A number of people have asked me whether the two boys breastfeed very differently from each other. They certainly do! Over the past few months Luca has developed the annoying habit of ‘resting’ his teeth against my breast (above and below the nipple) while he feeds which is usually a bit uncomfortable for me and occasionally outright painful. Despite showing him the teeth marks and explaining that it hurts and that he needs to use a wide mouth, he really doesn’t seem able to stop himself. When I put Jonah to the breast after Luca has finished feeding it is such a gloriously gentle sensation! After Luca’s sharp teeth it feels like Jonah is feeding with a ‘marshmellow’ mouth, all soft, warm and delicious.
However, Jonah has cut two teeth over the past couple of weeks and has bitten me a few times, so breastfeeding him has suddenly become a little stressful. My other two children only bit me on the rarest of occasions. Consequently, biting is not something I feel particularly well equipped to deal with. I kind of prefer to suffer through it than feel guilty for giving a reaction that makes my baby upset, but this isn’t really a solution that is going to help resolve the matter!
Another difference between Jonah and the other two is that Jonah is rarely keen to breastfeed when he is upset or hurt. I find this particularly challenging as breastfeeding my children has always been the quickest, easiest and most natural response to their tears, an instant solution which quietens and comforts them with immediate effect. I feel helpless when Jonah is screaming and refuses the breast. It gives me a bit more of an appreciation for how Mark must feel when I am unavailable to help him with a crying baby. I hope this is not an indication of a child likely to self wean at an early age. With any luck it is just a phase that he will grow out of.
Luca’s implemented breastfeeding ‘regime’ that I discussed in the last magazine issue has mostly been working quite well for me. He has definitely been more open to the idea of eating or drinking when he is denied a breastfeed and has quickly learnt that he only gets breastfed first thing in the morning and before his sleeps (although if a comfort feed is required that is quite okay). The other morning I had a particularly full left breast (to the point of being quite uncomfortable) and when Luca asked for a feed I decided it was probably a good idea. My response to him was: “Okay, just as a treat,” to which he replied: “cool…treat…cool” (or “tool…fweet…tool” in Luca language). Too cute.
Although Luca is eating a little more food, I still am quite obsessive about how much or how little he has had to eat. Despite maintaining that it is inappropriate to try and ‘trick’ a child into eating (for example, telling Luca to say ‘car’ and when he does, quickly shoving a mouthful of food in there, or using distraction techniques so that he absentmindedly opens his mouth when I bring a forkful of food to it), I have ashamedly resorted to these techniques in my desperation to get him to eat. I feel totally uncomfortable in the knowledge that I am doing this, but when he refuses to eat any dinner at all, I fret that he is going to get hungry in the night. Apart from not believing this to be an appropriate way to deal with the situation, I have also found that Luca has started to develop a negative association with food (no surprise).
In discussing this issue with others I came across two responses that put me a little more at ease. One person said that their daughter used to go for a few days without eating much then have a day of eating loads, and that was just her consistent eating pattern for a while. The other friend told me that when her son was cutting his two-year molars he refused to eat barely anything and that that was the only sign that his teeth were bothering him (he didn’t complain of pain or get upset at night). Sure enough, when I took a look in Luca’s mouth three of his two-year molars were found to be surfacing. Consequently, I am doing my best to offer Luca plenty of food options without forcing the issue if he declines to eat. It feels kind of irresponsible not to be feeding him three decent meals a day, but already I am noticing a positive response and it has only been a few days. And, of course, I am hugely reassured by the fact that Luca is still receiving at least three breast feeds every day – liquid gold!
Jonah is six months old now and hasn’t yet begun to eat solid food…well not intentionally anyway. The other day I was chatting with my sister in the sunshine on the lawn with Jonah in my lap. I had a bowl of creamed corn from which I was spoon feeding Luca whenever he scooted past. Jen and I were having a good old natter when I suddenly realised that I had absentmindedly shovelled a spoonful of corn into Jonah’s mouth! The poor little guy looked rather disgusted and was busily trying to push the food out of his mouth with his tongue. Sorry Jonah!
I want to finish this article by discussing a heart-warming interaction I had with my Nana-in-law recently. Back when Jonah was just a few days old Nana came to meet him. While she was giving him a cuddle I breastfed Luca, and Nana made the comment to Jonah: “Is your brother stealing your milk is he?” I took this as an attack on my decision to tandem feed and responded by saying “there’s plenty to go around Nana.” In retrospect, I don’t think Nana really meant anything by what she said, I imagine she was just making idle ‘chatter’ with Jonah and had been quite thoughtless in her choice of words.
Five months later we caught up with Nana again. She asked about Luca’s eating habits and I told her, amongst other things, that he was still breastfeeding. Nana looked shocked. Immediately I felt judged and quickly sought to defend my actions: “I know it probably seems strange to you Nana because so many people choose to wean their babies so young, but amongst my circle of friends breastfeeding a toddler is really common” I said. She responded by saying “Oh no dear, it’s good to feed littlies for a long time, I’m just concerned about how you are coping. Feeding two babies must be very hard on you.” I felt instant relief and quickly put Nana’s mind at ease: “I’m coping fine. I love tandem feeding.” As it turns out, she wasn’t judging my decision to tandem feed, she was just worried about me.
This summer hasn’t been much of a break for us. On Christmas Eve Luca (2 years old) developed a full-on fever which lasted for five days. Twenty four hours after his recovery Jonah (8 months old) came down with the same virus, though his recovery was a little slower. Throughout their illnesses both of the boys ate barely a thing. They did, however, breastfeed. When your precious child looks pale, despondent and vacant, and hasn’t eaten for days, helpless to do much else for them, you feel so flamin’ grateful that they are still breastfeeding. Not only are you able to offer them vital fluid and nutrition, you are also able to give them the emotional comfort that breastfeeding provides. At times like that it makes such perfect sense to still be breastfeeding my two year old.
Owing to the fact that our Christmas holiday period was rather grim, we were all very much looking forward to our camping trip in Leigh in mid January. Unfortunately we picked a particularly wet week for this. Our tent barely stayed standing on two of the nights which was somewhat stressful to try and sleep through! On a couple of occasions I ended up tandem feeding the boys on my air bed in the middle of the night, the first time I’d done that since Jonah was a newborn. Again, it was one of those moments that I was quite relieved that I was still breastfeeding them both. Tent walls are very thin and I don’t think our neighbours would have appreciated hearing crying children through the night.
Since my last breastfeeding article, Jonah has started crawling. Luca has gone from being a very affectionate, sweet older brother to being a very frustrated, angry and pushy big brother. Now that Jonah can quickly get to Luca’s toys and mess with Luca’s play, Luca isn’t quite so adoring of his younger sibling. He frequently pushes Jonah away or screams at him when Jonah crawls in his direction. Jonah never seems too put out, but poor old Luca isn’t coping too well with this new ‘threat’ in his world.
Interestingly, although Jonah has become Luca’s play adversary, he still shows a touching dose of sympathy towards him at other times. There have been many occasions when breastfeeding Luca that Jonah has suddenly required his Mum. Usually he is wanting me for a cuddle or a feed because he has hurt himself or because he is overtired. If Jonah is upset and I say to Luca that he needs to get off now, or soon, because Jonah needs to feed, he does, and almost always without reservation. It’s like he understands that Jonah’s needs are immediate and that Jonah is younger and in greater need of a feed from Mum than he is. Another example of this understanding is when Luca has his bedtime feed he sometimes asks for the other side. When I explain to him that that side is for Jonah’s bedtime feed, Luca happily accepts this response.
Luca’s consumption of solid food has improved dramatically since I last wrote. Actually, that’s a lie. A far more accurate depiction of the situation is that my attitude towards Luca’s eating, or lack thereof, has dramatically improved. I finally got my hands on a copy of the La Leche League book ‘My Child Won’t Eat’. It had been recommended to me by a number of people and it was certainly worth the read. If you have concerns about your child’s eating habits I would thoroughly recommend this book as a means of helping to alleviate your worries and putting things into perspective.
One of the key ideas presented in the book is that your child will typically eat what they require to maintain a healthy diet as long as they are being offered a healthy selection of foods throughout the day. Furthermore, using any means of coercion to get your child to eat, whether that is distraction through books or tv, aeroplaning food into your child’s mouth, using dessert/treats as a bribe or punishment for eating or not eating, and so on, is not appropriate and can be detrimental. It has felt so liberating to sit Luca in his highchair with a meal and leave him to eat what he chooses. No more wasting my time stressing about trying to get him to eat one more mouthful of this and one more piece of that, and I’m sure Luca must appreciate the reduced pressure on him to eat when he doesn’t wish to do so.
The other key tip that I gained from the book was to drastically reduce portion sizes when offering your child food. What an impact this made on Luca’s eating! He was going through a period of enjoying frozen blueberries so I would put a little bowl of them next to his dinner. He would eat a few, but there was always quite a bit of waste. After reading the book I put three blueberries with his dinner. He scoffed them down: “More blueberries”, he said. So I put three more on his plate. Gone. “More blueberries”, he requested. And so on. Honestly, he must’ve eaten at least three times the amount he would usually eat! So I now do this with most of the foods I offer him. It’s funny how exciting it is for me to hear him requesting more food.
The final thing I want to cover in this article is about expressing breast milk for others. Back when I was a baby, ‘milk banks’ were in existence. A milk bank is a collection of expressed breast milk that is made available to babies who need it because they require more than their mothers are able to provide. Unfortunately, because diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis can pass through into breast milk, milk banks became almost obsolete and are now very few and far between.
When I was pregnant with Luca, I came across a woman who was unable to produce enough milk to fully feed her baby. She had a few women expressing breast milk for her on a regular basis that she used to ‘top the baby up’ as required. For that mother, as it would be for me in the same situation, allowing her baby to receive only human milk for the first months of her baby’s life was really important. So before Luca was born I had myself tested for those diseases that can pass through the milk and hoped that, with my huge milk supply, there might be a baby out there who could benefit from my excess. Sure enough, there was. More than one. In fact, since Luca was born I have also helped to feed five other babies (three of those have been while I have been tandem feeding).
In my opinion, the resurrection of a Waikato milk bank would be hugely valuable. I haven’t investigated this enough to know whether it is a possibility but maybe one day I will find the time to invest some energy into seeing whether we could make it happen.