Reflecting on 5 years of lactating
August 8-14, 2022 marked the celebration of Indigenous Milk Medicine Week. The collective that organized events held on Facebook and virtually this past week brought together Indigenous lactation counselors and milk medicine educators to share information, answer questions, and provide space for the sacred milk makers in our communities across Turtle Island and beyond- including me. I led a yoga flow for caregivers and lactating parents- a style of a class I plan to offer as part of my services soon!
Being invited to the space and hearing about the week’s events had me reflecting back on my own lactating journey. Not only did I meet my goal of exclusively lactating for 1 year, I ended up doing it for 5 years!
It was exhausting. Tiring most days. At the time we started and Bubba was just days old, I was on PTO for maternity leave. I used up the rest of my leave and even took some unpaid leave through FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) so that I could stay home to nurse him. I was able to take about 10 weeks off before I had to go back to work. I was able to bring him with me to my office for a really short time, which helped our lactating journey tremendously. However, it wasn’t enough for me to really feel supported or seen with how hard it was to work full time and our doodooshaboo time.
And as he grew into a toddler, it became even harder.
I was tired. Tired of feeling like I had to keep it a secret from his daycare. Tired of feeling like I had to keep it a secret from my workplace. Tired of people not understanding why we kept lactating. And I was tired of having to work to be able to have daycare for him, and have daycare in order to work, instead of being able to spend time with him during the day. It seemed unfair to me. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not grateful for the opportunities my job gave me to travel with him when he was smaller or being able to cover our needs.
Nobody he went to daycare with was still having their doodooshaboo time. They had all been weaned fairly early. It was easy for me to feel isolated and misunderstood with nursing a toddler. I didn’t care what other people thought though. I already knew that providing him my milk after he turned 1, even after he turned 2, would only benefit him more. And quite honestly, I didn’t feel the need to stop. I took the lead from him and my body. Both were mutually set on keeping it up until we started hard core weaning at 4 years old. By then, we were down to nursing only as part of our bedtime routine. And by 5 years old, it was once a night to a few times a week. Until we decided that it was time.
Our doodooshaboo time was such a gift. It was our time to check-in with each other, wind down from the day, and melt all of our worries and stresses away. It was something I looked forward to every day. And we do both miss our doodooshaboo time. He knows that he can’t do doodooshaboo time anymore. He will just stare at them and want to snuggle with a sad face. Which, let’s me know that it was as precious and special to him, as it was to me. *Weaning tips will be in a separate blog post*
The crazy growth he had in his first 9 months was wild. And it was so cool to realize that I did that! My body, my milk, and his little hunger cues, did that!! I’m super proud of that version of me for creating such a safe space for my human and not listening to anyone else but my body, my needs, and my baby Bubba.
Aside from experiencing the teething pains, sporadic feeding with his growth spurts, waking every so often to nurse in the middle of the night, leaking, some shame and guilt, some major FOMO, and having mastitis 5x over those 5 years, I do not regret it. I only wished I had more knowledge about my energy, my own healing, and had some more support in those years.
There is SO much more I could share about our 5 years of lactating. But for now, I want to leave you with ways you can support the lactating partner or friends or family in your life.
Ways to Support Lactating Partners & Friends
Check in on them. Something that is supremely underrated is once parents decide to nurse their precious humans, is being checked in on. It’s something that happens too often in the postpartum period. One of the best things you can do as a partner, friend, or family member, is to check in on your lactating people! Give them a call or text and genuinely ask how they are feeling, what they need, and just visit. IF they are okay with visitors when baby turns 2 months, give them a visit.
2. Listen to them. Listen to their needs, concerns, doubts, and worries. It is likely they just want to express it and want someone to listen. No judgements, no quirky advice, no dumb comments. Just to be listened to, seen, and heard. If you pick up on what they are saying, share some affirmations, maybe state the facts, and have some empathy for them. Be a good relative and meet them where they’re at. Knowing some things are not for you to solve or take on. Some examples phrases to say could be, “I’m sorry, that sounds like a lot” or “Thank you for trusting me with this information”.
3. Feed them. Lactating folks are HUNGRY! It’s hard work making milk! Something you can do is make sure they have food, and good food or their favorite meals around. You could start a meal train, buy them their favorite takeout meal, or cook for them. It’s very likely that they already do so much for others that cooking a meal or meal planning could be a bit overwhelming. And you probably already know what they like or don’t like, so go ahead and offer to feed them. Let them know, too (unless they are good with surprises)!
4. Keep them hydrated. The THIRST! The thirst during milk making can feel like you’re hydrating for a 10K or more! Seriously though. Hydration is super helpful for making milk. The more your body is hydrated, the easier it is on your body to produce milk. And there is nothing great about dehydration, especially when you’re lactating. Make sure your lactating partner and people have access to good water and/or teas. Juices, coconut water, and electrolyte drinks are helpful, too if that’s what they like!
5. Offer support and follow through. A huge thing that helps out lactating people do their thing is when they have the help and support they need. That means you as the supportive partner, friend, or family member is washing the dishes, taking out the trash, doing the laundry, folding the clothes, cooking meals, helping with the other kiddos, calling to schedule the appointments, get the other kiddos to their activities, and other things that make this time easeful for the lactating person. This will not look the same for everybody. Know how you can support your lactating folks by asking or offering your help and follow through with it. And if you know you can't offer much support, no need to try to offer it. It will mean the world to them!
The bottom line is that lactating people are doing such amazing work by feeding the next generation and fostering their growth in a critical time. They deserve to be nourished, supported, and respected. Lactating isn’t for everyone, but with your help, you can make their experience easeful and supported.
Constant Motion Woman (Pearl) is an Indigenous doula, lactation counselor, yoga instructor, and parent. You can learn more about her work here or by following her on instagram @constantmotionwoman.
She lives in the Bemidji area and serves families that align with her values and ideas around, pregnancy, birth, postpartum, lactation, and parenting.