Monday, May 14, 2012

So, I Breastfeed My Toddler...

What breastfeeding a toddler REALLY looks like.

Yep, I still breastfeed my toddler. We also co-sleep and have since birth. In fact, we do our best to incorporate all of the 7 Attachment Parenting principles recommended by Dr. Sears into our parenting approach. According to recent media (and public commentary) as a result of the TIME magazine article, “Are You Mom Enough,” that makes me a freak. An extremist. A helicopter parent inhibiting the independence of my child. Or even worse, it makes me a pedophile or a child abuser.

When I was pregnant with my son, I had read some about Attachment Parenting and decided (with all the expertise of a first-time mom) that it was NOT for me. I didn’t want to be tied down or have a baby strapped to me all day. Only freaks and weirdos breastfed their babies past 6 months (or maybe even 6 weeks!) How on earth would my child EVER learn to be independent if I pick them up every single time they cry or feed them on demand? I wasn’t about to turn into a human pacifier.  And a “family bed”??? Forget about it! My baby would sleep in his crib, thankyouverymuch, and in his own room. I didn’t even decide to breastfeed until I was 8 months pregnant and I said I would give it 6 weeks before transitioning to a bottle and formula.

When my son was born and I held him for the very first time, I had no idea what to do. The doctor assisting my OB suggested I try to breastfeed him immediately, before they take him to clean him up. I tried to get him to latch, but we were both loopy from the medications and we weren’t very successful. I didn’t know what I was doing and felt awkward and uncomfortable. When they brought him back to me, he latched right on and I thought we had it under control. But breastfeeding did not come that easily. His latch was shallow and “lazy” and I didn’t know what to do. I had the lactation consultants and every nurse I could get help me show him how to latch. It was exhausting and it was painful, but I was determined to get it right.

The first night we were sitting in my hospital room, nursing. Jim was asleep on the couch and Ashley, the nursery nurse assigned to Kellan, sat perched on the end of my bed. It was 3 am. She had dropped him off an hour and a half earlier for a feeding and had come back to check on us since she didn’t hear back from us for so long. Kellan was nursing away and I told Ashley I was scared that I was doing everything wrong. I said I didn’t want to be a pacifier or spoil him and I asked her if I should unlatch him and let her take him back to the nursery. What she said to me that night has resonated with me ever since and she will never know how intensely important her words were to a terrified first-time mama that night. She said, “Erin, you are NOT a pacifier. You are a mom now. This is the most important job you will ever have in your entire life. You are all that he knows in this big, scary, bright, loud new world. You’re it. He knows your voice and he knows your smell. You are his comfort. There is no comparison between being a mom and a piece of rubber. If he wants to nurse, let him nurse. You’re not just feeding him; you’re comforting him and letting him know that he isn’t all alone. You are his security and that’s okay because you are his mama. That’s how it is supposed to be.” I was so blessed to have her as our nurse because that was exactly what I needed to hear.

Once we left the hospital, breastfeeding was still hard. It is the hardest thing I have ever done – harder than childbirth itself even. Yes, I would dare to go there. It is a commitment like none other I have ever made. I spent many hours on the phone with my Aunt Suzi, who has probably been my biggest cheerleader and supporter. She nursed my cousin for 22 months until she self-weaned. My aunt has spent so much time and energy building my confidence and giving me invaluable advice. I truly believe I would never have been as successful at breastfeeding if it hadn’t been for her and her support. I know I would’ve thrown in the towel when it got rough. Instead, I was determined to push through. I knew that this was the very best I could do for my baby and the very best I could do for myself.

I never intended to breastfeed my toddler. My original goal was 3 months and then it turned into six months and then one year. Kellan would never accept a bottle, though we did try and try, and I was not successful at pumping. My body just didn’t respond well to a pump and I was never able to pump enough to keep up with the amount he needed. But he thrived at the breast and so that’s what we did. I was fortunate enough to work from home until I was laid off when he was 9 months old. Since then, I’ve been blessed enough to still maintain being home with my baby, working part-time, primarily from home, for another company. When we came to the one-year mark, I couldn’t fathom weaning him. I knew he wasn’t ready and neither was I. So, we continued on. At 22 months old, he pretty much only nurses before bed and sometimes before naps. Our days of nursing every 3-4 hours throughout the day are long gone and so are our days of nursing in public (restaurants, the Zoo, etc.), not because I’d be embarrassed or uncomfortable to nurse him anywhere and everywhere, but because my little guy is growing up.

Being a mommy is hard. It doesn’t come with instructions or a guidebook. From the time your child is placed in your arms, you are instantly bombarded with societal pressures, media pressures, what your mom thinks is best, what your friends think is best. People won’t hesitate to tell you what you’re doing wrong, but very rarely are you told you’re doing it right. It is the hardest, yet most rewarding job in the world. All you have is your instinct and what you feel is right.

With 2 years old just around the corner, I am ready to let go when he is. I am not forcing “nursin’” or even suggesting it anymore. I am following his lead and what he needs. Even still, I know when the time comes and he decides he is done “nursin’”, it will be bittersweet. I will be so sad to see this time with him go, but I know that I did the very best that I could do for my baby and I will never have any regrets about that. Most of the media and public commentary made regarding the TIME article and regarding Dr. Sears is hurtful and rude and completely disgusting and it makes my blood boil. I am not a freak, a pedophile, or a helicopter parent. I am a mama. I do my own research and make decisions for my family based off of what I truly believe to be in their best interest because I love them. I don’t need to prove to anyone whether or not I’m “Mom Enough” or that my way and my philosophies on parenting are better than the next. I don’t judge those who do things differently and I hope not to be judged either.

**UPDATE** My second son, Aven, was born in November 2012. Kellan continued to nurse through my pregnancy and for 4 months after Aven’s birth, I tandem nursed both boys until Kellan self-weaned at 2 ½ years old, 10 months after I wrote this post. It happened slowly and without me or him even really noticing it until one day I realized he hadn’t nursed in over two weeks. It’s as bittersweet as I imagined it would be, but I am glad to have breastfed my sweet boy for those 32 months – until he made the decision on his own to wean. Breastfeeding Aven has come with its own set of challenges, but it was also easier in many ways too. I plan to continue nursing him until he also weans on his own, whatever age that may be.

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