N and A share their story of co-nursing their baby daughter.
N: As a little girl you might want a pony, a monkey, a prince/princess charming, or a certain kind of wedding etc. Me, I’ve always wanted a baby. Last October, at long last, I finally had my wish granted when our beautiful daughter, J, was born.
A: N and I agreed that we would try to exclusively breastfeed J. The idea of her getting her sustenance directly from me was daunting since I come from a formula-feeding family, and after reading about how difficult breastfeeding can be, I really wanted my partner N to also be able to breastfeed. What at first to me represented a share of the burden, later became a rollercoaster emotional journey. We hadn’t read much about co-feeding but knew it was possible. In Brussels, where J was conceived, when we asked about the possibility of inducing lactation, doctors looked at us as if we were aliens. We then came to Greece for the summer and ended up being stuck here, and never thought we could reopen the door to that possibility. But, when we dared to ask, our obstetrician and midwife got very excited about the idea and wanted to help make it happen!
N: The last month and a half before J’s birth, while my partner was putting the finishing touches on our little one in her womb, I was preparing my body for lactation. I started taking oral contraceptives for the first time in my life along with domperidone [a medication that can be used to induce lactation and in some circumstances increase milk supply]. About two weeks in, I was already lactating and I started power pumping with a commercial grade pump twice a day. I stopped the contraceptive after a month but continued with the pills.
A: When J was born, she was placed on my breast minutes after she came out, but she had a hard time latching.
N: When our doctor insisted, the nurses placed J on me and she latched on immediately. I can hardly describe how incredible it felt to have this tiny little thing, fresh out of the womb, find her way to my breast and expertly suckle. I was already lactating well past the colostrum phase and so the milk was readily accessible right away.
A: My breasts and nipples being much larger than N’s, made it hard for J to latch on throughout our stay at the hospital. All of this seemed normal to me. Baby wants milk, baby finds milk and immediately accustoms herself to N’s nipple. I also probably felt relieved that N was able to breastfeed J, allowing her to connect with her daughter in such a beautiful way and that I would still be able to give her my expressed milk. So at first I didn’t feel sad about not having J latch onto my breast directly.
N: The next few days at the hospital didn’t quite pan out the way either of us had hoped for. As A mentioned, we gave birth in Athens. It wasn’t what we’d planned but we had some complications in the third trimester that prevented us from flying back home for the birth. On the positive side, our doctor was amazing and made it possible for me to be present in the delivery room, even in these Covid times, plus there was the support for my induced lactation. On the negative side, well, let’s just say that the hospital staff didn’t really know how to process our little family.
For the next three days, a barrage of nurses, doctors and so on walked in and out of our room every couple of hours trying to force J onto my partner’s breast. It was immensely distressing for all three of us. But I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for my partner. J was feeding on me, but my supply wasn’t meeting her demands adequately. She was losing weight and her jaundice made it worrisome. We gave her formula – twice. Meanwhile, our midwife, who had, to her credit, helped me induce lactation successfully, was flaunting me around like her little miracle and it left me feeling like an animal in a zoo. To make matters worse, she declared that J had made her choice and she was likely never going to latch on my partner.
A: Unfortunately, what had initially started off as an adventurous experience for us as new mommies, turned quickly into a lot of tears and pain from my side. Not only did our midwife compromise my supply, she also threw away much of the colostrum I had produced by squeezing my breasts 24 hours after birth into a towel to relieve the pain. Perhaps my fault for not reading more about colostrum’s benefits? Or for not having insisted that J needed to latch onto me immediately or else…?
We didn’t have much evidence to contest the midwife’s statement, but we knew in our hearts that it couldn’t be true. We took matters in hand and got help from a local group and in minutes, J latched on me. A friend put us in touch with La Leche League in Cambridge, and after a couple of video calls I was really starting to build confidence along this journey.
N: Over the next week, J was feeding comfortably from both of us and eventually we were alternating feeds. And J’s weight started catching up.
A: We continue to face daily challenges as J grows. We are constantly working on N’s supply and making sure J latches well on both of us. But we don’t doubt for a second that we are doing what is best for J, and that it is allowing her to bond with both her mothers in a unique way as well as grow with milk from both of us.
N: For the month or so after J’s birth, I gradually tapered off my dosage of domperidone. I tried taking fenugreek and brewer’s yeast as supplements but they gave me too much flatulence, so I didn’t continue. After month two, I tried another over-the-counter herbal supplement and was taking a pill a day (which is much less than the recommended dose). I should pump every day, but I have never found pumping very enjoyable and with a lovely baby to fuss over and a million chores to take care of, pumping never makes it on the priority list.
A: We’re still faced with all sorts of strange prejudice from friends and professionals alike. Even our highly qualified paediatrician has hypothesised that J is nervous about feeding or may be experiencing more flatulence than usual because she’s drinking milk directly from two mothers.
N: Three months in, we’ve found our rhythm as a family. My partner is definitely the primary milk provider for our baby. My supply never caught up to hers, not that it was ever a competition. But thankfully, it has been steady. And sometimes when I feed her, she pauses, looks up at me, gives me a beaming smile and coos and it’s worth everything in the world to me.
A: We hope to have contributed to the little literature out there on two mothers co-feeding. We did feel isolated as we embarked on this adventure, and at times, accused of being selfish for confusing our daughter or risking her well-being. We stand by our decision and would encourage other families like ours to do the same if they feel it’s right for them.
LLLI article: Breastfeeding without giving birthing
Breastfeeding without Birthing, Alyssa Schnell (Praeclarus Press, 2013) available from www.lllgbbooks.co.uk/store/p229/BreastfeedingWithoutBirthing.html