The Day I Breastfed and Weaned My Four-Year Old |An Extended Breastfeeding Journey

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I’ve written this post a hundred times in my head. I think it’s so hard to write because it matters to me SO much.

But I don’t want to be judged. So. I breastfed my firstborn son until he was four. If that freaks you out, you can go read something else now. Or, maybe, reading this will help you understand why something so crazy and weird and socially unacceptable, might have occurred to me and my son.

See, I didn’t set out to nurse him until he was four.

I just started out breastfeeding him when he was born. About an hour after he was born. Then an hour or so after that. Then some days after that. And some weeks and months after that.

I never knew how, or when, or why, moms would wean their babies.

So I didn’t think about weaning, when I breastfed him that day he was born. I thought about nursing.

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Those first two weeks of breastfeeding were AWFUL. I mean, really awful. I was totally, completely determined to breastfeed my children. Before they were born. But in the middle of those first awful weeks, I COMPLETELY understood why so many moms give up breastfeeding.

It hurts. I mean, it really hurts. Even after two lactation consultation visits, it hurt. It only stopped hurting while they were at my house, helping me. That little hour of pain-free nursing was my light at the end of the tunnel that it was possible.

My newborn didn’t want to nurse every three hours. He wanted to nurse every hour. Every thirty minutes. Every hour and a half. He refused a pacifier (I tried several kinds). Nursing made him so darn happy. Even when it was hurting me like hell.

There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture. Because it is. Torture. Breastfeeding a newborn, being woken up a bazillion times a night, for days and weeks and months on end. Torture. So painful. So overwhelming. “Exhausted” is so lame at capturing the feeling, that it’s kind of a joke to even use that word. Desperately, unbearably, horribly, dark, deep, fatigued in every cell of my core. Emotionally drained, physically empty, mentally unable to think straight or even in a wavy line.

I can’t blame all that on breastfeeding. But exclusively breastfeeding (EBF) means no one else can feed baby in the middle of the night. I guess they could IF the baby would take a bottle of pumped milk (which mine wouldn’t). But the alternative to waking up to nurse a baby,  is waking up with horribly engorged, rock hard, swollen breasts from having skipped a middle of the night feeding. So it wouldn’t really be worth it.

At some point, the advice of the lactation consultants began to help, and it got easier. And stopped hurting. Hooray.

Until I got mastitis. Having mastitis feels like having the worst flu ever. High fever, aching body like a beating with a baseball bat, horribly horribly sore breasts that make nursing burn and tear. I was grateful for the help of my lactation consultant, kellymom.com, and my naturopath. I got rid of the mastitis in 24 hours. It came back a couple weeks later. And we got rid of it again. I hate mastitis.

Then one day, breastfeeding was the easiest thing in the world. I never noticed it had happened, until suddenly, it was. Easy. Quick. Painless.

Even more suddenly, it became delightful. Amazing, incredible. Bonding, cuddles, intimacy, connection. Smelling the top of my sweet baby’s head while he nursed. Relaxing on the internet, blogs, or Facebook while he nursed to sleep. Long naps for both of us in bed together, interspersed by nursing sessions. Co-sleeping at night, because everyone got more sleep that way.

Breastfeeding is the purest, simplest form of connection I’ve experienced with my children. It is priceless, and a gift I’m blessed with. I can’t imagine my life, or my relationship with my children, without breastfeeding.

I have SO many photos of Jax breastfeeding. We spent hours and hours nursing and sleeping and nursing and awake. He would nurse in any position, in any carrier, anywhere we went. Nursing was his anchor.

Around twelve months, we both got thrush. My son had whitish spots inside his cheeks in his mouth. I had horrible pain in my nipples, the skin got pink and would peel off, and crack and bleed.

With help from my support team of lactation consultant, naturopath, and kellymom.com, I was again able to treat the thrush naturally. It took several weeks to clear up. It popped up again a few months later, and receded again.

Twenty-one months went by. My son was almost two years old! He slept about eight hours straight at night. The rest of the the 16 hours of the day, he nursed every 1-3 hours, on demand. I never scheduled him. I never put him off from nursing. He was speaking in sentences by this point, and could clearly ask for nursing when he wanted it.

Because of the frequency of his nursing, and my physiology, my feminine cycles had not returned. We wanted to get pregnant again. I knew I had to reduce his nursing frequency, to get my cycles back.

Telling him “No” was torture. He cried. I mean not just a little whine or fuss. Bawling, sobbing, huge tears rolling down his face. I eventually discovered it was easier to tell him “The next time you can nurse is _____ (example, at naptime),” compared to “No, not right now.” Getting him down to three nursing sessions in a 24 hour period (bedtime, naptime, and morning wake up time), was SO, SO hard on both of us. So many tears were shed, by both of us.

As a parent, I’m a firm believer that children are real humans. They have real feelings, opinions, needs, and ideas about the world. I treat my kids with respect, even when they are little. I allow them to have a say in what goes on in their world, as reasonably much as I can. I expect them to cooperate with me, but I find that the more I can understand and listen to their ideas and needs, the more easily they cooperate with my plan.

With this philosophy, I absolutely could not “just wean him.” These tears were real tears. They were tears of sadness, disappointment, loss, pain. They were tears begging for comfort and connection. They were tears needing to know Mommy still loves, and the world is safe and secure. Seeing his tears, I could not physically deny him what he asked for and needed. I had milk to give him. My body was capable. I could only stall him enough to achieve what I wanted – pregnancy.

I had two cycles before we conceived on the third cycle.

Lots of people said their child naturally self-weaned once they were pregnant with another baby. Supposedly it changes the taste of the milk, or the quantity. To be honest, I was hoping for that.

If it did, my two year old didn’t notice or care. Once again, I was in breastfeeding pain. Pregnancy makes the breasts and nipples extra sensitive, and also reduces milk supply. Sometimes I could hardly stand to nurse him longer than a few minutes. But any “no” or “that’s all for now” was met with such sadness and so many tears. And it was clear every time we nursed, that he loved it. He felt peaceful and happy and satisfied. What a gift.

We began to talk about the baby. How the baby would need lots of nursing. How the baby would need to nurse first. How there would still be enough milk for my firstborn. My Jax. How there would even be MORE milk for both of them! I was prepared to tandem nurse, but had no idea how that would go.

Tobi arrived when Jax was nearly three.

Tandem nursing totally tapped me out physically (pun intended). It’s extremely difficult to get two small human bodies positioned in a way that actually works to nurse at the same time. Especially when one is a floppy newborn. Especially when the toddler wants to wiggle around while nursing. And having two little mouths sucking on my nipples at the same time was just way too much for me to physically tolerate. I was willing to nurse them both, but not at the same time.

It’s hard for a firstborn to adjust to the arrival of a sibling. Really hard. I think parents underestimate how shocking and terrible this can be for a firstborn child. How painful the loss of attention can be for the first child. The second child never knows any different. But the first, really this is quite a tragedy – the arrival of this new person. Taking Mommy and Daddy’s time. Taking Mommy’s breasts and milk.

I was so grateful that I could still give my firstborn something reliable. Something that assured him of our connection, of my love, of my availability to him.

In the first few weeks, I was so engorged (like the first time), and mastitis threatened several times. I happily let Jax nurse much more than his usual “designated” times of day (bedtime, naptime, wake up time in the morning). I eagerly let him nurse a few times when his younger brother skipped a feeding, and I was getting engorged.

Eventually it wasn’t working for him to have flexible nursing times. He would ask to nurse all day long, just like when he was an infant. But I couldn’t nurse him like an infant, when I had a newborn nursing on demand. I went back to our three-times-a-day schedule. That worked better. He knew what to expect. He would still ask at other times, and it would make him a little sad when I reminded him of his next nursing opportunity, but it was usually without tears. He eventually stabilized with the predictability of his own nursing schedule, and the difference it was from his brother’s nursing schedule. I also made it a point to read books, do puzzles, or give him my attention, while nursing the baby.

When my second son (Tobi) was four months old, we moved. We bought our first house. We had been living with (renting from while sharing a home with) my parents, since before Jax was born. Living with me, my husband, and my parents, was all he had ever known. My parents played with him at intervals during the day and evening, we ate meals together, and he saw them frequently throughout each day.

Moving away from their home, into our own home, meant a huge loss for him. A huge loss of the playtime and connection with his grandparents. A gaping hole of attention. Not only was a new baby stealing attention, but now there were fewer available adults to fill the attention gap.

Within a few days of moving into our home, Jax turned three.  I had been ramping up to wean him on his third birthday.

It was getting increasingly difficult to keep up with his three-times-a-day nursing sessions. The worst was bedtime, because that was also a fussy time of day for the baby. I would end up either

1) Nursing the baby first, while Jax fussed and complained that he wanted to nurse. The baby would take such a long time to nurse to sleep, that sometimes Jax wouldn’t get to nurse, or would be begging me for such a long time that I didn’t know what to do (since the baby was still nursing). Tandem was so uncomfortable for me, and truly almost physically impossible especially with small breasts like I have.

Or 2) Nursing Jax first, in a big rush, while Tobi screamed. Not relaxing or enjoyable for anyone.

Naptime wasn’t too far off from bedtime, in difficulty, and similarity of issues.

Because of these troubles, I wanted to wean Jax on his third birthday. He’s smart. Really smart. Also really verbal, and quite opinionated. I knew that in order to wean him, I would need a good reason, or he wouldn’t go along with the idea. The only thing I could come up with was that three years old was too big for nursing. So that’s what I began telling him in the weeks leading up to his third birthday.

I nursed him on the morning of his third birthday, and even posted a photo on Facebook that it was our “last” nursing session. I refused to nurse him that day, for naptime or bedtime. He only fussed a little, and I was hopeful.

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The day after his third birthday, when he woke up that morning and asked to nurse, I tried telling him no. No, three years old is too big for nursing.

Soo many tears. So much sadness and hurt and loss. I relented, and nursed him.

I got to thinking about all the changes going on for this three year old. Totally rocking and shaking his world. A new brother. A move. A new home. A new room. Losing daily companionship with his grandparents. Really, it was a lot of sadness. A lot of loss and confusion. Very little security. A world upside down. Truthfully, not a good time to be weaning a child who was still so needy of nursing and security.

So Jax and I had a talk. We talked together about the baby. About how much the baby needs to nurse. About how hard it is for Mommy when the baby is crying at naptime and bedtime, and I’m trying to nurse two people. About how it would be better if Jax didn’t need to nurse at bedtime or naptime anymore.

He has such a tender heart, and an intelligent mind. We had a truly reasonable, respectful conversation. We agreed that Jax would nurse once a day – when he woke up in the morning. This was the most peaceful nursing session for me, and the one he also seemed the most attached to.

For the next year, he nursed once a day – when he woke up in the morning. He only got one “side” so there would always be milk for the baby. Sometimes he asked for more nursing at other times. I allowed him to do so only rarely, as it seemed to spawn more requests, and more tears at my denial. The reliability of the wake-up time nursing worked for both of us, and wasn’t hard on me. It was a sweet time to connect with him in the morning, before our day got going. Most days, he woke up before the baby, so we had time together alone. Like the old days, before his brother was born.

At some point when he was three, I asked him why he liked nursing. I was expecting all sorts of answers, but not the one I got. My chocolate-loving, candy-desiring, sweet-toothed son, said he liked breastfeeding, “Because it tastes GOOD!”

As we neared his fourth birthday, my husband ventured to me in private, that he was getting uncomfortable with how old our son was, still nursing. Up to this point, he had been okay with the breastfeeding situation. We had talked on several occasions about my reasons for continuing, and were on the same page.

I was feeling ready to wean him as well, but was anxious about how it would go, since it went so badly before.

I began talking to Jax with the same mantra I had chosen the prior year. Four years old is too big for nursing. After you turn four, you will be a big boy, and we won’t nurse anymore. You will be all done nursing after your birthday, because four years old is too big for nursing.

On the morning of his fourth birthday, I nursed him, and reminded him it would be our last nursing time. I again took a photo, but this time didn’t share it on social media. I honestly didn’t know how the next day would go.

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The day after his birthday, when he woke up, he asked for nursing. I gently told him no, four years old was too big for nursing, and we were all done nursing. He cheerfully replied, “Okay, Mommy!” and went on with his morning.

He didn’t ask me again.

A couple days later, I asked him about it. “Are you okay that we are done nursing?” “Yes, Mommy, I’m fine!”

A few days later. “Are you still okay that we aren’t nursing anymore?” “I’m okay, Mommy.”

A week or so later. “Are you feeling okay that we don’t nurse anymore?” “Mommy, it’s okay.”

And that was it. He was weaned.

It’s been over two months now since he nursed. He doesn’t ask me to nurse anymore. Although he is very quick to let me know when his brother is distressed and seems to need nursing!

I was a little more heartbroken than I expected. That was it. I was done nursing my firstborn. We had nursed thousands of times, and this was the end of it. And he was fine with it.

I guess part of me wished he wasn’t fine with it. Wished it had been a battle, so I could have seen how much it mattered to him. But, it was easy. He was ready. It finally mattered little enough, that he was ready for it to be the end.

That is when I weaned my child. When he was ready.

Before I had kids, someone asked me once, how long I planned to breastfeed. I remember thinking, “I’m not even pregnant! How would I know how long I plan to breastfeed?” I hesitated, then answered, “I guess, when they are old enough to help themselves?”

Jax could help himself by five months old. At church one Sunday, while I held him on my hip, he pulled my shirt down and latched on. All by himself.

Since five months old was clearly too early to wean him, that idea of “old enough to help himself” went out the window.

Once he was past the age of being able to “help himself”, I figured one day he wouldn’t want to nurse anymore. I had no idea that day would be his fourth birthday.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t mean it to be that way. I didn’t expect it.

If I had seen a four year old boy running around and you said I might be nursing a boy like that, I probably would have laughed in your face and felt terribly awkward about the idea.

It happened because my son needed to nurse. Wanted to nurse. Was physically and emotionally benefited by nursing. I nursed him because I’m his Mommy and I wanted to do what was best for him. And at each point I tried to wean him, or reduce his nursing, I was met with such sadness and despair that it didn’t seem like the right thing to do.

Until he was four.

Then he was ready.

I’m sad. I’m relieved.

I’m grateful for our journey.

Me and Jax and our So-Far Journey of Extended Breastfeeding

Before Jax was born, I was determined to nurse him. My mom nursed me and all my sisters. My sisters all nursed their babies. God made a woman’s body to nourish a baby growing inside her body, and outside it.  Our breasts may have other possible uses and stereotypes, but this is the primary one they were designed for.  Women throughout history and around the world have nursed, and many don’t have another option.

We also know from plenty of current research, that breast milk is indeed the very best food for babies.  I won’t go into all that research, because it’s not my point.  But if there was any question as to which food would be the healthiest, most nutritious food for an infant, it isn’t anything man-made – it is the one that mama bodies naturally make.

I also have very close friends who despite every desire, and every effort, were unable to breastfeed their babies for one reason or another. It could have been physical complications, it could have been an intense job that left them little time to pump, or a host of other reasons. For most of these friends, it broke their heart, as they changed their expectation of cuddling and nourishing their babies, to a different form.  They are lovely mamas who are close to their babies.  This post isn’t about that, but I want to acknowledge it, to say to these friends and mamas like them, I love you and support you.

But this post is about my journey (so far) with Jax.

The first two weeks of his life, nursing was awful.  My entire body was in pain all the time.  My bottom ached from pushing out a 10 lb 4 oz baby.  My bottom was sore from a significant tear that Jax gave me by swinging his elbow out into fresh air, in advance of his body (his head came out without tearing me).  I couldn’t sit on anything except a yoga ball and a super squishy rocking chair.  I couldn’t stand up longer than 10 minutes at a time without my bottom aching so much I had to sit or lay down.

My breasts ached from being way too full of milk, probably enough milk to feed twins or triplets.  My nipples were sore beyond belief from his improper latch.  We could only nurse in this one chair, in this one position, with this one special pillow.  I didn’t know how to nurse laying down (to get more sleep), or even how to nurse in a more comfortable position.

Jax wanted to nurse, not every three hours, but every 30 minutes to 2 hours at most, around the clock.  He was big baby, he was a boy, and he needed food.

I was of course, also a brand new mom, and fatigued beyond anything I thought possible, from day after day of interrupted sleep.  It had been one thing to be a college student during finals week, and sleep for snatches of time here or there, perhaps averaging 4-5 hours of a sleep in each 24-hour period.  But after a few days, I could sneak in a 6-hour slot, or a 2-hour nap.  This was no comparison.  Waking every 30 minutes to 2 hours, around the clock, for weeks on-end, gives no random chances for a 6 or 7 hour slot, for the body to get into deep sleep mode and recover slightly.  Being a busy college student in no way prepared me for the pain of new-mother sleep deprivation.

To be that exhausted, sitting on a sore bottom, with a baby’s powerful vacuum-like suckle on a sore and cracking nipple, was pretty much beyond anything I thought could be physically possible for me.  I had a lactation consultant come to my home when he was 5 days old, and again when he was about 1.5 weeks old.  I was determined to be successful in nursing him, but the thought crossed my mind over and over again, “If a person wasn’t 100% determined to do this, they would have given up a thousand times by now. And I would totally understand.”  I finally understood why anyone who was on the fence about whether or not they would nurse, would just throw in the towel at some point during those first weeks.

Both lactation consultants were practically miracle workers. I now tell any pregnant friends they should just plan to have one come out to their home during the baby’s first week of life, whether or not they think they need help.

While the first LC was at my home, I had my very first pain-free latch.  It was possible!  Relief.  Now to make that happen again, when she wasn’t helping me.  Much harder.

When the second LC came, she had a higher degree of certification and training than the first, and she checked both Jax and I for physical issues that could possibly interfere with successful nursing.  She unrolled a funny-looking thing onto her finger that looked like a miniature condom, and checked him thoroughly inside his mouth for the slightest tongue tie of any kind, deformity, or anything unusual.  Birth attendants and hospital LCs are supposed to check these things too, but I had heard WAY too many stories of parents who found out months or years later, about partial tongue ties, lip ties, or other things, that went undetected, and had been a factor in unsuccessful nursing.  For an LC with the highest level of certification, they are a specialist trained in these sort of things, and it was calming to know it had all been checked out.  Nothing was wrong with either of us. We just needed to learn this thing, together.

Sometime during his third week of life, nursing slowly shifted from a dreaded, excruciating, frustrating event, into one of the easiest things I had ever done.  He and I both learned how to get him latched properly, without pain.  My nipples slowly healed.  My milk supply slowly shifted downward to meet his appropriate need, instead of over-producing like crazy.

I tried a bunch of nipple creams, and the most effective one still turned out to be the classic Lansinoh Lanolin in the purple tube, available at the grocery store or drug store.  (It is greasy and stains clothing, so beware that!).

On my LC’s recommendation, I began nursing him at only one breast each feeding, rather than switching sides mid-feeding.  That quickly reduced my supply, which I needed.  I nursed him that way for most of his first six months, save when he was going through growth spurts, and increased his demand for a few days.

I stuck it out through two bouts of mastitis, both treated with natural means (drinking pureed garlic in carrot juice OH HOW AWFUL but effective).

I was ravenous all the time.  I could eat more than any adult male around me, at every meal.  I lost my baby weight, and then some, within a few weeks, which freaked me out because I didn’t want to keep losing weight to an unhealthy place.

Weight loss or not, my body didn’t look the same though.  My belly was still “poochy”, and remained that way even when I reached my normal weight.  This was primarily due to diastasis recti, a condition where the abdominal muscles separate during pregnancy.  It happens in roughly 30% of pregnancies, and has to be managed by exercises, and in some cases, future surgery (not in my case).  My breasts were always uneven – one full, one empty, from nursing every-other-side at each feeding.  I went through times where my milk seemed not enough, and times when I was so engorged I would wake in the middle of the night in extreme pain.

We learned to nurse laying down, which significantly helped my sleep.  As Jax learned to sleep better at night, I had to re-learn how to sleep too.  My body would continue waking up constantly, even when he was not awake.  We co-slept for several months, then gradually moved him to a bassinet by the bed, to help me sleep better without waking at his every sleeping squirm.  When he was five months old, we moved him to his own crib in his own room, because he and I were still both waking each other up too frequently.  Just moving him to his own room caused both he and I to sleep better. I still got up and nursed him each time he cried, but he slowly woke up less and less.  By the time he was nine months old, he would sleep 7-8 hours at a time, without waking to nurse.  My body slowly adjusted, and started sleeping longer hours too.

By that point, the act of nursing was as easy as blinking my eyes.  It didn’t hurt, and it was a cuddly time that I deeply cherished.  I’m affectionate by nature, and Jax is one of the most affectionate people I’ve ever known.

And that is probably the bottom line of why he is about to be two and a half years old, and is still nursing.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for an infant’s first year.  They suggest breastfeeding should continue for at least the first year, then as long “as is desired by mother and baby.”  The World Health Organization (WHO), also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months.  It then encourages breastfeeding until “age two or beyond.”

I’ve received a lot of subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, comments from people, about the fact that Jax is still nursing.  People seemed to assume he would wean once I was pregnant.  Others are still assuming that he will wean before baby Noel arrives, or when this baby arrives.

Honestly, it is just as much a surprise to me, as anyone else, that Jax is still nursing.

From the moment he was born, he has wanted to nurse.  He has been voracious about nursing, and could ask for it by saying “nee nee” or “nah nee” before he was a year old.  I certainly didn’t want to wean him before he was one, and since he had already learned how to ask for it by then, it was a bit hard to say no.

Before I had kids, someone once asked me how long I planned to nurse my children. I remember thinking, how could I know?!  I’ve never been pregnant before, let alone nursed a baby.  The best answer I could come up with was, “When they are old enough to help themselves.”  What I didn’t realize, is my sweet baby boy would be capable of “helping himself” by the age of five months.  At that point, he was physically able, and willing, to pull my shirt down and latch on, without any help from me, even from weird angles and positions.

I have plenty of friends whose child self-weaned when the mother was pregnant again.  Something about how the flavor or the amount of milk changes, and the child just slowly stops nursing.

In order to conceive Noel, I had to actively reduce Jax’s frequency and duration of nursing.  He was getting most of his sustenance from regular food, but showed zero desire to wean.  I was slowly able to work him from “on-demand” feedings, to a structured schedule of nap time, bedtime, and wake-up time only.  I only allowed him brief “snacks” when he got hurt, was excessively tired, or upset about something.

He was born in March 2012, and my first period didn’t arrive until January 2014, twenty two months later. This is relatively unusual, as most moms I know get their cycles back when the baby starts sleeping 7-8 hour stretches at night, and often cycles return sooner, despite exclusive breastfeeding.

Jax was really unhappy about the new structure introduced to his nursing, which was necessary to get my cycles to come back so we could work on a sibling for him. Sometimes I could distract him with food or water or play.  Sometimes I couldn’t, and he would sob, tears streaming down his face, begging me for nursing.  “Please Mommy, please!!!!  Just a wittle bit of nursing, please Mommy!”

It was so anguishing for me to refuse him. Telling him, “A little bit later” seemed much easier for him to handle than, “No,” but sometimes nothing worked except breaking his little heart.  This is not my idea of fun with a sensitive-spirited, cuddly, affectionate, otherwise-usually-cheerful toddler.

And this is why I haven’t weaned him.

I haven’t offered nursing to him in over a year.  He has to ask if he wants it.

And he doesn’t forget.  He still asks.

He still asks every day at times that aren’t within the structure I currently allow: naptime, bedtime, wake up time.  He asks anytime he gets hurt.  He asks anytime he is tired.  He asks if he is tired and hungry at the same time.  He knows how to ask for food, and even how to help himself from the refrigerator, but nursing is more than food.

In addition to his asking, he is prolific in his verbal affirmation of his love of nursing.  He tells me every single day, at one or more of our nursing sessions, with the sweetest voice and a happy smile, “I wike nursing!”  My response is always, “I like nursing with you too, Jax.”  Often this is followed by, “I wike cuddwing!” or “You are sooooo cuddwy Mommy.”

These days, we nurse laying down in my bed, or in his bedroom at night.  When he wants to change sides, he leaps / dives over me, I flip my pregnant belly to the other side, and he nurses some more.  Sometimes he tells me things like, “Dis nursing is awww empty.  Dah miwk is aww gone. I wiw twi dee other side.  Your body can make mow miwk fow me!”  And he leaps and dives across me, changing sides maybe 4-12 times in a fifteen minute nursing session.  My best guess is he’s trying to keep the milk flowing, since supply naturally reduces during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.

One thing I read that made a lot of sense, is when pregnant and lactating, a woman’s milk production is  affected by the hormone progesterone, which makes the milk ducts “leaky”.  Even as she makes milk, some of it is reabsorbed into her blood supply.  This diminishes the quantity of milk available to the toddler, whether the toddler continues “demanding” it by ongoing nursing, or not.

In a normal breastfeeding situation, the milk supply is regulated by demand.  Demand by child. Supply by body. Increased demand; increased supply responds.  Decreased demand; decreased supply results.  During pregnancy, this doesn’t hold as true, because pregnancy hormones are affecting milk production.

When a baby is born, the hormone prolactin is released, which tells the milk ducts to close up and hold all the milk in.  I’ve read that breastmilk changes to colostrum at some point during pregnancy.  According to what I can find online, this happens usually between 20-30 weeks. I’ve had friends who had colostrum adequate to pump a bit of it, by the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy (when they were not lactating for a toddler).  Nursing pregnant mothers tend to notice the laxative effect of colostrum in their toddler’s bowel movements (whoopee).

So I honestly don’t know how long I will be nursing Jax.  My husband and I have had multiple conversations about it, and the only thing he minds is that my breasts are sensitive when I’m pregnant or nursing, and he can’t do a whole lot of touching them.  But there’s other nice things for he and I to do together, and he doesn’t insist that I wean Jax if I’m not ready to.

Jax has told me that Noel can nurse “on the other side,” while he is nursing too.  And that’s fine.  Jax doesn’t nurse like a newborn will (constantly).  He nurses a handful of times a day, for very short periods of time. We’ve talked about how the baby won’t have any teeth, and can’t eat food, but will only be able to have Mommy’s nursing.  We’ve talked about how he will need to share nursing with the baby.  So even if I nurse them at the same time, it’s going to most likely be infrequent, and for short periods of time.  At least, that’s my best guess going into it.  But my best guesses going into nursing Jax have been pretty altered along the way, so I’m okay with my current tandem expectations being modified as well.  We will see.

We will see, just like we have seen for the last 2.5 years, how things develop.  I’m just not ready to break his heart.  I’m just not ready to have my sobbing toddler holding me and begging me to nurse him.  It’s not a pacifier.  It’s not a thumb.  It’s not a sippy cup or a bottle.  It’s my body.

And the fact that it’s my body, not an object, carries with it so much more.  It carries with it a sense of connection, of security, of closeness.  It carries with it physical affection and appropriate touch for a child who would still like to be carried and held a substantial portion of his day.  It carries with it calm, peaceful moments where we lay down at intervals in our day, and are quietly together, often without talking, always without playing or tickling.  Just stillness and closeness.

It physically hurts, to nurse while pregnant.  I won’t lie about that.  It doesn’t hurt as badly now as it did in my first trimester, but it still hurts, mostly when he first latches on.  Sometimes enough to make me gasp.  Other times, hardly anything.  The breasts and nipples are so sensitive from the pregnancy hormones, that even a correct latch and suckle still hurts.

But I’ve done this other times when it hurt.  When I had mastitis, twice.  When I had thrush for a year (finally cleared that up a couple months ago with quadruple doses of probiotic capsules).  And I’ve done it many, many, many times when it didn’t hurt at all, and was pure ease and joy.

This too will pass.  And I’m kind of hoping that it won’t be so painful with this new baby, because my body will already be “used to” nursing, and the nipples won’t need to “toughen up” like they did the first time.  And maybe I won’t get so painfully engorged, if I can ask Jax to come nurse a bit and relieve some of the pressure.  But those are guesses.  More guesses that I know can be changed by whatever reality comes around.

If he self-weans before Noel is born, that would be fine with me.  If he doesn’t, that will be fine with me too.  Will I nurse him until he is five or six years old, like this mother did with her three children?  I don’t know.  In advance, I want to say, that sounds weird and I don’t think I could do that, or want to do that.  But being a mom has changed me in so many ways. Has altered a million pre-conceived notions I had.

In the story I just linked, she nursed her three children until age six, and they are all are grown now.  They are normal.  They don’t have any weird sexual problems or obsessions, neither her sons or daughters.  And most surprisingly of all, none of them have any memory of nursing.  Plenty of people remember things from age two or three or four.  But her grown children, who nursed until age five or six, don’t have memories of nursing.

I don’t have any friends or family who have nursed their children past about eighteen months.  I have met a handful of people who have nursed much longer, maybe 3-5 years old, but they are acquaintances, and not people regularly in my life. Just people I know about.

Most of the folks in my life already know I have a mind of my own, so I haven’t had too many awkward comments about Jax’s continued nursing.  And if I don’t talk about it, most people probably don’t know.

I don’t allow him to nurse in public anymore, mostly because he pops on and off and switches sides constantly,  and of course refuses to have any sort of cover (um it’s freaking hot here? and he can’t look around? would you want to eat dinner with your friends and family with a blanket over your head?), none of which is ideal for retaining any sort of modesty.

Since Texas law protects nursing mothers, I’m not worried about modesty in the general public, but at church, or around friends or family, I at least try to get him on and off without flashing the world.  I’m more worried about the comfort of those folks, because I could really care less for myself.  My child is hungry. Or needs comfort. My body has food and comfort for him.  End of conversation.

And the same I guess is true now.  My child needs me.  I have the ability and desire to meet his need.  One day, when he doesn’t need it anymore, we will stop.  Or one day if I get to a breaking point and can’t do it anymore, we will stop.

Until then, I will keep taking it one day at a time.

One surprising day at a time, where I realize I am still nursing a two year old.  A two and a half year old.

I am still nursing a walking, talking, potty-trained child, while another grows inside my belly. All rather mind-boggling things I never expected to do.  But here I am, doing them.

There is no documented evidence that it hurts him physically, emotionally, developmentally, sexually, or otherwise.  There is documented evidence that it continues to support his immune system and provide him with some beneficial nutrition.  There is documented evidence that it benefits my long-term health in regard to multiple forms of cancer, bone disorders, and several other illnesses.  Cultures that regularly nurse children until age four and beyond, don’t show related long-term or short-term problems in mother or child.

I didn’t really decide to be here.  I just ended up here.  I’m not stuck; I have a choice.  But my choice is not to break my child’s heart over something he still needs. Perhaps it could be argued he doesn’t “need” it nutritionally.  But if he needs it emotionally and relationally… well, those are terribly valid needs that I’m okay with meeting in this manner.

So each day I lay down in bed and ask myself, “Am I willing to nurse him tomorrow?” And as long as the answer is still, “yes”, then we walk forward for one more day, and wait to see what the day after that brings.

* First photo, credit to my Tita.  She snapped this in her home, with her iPad.  It’s one of my favorites of us nursing.  Jax is thirteen months old.

* Second photo, selfie.  Jax is almost two.

* Third photo, credit to a friend. I was at a babywearing educational workshop, and Jax was completely overwhelmed by the number of strangers there, especially children, and sat in my lap nursing for a substantial portion of the workshop. Since we pretty much never nurse in public anymore, I was so happy when the friend posted this photo of us.  This was taken just a few days ago, almost 2.5 years old.

| Filed under breastfeeding, jax reilly