Tag Archives: breasts

My Boobs Are Sad

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A while back, I mused about what would become of my breasts  when I was done nursing my youngest of my two children, Emily.

Emily weaned completely about six months ago, shortly after her fourth birthday.

I had written so many posts about how we were “almost there” with our weaning, that I haven’t really bothered to write anything about the fact that we actually did “get there.”

Weaning had been a very long process for us that took close to two years, as Emily slowed her nursing sessions to twice per day, and then only to once per day either in the morning or before bed.

I had wanted weaning to be a gradual and mutual decision.  I didn’t want it to be traumatic for either of us.  The beginning of my nursing relationship with Emily had been very traumatic as I suffered extreme nipple damage and had to really fight to keep my supply and the nursing relationship between my baby and myself.

Initially, I felt robbed of the “perfect” nursing experience with my daughter.  I’d had tons of struggles and antenatal depression with my first child, and had ended up needing to supplement with formula with him.

Although I am beyond thankful that all was well that ended well with my son, when I was pregnant with Em, I was really committed to the idea of exclusively nursing.  I felt certain that I had been better educated on breastfeeding due to the trial and error with my son, and that everything would go off without a hitch.

My confidence was shattered shortly after Emily’s birth when my nipples became mangled as a result of her tongue tie.  For 11 weeks, I battled a nipple wound that would not heal.  Finally we got things sorted out, but my supply never got back to what it needed to be to be able to pump milk for her to have upon my return to my job at 12 weeks after her birth.

I took a huge amount of comfort in the fact that she continued to nurse whenever she was with me, and that she almost always refused the bottle at daycare and then would reverse cycle all night with me.  Sure I was tired, but I was thrilled that we were not having to supplement with very much formula, and that Emily was such a champion nurser.

Eventually, I accepted that while our relationship was not what I could label “perfect” from the get go, it ended up being pretty amazing and sweet.

And it endured much longer than I thought it would.

My son had weaned completely at 23 months.  Like I said, we’d had to supplement him with formula, but he continued to nurse first thing in the morning with me until one morning he woke up, asked for milk in a cup and that was that.

I don’t remember having any truly intense feelings related to this weaning.  Sure it was bittersweet, but it was not devastating in any way.  And as a first-time mom, I was thrilled I’d been able to milk it out to nearly two years (pun intended!).

I had figured Em would wean around the same time.  But she didn’t.  She turned two and then three and still loved her milky cuddles with mama.  Around the time she turned three, we started talking about what it would be like for her to not nurse anymore.  Long story longer, she went another whole year and was still occasionally nursing when she turned four.

Then she stopped.

It was so gradual.  It was almost unnoticeable.

To be honest with you, I don’t really think about it all that often.

Until I do think about it and then it is difficult to stop thinking about it.

A client came to my office with her toddler a while back.  The child grew fussy, and she surprised me by offering him her breast, which he eagerly took and settled right down.  It was absolutely the most natural and graceful thing to watch.  I told her how thrilled I was that she was nursing her toddler, but the image stayed with me throughout the day and into the night along with a feeling of deep sorrow.

It had been the first time I’d seen a mom nursing since I weaned Emily.

And this is going to sound crazy, but I felt an actual physical sensation in my breasts like I used to feel when my milk let down.  But it was different.  It was like the shadow of that let down sensation, and I felt bereft.  It was like my boobs actually felt sad.

When you are bonding and nursing with a new baby, your body creates oxytocin which is the chemical that signals the need to produce milk.  It also creates a drowsy, sweet, loving feeling between you and your baby, which for me also extended to the world at large.

So, when I saw this mom nursing, it was like I got a surge of oxytocin but there was no milk and no baby to nurse.  I went home and felt the need to give Emily and Jack extra cuddles.

I think about how I am no longer nursing at other weird times too.  Like when I went to the pharmacy and was browsing the antacids and realized that I could take alka-seltzer again.  It used to be my go-to remedy before pregnancy and nursing, but it has aspirin in it so you can’t use it during the aforementioned times.  So I purchased it with a mix of hey-this-is-awesome and hey-this-is-super-sad.

I’m bummed about weaning in a lot of ways.  It makes me sad to not have that connection with another human any longer.  It is a reminder that children grow so quickly and things change faster than you can ever imagine.  I also blame the ten pound weight gain on weaning, as well as some of my hormonal shifts and mood swings. . . although I realize those should be well regulated by now.

There is no going backwards in life.

And as I continue marching forward, I am having trouble trying to figure out what to do with these floppy appendages that seem to be a permanent DDD cup size now and give me back and neck pain.  They are like an accessory that has gone out of style, only I can’t pack them away into the back of my closet or toss them in the junk drawer.

Once upon a time, they were pert and pretty.  They attracted people and were objects of potential sexual pleasure.  Then I had kids and they became vehicles of nurturance and nutrition.

About a week after I had Jack, I developed a urinary tract infection and went to a doctor.  She was excited to hear that I was breastfeeding and shared that she had nursed her kids and it had been a great experience for her.

“But your breasts are ruined for sex forever,” She had mused.  “They become like these tube socks with golf balls at the end.”

Well. . .

I guess mine are more like balloons with permanently erect, frozen peas at the end, so her very lucid description was a bit off there.  But she was right about one thing–  my boobs are of no use for my sex life anymore.  There is a cognitive dissonance that these soft things that Emily still likes to pat and rub her face on could be used for anything other than bringing comfort to my babies.

So, I guess it is a blessing my husband is an ass man.  Anyway, I digress. . .

Six months after weaning Emily, and I am still wondering what will become of my breasts now that I am done nursing.  I’m trying to figure out how I feel about them, and what to do about the sense of sadness and loss.

At the end of the day I am very proud and content with the nursing relationships I had with both Emily and Jack.  They were conflicted and diverse, but they were filled with love. Even as my boobs feel sad that it isn’t something I’ll ever share again with another human, I am grateful for the experiences I did have breastfeeding.

What was your weaning experience like?  Did you experience any hormonal shifts or depression with weaning?  Talk to me in the comments below.  I love to hear from you!  And please feel free to share my post on social media, or with other nursing/weaning moms in your life.  xoxo and momaste!  

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The Love Song of a Mom as Her Baby Turns Four (and is finally weaned)

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 After a full day of birthday excitement, Emily fell asleep almost instantly.

I leaned over her where she lay, nestled in the Hello Kitty pillows and blankets of her new, big-girl bed.

Much as I had, four years ago to the day, I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of her downy forehead, kissing her repeatedly, nuzzling her curled fist.

Her fingers smelled like birthday cake.  Vanilla and cream.

Tears prickled in my eyes and nose as I forced myself to stand, collect my dignity and I left the room of my little-big-girl.

We had a great day–  all the highs and lows you would expect of life with a four-year-old.

She’s actually been a little mean to me lately.  I don’t take it personally, really.  Except, it’s just, when she opened her new Frozen umbrella in the house and held it up between us saying, “I don’t want to look at your grubby old face, Mama,” well, it stung a bit.

I was also wounded by her rejection of the birthday bouquet I bought her.  Last year her heart’s desire was a bouquet of flowers on her birthday.  Thinking I would make it a tradition, I got her another big bouquet this year only to be screamed at because she didn’t want flowers.

Of course, in both instances, three minutes later she was telling me she loves me as big as the sky, a giraffe, the dinosaur at the science museum, and the whole world.

  
I wonder if that is what the relationship between a mother and daughter is like, that push and pull, the love and loathing, the devotion and distance?

I also wonder if the fact she is now completely weaned from nursing has anything to do with her grumpiness towards me.

It probably doesn’t.

I’m probably just protecting the sense of rejection  because my onset of tears at her bedside had a lot to do with the fact that she has not asked to nurse in over a week, and the fact that we have talked about her fourth birthday as being the weaning Rubicon.  My words.  Not hers.

It is a natural progression.

My gratitude runs plenty deep for how gradual and mutual our weaning has been.  While I never, ever thought I would be “that mom” nursing a preschooler, I also very much wanted Emily to feel like she was totally ready to move on from nursing.  I didn’t want it to be sad, scary, or traumatic for either of us.

There were some moments where is was sad.  Moments when I thought she would ask to nurse and she didn’t.  Moments where she really wanted to nurse and I just didn’t have it in me and she cried because I set a boundary with her and refused.

And the exceptionally rare moments when she was truly exhausted and fell asleep at my breast–  this big doll of a child who grows lankier by the day–  and my heart filled to bursting and then broke because it doesn’t last.

None of it.

I remember those early days of nursing my kids through the nights and how perpetual it seemed, how there was no perspective to know that it was all really just a fleeting gift, how the never-ending sense was illusory.

I’m really proud Emily and I made it through nipple trauma, being touched out, my return to work, lack of societal support, and the general social stigma of a full term nursing relationship.

I really will treasure it.  And I hope somewhere in her exponentially exploding brain she will remember a little snippet of how much she loved nursing.  I pray she will feel it is something normal and natural, and that she will pay it forward with a little nursling of her own someday.

I think of how patient she was, even as a newborn at my breast waiting for my milk to come in.  I think of the adoration she lavished on me, her cheek nuzzled into my chest.  I think of how she would stop nursing to smile up at me with a big, milky grin.  I think of how she would refuse her bottles at daycare all day and then stay up all night nursing because she wanted mama and just mama.

I don’t know if I’ve ever known a love so gratifying, or a feeling as powerful as nourishing a child from my own body.  Maybe that is selfish.  Maybe it is.

But I will let this be.

I will let it go.

And after the tears run dry and my vision clears, I’ll be just fine with it.  It is a very natural progression after all.

When my son turned four, I was expecting his sister.  His birthday was a major milestone, and a major holiday for us.  We had a huge party and we celebrated him with all the glory due a firstborn turning four.

But there must have been a part of me that was distracted, and didn’t really realize the significance of a three-year-old-toddler morphing before my eyes into a four-year-old-preschooler.

Emily is my last baby.

The significance is palpable.

In many ways, but most of all, in the damp salt of my tears as I walked out of her room after putting her to bed on her fourth birthday.

  
***author’s note:  the very next morning, emily came to me as soon as she got up and asked to nurse.  just goes to show how utterly unpredictable this parenting gig really is.  of course i allowed it, because even though she is four now, i prefer to be guided by her needs and by my heart as a mom, rather than a date on a calendar.  xo.  

When Will We Wean?

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It seems like I’ve been writing posts for the past two years about weaning my daughter, Emily.

It seems this way, because I HAVE been writing posts for the past two years about weaning Emily, who will turn four in November.

While there were several nursing strikes and times where we have skipped sessions, Emily, for the most part, has insisted on having her milkies first thing in the morning, and then right before bed.  I really thought she would wean at two.  Then, when she didn’t, I really thought she would wean at two and a half.  And then three years came and went.

I’ve been talking to her about how she is a bigger girl now, and how it is okay for her to have milk from a cow, or milk from a coconut, or milk from a goat.  She seems intrigued by the idea of all these different milks, but has been fairly insistent on her mama milk.

Since she turned three (and I inwardly thought enough is enough about nursing), I’ve been operating on the “don’t ask/don’t refuse” policy.

Until recently, she always asked.  Until recently, I never refused.

But over this summer, there has been a gentle shift in our breastfeeding relationship.

There were some nights where I was way too hot and sweaty to have her on me, and I gently refused to nurse with her.  During these times she got upset and cried and it was hard for me to tolerate.  Instead, I would offer her a cuddle, or a song, or a story, or to watch “Baby Mine” on Youtube seven times.  She would eventually settle down, and I would maintain my sanity.

The major difference was we were both okay with it.

For me, weaning is an emotional topic.  Emily is my last baby.  I fought so hard to nurse both my children, so the ending of this very special and intimate relationship is a bittersweet for both of us.  To feel I am finally in a place where I am ready, willing, and able to wean Emily completely is a major milestone.

Don’t get me wrong, had Emily been ready to wean at two or three, it would have happened.  I would have felt sad, but would have gone gracefully following her lead.  I’ve certainly never forced Emily to nurse.

I believe a child and mother come full circle with their nursing connection when both are ready.

I know some find nursing a toddler to be crazy or creepy, that I should have set a limit way back when, and that it is just plain weird for a child to be able to ask for what they need/want.

Someone I am “friends” with on Facebook just posted a really judgmental statement about full-term nursing along with an article about a mom nursing her three-year-old.  Out of morbid curiosity, I scrolled down the comments her friends had posted, and was saddened to see so many people who found it to be a negative and icky thing to nurse an older toddler.

I personally cannot fathom why someone would NOT want to nurse a child beyond infancy, but that’s just the point–  I don’t understand it.  It isn’t my brain, or my situation, or my story to tell.  So, I try not to be judgmental about their judgment, or to take it as a personal affront on my beliefs or relationship with my child.  Everyone’s relationship is different.  If you aren’t one of the people in the relationship, then yeah, you’re not going to get it.  But to rush to calling something mean names because you don’t understand it is not nice, IMHO.

What I’m rambling around to A.) is that despite the fact it has lasted longer than I expected, my nursing relationship with Emily feels like it has been right for us.  And now it feels right that I am pushing the weaning a little bit more assertively than I have in the past. And B.) Don’t judge what you don’t know/understand.  Please.  We moms already take enough crap and make enough second guesses for every move we make in this society.

I have let Emily know that it is my body and if I don’t want her to nurse she will have to respect my boundaries.  Because like any other relationship, breastfeeding is a two way street, and boundaries need to be respected and attended to.

Over this summer, there have been other times where Emily forgot to ask for nursing.  And I left it at that.  There have also been a few occasions where Emily slept over at a grandparents’ house and went without nursing and was totally find.

As I write this, it has currently been two and a half days since she last snuggled into me to nurse.

It feels like we are getting there, and I’m so glad we are both okay with it.

I’ve let her know that when she turns four, we will no longer do milkies.  Her three year old brain is processing this information, but it feels like it will be time, and we will both be read, willing, and able.

When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

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Many of you who have been blogging with me for a while now know I have continued breastfeeding my daughter, Emily, who is now three and a half.

Yes. You heard me right. I’m nursing a toddler who is really now more of a preschooler.

I always thought she would self wean around age two, like her older brother did. But two years came and went and we were still nursing quite a bit. Three years passed and she had gotten down to two nursing sessions per day– once first thing in the morning and then right before bed.

To be honest with you, I don’t mind it. To be really honest with you, I love it.

I love the stillness and connection we share during those times, which is really only a few minutes now, before she is off and running or sound asleep. I love knowing her diet is being supplemented with the best stuff nature can offer. I love that it continues to reduce my risks of feminine cancers. I love that we are continuing to share a biological connection, that I continue to nourish her as I did when she was floating inside me.  I love the way she strokes my face and looks at me with total contentment.

Don’t get me wrong–  I have been talking with her about weaning for the better part of a year, but it has been a laid back conversation between us. For example, one night we had this conversation:

“Someday, Em, you won’t need milk-kee-kees,” I said, using her special code word for booby time. “You can have milk in a cup. And you can have milk from a cow, or milk from a goat, or even milk from a coconut!”

“I sink I will have milk fwom a cow,” she said decisively and then paused to think.  I could see the wheels turning.

“What are you thinking, Emily?”

She started to laugh, “I sinkin’ about a cow dwinkin’ milk fwom a cow in a cup!”  We both cracked up over that one and then she decided she wanted her nighttime nursies so I whipped out the boob.

I never planned to be nursing this long, and I keep thinking she will wean any time now, and it will be okay.  I don’t offer her my breast any more, but I don’t refuse it if she asks, either.  She has very nice nursing manners, and she doesn’t bite.  We also had such a hard time nursing in the beginning, that I feel it is our karma to be enjoying a wonderful companionship at the breast now.

It is a nursing relationship that works for us.

For a lot of people, weaning happens naturally at a year or two.  Other women have to wean prematurely due to complications, health issues, or separations from their babies.  Then there are women like me who chose to allow the child to self wean when they are ready.  Whatever the reason, weaning is a personal choice and process that happens between mother and baby.   There should be no judgement or hard and fast rules about how a mom goes about weaning her child.

A lot of people don’t really understand “full-term” nursing.  I think part of this misunderstanding is do to lack of education on breastfeeding in general, and also to lack of exposure.  Many women who do nurse past a year, or gasp! two years, are criticized by friends and family.  I’ve heard moms say even their pediatricians have been critical and negative about nursing an older baby.  So, many women are not open about it when the breastfeed past the times that society thinks is “acceptable.”

Another stumbling block is the overtly sexual connotations breasts have in our highly sexualized culture.  Many find it weird, kinky, or disgusting if a mom choses to nurse past infancy.  This view, IMHO, is totally unfortunate.

Still others believe a child will become clingy, dependent, and socially ostracized if they breastfeed longer than a year.  This is usually not the case.  In fact, there are studies that have shown children who nurse longer are actually more independent, confident, and do just fine socially.  I can tell you for a fact this is the case with my super-strong-willed daughter.

Finally, there is the camp that states it is “all about the mother” when a woman and child nurse into toddlerhood, that it is satisfying some bizarre need the mother has to infantilize their child.  While I can see how this assumption might seem logical, I don’t think it is necessarily the truth.  A child has to be willing to nurse; it isn’t something that can be forced.  Nursing is a relationship.  It takes two to tango.

This doesn’t mean a woman won’t have pangs of mixed emotions when her child weans.  Some women are thrilled to “get their body back.”  Other women feel a sense of loss and sorrow.

For example, I submit the following for your consideration:

Tonight, for the first time ever, Emily responded to my offer to have milk in a cup instead of milk-kee-kees by choosing the cup.  I’ve been offering her this choice for months, and she never once has taken me up on it.  I was surprised when I poured out her milk, but there was a part of me that figured she would still ask for nursing once we got into her room for bedtime.

She didn’t.

And that kind of shocked me.

And it hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair that I always sit in to nurse her, and then stay in as she falls off to sleep.  She started to climb into her bed and then she came over and hugged me, said goodnight, and covered my face with kisses.

Is this really happening?  I asked myself.  I hugged on her for an extra moment, in a state disbelief, certain she would change her mind and climb up into my lap.

She didn’t.

And then I realized I was feeling a little clingy and uncomfortable, so I let her trot off to her bed.  I knew if I offered, she would climb up on my lap and tuck in, but I also knew if I did that it would be satisfying my own need to be her mom, as opposed to her need to assert herself.

I figured I had to let her go, so as not to give her mixed messages about her ability to wean when she is ready.  Because to give her mixed messages like that would be unfair and confusing for both of us.

None of this means she won’t want to nurse tomorrow first thing in the morning, or be off the boob wagon by tomorrow night, and that’s okay.  But it does kind of make me feel we are a step closer to that weaning stop on our journey.

It took her longer than usual to fall asleep, and I sat there in the rocking chair with my feeling of sadness because three and a half years may seem like a really long time to you, but it has gone by in the blink of an eye, and change is hard.  I feel so blessed that ultimately this has been a wonderful experience, and I have given her a really positive view of breastfeeding that I pray she will carry with her throughout life.

Hopefully, as my daughter and I grow, both as individuals, and together in our relationship, we will find new and wonderful ways to feel connected and safe and special with one another.

What was weaning like for you?  

Breastfeeding is Hard

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IMG_7438My little daughter, Emily, was playing with baby dolls.  She wanted me to play with her.  Handing me a soft, pink baby, she told me baby was hungry.  I pretended to lift the corner of my sweater, pantomimed nursing the doll for three seconds, then burped it.

“No, Mama!” Emily said.  “Dat baby get her milk fwom a cup.”

“Really?” I asked.  “She looks kind of small to be drinking from a cup already.”  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I felt a little judgey  of Emily’s parenting of her doll, so I added, “Ok, Em.  Why don’t you get her a cup and show me how you feed baby.”

Emily trotted off to her kitchen play area and came back with a pretend jug of milk.  She lovingly dumped the milk down baby’s mouth and then held baby to burp her, just like I had.

She giggled when she made the pretend “Buuurrrppp!”

A little while later, Emily picked dolly back up, proclaimed baby was hungry again, and started to tug at the collar of her top.  It took me a moment to figure out what she was trying to do.  When I nurse Emily, either in the morning or before bed, I am usually wearing a tank top that I pull down over my breast to allow her access.  Emily was trying to do the same.

Her top had a snug, high neck, so she was unable to do it.  She looked at me pleadingly.

“I don’t know how to get her undah’ deah,” she said.

“Well, Emily, honey,” I said.  “That shirt won’t work to pull down, so why don’t you sit down with baby and try pulling up the corner of your shirt?”

I thought I was being helpful, but Emily got really frustrated.  After another moment of struggling with her shirt, she threw the baby doll down and stomped off, crying.  When I tried to help more, the situation escalated to a full-scale tantrum that lasted 15 minutes and ended with Emily going down for her nap.

Poor kid.  It’s hard to be three.

But seriously, I’ve been there with breastfeeding.

I remember struggling with my babies to get them to latch comfortably under my shirt.  It was so awkward, exhausting, and painful in the beginning.  I remember the frustration of not to be able to feed my babies quickly, easily, and painlessly.  Ugh.  Not just frustrating, but demoralizing.

I spent hours crying about it during those early weeks of motherhood.  My nursing relationship with my newborn son was initially so awful it contributed to postpartum depression and anxiety.

While I never wanted to throw my babies, I did feel urges to put them down, quietly go make a bottle, and be done with breastfeeding once and for all.

I’m glad I didn’t quit, but perseverance was hard.

With both babies, we developed a nursing relationship that worked for us (after some close monitoring, assistance, and support from a skilled lactation consultant, the pediatrician, and my doctor).  With both children, the first step was addressing tongue ties and nipple infections.

With my son, severe sleep deprivation was contributing to my depression, so I had to come to peace with letting my husband supplement with bottles while I got a few extra hours of sleep.  Because I had trouble responding to a breast pump, we used formula.  In the long run, coming to terms with mix-feeding likely saved any semblance of a nursing relationship with Jack.  He weaned completely just before he turned two.

Emily also needed supplementation due to my experience with crazy nipple trauma, and supply issues when I returned to work.  She was a picky eater, however, and never really took to her bottles the way Jack did.  She ended up nursing all night long to make up for what she didn’t eat during the day, and I was fine with this because it meant she was almost exclusively breastfed.  There were times when I couldn’t pump enough for her and she was offered formula at daycare, especially after she started solids at six months and my supply dipped.

With both kids, I remember feeling really angry at how difficult it was to breastfeed.  I had figured it would be the easiest and most natural thing in the world, as I think many women who plan to nurse their babies figure.  Latch on.  Latch off.

It was shocking to me to find how uncomfortable, time consuming, and confusing it was.  Shocking!

I’m not sure why breastfeeding is hard for other women, but I think in my case, as a very independent, modern woman in a fast paced society, it was a challenge to have to really struggle at something and have this tiny human glued to an organ that in 30-something years had never really been put to the test before.  I was not prepared for the discomfort, supply issues, or sense of being totally touched out.

That, and for all our society advocates for moms to breastfeed, it really isn’t supportive of it in the larger scheme of things.

  • Formula companies lie in wait to prey on new moms who are vulnerable from sleep-deprivation and anxiety of wanting to do everything correctly for their darling new babe, with glossy ads that promise their product is just as good as their own milk (spoiler alert:  it isn’t).
  • In the US, there are no paid maternity leaves, and so just as a mom and baby are establishing their nursing relationship, mom may have to return to the workforce, thereby disrupting lactation.
  • Women often have to fight for their right to pump for their babies in a clean and private space at work, although they shouldn’t.
  • The breast is still viewed as a device of female sexuality, rather than a food-delivery-system for babies.
  • People are all kinds of judgemental and uneducated about when, what, where, how, and for how long women should nurse.  God forbid you nurse a baby past a year, or into toddlerhood, as I did with Emily.
  • Speaking of education, even highly educated people (such as myself) have a general lack of understanding about how lactation works, why it is important, and how to troubleshoot common issues.
  • And don’t even get me started on the controversy about nursing in public.  I mean WHY is that still even an issue?  There continues to be societal stigma around breastfeeding which keeps it from becoming the norm.

The last reason is why, when Emily gives me a doll to feed, I always pretend to nurse it.  I want my children to see breastfeeding as something that is normal, natural, and totally worthwhile even if, as Emily discovered today, it is not always simple.

Did you struggle to breastfeed?  Were you tempted to quit?  How did you make your nursing relationship work for you and your child?    

Ooops. I Forgot To Wean My Child

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The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

In the company of an old friend, I happened to mention I am still breastfeeding.  My daughter, Emily, is nearly three years old, and she still enjoys nursing twice a day- first thing in the morning, and right before bed.

It’s just something we do; the cozy and quiet bookends of days which are otherwise noisy, busy, and hectic.

Nursing a toddler is not a matter I give much thought, until it comes up, and then it usually makes others go “hmmmm,” which is what happened in this case.  The subject came up with my childless pal, and she looked at me with wide eyes, her jaw hanging, and gasped, “Why?!”

Nonplussed, I smiled and shrugged.  “I dunno.  She still likes it, I guess.”

“But don’t you have to wean?” my friend asked.  In some circles this sort of response might make me uncomfortable, or even annoyed, but because she never bore or breastfed children, and had no knowledge on the subject, it didn’t really bother me.

“Moms and babies don’t ‘have’ to wean until they are both ready,” I explained.  “At this point, if I just stopped cold-turkey, it would be traumatic for both of us.”

“But your boobs are still enormous!” My friend exclaimed,” Are you saying they are still full of momma-milk?”

I laughed and explained a.) the science behind the supply-and-demand nature of breastfeeding, and b.) that my boobs have always been big, have gotten even bigger with nursing my children, and are likely to stay big beyond weaning.  That’s just my anatomy.

We left it at that.  My friends accept me for being a rather crunchy gal, and I’m sure they chalk my “extended” breastfeeding relationship with Emily up to that.  It isn’t something about which I am ashamed, and I don’t really care if it raises an eyebrow or causes chatter behind my back.  I’m always happy to add a few lines of knowledge to someone’s understanding of breastfeeding, or to normalize it in our society.

While I wasn’t hurt or offended, it did make me question why I was still nursing this toddler.  I nursed my son, Jack, until he was 23 months, and figured Emily would follow suit and wean herself around the same time.  I never really expected to be breastfeeding for this long, yet, here we are.

I sorta’ just forgot to wean her, or more accurately, I just never got around to it.

I’ve written before about nursing a toddler, and usually, somewhere within those posts, I write, “I know our nursing days are numbered. . .”  A few times when Emily didn’t seem interested in nursing, and I thought we were naturally at the end of our nursing relationship.  Well, it has been nearly three years and now I am wondering if our nursing days will ever end.

According to the page about weaning on Kellymom.com, the traditional definition of “weaning” is when your baby begins to eat any food other than breast milk.  In American society, however, “weaning” means packing away the boobs for good and not nursing anymore.  It seems there may be other parts of the world where extended breastfeeding, or nursing beyond one or two years of age, are more accepted.  But it seems like it is generally misunderstood.

Many think breast milk loses its nutritional benefits after a certain point.  This is simply not true.  According to Kellymom.com:  It’s a myth that the benefits of breastmilk stop at a certain point. Instead, they continue and are more significant and longer-lasting for both you and your child the longer breastfeeding continues. In fact, the antibodies in human milk are more concentrated the lesser the frequency of breastfeeding is (say with a toddler or older child). If you nurse on into your child’s toddler years he won’t even need cow’s milk as long as he receives other foods rich in protein, calcium, and fats, and nurses at least a couple of times a day.

In other words, there is still a nutritional benefit to Emily tanking up on mama juice a couple times a day, which may be why she is rarely sick, and why when she does get sick she is usually over it quickly.

It isn’t something we are just doing to be weird, alternative, or because there is a secondary gain of mutual enjoyment from it.

And how about that mutual enjoyment?  I’m not going to lie, I like nursing Emily.  There are times when I feel like maybe I am ready to get my body back, but most of the time I love that my daughter is bonding with me in such a special way, and that she is getting a daily dose of health straight from the tap.  It has not impaired either of us socially.  She is not clingy or dependent on me, in fact, she is a confident youngster with an fiery independent spirit.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer. . . There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.”  It has been noted that the natural age for weaning among humans is between two and seven years.

Wait, SEVEN years old?!  Ok, I’m not that girl who will nurse a child big enough to take up an entire couch.  I’m confident Emily will wean when she doesn’t feel the need for nursing any more.

I have set boundaries around our nursing relationship.  For example, she does not have an unlimited-around-the-clock-milk-buffet at her disposal.  Toddlers are naturally distractible creatures, and for a while, Emily was wanting to nurse, get up, wander around, play, and then nurse again.  It was driving me crazy.  So, I made a rule that if she gets up, “the milk center is closed.”  It works for us, although there are times I’ve had to be firm about it.

Emily has always had impeccable nursing manners.  She doesn’t grab at me or beg for boobs when we are out in public.  She doesn’t bite.  Every once in a while she will ask to nurse in the middle of the day, but she is understanding and accepts it when I tell her there is no milk in there at those times.  Her proper nursing etiquette is one reason I’ve been able to tolerate nursing this long.

With my son, who was our first child, I was eager to meet all milestones early.  I couldn’t wait for him to walk, talk, eat solids, use the potty.  He was a quick study, but stubborn.  He taught me that it would all eventually fall into place, but it might not be on my timeline, and that was okay.  As a society, we tend to be very fast paced, to rush things, and to focus on the product or the destination, rather than the process or the journey.

This time around, with Emily, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to parenting.  In some ways, I am still a huge, stressy mess, but in other ways, I’ve been able to savor a bit more of the journey.  Even when it seems like it is taking forever, when I look behind me, I am always amazed at what a rapid blur it’s all been.

I’ve started talking to her about weaning, letting her know that eventually, she will be a bigger girl who won’t want to nurse.

Her reply:  “No.  I yittle.  I do milk with mama.  It taste yike stwabewee tot take.  It dee best in dee whooole wold.”

Sigh.

It looks like for now we will continue our twice a day pattern, oblivious to the big social clock that is ticking away, and judging us on not doing things quicker.

I know for a fact she will not go to kindergarten wanting to nurse.  I have confidence in this fact in the same way I am confident ALL children learn to use the potty and sleep through the night eventually.  Some kids are swifter than others with their developmental milestones, and others take their sweet time, but they all get there sooner or later.

Are there any milestones you forgot to “do” with your child?  When did you wean?  What factors influenced your decision to wean?  

Being Away From Babies

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20140527-104408-38648399.jpgToday I travel to NY for a funeral.  I’ll be staying overnight in a hotel.  Since Jack is still in school, and the kids are really too young to understand grief and loss and the traditions of mourning, I am going by myself.

To some of you, it may sound strange that in nearly seven years of being a mom, I’ve not willingly been away from my family for a full 24 hours.  Of course when I had Emily I was in the hospital for a few nights, and Jack had sleepovers with relatives.  He occasionally sleeps out at the grandparents’, but I’ve never spent a night away from Em.

And she still nurses.

Of course, as I mentioned last week, she is showing signs of weaning.  In the morning, she will only nurse one side.  She sits up after a few minutes and says, “No other side!” then sets to playing or watching Curious George on the ipad.

At night she nurses on one side, then wiggles away to brush teeth, say good night to her father and brother, and generally try to scamper out of bedtime.  I’ll put her in her crib, and she will lie down, but then pop up again and say, “Cuddle mommy.”  Which means she wants to come out and have the other side.  Sometimes she taps my chest with her pointer finger, and says, “Theese side,” with a grave expression, as though she is choosing a bottle of wine.

She only nurses twice a day, but those times are bookends between bedtime and waking up.

I wonder if she will miss me, or if it will hasten her weaning process to miss two nursing sessions with me.

I wonder if I will feel any discomfort from not nursing at those regularly scheduled times.

I stopped pumping nearly two years ago, so there isn’t any freezer stash she can have in a cup, and at this point if I tried to pump I’d likely only get a couple drops, if anything at all, although there seems to be plenty there for Emily when she takes it straight from the tap.  (Babies are far more efficient at getting milk from a breast than a pump is, so not being able to pump anymore is not any indication of supply, BTW.)

I did let her know I would be away, and that her daddy could give her milk in a cup and then she could brush her teeth, but I don’t think she really understood what I was getting at.

I wonder if Jack will behave for his father, and if the children will cooperate and get along with one another in my absence.

It will most likely all go well, and I will be home in time for bedtime tomorrow night.

But still. . .

There is a curious pang in my heart about going away, and especially about being away from my toddler who is almost ready to wean.

How do you handle being away from your children for the night?  Is it hard for you to be away?  Did you ever have to be away from a nursling, and if so, how did it affect your nursing relationship?