Confessions of a nursing mother: toddler edition

Maybe I am soft. Maybe it’s instinct or maybe I am pro-breastfeeding philosophically and that motivates my decision to keep nursing my son, Miles. To be real and honest, I don’t know if it’s any of these things, or none of them. In fact, I don’t know how we made it this long, but I am nursing my 19 month old toddler and there seems to be no end in sight.

I am writing this after a particularly upsetting experience. it’s 1:07am. Miles just woke up wanting to nurse and I rolled over wanting to sleep. He started crying, correction, wailing…loudly. So many tears… so quickly. I reached out a hand and he batted it away. He didn’t want my comforting touch. He was mad – mad that i refused him in my sleepy stupor. The angry screaming woke me up (although not as quickly as you might expect) and I let him nurse at 1:13. he is now back asleep at 1:16.

What did I learn from this experience? I am not sure. But it is dawning on me that nursing has become something other than a nutrient source, something other than a bonding exercise. I think I am the human equivalent of a binky and I am not totally sure how I feel about this. These are the confessions of a nursing mother – with 19 months of experience and a lot of stories to tell.

I bit of a background on my foray into the fabulous world of breastfeeding. I haven’t gone to a La Leche meeting, I never took a class, and I didn’t read any books on the topic. I did, on desperate occasions involving mastitis, phone some experienced friends and at one point met with a lactation consultant. Despite the general lack of forma training, we (Miles and I) figured it out.

On nursing an infant:

This is toddler edition, so I will keep this part brief. I will post on nursing an infant another day. But to recap this time, the first few weeks were the most difficult and painful. Once nursing became painful it only got worse and worse. I don’t know why at that point I didn’t stop. I made a firm decision that I was going to breastfeed and stopping was not an option. I am stubborn like that. Miles had a frenulum issue (that bit of flesh under the tongue connecting it to the mouth). It prevented a good latch. Once we had that fixed things dramatically (miraculously) improved. Once nursing was no longer painful, it could be downright relaxing. Miles was also colicky and nursing helped a ton! It also made him a roley poley cutie 🙂

Infant nursing was largely about things like the latch, positioning, recognizing and swiftly dealing with plugged ducts or engorgement, managing supply, pumping. The toddler phase is more about the relationship and parenting because we have pretty much hammered out the mechanics at this point.

On nursing a toddler:

In no particular order, here are some things.

There was something I called the wild monkey phase – which thankfully we have passed through. This was when miles realized he could move around in
my lap while nursing. Cue the acrobatics! He explored every possible maneuver he could think (upside down, bouncing up and down, standing, no hands, one foot, trying to nurse and talk…what a stinker. Now, it seems, he has realized that it just goes better when he simmers down. But who knows, things could always revert!

Nursing is his time to zone out. We all need down time to walk away from an overstimulating environment. Miles loves socializing but he needs to recharge sometimes – so he will come to nurse and check out of the action. he may barely suckle but its a time when no one is asking anything of him.

I nurse him to sleep. There are loads of Opinions with a capitol O on this topic. One parenting book I read said NEVER nurse babies to sleep…or else…dun dun DUN! Some books/blogs say, why not? You totally should! I say that no nursing relationship is the same because no two people are exactly
alike. For Miles, he doesn’t necessarily have to nurse to go to sleep, but he prefers to do it. Also when he nurses to sleep he sleeps longer, and it take much less time to get him into a deep sleep. Aside from these practical aspects, i like to think that i am allowing him to go to bed happy every night. If only there were an easy way to do that for myself!

Nursing in public? We don’t do it. I know we could do it. It’s my right (really, that’s a legal thing – mom’s can nurse anywhere they are allowed to be themselves). Also, there is nothing wrong with it at all. i just find that Miles is too easily distracted in a really public place. The times we have tried it I just end up having to keep refocusing his attention as he unlatches over and again, reacting to every new sight or sound (which is a lot of things for toddlers!).  instead, I may take him to a restroom stall, or if we are outside I will wander away from the crowd to a quieter area. So technically it may still be public and open, but just off the beaten path a bit. I do nurse on airplanes. As a result I can keep him asleep for most of the journey and happy for the rest. You are welcome fellow passengers!

He knows how to ask for it. I’ve heard from relatives and a few others that if the are old enough to ask for it then it’s time to wean. This seems arbitrary to me. As a newborn he asked by opening his mouth. After a few months he would pat my chest. He has been able to do the hand sign for milk since he was 8 months old. Now he does the signs for “more ” and “milk.” Sometimes he says “booba.” Sometimes he just tugs at my shirt a bit. So the way he asks is changing, but he as always known how to ask. And thank goodness for that. I am not a mind reader!

He is not fat, and I don’t anticipate he will be. This is an odd one, but I have had some relatives tell me he will be overweight if I nurse him for “too long.” I don’t know on what evidence they have based this prediction. He is American. That strikes me as a greater risk factor for obesity than anything else. But toddlers eating habits aren’t like adults. It’s not as though the milk is just extra calories in his diet. Usually, when he nurses more during the day he barely eats any food (we are talking 2 bites of egg and a couple pistachios for breakfast!). Yet other times he is a bottomless pit into which food and milk disappear. All I know is that he is 50th percentile for weight – so exactly average. I feel lucky that I don’t have to worry him getting adequate nutrition because I know that as picky an eater as he may be when it comes to other food, he still has wholesome mothers milk.

He gets sick. We both do, but it’s not as bad as it could be. A couple of weeks ago we both had the flu. I got it first and it wiped me out for a week. Miles just had a mid level fever for a few days. Amazing that we antibodies through breast milk. It feels almost like a super-power!

Sometimes I feel resentful – petulant – defensive, even? – annoyed -the list goes on. In short, I am still me for better or for worse.  Nursing didn’t and doesn’t transform me into some angelic Madonna figure. At times I enjoy the nursing relationship and garner  fulfillment from nourishing my stinkpot. Other times though, I feel used, abused, and want no part of it. There are days when I am SO over it. I want to say “Hey! Remember when you didn’t exist yet and I could get dressed without considering nipple access? I didn’t know the pain of someone sneezing with my nipple in their mouth? I could poop without an entourage?!? Yeah. that was nice!”

Is he ready to wean? Am i ready to wean him? I can say with certainty he is not ready yet today. Who knows about tomorrow. Feel free to cheer me on, commiserate, or judge. But to those judgy mcjudgersons out there, I will  say that I have done far worse things in my life than nursing my toddler. Judge me for those things first, and, I promise, you’ll run out of steam before you get to this!

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6 thoughts on “Confessions of a nursing mother: toddler edition

  1. I can’t believe people would judge a mother for giving her toddler something totally natural. Especially with so much processed food out there being marketed to kids.

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  2. I have been so impressed with your commitment to nurse Miles. Through the hard times, the very hard times, and the sometimes constant nursing you have given and given.

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  3. Who would have thought breast feeding was such a complicated psycho/social adventure! A word of caution: these toddler months are critical as he learns to bend his will to yours. Is there a more propitious time to try to raise an obedient child, accepting of maternal discipline?

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    • thanks for reading! it is so true that all of the choices I make now will have downstream impacts on shaping his behavior. Discipline is something we are learning now that he is starting to test the limits!

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