Some Thoughts on A Year of Nursing

Most of my experiences with breastfeeding have taken me totally by surprise. The 1st 2.5 months, looking back, I have no idea how I nursed with open wounds and thrush on my nipples. The only thing I have to explain it is instinct and stubbornness. Around 7 months, with the nipples healed and S’s projectile vomiting due to my oversupply finally over, I started to appreciate nursing and really enjoy it more than I had expected. Plus, S didn’t really start eating solids until 10 months, so it was a relief to know she wasn’t starving (Hahahahaha!) S wasn’t interested when we tried solids at 6 months and continued to offer them regularly. I was glad to have nursing to make sure she was getting everything she needed. I didn’t choose to exclusively breastfeed for 10 months, but here was this child that was signaling to me that that was how it was going to go. From very early on, I thought that S would be such a busy toddler that she would wean around a year. (Also, before parenthood, I had this erroneous view that I alone was ‘the decider’ about things like how long I nursed and where and when my child slept… I wasn’t aware of how important a baby’s temperament is in making these decisions).

I didn’t think seriously about the details of extended breastfeeding until recently. If I had been pumping, I am pretty sure I would have stopped at a year or sooner, but nursing on demand is a different story. When S got the stomach flu at 10.5 months, it occurred to me that I want that option when this kid gets sick, if possible. Now I am thinking it would be great to nurse her through next flu season if she doesn’t wean herself because it is soothing to a miserable child and provides nutrients and fluids when they are hard to keep down. It’s probably relaxing to an anxious mother, as well. Now that she IS a toddler, I realize how much she needs to nurse and probably won’t wean soon. Her “dive head first” personality seems to be soothed and balanced by nursing sessions. Plus, she still only has four teeth and just doesn’t always love solids enough…she is getting much of her nutrition from breast milk, still.)

I have moments when I consider how weaning would free me up and allow me to have some of my old self back. It would, I hope, open up opportunities for S to get more caregiving from her father and others. I get anxious that time is ticking and my identity is melting away (Ahhhghgh!) into the time-suck that is full-time caregiving. (suck…haha) But sometimes I realize that this relationship I have with her will change so fast and too soon. I feel fortunate to be able to do this for her, and yet very impatient with how it limits me sometimes. Because of a discussion among mothers on Facebook, I am working on enjoying the Zen-nature of this experience and appreciating the circumstances that allow me to cultivate that kind of attitude about nursing.

Then there is the POWER OF THE BOOB to solve most problems. I am too lazy to give up the magic boob that does most of my parenting for me right now. Way too damn lazy! I must admit. 🙂

There is the cultural aspect of nursing a toddler. I actually have been picking up on some discomfort in others when I nurse a toddler. (S started walking before she had any teeth and before really eating solids.) But I just don’t give a rip. Two days ago, we were in a park and S needed (I thought) desperately to nurse, relax, and nap, but was refusing. I did what always works at home: I laid on my back on the ground and lifted my shirt and flashed the boob and let her crawl all over me and nurse. I kind of surprised myself. No one was nearby really, and it just needed to be tried. She doesn’t nurse in public much, so that reduces opportunities for comments or glares, which is a great thing because this is what nursing looks like for us right now:
*car seat/ I lean over and nurse her before a car ride home from playing when she is exhausted and hungry or we are on a long family trip…and I half expect truck drivers to honk if they catch a glimpse
*nurse to sleep on the couch around 10/11 AM, both of us prostrate, watching PBS cartoons, when she’s cranky and ready for a nap but can’t settle down (happening right now)
*nurse on the living room floor in the evening when she is wound up and cranky and hungry, me on my back, she constantly climbing and moving and kicking her legs, and taking breaks to tell me something as milk dribbles down her face and all over the place
*nurse to sleep at night and at nap time in bed if we are home
*very rarely does she ever lay in my arms, still, and quietly nursing like all the pictures I see in PSAs and LLL media.

In my dream world I go back to teaching middle school English in September and all of this situation changes. For now we are just going with the flow. (flow…haha)
I have so many mixed emotions about this. I think all of the parents I know are doing a grand job with their children. Choices about parenting are saddled with guilt and self-doubt. We do what we think and feel is right for our children and try to preserve our own sanity in the meantime. You might wean your child earlier or later than you expected because none of this parenthood stuff is what you expected anyway. I say enjoy it as much as you can and karate-kick any guilt monsters in the fangs if they show up. Or ask me to. I am probably better at kicking other people’s guilt monsters than my own.