Demands of a Nursing Kind

Welcome to the Carnival of Weaning: Weaning – Your Stories
This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Code Name: Mama and Aha! Parenting. Our participants have shared stories, tips, and struggles about the end of the breastfeeding relationship.

*Update* Our first child, Abbey, recently weaned all on her own at the age of 4 years and 10 months. This post details some of the the amazing moments we had at the breast, in addition to the way we made nursing to a natural age of weaning work for us – I believe in nursing and nurturing my children until it is no longer needed by my child, which is a biological norm, though not a social one. Thank you for reading with an open mind!

Our Breastfeeding Back-Story

I started breastfeeding Abbey with the knowledge that breast milk was simply the way you fed babies. Formula feeding really didn’t even occur to me as a choice, which was wonderful for my commitment to breastfeeding Abbey and pumping during her NICU stay.

I continued breastfeeding Abbey while learning about human lactation and child development through my recruitment and work as a Breastfeeding Peer Counselor for the WIC Program in Texas.

When Abbey reached the age of 12 months, it seemed so silly to me to arbitrarily stop nursing her or even cut down on nursing her just because of her age, so I decided to keep nursing her on demand even though she was well into eating solid table foods. I knew of the benefits to “extended” breastfeeding, and so I decided to breastfeed Abbey past infancy.

And I’m so glad I did! Abbey’s first “I love you” was at the breast. Her first “thank you”, too. Breastfeeding her was a part of mothering her. It seemed silly and cruel to take it away, and I was still happy to have her at the breast. . . so we nursed. On and on through the months, we nursed. Just like Abbey needed to.

Going With The Flow

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At 18 months, we experienced a big move – our military PCS (Permanent Change of Station) from Texas to Maine. The previous six months had been without daddy, who was away at training before our PCS. Abbey benefitted immensely from nursing as a form of comfort and intimacy. She developed the word “mamas” for mommy’s milk, and wasn’t interested in drinking cow’s milk at all. She actually had some skin reaction to it, so we limited her dairy intake till a little while into her third year. Every night, there was rocking, singing, stories, and “mamas”. Naptimes were sweet, milky cuddle times, that I was sometimes able to sneak away from. Her little hand on my chest was precious and loving, and I loved nursing her. Even if it meant that no one could put her to bed but me.

When we became pregnant with Joseph, I did some research and determined that there was no reason to stop nursing Abbey – even though she nursed 4-5 times a day at the time that I became pregnant. I fully intended to continue nursing through the pregnancy and I really looked forward to being a tandem nursing mama!

I succeeded in nursing throughout my pregnancy with Joe, and here I am today – a proud tandem nursing mom to a three-year-old and a one-year-old (update – Abbey nursed to 4 years, 10 months, and Joseph is currently still nursing at 2 and a half). But what I would like to share is not just my pride and delight in meeting needs of both of my children through my mothering “mamas” – but my experience and hindsight about a mother’s comfort in nursing a toddler and older child, especially one as intense and spirited as our dear Abbey!

Demands of a Nursing Kind

Because I just wrote “I loved nursing her, even if it meant that no one could put her to bed but me” this will come as a bit of a shocker. . .

But at a certain point,  I started to loathe nursing Abbey to sleep.

If I remember correctly, I started struggling with nursing her to bed at nap and bedtimes around the beginning of my second trimester of Joseph’s pregnancy, but in hindsight, I struggled with it earlier on in toddlerhood, too.

It wasn’t that I thought that I was training Abbey to be dependent on the breast to sleep, or that she was attached to me all night. Abbey’s slept in her own bed since she was a young toddler, and there were nights when she only nursed a few minutes and turn over and drifted off. My discomfort with sleep-time nursing was the intensity of Abbey’s demand for breastfeeding at those times of day, and my changing physical and emotional needs during Joseph’s pregnancy. I needed nursing to be enjoyable, and to be demanded to nurse her wasn’t comfortable for me.

We got to a point in our nursing relationship where Abbey really only needed a few minutes of nursing to calm her and allow her to drift off for nap time or bedtime. So, at that point, I introduced a new limit: We would nurse until the end of a certain set of songs that her musical stuffed animal played – and then mommy would put her “mamas” away. I could tell that I was starting to need more personal space with my growing belly, and I thought that this would be a good agreement to help me get some independent rest, in my own bed, instead of staying with Abbey until she was solidly asleep and then unlatching her from the breast.

Well, needless to say, this didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped. Abbey caught on to the fact that I was trying to shorten our nursing periods, and as she got older, she could tell the difference between fore milk “little milks” and hind milk “big milks” and she demanded that I allow her to have “big milks!” every time that we nursed. This meant that I was nursing her for 30 minutes or more sometimes, as my body was changing during the pregnancy and my let-downs and milk supply was up and down and in between and rarely consistent. It didn’t happen every day, but on some days, after 30 or 45 straight minutes of nursing at nap time, my nipples were sore and my body was achey, and my tolerance was really really low. So to have Abbey wake and screech “but I want big milks!!!!!” when I’d gently detach her sleeping form after a marathon toddler nursing session . . . it was completely and totally deflating and frustrating and led to far too many arguments and failed attempts at gently coming to a compromise that worked for both of us.

Eventually, a few months after the arrival of her brother Joseph, this struggle led me to wean her of her bedtime and nap time nursing sessions. Wakeful nursing is far more peaceful and mutually beneficial for the two of us, and now that I am not anchored to nursing her as a part of her sleep routine, I enjoy our continued nursing relationship with pride and purpose, and no negative feelings.

When Twiddling Goes Too Far

Twiddling mother’s nipples and massaging mommy’s breast are normal, natural, and functional nursing toddler behaviors. But with us, when twiddling went (literally) too far, it caused a problem for me. My baby’s sweet little hands quickly became explorative child’s hands, and that became a huge discomfort. I wish that I had set firmer limits earlier on in our nursing relationship to encourage Abbey to twiddle and knead something other than my body — because by the time she was two and a half, she had developed a keen interest in massaging my armpits with her fingers to help my let-down while I nursed her.

This started as a massage on my breast when her arms only reached that far, but as her arms grew, so did her reach, and thus, her strange affection for my armpits. I mean, really, I know I’m the only mother that I know whose daughter says “I love you, and I really love your armpits, mommy.” Picture explaining away that scenario in public! I have felt embarrassed plenty of times by Abbey putting her hands in, grabbing for, or trying to kiss my underarms while out and about – - and I know that for her it makes total sense. . . for her, armpits are the gateway to getting “mamas” to flow and for her to enjoy the comfort of my milk! But when I think back, the benefit of my comfort level and bodily integrity would have greatly outweighed the miniature challenge of providing Abbey with an alternative to twiddling and kneading. A nursing necklace perhaps. . . or introducing a lovey for her to cling to and squeeze as she nursed.

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When Abbey was an early toddler, I was falling headfirst in love with Attachment Parenting and Natural Parenting, and at that time, I didn’t realize that AP an NP are not all or nothing parenting camps. I was really interested in doing the best I could for my daughter, and I thought that that meant allowing breastfeeding to take it’s natural course, and not interfering with the natural weaning process at all – - by obstructing Abbey’s desire to twiddle and cling to my body or by setting firm limits on nursing etiquette and timing at sleeping time.

I realize now that doing these things to achieve an appropriate comfort level for me would not have undermined either my conviction as a natural and authentic parent, nor would it have harmed Abbey in any way. At 3 and a half, Abbey is perfectly fine nursing a time or two per day, while keeping her hands to herself (or on her lovey, “pup pup”) and has become accustomed to our new nap and bedtime routines that do not include nursing. In hindsight, I probably could have set these limits earlier in her third year, and with Joseph, I am already starting to introduce some limits to prepare our nursing relationship for when we get further into toddlerhood.

Now that I have made my limits clear with my daughter about what is and is not comfortable and appropriate for our nursing relationship, we continue to nurse joyfully and will do so until she finishes her weaning process.

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Abbey at two months into our nursing relationship

Abbey at the age of natural self weaning.

 

Thank you for visiting the Carnival of Weaning hosted by Dionna at Code Name: Mama and Dr. Laura at Aha! Parenting.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants (and many thanks to Joni Rae of Tales of a Kitchen Witch for designing our lovely button):
 

 

Comments

  1. Ah, twiddling. It’s such a different conversation when you talk with mom’s who’ve nursed past infancy, isn’t it?

    Thanks for sharing your tips on how to set limits. I’m dealing with the night/nap nursings now, and I’d really like to put a time limit on them. I think I might try your “length of a song” idea. Right now, I usually say “One little minute” and he gets that it will be a short one. Sometimes it works, sometimes not so much… :)

  2. I really appreciate your story, and your love for your daughter shines through. What a gift you’ve given her over these years!

    I felt the same way when first researching child-led weaning. I got the impression that not interfering at all was the only “right” or “natural” way to manage the nursing relationship, and I’ve had to push past that in myself as I’ve needed to set limits. I don’t feel as guilty about it anymore, because my body and the health of our parent-child relationship are important, too, but it’s still hard to let go of those ideals!

    Mikko always wanted to twiddle, and it was like a cat fight between us to get him to stop. :P But I just couldn’t stand it! Alrik so far has shown no tendencies to twiddle. I almost can’t believe it but am enjoying it while it lasts. :)

  3. I truly believe that breastfeeding is a mutual relationship and looses some of its benefits if the mother resents the feedings. I am glad setting limits allowed your relationship to continue in a way that works for both of you.

  4. So much of your story sounds familiar. The nursing manners – oh the nursing manners! I felt SO much better when I was pregnant when I stopped the twiddling. And limiting nursing sessions for my own sanity felt right. Thank you for sharing – I’m sure you’re making many a mama feel better right now :)

  5. Twiddling has been an issue for me from the instant she started it. I believe it has to do with some not-so-pleasant things that happened to me in my past, but regardless, I wouldn’t have survived breastfeeding this long without teaching her nursing manners (though she still occasionally tries at 3 years old). Manners are great!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] a superior about breast exposure in my role as a WIC Breastfeeding Peer Counselor, to a demanding, difficult nursing dynamic from my older child when I was pregnant with our second Silly Bear, and everywhere [...]

  2. [...] at your breast- – – to seeing how your child starts to conceptualize mom and milk, and change and wean from the breast as he or she grows. . [...]

  3. […] Demands of a Nursing Kind — Amy Willa at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work shares her conflicted feelings about nursing limits and explores different ways to achieve comfort, peace, and bodily integrity as a nursing mother. […]

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