Monday, May 23, 2011

Nursing a Toddler

Today marks two weeks and one day since Lily Ruth last nursed. The first two mornings, she asked and I redirected her. She was ticked, but redirected easily. The third morning, she didn't ask. I panicked a little and almost offered. Since our early morning nursing sessions were the only ones left, that means that she hasn't nursed since then.

Yesterday morning, out of the blue, she asked again but just once. I scooped her into my arms and snuggled her instead. Again today, she asked to nurse. I patted her back instead of saying no. She immediately ramped it up to 'Uth NURSE, Mama! Uth NURSE, Mama!' So I drew her in close and said 'there's no milk in there, Honey. It's all gone.' To my intense relief (and surprise), she snuggled in and went back to sleep.

This is such a bittersweet time. I am so ready to be done nursing... but this has been our special time for almost two whole years. Two years of nourishing, comforting and holding my baby close. Two years of sharing my body, my time and my focus.

I had a soapbox rant a few months back - right after that damn doctor's appointment - and it reminded me that I had never posted a story about our nursing journey. I started a post last year for World Breastfeeding Week, but never finished it, and ultimately deleted it because it hadn't taken enough form to be worth keeping. I started my story again, and let it peter out again. Time to finish it up, and send it out into the blog world :-)


This is my breastfeeding story. In telling it, I am not implying that my choices make me a better mother or a better person. Breastfeeding is an option, a choice and a very emotionally charged issue for some. I know some amazing mothers who can't breastfeed. I know some great mothers who chose not to breastfeed. It is what it is.


I was always my intention to nurse any and all children that I might have. I thought that I had all of my bases covered. I even took a breastfeeding class through my hospital before Lily Ruth arrived. I mean, how hard could it be? My body was designed to do this, and I understood the mechanics. The rest would just happen, right? Well, for some people it does. For us, it didn't.

Lily Ruth latched on perfectly within minutes of her birth.

We thought we had it covered. A lactation consultant came by the next morning and declared us pros.

Her latch was textbook. My positioning was perfect. We were golden, right? No.

We got home, and she wanted to nurse non-stop. I was happy to oblige, but it seemed excessive. Oh, and as far as I could tell, my milk hadn't come in. Everybody said that the initial engorgement of your milk coming in was one of those things that you KNOW when it happens. Since I was still futzing around with the same boobs I'd had my whole pregnancy, I was pretty sure that the milk hadn't shown up yet. Lily Ruth got fussier and fussier. We nursed until she fell asleep every time

and then she'd wake up thirty minutes later and scream. This is how it went for the first few days. It was awful. We made it through our first weekend together, my milk came in and I finally got a lactation consultant on the phone. She told me that I was starving my baby. She told me that I needed to immediately start supplementing with formula, and that I needed a breast pump stat. Like I wasn't already freaked out and completely convinced that I was doing everything wrong. Thanks for the help. I practically threw the baby at my husband, and dove into the car. I cried all the way to the store, and sobbed while trying to find a breast pump that we could afford. Since none of them were free, I had to go with one that was marginally low-priced.

Thus began a ritual that lasted for almost 8 weeks. I would nurse Lily Ruth until she fell asleep so deeply that she could not be roused. If her daddy was home, she was passed off to him. If he wasn't, she went into her pack'n'play. Then I warmed a bottle of pumped breast milk. Then I pumped for 15 minutes on each side - that part got SO much better after 1) my parents bought me a double pump, 2) the lactation consultants gave me flanges for the pump that actually fit my body. After pumping, I would wash bottles and pump parts. Then it was time to give the baby her bottle (if daddy hadn't already done so), and rest until time to nurse again...

When Lily Ruth was almost 2 weeks old, I finally had an appointment with a lactation consultant instead of just a phone consultation. They were able to see for themselves what my problems were instead of assuming that I was just doing it wrong. I really DID have a 'lazy nurser' who truly couldn't be roused once she passed out. They also showed me a diagram detailing the fact that I had 'larger than average' nipples :-/ Really?  Let's stick to the things I don't know... jerks... then they told me that this was actually part of the problem. My infant daughter's head, jaw and mouth were currently too tiny to be completely compatible with my body. It also explained why I had so much trouble pumping. The factory default flanges for the pump were meant for 'average' nipples. My continued attempts to use them were like 'sucking through a straw that you're biting down on' :-/ great. They had a fix for me! New (correctly sized) flanges. It was heaven-sent. Milk started flowing like water. I finally had enough to feed my hungry baby. I even had enough to start freezing a 'stash'.

At the consultant's urging, I kept a ridiculously detailed log during this time:

I carried it everywhere... not that I went many places then. Getting out of the house was almost impossible. By the time I nursed the baby, pumped, gave her a bottle and got us both ready, it was usually time to start over with nursing again. We stayed home a LOT.

I thought that I was going to lose. my. mind. All I thought about was feeding my baby. I was absolutely convinced that she wasn't getting enough to eat or gaining enough weight. I agonized about every ounce of formula that passed her lips. I worried that I should be giving her more formula yet I hated the thought of having to do so.

I just kept setting tiny goals. I'll nurse for 3 weeks - I can do that. I'll nurse for 6 weeks. I'll nurse for 3 months. I worked toward my goals and tried to focus on my amazing daughter instead of my neurosis. As we plodded along, small things got easier. Namely, my baby grew like a weed. Her head, jaw and mouth finally got big enough that she was able to nurse easily. Then she got big enough that side-lying nursing worked. I finally set aside the breast feeding log when Lily was 6 weeks old and started to trust myself. Stuff like that. I turned around one day and realized that it wasn't so hard any more. We were just living. Just a mama and a baby. Nursing.

From then, it was just day-to-day mothering stuff. We still had our trials. Occasional public nursing. Biting. Middle of the night nursing for almost 19 months. CO-SLEEPING! Ugh. But we did it. My baby received almost 100% of her nutrition from me until after her first birthday. After a few feedings in her first 2-3 weeks, I never had to use formula. The only bottles she received had my milk in them. I eventually built up enough of a freezer stash of milk that I was able to donate to a milk bank that provides mothers milk to premature and ill infants who (for various reasons) wouldn't be able to get that liquid gold.

So here we are - almost 23 months into our breastfeeding adventure, and at it's end.

When we started, I never thought we'd make it this far. Before giving birth, I was one of those people who believed that 'if they can ask for it, they're too old to nurse.' I ended up nursing someone who said 'Urse?' and 'Other Side?' very politely when she wanted to partake. Never say never, folks. Especially if it pertains to kids.

It was a wild ride, Baby Girl. It was worth every minute. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

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