Breastfeeding a high needs baby- Maria’s story

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The way I thought my breastfeeding (and parenting) journey would go and how it actually has turned out so far are two very different things.  I still remember seeing someone breastfeeding their almost 2 year old son before I was even pregnant, and thinking how lazy she was for not packing him a proper snack.  Yes, I would breastfeed, but a walking talking toddler?  No thanks!<

Now here I am: my almost 3 year old son still has a breastfeed before naps and bed, and sometimes in between if he needs a little extra help recovering from an injury or other stressful event.   Plus, I’m pregnant with my second child and investigating the ins and outs of tandem feeding!  How on earth did I get here?!

I have had a pretty easy breastfeeding journey in many ways from the beginning.  My son latched on like a champ from the start, and I haven’t had to deal with cracked nipples, thrush or the dreaded mastitis.  I never had low milk supply, in fact my problem was an oversupply – not a bad problem to have really.  But I do remember always going to bed with a towel stuffed down my pyjama shirt, and waking up smelling like sour milk as it would leak out of whichever breast my son wasn’t feeding on.

The difficulties I had with breastfeeding related more to my baby’s ‘high needs’ nature: he wanted my milk 24/7 from the word go.  I soon gave up watching the clock and feeding ‘when I was supposed to’, and started just feeding on demand.  And boy, was he demanding.  The nights in particular became difficult, as he would want to feed every 2-4 hours overnight.  When teeth came through, or he had a cold, it was more like every 1-2 hours.  I was going a little nuts getting in and out of bed, settling him back to sleep in his bassinette, and then settling myself back to sleep after that only to be woken shortly after for another feeding frenzy.

Something had to give, and while I had my health nurse and some family members telling me I would have to night wean him, I ended up choosing to take him into bed with me.  What a relief!  Finally I could not only lie down and doze while he fed, but let myself actually go to sleep!  I would wake up to find he had popped himself off and gone to sleep soundly in the crook of my arm.  No re-settling, no rocking or waiting for him to sleep, no trying to stay awake myself to put him back in his bassinette.  What began as a guilty secret and desperate survival strategy became something my husband, son and I grew to treasure.  As he grew we heard him laugh and giggle while dreaming, then sometimes talk in his sleep, and have delicious cuddles and morning kisses.  It hasn’t always been a blissful night-parenting relationship: after some particularly demanding nights I’ve found myself in tears, ready to give up breastfeeding altogether.  But with the constant support of my husband, and the results in our boy, I’ve been able to continue.  With that perseverance has gradually came one of the most important parenting attributes I’m still learning: patience!

As our little man grew and eyebrows began to be raised at our continued breastfeeding, I began to read and research thebenefits of full-term breastfeeding – for mother and child.  And so I have kept myself armed with lots of information to combat the ill-informed comments that have come my way from well-meaning family, friends and health professionals.  Mostly, I just figure the proof is in the pudding!

Now our family is growing again and my little boy, baby and I will have a whole new breastfeeding relationship to foster and negotiate.  In fact we’ve already begun as I read somewhere recently that tandem feeding begins when you’re breastfeeding and pregnant!  I’m sure there will be tears all round at various stages, but I feel confident that continuing to breastfeed is what’s best for our son at this stage, and naturally what will be best for his little sister when she arrives.

Maria Dawes is a Melbourne mum

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