Thursday, July 8, 2010

"Nursing a Toddler"

I am going to start from our beginning because it really did have a huge impact on our nursing relationship and honestly, my opinions on breastfeeding.


I was an NYU bound 18 yeas old when I found out I was pregnant. I was a senior in high school and a baby was obviously not in the planned future. Still, my parents were very supportive and they really were my rock. My father had ONE request. DO NOT GET MARRIED. At 18, I had zero interest in getting married. I won't get into details about the Dad-to-Be at the time, but...marriage was simply NOT something I wanted.

So, I was 18 and pregnant. Sounds bad right? Yup, not ideal. The thing is, I wanted more than anything to be a good mom. I listened to doctors and my mother mostly...but I read a lot too. One thing I didn't read much about was breastfeeding. My mother asked me if I planned on breastfeeding and I remember thinking "Um, yeah” I grew up around babies...not all of which where breastfed, but I never really paid attention one way or another. I figured it was natural and something I was supposed to do. I talked with the midwife at my OB's office and she gave me lots of tips...none of which I really absorbed. I was young and didn't pay attention to the challenges that could arise. I wanted to try for a natural childbirth and wanted to do what was best for my baby....breastfeeding really seemed like the natural thing to do, but it didn't seem THAT important to me. When asked how long I would breastfeed...I didn't have an answer....I heard from my grandmother that she worried about having enough milk and all the other things you often hear. She also made comments about teeth, NIP and how old a baby should be. So, I didn't really have a plan. I was going to go with the flow. If my parents were my rock, my grandmother was the exact opposite. She did have me convinced that I would never NIP and that I would probably not nurse when my baby had teeth...and that I would introduce a bottle early enough so she took one...because my cousin never took a bottle and THAT was awful. I did however have a rule at my hospital. No pacifiers, no bottles...no artificial nipples. NONE.

I had Mya on Halloween of 1999. I caved and had an epi, but my labor was easy. I pushed for 15 minutes and had a healthy baby girl. I nursed her moments after she was born...and I was SO happy to nurse my baby.

Sadly, later that afternoon I wanted a shower. The nurse brought me in, and left me to shower. This was my first time standing and less than six hours after giving birth. My legs collapsed, I hit my head on the glass shower door...which knocked me out and fell through the glass door. I needed over 130 stitches in my back!! I still have a huge scar. I was also unable to lift my baby for a month! :( It took hours to stitch me up, hours that I could not hold Mya because I was covered in glass. During this time the nurses insisted on giving sugar water and a pacifier. Both things I didn't want, but was so emotionally wiped out, I didn't know what to say. My parents asked me what I wanted and in the end, no binky, no bottle.

The recovery was hard, but we found it was easiest for me to nurse laying down. We had a great latch and she was a STRONG nurser. I had bloody cracked nipples, but really...our latch was okay.

Then I started getting sick about one week after she was born. I had a fever and my left breast hurt more than my right. I thought it was from the cracked nipples, but I felt like garbage. So, we went to the OB and sure enough I had mastitis. I took my meds, started getting better...and listened to my grandmother (who lived with us) nag me about how I should stop if I have mastitis. She also would sit in a chair and cry because she couldn't give Mya a bottle. I was overwhelmed.

Then steps in my Dad. He was so good to me. He asked what I wanted; he encouraged me to stick with it and bought me books on breastfeeding.

Then I got mastitis again. Took meds, it cleared up. Then I got it AGAIN. Days after I was off the meds. This is when we had lactation consultant’s step in. Everyone at my OBs office, lactation consultants and even pediatricians could not figure out what I was doing wrong. Mya had a strong latch, but a good latch. I was always positioned right...it was frustrating. Then came the Thrush. This was the one time the doctor said I might have to pump and dump for awhile. When I burst into tears...he figured it out for me and we nursed through the thrush. (I can't even remember what meds he put me on at the time) So...I kept getting mastitis...I would go into the ER in the middle of the night because it would go from perfectly fine to BRIGHT RED in hours. So bad that I remember sobbing (not crying...SOBBING) when she would latch on. It was hell. Nobody warned me that it could be so bad, but in all fairness, I never researched it. I pulled out the books, called LLL, talked with my LC and kept hearing the same thing "nursing through the mastitis will clear it up quicker" So...that is what I did.

When she was about six months old...I pretty much stopped getting mastitis. I think I had it a couple other times during her first year, but it was minor and pretty pain free compared to what I had dealt with.

Oh, and she started getting teeth when she was five months old. Mya bit me ONCE. That was it. She was such an easy baby....and even with all the mastitis, even those moments where my hair curled as she latched, she would look at me with her big brown eyes and I was so happy nursing her.

Then the questions started coming...when are you going to wean? What if she starts biting?

After all I had been through, there was no way I was going to wean. I fought to nurse my baby and she never once had a bottle...not a drop of formula. Why on earth would I give that up? Still, no matter what I said my pediatrician said, I was told I should stop. My mother encouraged me to go for a year....but never once said to stop then. My dad said to nurse as long as I could.

I started researching, talking with other moms...and yup, became a bit of a lactivist. I didn't mean to...it just happened that way. She turned one, and I could not imagine weaning her...and we just kept going with it.

Mya eventually started calling "nursing" "Nu" She figured out how to lift my shirt and would attempt to nurse no matter where she was. If I am completely honest, I can't remember how many times a day she nursed at that point...I know at times she would go nearly the whole day (this probably didn't start until she was close to two) and other times she would want to nurse more frequently. She was a really good eater, loved veggies...but would often finish with a quick "nu" and run off to play.

Times she nursed more frequently...when she was sick, bored or had been really busy. One example I can think of...when she 29 moths old we went to Disney world. We have three or four pictures where she was nursing in random spots. Simply just photos taken where we are in the corner or something...and Mya was nursing. I know a kid pushed her at the playground, she nursed. I know we were waiting in line for a long time to get on a ride, and she nursed while I stood up carrying my toddler... (Got looks for that one) and I know she would nurse for a LONG time after we got home. The plus side to all of that is that it was really hot when we were there that year and she was well hydrated! She was hardly ever sick, but when she was sick, hydration was never an issue. I was able to nurse her in public and be somewhat "discreet" about it...we had nursing down. It was just something she did. However, if I wasn't around and/or I couldn't nurse...95% of the time she was fine. She didn't NEED to nurse. I could hold her off most of the time.

The biggest difference...she understood that there would be times that I couldn't drop everything to nurse her at THAT MOMENT. I could fix myself a snack and tell her "Hold on honey, Mommy will be there in a few minutes" and she would wait...or get distracted and not want to nurse at that moment. Family members stopped thinking it was weird and became supportive. Mostly because she was hardly ever sick and probably the least clingy child in the world. She also talked early, and was just a fun kid. My grandmother now gives all the credit to Mya being breastfed for so long. :D

Mya stopped nursing one day when I came home from work. She asked to nurse and I was doing a few things before I could sit down to nurse her. I told her "Not right now" and she was fine with it and went on playing. I sat down to nurse her, she nursed for about five minutes and then never wanted to nurse again. I think she was ready, and really...I think I was too. It was still sad.

Really, as she got older...it just became easier and easier. I could hold her off, I could use it to soothe her, help her through a horrible tantrum, fight Disney World stress...but it was soooooooo different from nursing a needy baby. Mya doesn't remember nursing, but for me...it is one of the most important parts of our relationship.

If I am honest, it is why I have a hard time with my MIL. She made many comments about "these people who breastfeeding their toddlers...ewwww” from the time I started dating my husband. (Mya was just over three when we met) and I heard it for nearly seven years. When I told her I was pregnant, she mentioned being excited about buying bottles and asked if I was ready to start mixing formula and cleaning bottles...and changing diapers again. I *KNOW* I had mentioned that I nursed Mya, but I guess she choose to ignore it. She had a lot of negative things to say...mostly that "Some babies just don't latch and I have a feeling you are not going to be able to breastfeed this baby. I hope you are not too upset, but breastfeeding isn't really that big of a deal!!" And "How long did you nurse Mya for? You must have stopped by the time she got teeth right. And you didn’t NIP...right?"

Sigh...I had my grandmother's support, but now I was hearing it all over again...but this time it was worse because I was already a mom. I still feel like she forgets that I have done this all before.

It drove me crazy. For me, breastfeeding was such a HUGE part of our relationship, that I couldn't imagine NOT doing it with Oliver. I fought hard and while I loved nursing a baby, nursing a toddler has it's own special place. A busy toddler often has to much to do to bother with Mom and long lap snuggles. Nursing gave me the chance to snuggle and be close. I think my MIL comes from a very different background and for some reason, is never going to be very supportive of my parenting style. That being said, I think that she has opened up a lot to breastfeeding. Do I think she is "okay" with it past a year...not really? Do I think she will come around like my grandmother did? I also doubt it, but I do think that I will hear fewer comments than I originally did because I have stood firm and been honest. When negative comments came up...I pointed to Mya. She is a good, healthy and smart ten year old. So, at the very least, nursing past a year didn't screw her up. :D

I just can't imagine doing it another way. Trying to wean a one year old seems terribly stressful to me. Part of it is that I am way too lazy for that, but mostly, I don't think either of us will be ready at that point.

I got through the hard parts with a lot of support and by being my stubborn self. I hear so many moms talk about their struggles with breastfeeding and their reasons for stopping. I am not denying that they have their own set of reasons and I support all mommies. Still, I can't help but really hope that all mothers get the same chance I did. I am always willing to hand out advice and try VERY hard to not be pushy, but I am pretty "encouraging"

Really though, the biggest concern I hear from moms with little babies is that they don't want to nurse a toddler as often as they do a baby. I think that it is seldom going to happen. There will be stages where your toddler is going to nurse more often (growth spurt) and I would expect that a sick toddler is going to nurse as often as possible, but otherwise...Mya was always too busy to want to nurse all day.

On Halloween of 2009, Mya got a baby brother as a birthday gift. Nursing him has been a completely different experience. He really wasn't interested in nursing during the first 24 hours. He would nurse for a few minutes and fall asleep. I had a few great nurses sit with me and help hold him on, the next day, he was doing fine. We are now in month 8. He has always been a wonderful nurser, although, a bit more lazy than Mya. He is also more easily distracted. Nursing was pretty much problem free, aside from his reflux in the beginning. I know how bad it was for Oliver and I can't imagine how much worse it could have been if he had been a formula fed baby.

My husband was raised hearing that formula is just a good as breast milk. I brought him to a class while pregnant and he quickly changed his mind when the instructor mentioned that formula companies are always trying to replicate breast milk. From that point on, he has been one of my biggest supporters. He has even gone from the pre-baby days of saying that people should have a cover, to asking me why I was trying to cover Oliver when it was making him so mad! He is now Deployed and talks about breastfeeding with other soldiers who have pregnant wives back home.

Mya is just as amazing. She talks about breastfeeding to classmates and even stood up to inform the her 4th grade classroom that breasts were not only sexual organs (as her puberty class was explaining breasts) but that they were also for feeding babies.

So...I think I covered mostly everything. I have no plans of doing things differently with Oliver. I will most likely let him self-wean. I can see myself being comfortable up to age 3.5-4. But who knows, maybe I will decide to before then....maybe even later (although...I don't know about that)

Krista, Army Wife and Mom living in Germany, Daughter Mya (10) and son Oliver (8 months)

1 comment:

  1. Awesome job! I am also nursing older children (my story just posted today) and I agree that it't totally worth it!

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