challenging things I’ve experienced as a Mama. Especially during that first trimester. Oy! Talk about sore nipples. And talk about exhaustion. But what else could I do? Zinnia wasn’t ready to end her breastfeeding journey and I wasn’t willing to forcefully end it. So I did what Mama’s do. I pushed through.

And with the passing weeks, the pain subsided.

In preparing for a second pregnancy, my husband and I decided it was time to night wean Zinnia. We co-sleep and I’ve been happily nursing her through the night since her first night. But at nineteen months, I longed for a more solid night’s sleep (at least until the next baby comes along).

We didn’t have a specific plan for night weaning, we followed our intuition and our hearts. It took us three attempts and about three months for it to be called a success. My girl loves Mama’s milk like nothing else and her nighttime protests were heart-wrenching. I wanted to make the transition as easy as possible for her and I couldn’t withhold the boobs if I knew she wasn’t feeling well. My attempts to wean were foiled several times by cutting molars, colds and travel.

Our last and final attempt at night weaning was about ten weeks ago. Good timing combined with a generous dash of luck and we all made it through unscathed. As her waking and pleading for “Mama’s milk” waned, I started comforting her by encouraging her to listen to the sound of my beating heart. I’d help her settle her head on my chest, with her knees tucked up by my side and she’d doze off again, lulled to sleep by the familiar sound of my heart. The connection, closeness and love that she wants from nursing is now being fulfilled by tuning in to my heart.

With night weaning a success, and all of us getting (a bit) more sleep, I thought that our breastfeeding journey was again, good to go. But in the weeks following night weaning, Zinnia’s daytime pleas for Mama’s milk were absolutely wearing me out. As to be expected with adjusting to nighttime weaning, her daytime nursing needs increased. Any time I sat down she’d run over pleading for more milk. The fatigue of my first trimester combined with her insatiable desire for nursing hit me hard, and for the first time in my breastfeeding journey I started to resent it. I started to dread it.

Something had to change.

After much thought, I decided to reduce her nursing to twice a day. I decided I’d only nurse her at nap time and bed time, or if she had an owie that she couldn’t quickly recover from.  Over the last few weeks she’s adjusted really well. Far better, in fact than she initially did to night weaning. I try to be more attentive to her needs during the day and we are staying busy with spring gardening chores, which means she’s not tempted to nurse out of boredom. Sure, she still asks for “Mama’s milk” during the day, but not nearly as often. She frequently climbs on to my lap and asks for “Mama’s heart” when she needs to connect.

How we connect has changed, but the important thing is that we’re still connecting.

People often ask me what I’ll do when the second baby is born. To tell the truth, I’m not sure. I’m open to the idea of tandem nursing, but I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the reality. We’ll take it one day at a time. Zinnia and I are talking about the baby a lot these days. We even talk about how we need to save some of Mama’s milk for the small baby. Some days she likes this idea. Other days, not so much.

But we keep talking. And we connect by tuning in to Mama’s heartbeat. And we continue to take our breastfeeding journey one day at a time.

Lisa Coffee

About Lisa Coffee

I’m a crafting, gardening, homebirthing, Colorado Mama with a two year old named Zinnia and baby number two (affectionately known as Turnip) due this fall. As a family we strive to live close to the earth and her seasons and my best days are spent gardening the heck out of our quarter-acre backyard, making homemade meals and planning our family’s next big adventure. I’m especially fond of a good Mojito happy hour and I have a weakness for far-too-expensive jeans, but those luxuries sing of life before motherhood. These days, when I’m not stripping cloth diapers or cleaning up after another toddler shenanigan, I can be found barefoot in the garden, at my sewing table, or heading for the hills in the Big White Van. Join me daily, as I share snippets from the good life at littlecoffeebeans.com .