For the Love of Boob
September 27, 2011
Consider this my coming out of the closet post. No need to jump to any conclusions here, people… I’m not a lesbian. I’m coming out of the closet that I know so many women hide in. The extended nursing closet.
You see, breastfeeding a newborn is a beautiful, natural experience which is highly recommended to all new mothers. We are repeatedly told “breast is best” and the attachment formed between mother and her breastfed baby are stronger than you can ever imagine. So much so, in fact, that those who choose to (or must resort to) formula feed a newborn can feel ostracized in our society. But something happens along the way where it all the sudden becomes taboo to breastfeed. When in the nursing relationship does this occur?
When my son was born, my goal was to breastfeed for 3 months. I was told by several people that I would never make it that long, and I believed them. The first 3 months are by far the hardest. It is time consuming, demanding, uncomfortable, and emotionally draining at first. I began to doubt any special attachment was forming. I didn’t feel like I was bonding with my baby any more so than when I would feed him a bottle of pumped milk. I had doubts we would ever make it. As my deadline approached, I noticed that I was getting the hang of it, and so was my baby. My milk supply started to even out and I wasn’t having nearly as much difficulty.
I figured since it was getting easier, I would extend my goal to be 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding. The next three months made a world of difference in our nursing relationship. I was pumping less frequently and feeding on demand. This helped my milk supply stabilize so I wasn’t becoming uncomfortably engorged anymore. I stopped obsessively watching the clock to make sure the baby was being fed every 2-3 hours and started listening to my baby’s cues on when to feed. My son was becoming stronger and was able to support his own weight better, so my arms weren’t becoming so tired from holding him up all the time. Overall, it was becoming a much more delightful experience. I only ever received positive feedback from bystanders about breastfeeding.
Then, the 6-month mark hit. People started asking me when I would start weaning. I was constantly given suggestions on how to introduce formula into his diet. If I would just give him some cereal before bed, he wouldn’t wake up so often… It didn’t feel right to me. Our nursing relationship had improved so much, that I felt there was no reason to stop it now. I moved my deadline to breastfeed until at least 12-months-old.
Those 6 months were great. I was starting to feel that special bonding I thought I was missing in the beginning. There is something special about a nursing baby looking into your eyes and seeing the gratitude and appreciation beaming from their tiny little face. If you stop nursing before a baby really develops controlled facial expressions, you never experience that.
As the 12-month mark approached, the weaning “suggestions” became stronger and stronger. Maybe it’s because I know what I used to think before I had my son, that I “heard” these suggestions so strongly. If a child is old enough to drink cow’s milk, he doesn’t need mama’s milk… If a child is old enough to ask for it, he’s too old for it… Your baby will sleep through the night if you stop nursing… Cow’s milk is more nutritious than breast milk…
None of that is true, by the way, but it is the way our society thinks. My son was not sleeping through the night at 12-months-old, so it was tempting to try weaning just to get him to sleep. Again, I listened to my intuition and kept nursing him when he needed it. (He did start sleeping through the night, all on his own, around 15-months, by the way). He is now 19.5-months-old and still nursing when he needs to. Most of the time it is only before he sleeps (naps and night time) and in the morning. But, from time to time he asks to nurse during the day too. When he does, it is only for a few seconds, but I figure there is something causing him to feel uneasy and nursing just reassures him his mommy is there for him.
I still get comments from time to time about weaning him. But, as my dad said to me the other day, “I’d tell you that it may be time to cut him off from [breast milk], but I know you well enough to know that you are going to do as you damn well please.” Well said, Dad, well said.
I never, in a million years, would have thought that I would be nursing a toddler. In fact, I am pretty sure I would have thought it was gross or sick before. But, as with many things in life, we often shut out the ideas which we do not understand. And extended nursing, my friends, is something you will never be able to understand unless you have made it to that point.
So there I am… out of the closet. Don’t ask me when I am going to wean, because I don’t know. I suppose I will keep nursing him as long as he needs it, or until it becomes uncomfortable for me to continue.
As an ending note: My examples given as to the negative feedback I have heard about extended nursing (as seen above) are simply not true. If a child is old enough to ask for it, he is too old for it… Babies, from day one “ask” to be fed. Just because they become more proficient in communicating their needs does not mean those needs disappear. A child will sleep through the night if you stop breast feeding… I can’t say for certain, because I didn’t try it, but I have heard from others who did, that weaning their child did not make them sleep through the night, it just eliminated an easy way to get them back to sleep. Cow’s milk is more nutritious than breast milk… not true… Cow’s milk is formulated for baby cows. Breast milk is formulated for baby humans. I trust God knows what he’s doing.
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