Things I’ve learned while breastfeeding through pregnancy

I’m 24 weeks pregnant and this is my second time breastfeeding while pregnant. Believe me when I say this is not something I imagined doing once, let alone twice.

Struggling for months to establish breastfeeding with Talitha (y’know, tongue tie, low milk production, the most stressful experience of my life), the idea of making it to a year seemed a vague “maybe”. So I couldn’t have expected that not only would age two find us still breastfeeding but that I’d fall pregnant around then and wind up breastfeeding her for two more years.

As I said before, baby number three wasn’t totally expected but we’d been talking a lot about having another. Somehow, in all that chat, I never considered about the possibility that I could be breastfeeding Ophelia while pregnant.

Even now that she’s two and we’re well beyond halfway through the pregnancy, I couldn’t place bets on whether or not I’ll go on to tandem breastfeed again when the new baby is born. The only certainty is that I’ve learned and am learning a lot through these less-discussed experiences. Here’s a little of what I’ve been reflecting on.

Every baby is different
This is obvious, isn’t it? Well, it should certainly be by now. From newborn days, Ophelia made it clear that she was not a carbon copy of her big sister. She breastfed differently, slept differently, learned to move differently, wanted different things and expressed those desires and needs in different ways.

Yet, my first child kind of laid my expectations for what would happen and when. I fell pregnant with Ophelia and night weaning was a relatively easy process. Laurence took over going to her in the night (at two, she’d just moved into her own bedroom) and she was upset about it at first but he stayed with her and within a couple of nights she accepted that this was the new arrangement. Soon after, she began to sleep through.

I have to say that this experience made me wonder when mothers said that their kids wouldn’t accept comfort from their partners whether it wasn’t simply a case of them needing to persist more. That’s because I hadn’t yet met Ophelia.

From the start, she has only wanted to know me. It took a long time for her to even let anyone else hold her and if she settled when I left the room, she would cry for me as soon as I re-entered it.

Unsurprisingly, when I fell pregnant again and discomfort kicked in, night weaning her was not an uncomplicated process. Rather, it took about three. bloody. months. Three months filled with a lot of waking for all of us and no sign of her willingly moving into her own bed either.

After repeatedly offering alternatives, reassuring and explaining the situation, she finally began to accept a quick cuddle to sleep when she woke. Gradually, she accepted this from Laurence instead of me. Now she’s starting to spend the odd night in her own bed but we really don’t mind having her in ours. She still wakes most nights but we’ve settled into a pattern that works for our family.

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Every mother is different
Again, I should know this by now but the huge range of ways women experience breastfeeding in pregnancy still manages to surprise me. For me, pregnancy has quickly brought on nursing aversion and physical discomfort and it’s triggered my nausea in the first trimester both times. Other mums find it hurts but I’ve not had that as long as I’ve latched my toddler on carefully.

I have found that I absolutely cannot tolerate breastfeeding at night when pregnant, primarily because of nausea, and night weaning has been imperative for me. Other mothers manage not to night wean and even go on to breastfeed their toddler and baby at night.

Many highly motivated mothers find that they need to wean altogether. Others find the baby weans on their own, perhaps when supply dips or colostrum comes in. Yet others find that their milk never depletes at all.

I’m sure the older baby’s age can affect our experiences and choices in different ways but something breastfeeding while pregnant has taught me is that we can’t always predict what we’re going to do or how we’re going to feel.

Everything can’t be even
I think I’m a relatively easygoing person, happy to go with the flow on a lot of things. However, it’s upset my sense of order when I’ve realised that I can’t give my children the same things.

I fell pregnant with this baby when Ophelia was 20-months-old, my milk seemed to decrease more rapidly this time and I found myself offering her fewer opportunities to breastfeed during the day than I had with Talitha.

She’s always asked less than her sister did and so it’s unsurprising that we’ve breastfed less and less as the weeks have rolled by. Now most days she has just a feed before bedtime and maybe one at wakeup if I’m trying to convince her not to drag me out of bed just yet. Sometimes I have to initiate the end of the feed but most of the time now, she loses interest in moments, asks for a glass of water and a cuddle and just goes to sleep. So it’s not hard to imagine that she could possibly wean before the new baby comes.

The thought of her weaning so much earlier than her sister did makes me feel uneasy on one hand and relieved the next because if I’m completely honest with myself, I’m not certain that I want to tandem breastfeed again. There were a lot of pros. I really feel that it eased Talitha’s transition out of her position of “baby” in the family and it would be great to give Ophelia the same. Breastfeeding a toddler meant there was a plentiful milk supply for my newborn. In fact, Ophelia’s poo turned yellow on the day one, she never lost weight and I didn’t experience engorgement.

However, I never got the hang of latching them both on at once when the newborn needed so much support to stay in position and when I did, I felt hugely overwhelmed so it was only something I resorted to if desperate. That meant a lot of work in the early days helping Talitha to wait. Then again, waiting on a newborn is something older siblings must learn anyway and the early days are always challenging.

Breastfeeding while pregnant - what I learned

There’s a part of me that thinks the things that were difficult about breastfeeding two were simply things that are difficult about learning to parent two. As we all adjusted, it got easier and I really appreciated being able to maintain that bond with my older child, allowing her to move away in her own time, with some gentle encouragement, when she was ready.

I could lie awake at night stressing, measuring how long each one got breastfed. Yet I have almost as little control over this as I do the ability to go back in time and give Talitha the easy start to breastfeeding that Ophelia had.

I’m realising that, over the course of our lives, I will give them different things. That those things won’t always be “even” does not mean I don’t love them equally. If anything, this is just another reminder that love isn’t something we can measure.

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When my second child turned two

Ophelia turned two last month and I wanted to make a video of the day because it felt like a spectacularly big deal that she was now the age Talitha was when I found out I was pregnant with her. Now that we’re expecting another baby girl, I look at my second child, fast moving on from her baby days and feel a mix of things.

She has a great sense of humour and is often monkeying around, making all of us laugh. She’s adventurous, a bit of a risk taker. Her language is really coming along and she’s giving lots of hints that she understands a lot more than she can say just yet. She’s well into imaginative play right now, probably helped by having an older sister and she’s obsessed with puzzles. Typical two-year-old stuff but it’s a beautiful stage I want to remember because she’s my two-year-old and she won’t be two for long.

Every now and then I feel a stirring as I remember Talitha at this age. I really hope I’ve made the most of the years so far and that I’m enjoying the present as much as possible, even with all the tough bits involved in raising small children.

It’s OK not to be OK

I keep finding myself responding to any of the question “How’s the pregnancy going?” with “Fine, thanks. Just tired.” It’s not totally inaccurate.

Even compared to my own two previous pregnancies, I’m physically feeling positively spectacular to the point of sometimes forgetting that I’m even pregnant. That is if you don’t count the fact that I almost always need the toilet and even if you don’t see me making millions of bathroom trips when we’re out and about, you can bet “Need a wee” is there on my mental list of things I’m trying hard to ignore.

When I say “tired”, though, I mean crushingly exhausted. By 2pm most days all I can think of is lying on the sofa and letting the kids do their thing, checking in with me now and then. Any afternoon activity that requires my involvement has become something I will pay for later, usually by needing a 7pm bedtime, which means stuff that needs to get done in the evenings does not get done.

That has a knock on effect with the other thing I’m not saying in “Fine, thanks. Just tired.” I know that I’m a bit depressed. I have been for a while.

Most days involve mustering all of me to get out of bed, stay out of bed, do the basics and try to be present with my kids. It helps that we have commitments to meet with other people most days and even if I don’t talk about what’s going on, the company and the change of scene help.

Heaviness and hurt walk around with me most days, with a little anxiety joining us when I’m not expecting it. I find myself obsessing over every detail of the day when I wake up for the loo in the middle of the night. What happened? What did I get wrong? Why did I say that?

There is actual stuff going on in my life that I can’t talk about here but mostly, I have every reason to be happy. And I am. I enjoy my children and my husband immensely, work has slowed but is still coming in here and there (probably for the best with the lack of time and energy), we are comfortable and I am really looking forward to meeting this baby.

The girls have dubbed her “Butterfly”. “Heh-oh, Buh-fy!” Ophelia says to my tummy, stroking and kissing it. Who could but melt? She really does seem to understand there’s a baby in there now.

On the flip side, I find myself getting needlessly stressed over small day-to-day details, I am irritable with my family, I often feel like I’m not doing anything well, I am not enjoying getting bigger, needing to wee all the time, having little energy, and at 22 weeks pregnant, I’m still scared about what adding another child to this family means.

She is unquestionably wanted but the thought of spreading my resources in yet another direction, of establishing breastfeeding again, of sleepless nights, of coping with my other two children’s changing needs, of helping my Ophelia transition from being the baby of the family, of delaying other things I want to do a bit longer, of the general upheaval that comes with a new baby, of the thousand other things I can’t help worrying about…

No amount of anyone saying, “You’ll be fine” actually sates these thoughts. Because along with some of the perfectly valid stuff on my mind trundles a whole load that doesn’t make any rational sense, not even to me. Yet they are taking up as much space. And that’s probably because I am so often feeling like I’m not coping right now.

At the same time, it’s been difficult to identify for myself that something is up, rather than that I’m just being a bit pathetic. This isn’t like the crushing lows I experienced pre-kids years ago where I was literally out of action and needed to be medicated or else.

I have been depressed at times since having children but I’ve somehow managed, as I am now, to keep going, even if I am operating at a lower level than is normal for me. So, I’ve remained reticent, questioning how bad it has to be before I can call it what I know deep down it still is, depression.

I see the strangeness in being unable to say this face to face yet being willing to speak it into a computer screen, knowing that people who do and don’t know me will read it. It’s been a back and forth debate over whether to talk about it here either.

Anything I write about here opens me up to criticism and well-meaning but sometimes misguided attempts to solve a problem that can’t be solved by someone else. It’s one of the reasons I tend to only blog about the hard bits of parenting through the lens of what I feel I am learning from them or once I’ve reached some sort of resolution I can reflect on.

Yet even though I’m only at the point of knowing that I need to do something, I feel it’s worth sharing in case it helps someone else feel less alone, and that maybe it’s OK to not be OK.

Mother’s Day

Two handmade cards were thrust at me over the table this morning, Ophelia’s with a new, developing sense of ownership as she proudly offered it to me, repeating, “Mine!”

Mother's day

I think Talitha might have thought that Mother’s Day was like birthdays or Christmas or something because she wanted to know who was coming over. She was disappointed when we said no one was but hearing the plans for church, lunch on the Bristol harbour side at Spokes and Stringer and a friend’s fifth birthday party later was instant redemption.

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In truth, our celebration began last weekend with a little shopping trip at Cabot Circus Shopping Centre who’d given Laurence and the girls a voucher to spend on me (they opted for craft supplies and candles – I think they might know me) while I had a hand treatment at Origins in House of Fraser. They then treated us to lunch at Pizza Express.

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Every Mother’s Day, I’m amazed by how life has changed and is changing. My girls are four and two now. I have another baby girl on the way. I live many, many miles away from my own mother. I now have a deeper understanding of what her mothering of me meant and continues to mean.

Fingers crossed this is the year I manage to avoid last-minute panic when friends’ Facebook updates remind me that it’s Mother’s Day over there. She might even get a card thrust at her over Skype, waved at the camera with shouts of, “Mine!”

In the meantime, to my mother, to my mother-in-law, to all the mothers who read this blog and to all women who choose to love, advocate for and nurture others in their lives, your mothering is worth celebrating.

Things I’ve learned afresh this week

It’s been a strange sort of week. We went to Brighton on the weekend and got back Sunday night, which meant that I started the week torn between loving Bristol and missing all the friends we have in Brighton and London. A weekend away also meant that rather than recovering from this dire cold I caught at the beginning of last week, I pretty much relapsed.

Then I figured that if we were going to be stuck at home with me ill, we might as well give potty training a go because one of the reasons I’ve kept putting it off is that I find it difficult to clear our schedule. Turns out, unsurprisingly, that attempting this while not feeling well was a flop. So, Ophelia’s back in nappies and we’ll try again later on.

It’s also been a week when my anxieties over a lot of things have surfaced, heightened by bad news here and there. Nothing gives me blogger’s block (especially when I have lots of ideas) like anxiety so I almost have to write and fight my way past it to get going again. In sitting down to get fighting, I’ve realised this week has taught me quite a lot.

Every child is different
You’d think that with Ophelia turning two next month, I’d have already figured out that she’s not a mini-version of her big sister. A reminder has not been wasted. I took the same potty training approach that worked so well with her big sister and, though I’m convinced of her readiness, I’m not convinced that this is the route for her. So, I’ve taken a step back. Funnily enough, back in nappies, she’s asking to use the potty now so we’ll see where that goes. It’s reminded me that I need to get to know her on her own terms.

We thrive on a plan
Being home this week brought into focus how essential a plan is for our days. January has been a chaotic month with my parents being here, going, us recovering from Christmas, me still feeling first trimester blah, then getting struck down with this horrid cold. We have still done quite a lot but it hasn’t been as organised as I’d like. This week, I got back into writing down what we were going to do, even if it didn’t always happen, resulting in less clashing, less stress and generally happier days.

Everything affects sleep and sleep affects everything
When I’m worried or upset, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I won’t sleep well, especially if I’m not making time to be still and be with God, which honestly, I haven’t other than to mostly throw questions into space here and there. It’s been one of those weeks. Add the million bathroom trips pregnancy is so good at granting and Ophelia’s we’ve-got-back-from-being-somewhere-else waking. The bags under my eyes and the lines on my face are easily explained. It’s a cycle too because the less I sleep, the more I worry. I read an interesting article recently calling sleep a spiritual discipline. This week is likely an invitation to take that seriously.

I don’t do anything I do because I am innately patient, brave, strong or [insert other positive character trait here]
I’ve been reminded soundly this week that I don’t make the parenting choices I make or any other choices because I already have the skills and qualities I need to follow through on them but because I believe they are right for us. All that good stuff will follow with time. I’ll fail at all of them. I’ll feel rubbish about that. I’ll learn from that. I’ll probably never truly feel like I’m growing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Argos Christmas Toys – Chad Valley 3 Storey Summer Winter Dolls House

Argos has revealed their top toys for Christmas 2015 and we were one of their toy testing families. We chose to try out the Chad Valley 3 Storey Summer Winter Dolls House.

Talitha immediately made the connection with Frozen and said it reminded her of Queen Elsa’s ice castle. In fact, her Elsa plush doll and Sylvanian family rabbits moved right in. This house is actually sized for Barbie-sized dolls, though, I’d say. We were toying with the idea of giving her a Lottie doll, which would work well in this house.

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I think we were all a bit blown away by the size of this house. It’s taller than both of the kids and is two houses in one, a summer house and a winter house. I had my misgivings about how big it was but the girls loved that they could play their own games alongside each other, without getting in each other’s way. OK, my four-year-old may have been the one particularly appreciative of this.

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It was pretty straightforward to assemble, though be aware that it may not be an item you’re going to want to have to take apart once it’s up. Quite a decent bit of furniture comes with it, which requires no assembly. I like that it’s wooden. I’d really rather not have too much plastic fantastic in the house. The colours are pleasing, too, where many kids toys can be quite garish.

The house arrived at the beginning of a week stuck indoors with chicken pox and it couldn’t have been better timed. The girls have had so much fun with it, coming up with new games each time. Talitha has even made some more furniture for it, including a bath.

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When choosing toys, we try to find that happy medium between what the kids will go ga-ga for and what we’d be pleased to walk past each day. Toys need to have a longevity, rather than being a thrill-of-the-moment item which will be forgotten in a week’s time. Sometimes the “educational” factors in but all child’s play involves learning so it’s not something that worries me too much. A toy that works for both kids definitely gets extra points, especially if it’s a big item like this one.

Check out Argos’ top toys for Christmas 2015 here.

This post was in association with Argos

Simplifying Advent

The moment Talitha woke up this morning, before she’d even got out of bed, she asked in the dark (I was still in the bed beneath with Ophelia), “Mummy, can me and Effie open our Advent calendars?”

In years past, I’ve made intricate calendars like this toilet roll tree, complete with an activity planned for each day and a Bible passage.

This year, I spotted standard chocolate Advent calendars at a fundraising fair for Easton Jubilee Trust, a non-profit organisation my brother and my sister-in-law are involved in, and I thought, “Why not?” I’m absolutely certain the kids found these as exciting as any homemade option I could have offered.

We will probably do some form of a Jesse Tree, starting later today (if I can summon the energy) and no doubt we’ll get up to lots of Christmas activities throughout the season but I’m quite relieved not to have tied myself into something intricate this year. I’m intrigued too by the kindness elves but if they make an appearance, it’ll be patchy, and if they don’t, that’s OK too.

Advent offers an easy place to access the salvation story with children. The birth of a baby? They get it, they’re captivated by it. On one hand, I want to make the most of that in the lead up to Christmas, a valuable marker on our calendar as Christians. On the other, they are so good at celebrating all of life – it really doesn’t take much on my part!

I’m enjoying the freedom of “maybe we will, maybe we won’t”, conscious too that what they see in me speaks louder than any Advent calendar could anyway.

Am I longing for Jesus to come or am I distracted? Am I in tune with the suffering in the world or am I insulated in my comfortable lifestyle? Am I doing something with the “love”, “hope” and “peace” we talk and sing about at this time of year or are they just sentimental buzzwords? I have lots of questions of my own in the dark.