Until recently it hadn’t really occurred to me to write about that ever-important aspect of motherhood—nursing. My “Aha!” moment occurred while trying to google “how to wean a three-year-old from the breast” and subsequently finding all of two resources for weaning geriatric babies….err… preschoolers. It just isn’t very common in our society. So this blog is dedicated to you with the walking talking almost-in-kindergartener attached to your breast; it is dedicated to you with the infant or baby who refuses to take a bottle even though you would like to wean him by one year—you might be in my shoes one day (I was in yours, once!); and it is dedicated to you, the first-time nursing mom, with questions and curiosities about extended breastfeeding.
I will start from the beginning. My own journey with nursing began during my pregnancy with Alison; I knew I wanted to breastfeed (doesn’t every soon-to-be mom?) but had heard stories of how difficult and painful and trying it could be, so I did as much research as I could. On the wonderful World Wide Web I found videos, websites, and just about every imaginable troubleshoot for breastfeeding problems with which I might be faced. I was prepared for milk blisters and mastitis, for engorgement and a poor latch, for under-supply and over-supply; I was NOT prepared for the intense emotional stronghold that would form the moment my newborn took those first precious swallows of colostrum. On a foggy morning in September of 2008, Alison latched on for the first time, and suddenly my previously not-so-useful A-cups became the source and summit of nourishment and comfort and security for a tiny little being.
|Breastfeeding: Day 1 of 1,277|
To my great astonishment and pleasure, Alison had a natural easy nursing instinct with an above-average latch and fell asleep easily at the breast. The following months offered a few hurdles—a little pain, mild colic, some engorgement and one mildly traumatic milk blister—but nothing proved so insurmountable that I felt nursing needed to be discontinued. On her first birthday, Alison was still nursing several times throughout the day and was being nursed to sleep for naps and bedtime. I had long since forgotten about my silly plans to start pumping at six months so that she could wean by a year old. (In her short stint at daycare while I finished my Bachelor’s degree, Alison would refuse every type of plastic nipple she was offered and starve until the real thing came to pick her up.) This trait continued almost to her second birthday, at which time she was finally eating some “real” food and would sporadically drink juice or water from a sippy cup. Alison’s 2nd birthday came with some happy news; we learned that we were expecting again! (And now I suddenly have the notion to blog about the wonderful natural-child-spacing effects that breastfeeding can offer! Stay tuned!) The early months of pregnancy didn’t seem to change our nursing relationship much at all; I was still producing plenty of milk and she showed no distaste with the hormone-laden pregnant mommy milk. At around five months pregnancy, however, something changed. All at once nursing my sweet two-year-old became uncomfortable and irritating to me; and Alison seemed to feel the same way. After a few nights of cuddling to sleep and some distraction-filled mornings, it seemed our nursing journey had finally, and peacefully, ended.
Fast forward to the birth of her baby sister, Margaret. About a week after Maggie was born, I had settled in my bed with the boppy and remote and water bottle to feed my new nursling, when Alison burst in the room to check out the action. This was one of those turning-point moments we all have in life, when you know you are about to make a decision that will drastically change the future; like that first introduction to your future spouse, or the split-second decision to take the access road instead of the highway only to hear of a fatal car crash later on. Alison approached her mommy and her peacefully nursing baby sister, and I could see a familiar light in her eyes. At that moment I knew, she remembered. As she lovingly caressed her sister’s downy hair and looked up at me, I could see the longing in her face. She didn’t ask. She wouldn’t. A moment later my newborn was fast asleep so I laid her down in her tiny hand-me-down cradle. That sweet two-year-old climbed onto my lap and nuzzled her head into my chest. She didn’t ask. She didn’t push. This was that split-second decision I was talking about. With a deep sigh, wondering if I would regret my words later on, I uttered, “Would you like some of mommy’s milk, Alison?” Without even replying, Alison fluttered into that oh-so-familiar cradle position and gulped down every last drop of one (very engorged) breast. I knew that I had started something then. Something had been re-ignited. Thoughts and worries of nursing my sweet Alison until college buzzed through my head, but I shoed them away; because that moment was a happy reunion for both of us. That very large almost-three-year-old was still so small and had so many needs. In my arms, at the breast, she gulped and breathed those deep nursing breaths and looked up at me and I could see the sense of wholeness in her face. She was lighter than air. I could feel the complete sense of security of her relaxed limbs. I realized, then, that somewhere along the road nursing had become something more than nutrients and fluids. The mother-nursling relationship is complex and important, albeit imperfect. The next few months brought new nursing challenges—balancing a newborn and a preschooler on each side, trying to “exit” while not waking two sleeping children, and trying to keep track of which one nursed on which breast so I wouldn’t experience the dreaded lop-sidedness that can plague many nursing mothers. But I also witnessed something beautiful. My innocent daughters smiling at each other while nursing, falling asleep simultaneously while nursing, holding hands while nursing, and growing to love and care for each other as siblings. Until I tandem nursed I didn’t know my heart could be so full. There is no greater feeling than watching an older sibling gently pat and caress your newborn’s head and face at the breast. Sibling rivalry is almost non-existent in this household.
|This is the very last picture I have of Alison at the breast; taken several months ago, on a whim, with my phone, right around three years old.|
Nine months later, Alison seems to have weaned (again…maybe) at 3.5 years old. I hadn’t truly reflected on what our nursing relationship meant to me until that first morning with no milk request. She still frequently asks for “gocky” (the mysterious word for breast/milk with no-known origin) but instead of nursing, she will give it a kiss and a hug and a pat and then move on to another important task. And she does face an important task, indeed. The world is a very big and often scary place; I am grateful and proud and enamored with the fact that the simple act of nursing made it less daunting for her, if only for a small portion of her life.
"Oh Lord, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high....But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me." (Psalm 131)