Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Embracing Extended Breastfeeding

Yesterday morning, at our Monday morning playgroup, Lila walked up to me as I was sipping tea and chatting with some of the moms. Whining, she reached over and tugged on the clasp of my Bravado tank top. In a quiet voice, I told her she would have to wait until nap time and offered her a drink out of her sippy cup. Lila is 20.5-months-old.

It was then, as usual, I noticed side way glances from the moms around me. Do you ignore the glances or confront them by explaining yourself? I'm generally torn between the two options. After all, I do easily offend people with my big mouth (read: struggle with tact and/or knowing when to shut up). Breastfeeding is not something that works out for everyone and I have to be very careful with the subject, as it can be a sensitive subject for many.

Years ago, I told myself that I would immediately wean an older infant or toddler who asked to nurse in public, specifically by doing such things as trying to reach down or under a shirt, pull at bra straps, etc. Yet, here I am, doing no such thing. In my mind's eye, I imagined breastfeeding a toddler as something you pushed or guided your child along to do. For me, that is not the case. It just happened. We introduced solids and sippy cups at around seven-months of age. At a year, I introduced soy and cow's milk. Nursing sessions went from six-eight times daily, to three or four (more if she was sick, especially tired, grumpy, etc.). Now, we nurse only at nap and bed time. Sometimes, if our sitter puts Lila to bed, she misses that nursing session - but goes to bed just fine without me.

Yesterday, I explained to the two mothers sitting next to me that I have been either pregnant and/or breastfeeding for four years and two months. I then explained that I breastfed Olivia until she was 18-months-old and that Lila was born nearly three-months later. The ladies exclaimed: "Wow, good for you! You deserve a pat on the back, I could have never done that. It must be so hard and you must give up so much."

Here's a few secrets you may not know about me:
  • I am domestically challenged (read: lazy) - I love to cook. However, I hate doing dishes (and cleaning, in general). I cannot imagine having to wash and/or sterilize bottles, clean nipples, etc.
  • I require lots of alone/mommy time (read: I'm a bit selfish) - If breastfeeding tied me down as much as many people think it does, I'm not sure I would have done it for more than a few weeks. Once each of my girls' could go three hours in between feedings, I used hourly care or babysitters for things such as: grocery shopping (I HATE doing this with children), lunch dates with friends, dinner and/or movie with my husband, etc. Once Lila turned one, I've been able to spend all day away from her while DH and I toured around town here or when on vacation (i.e. - our Germany vacation). I've only pumped and left breastmilk behind half a dozen times EVER.
  • Breastfeeding was very challenging for me, in the beginning, with both children. Lactation consultants were my best friends. Once we figured out the problem and fixed it, nursing went smoothly from then on. I do not, however, have warm, fuzzy memories of the first weeks of nursing either infant.

I used to think nursing a toddler would be really weird and that it would feel gross. It is not and does not. I could write an additional post on how I use it to keep her quiet on planes rides, or stop her from crying after a fall or slap from her sister or to ease toddler antics. Or, how often her sister has had some sort of stomach bug and despite shared sippies, she didn't catch it or caught a three-hour version of her sister's nine-day bug (I'm a germaphobe- so I love this benefit of breastfeeding).

When I think of the benefits she and I are reaping (see here), I feel no rush to wean her; though her second birthday is a goal in the very back of my mind. And, if she weans when I spend a night (or two) away from her during our upcoming trip home next month, that's fine too. I'm not stuck on any set day or month.

Lila is my sensitive child. She loves to hug and snuggle. When she lays in my arms and nurses, while we rock and I sing to her before nap and bedtime, I find myself full of love and joy in the simple act of nursing this precious toddler of mine.


The Dunns said...

I think your nursing relationship with Lila is wonderful! I may be one of those people responsible for "sideways glances" when I have seen a mom nursing an older toddler in public, but not out of reproach or scorn. Rather, it makes me reevaluate the impression I have developed of her in a more positive light. I usually say something then, like "that's great that you are still bfing" but sometimes I don't and I hope that mom doesn't take my glance as being negative. In some circumstances, it just doesn't work out to talk about it. I wouldn't worry about the glances, Nat. What they think is their responsibility, not yours. You are very approachable, so I'm sure that people with questions will ask them and people with encouragement will voice it. Just assume the glances are glances of admiration!

Natalie said...

That's why I'm torn b/w saying something or not-you just never know. These mothers are British, and since I know them personally, I knew their glances were curious glances and little else (my European friends here are baffled as to why Americans are offended by so much, so easily - many of them think we're just ridiculous). So, with these moms, I told my breastfeeding story and got "oohhhs, and ahhhs." Not, "you're crazy, there's no need for that." To people who I think are thinking that, I try to keep my mouth shut and just let them learn by setting a good example. Though, it's not always easy when, inside, you feel like those people just need to grow up.

Brenda said...

You and I are so much alike when it comes to this subject. Each one of my kids ... Ben & Nora ... weaned themselves at or around 2yrs. I LOVE breastfeeding and I think it is the most natural, wonderous thing (besides childbirth) that a woman can do. I am glad that Ellie is still breastfeeding actively and turns one in one month. She is such a joy and I will miss this when she weans.

Natalie said...

Brenda, I have a new favorite quote (you may have seen in on my facebook profile):

When we trust the makers of baby formula more than we do our own ability to nourish our babies, we lose a chance to claim an aspect of our power as women. Thinking that baby formula is as good as breast milk is believing that thirty years of technology is superior to three million years of nature's evolution. Countless women have regained trust in their bodies through nursing their children, even if they weren't sure at first that they could do it. It is an act of female power, and I think of it as feminism in its purest form." - Dr. Christine Northrup

Angie said...

While I didn't and don't plan to breastfeed past a year, I too cannot imagine how bottle feeding would be as easy as breat feeding. Now, if I was working full time, I am sure I would feel differently. Maybe not, though.

Anderson Family said...

Well Nat, I think you are right in your idea of nursing until Lila is ready. I had wanted to do the same with Mara, but you know the current situation didn't allow for that. I know that nursing was so much easier than bottle feeding her. When I went back to work and was still nursing (no formula) pumping was a must, but it was such a pain...I missed how it was when I was on leave. I look forward to being able to only nurse when Danny and I have another baby.

Natalie said...

Nola, I don't know if I'll ever have to pump (for work). I think any mother who pumps (my sister) is admirable! What dedication! I know would do it. But, I'm complain about it every second! You did what you could with Mara! It was, actually, pretty amazing!