We’ve written a lot about Gail’s adventures in re-lactating for Ira, and at our last check-in, it still wasn’t clear we were going to get a big payoff from all of that work (piles of herbs and pills, way too much quality time with that pump). At this point, it’s still not clear we’ll get a huge benefit, but we are starting to see some real perks for both of us.
The most obvious payoff is that (starting a week ago) we are now able to trade complete nights of caring for Ira, who nurses 2-4 times per night. As you’ll recall, better sharing of nighttime care was one of Gail’s primary motivations, and was something we struggled with when Leigh was a baby. While it would have been possible to trade whole nights by pumping ahead and/or supplementing a bit with formula (and we’d recommend doing so to families that contain more than one parent once supply is established), it does make things nicer that Gail can simply nurse Ira instead of fussing with bottles. Of the three nights that she has done so far, on two of them she had enough milk on her own to keep him happy. On one night, she did need to use a few extra ounces to supplement, and it was kind of a pain, but they did fine. On that night, I heard Ira getting fussy from my perch on the living room futon, reminded myself that Gail had plenty of milk in there (she had set up the supplemental nurser with some extra milk in a cooler at the beginning of the night for just such an eventuality), and relished my chance to just go back to sleep. On the two other nights, I didn’t hear a peep.
Logistically, on my “off” nights, (i.e. the nights I sleep!), it seems to work well for me to pump before I go to bed and once in the early morning. That generates enough milk to cover his feedings (I’m still trying not to lose supply even though Ira didn’t actually need my milk for those feedings), keep me comfortable, and not interrupt my sleep too much. I set up the pump right by the futon and pump with the lights out in order to stay sleepy. It is way faster and easier than doing a whole feeding for a baby this age, and I don’t have to do that whole wondering “does that grunt mean he’s hungry?” routine that totally kills my sleep even if Ira is sleeping fine. The pump doesn’t really grunt at all.
One of the most wonderful things about this set up is that we can both look forward to both kinds of nights. It is very sweet and cuddly to do night feedings for a young baby. Ira is generally pretty calm and feeds well at night (his daytime feedings are often a bit fussier). He is super cute and snuggly, and I love staring at him in the half light of early morning. I get to love it even more since I know that even though I’m tired after being up every couple hours, I’ll get a solid 8-9 hours the next night. After three full nights of sleep (alternating with baby nights of half-sleep), I feel like I’m already starting to pay off some of that sleep debt. I’m nicer. I’m a better parent to Leigh. I might even start to regrow some brain cells. I also love it that Gail is getting those same sleepy snuggles, as well as the rest that she needs.
I craved more of those nighttime snuggles with Leigh, and they were hard for Gail to share for a variety of reasons. Now that I’m on this side, I feel similar pressures. When Gail suggested that it might be time to trade whole nights with Ira instead of having her do one feeding, I balked. My stated reason was that it seemed too hard and like the pumping would be too demanding. But there was also a piece of me that didn’t want to give up control. It was only a momentary hesitation before I agreed, but it was definitely there. But now that we’re making trading nights work, it feels fabulous. Yes, we could have done it with bottles, but I’m not sure we would have. I think it would have been harder for me to get over my initial hesitation, and Gail wouldn’t have had quite as much power to lobby to take on more than just one night feeding.
So, Gail, thanks for all your hard work, thanks for the sleep, and thanks for taking such great care of our son.