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.

Summer Adventure

With my photography business growing this year, we’ve spent a lot of weekend time like this: Joy working, Benjamin and Jax hanging out.  It’s good for us that I can have a part time job that doesn’t require Jax to be in daycare.  But I also wanted to be sure we did fun things this summer as an entire family.  I want Jax to experience the fun of all three of us enjoying each other’s company, not just one parent or the other, while the other is at work.

There’s a lot we’ve done that I don’t have photos of, or that we have iPhone photos of!  Here’s a few on the “good camera” from our annual October camping trip, and an afternoon jaunt to Brackenridge Park.  I’m including them in the same post primarily because one day I was taking the photos and the other day Benjamin was taking the photos, so there’s an imbalance of one or the other of us in the images!

One of the reasons I married Benjamin is because he is fun to be around. Jax is possibly even more fun to be around, and keeps us both busy and entertained with his needs and antics.  What began as our anniversary camping trip has evolved into a family trip.  One day we’ll take back our anniversary at a separate occasion, but in the meantime, it’s always fun to be together in God’s beautiful world.

While I was growing up, my dad was the king of vacation (and my mom the queen).  He would have everything flawlessly planned, and my mom would faithfully pack up a household of stuff we would need for the journey.  He made sure we camped a few times a year, and took at least one big vacation most years.  I cherish those times so much, and have wanted to carve out the same experiences for my family. We didn’t do very many flashy things like Disney; there were a lot of road trips (without car seats which was so much more fun!), lots of visits to historical or beautiful locations, lots of games and card playing, lots of campfires and roasted marshmallows, and lots of uninterrupted time together.

I was actually a bit bummed that our camping location this year had decent cell phone signal, because it meant we weren’t actually technology-free.  We also had our first DVD-in the car road trip experience.  It was a lot different for kids on road trips when they could play endlessly in the back seat or the flat back of the van.  Being stuck in a car seat without even enough space to rotate the weight of your body and hips, for hours upon end, well that’s just misery if you ask me, and while we do play and read books, we also broke out the DVD player.

The funniest story of the trip was the night we roasted marshmallows.  Jax is not a fan of hot food, in general.  He usually requests frozen bread at breakfast time, and likes anything else cold or frozen like smoothies, frozen grapes, popsicles, frozen veggies, etc.  So it was no surprise that he just wanted to eat marshmallows plain, without having them first roasted over the coals.

It is possible he ate something like 5-7 marshmallows, followed by several small pieces of chocolate (for s’mores).  An hour later as we moved into the tent for bedtime, the sugar high escalated into a true frenzy.  In our large tent there are three sections.  We had our queen air mattress on one side, and his twin air mattress on the other side, with bags of clothing in the middle section.  Jax started running from one side of the tent to the other, throwing himself in mid-stride, onto each air mattress.  Then tearing himself up, running and laughing pell-mell to the other side of the tent, throwing himself on the other mattress and climbing off again.  He spent perhaps 20-30 minutes in this activity, non-stop.  After that, he began throwing himself against the walls of the tent, sliding down and falling onto the floor or bed, climbing up, and throwing himself into the walls again (is the phrase “climbing the walls?” or “bouncing off the walls?”), regardless, here we were, with a two-year old on a sugar frenzy.

Benjamin and I sat in a corner of the tent the entire time, watching in awed silence punctuated by the periodic giggle or knowing glance of what the heck!!!

It certainly made me wonder how many kids appear to have attention or behavior problems when in reality they just intake too much sugar (soda, koolaid, sugared cereals, sugary yogurt, etc.) over the course of a day – and these insane antics we experienced from Jax are some other children’s “normal.”  I’ll never question a true attention disorder, since I live with a husband who has a true diagnosis.  But I’ve seen Jax hyped up on sugar before – frozen yogurt, or the other rare occassions we allow him to have dessert.  But clearly, marshmallows and chocolate sent him into an entirely other realm.

We kept waiting for him to crash, but it never happened. So perhaps forty minutes later, we somehow wrangled him into pajamas, and he cuddled and nursed, and did eventually calm down enough to fall asleep.  Whereupon Benjamin and I had a good laugh and reminded ourselves to prepare ourselves in the future should we ever allow him another marshamallow!

 

^^  That is the “nooooo!!!!!” face.

 

And feeding ducks at the park in San Antonio….. a magical cold front came through that day.

| Filed under camping, jax reilly

Boy Plus Lizard – Lessons in Protection and Freedom

We’ve actually had a bit of rain here lately, in this summer drought.  A couple days ago, it started to sprinkle and Jax asked me to play outside with him.  We’ve been playing inside the last couple months, because 85 degrees plus is just too much, for any length of time, being pregnant.  The rain had cooled it down to about 76 outside, and the sprinkles felt refreshing.  Within five minutes however, it was pouring.  I grabbed rain jackets for both of us, so we would be wet but not soaked to the bone.  The we played while the rain poured down over us.
When I spotted this little lizard, I figured he would run off at lightening speed like they usually do. But at some point I realized he was moving slowly and wondered if it was all the rain slowing him down.  I tried to pick him up, and he barely resisted.
And that is how Jax got to play with his first lizard.  He was so good at being gentle and not squishing, and the lizard was extremely docile and cooperative.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then…. he took the lizard for a ride.

 

 

We put him in a jar with a couple ants, some grass, and mud.  We left him there overnight, outside in the jar, while I tried to figure out what we would do with him. I wouldn’t mind a lizard pet, but was unsure about feeding and maintaining it properly.

A few times I suggested we release him into the grass, and Jax said, “But I want to pway wif him! I want him to be my fwend!”  So we kept lizard friend overnight, and the next morning, went outside and let him go.

I told Jax the lizard missed his Mommy and Daddy, and we needed to put him back in the grass so he could run away to go find them.  He decided this was acceptable, held the lizard a bit longer, then tossed him into the grass to find his freedom.  The lizard, now dry, and nervous after being stuck in a glass cage all night, scampered away as quick as anything, and Jax said goodbye…..

These adventures are some of the ones that bring me a breath of life as a Mommy.  I love the outdoors, discovering, exploring, as much as Jax does.  I love these little adventures that I think all kids should get to enjoy, if they choose to.

Although I want my kids to be safe, I also don’t want to over-protect them right out of enjoying God’s creation.  I have always been pretty relaxed when Jax plays outside. He’s eaten dirt, leaves, and licked plenty of rocks.  The only thing that’s made him truly sick is other sick children, so I’m just not that worried about bugs and dirt.

Sometimes when we are at the park or other places, I feel like some parents tell their kids “no” at every possible junction…. don’t touch that stick.  Don’t jump off that rock.  Don’t climb that bench.

I want my children to learn to respect nature, to learn to respect other people, and items that are not meant for childlike-destruction.  We definitely parent with those boundaries.

But if we are at the tire shop waiting for new tires to be put on the car, and he wants to run up and down outside, in an area safe from cars, I’m going to let him run.  If we are at a swimming pool, he doesn’t get to run around the pool area.

If he wants to climb on rocks and jump off, and I think he’s too little to do it safely, I will hold his hand or help him.  If I think he might fall but is unlikely to break any bones, there’s a good chance I will let him try.

If he wants to grab a stick, I will make sure he isn’t swinging it at humans. But he is allowed to bang it on the ground. He is allowed to break it.  He is allowed to poke at a bug with it.

I’m willing to risk him getting mildly hurt, in the interest of allowing him to discover the world.  Certainly when his life is in danger, or broken bones seem imminent, these activities are off limit.  And if the activity is questionable, I try to do it with him or helping him, so he can still discover it, while remaining a bit safer.

My mom told me when I was a little girl, that someone once told her some parenting advice….. If you can say “yes”, say it.

Obviously there are people that are permissive to the point of neglect, and that’s not what we’re talking about here.

For me, this means when my twelve month-old wants to climb on the merry go round, I keep him safe by making sure there aren’t any big kids spinning it frantically, but I say yes by letting him crawl across it. Even if he could possibly crawl off one edge.  There’s a good chance he won’t.  And if he gets too close, I’m fast enough to run and catch him, and I’m doing my best to keep close in the event he does.  But I don’t keep him off the merry go round altogether….

I was more worried with this lizard, that Jax would squish it and kill it, which would just be sad.  I think I told him to be gentle about a thousand times.  Each time he reminded me that he WAS being gentle, and he was doing a good job too.  I took the risk of the mess of cleaning up a squished lizard, so Jax could enjoy the creature and learn a lesson in gentle touch.

I was also worried he would get attached to it, and by crying when it was time to let it go.  I debated how long we would keep it, and in what manner we would keep it (indoor / outdoor), how and when I was going to explain it was time for the lizard to go home… when Jax would need to say goodbye to the creature he decided to call, “Friend.”

But he was fine with that too.  We kept him overnight by mistake really, and the next morning, Jax was ready to release him, without any tears.

This is one of the ways in which parenting is a journey of discovery for the parent, just as much as the child….. How do we keep them safe?  And how do we set them free?  How do we protect them from serious pain, because we love them so much?  Yet how do we also love them enough, to allow them “safe failures” so they can learn their own limits and discover how to manage the world on their own, little by little, in age-appropriate ways and times.

When and how do we hold them close… When and how do we let go….

And we try to balance protection with freedom, holding tight with letting go, along the journey of two years old and ten years old and sixteen years old, so they hopefully learn how to make wise choices when they aren’t under our thumb or in our presence.

I don’t have this thing all figured out!  But these are some of the values and thoughts I wrestle with… try to discover…. and slowly learn how to implement in the very delightful lesson of the lizard.

Doll Carrier custom Wrap Conversion Full Buckle WCFB SSC

A friend of mine sewed carriers for her kids, small enough to fit the child to carry their doll or stuffed animal.  I loved how they turned out, and asked her to sew one for Jax. I had her use the leftover scrap pieces of some wraps that made a custom carrier I own, that I carry Jax in. So we have matching carriers. Pretty cute.  It fits him really well.

I took photos of him wearing “Baby Noel” (a 10″ baby doll), and also wearing “Toby”, (a 20″ doll, so pretty much newborn size).  Toby is a bit too large for the carrier, but my friend has photos of her kids wearing 12″ and 16″ dolls in their carriers, and they fit fine. Toby fit, and didn’t fall out, but was oversized and a bit floppy.

I had to bribe Jax with chocolate to get him to stand still outside while I took these “action photos.”  However, at least a couple times a week he wants to carry one of his dolls or animals in the carrier, and requests me to put it on him.  I have a doll-sized wrap that he can use as well, but the buckles on this carrier make it quicker and easier to put on him, plus it stays put better, since he won’t hold still too well for me to put the wrap on him properly.

I’m hoping he will still enjoy carrying his dolls once his sibling arrives, and is being worn in carriers.  Although I’m confident he will be disappointed that he can’t wear Noel in his own carrier. He’s already told me he plans to carry baby Noel in his own carrier 😉

From everything I’ve read, if a child is old enough and strong enough to carry their sibling in their arms, they are old and strong enough to wear them for the same amount of time.  Since I wouldn’t let Jax carry a newborn in his arms, I won’t be letting him wear a newborn either.

However, with the 20″ doll strapped onto him, it amazed me to see this photos, and remember that Jax was about that size when he was born… just an inch longer.  It’s going to be crazy and fun to see him with his new brother or sister in a few months!

And for anyone who is geeky about wraps, Jax’s carrier is made from Ellevill Organica Theo (the diamond weave pattern) and Didymos Natural Hemp India “NHIndia” which is originally a natural beige color, this one was dyed navy blue.

| Filed under baby wearing, jax reilly

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.

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Bubbles After Rain

I recently posted these photos of Jax playing in the rain one afternoon.

Once he was ready to go inside, the air conditioned house was too much for him, and he melted down crying from the cold.  He is really not a fan of being cold. We have these same meltdowns every time he gets out of the pool/river/lake on a day that isn’t 90 degrees or more.

I tried putting him in the shower to rinse all the mud off, but he wasn’t having that either.  So we resorted to the kitchen sink, which is where he used to bathe a long, long time ago.  He ended up using the dish soap by the sink to make bubbles, and probably spent thirty or forty minutes in the sink, with bubbles and warm water, completely entertained.  He refused to get out until he had emptied the small bottle of dish soap completely.

Also, he has learned to fake smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rainy Day

What to do with an antsy toddler on a rainy day?  In the summer time, you take them outside to play in the rain of course.

Tee-shirt only is a common sight around here, courtesy of potty training.  I might have even let him pee in the muddle puddle because I didn’t want to drag him inside, all wet and muddy and grassy and cold….

He is also totally engrossed in little matchbox cars these days.  And a motorcycle that his cousin gave him.  He has played with that motorcycle for at least an hour or more every day for several weeks now.  The cars had been packed up for months, and upon their re-emergence, have also become the new favorite.  I have a decent size stash of them picked up from a yard sale, plus some others that have been given.  Some days the race car is the favorite, other days the jeep, other days the garbage truck….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lawn Mower

 

 

 

 

 

 

Since last summer when he was just barely a year old, Jax has been infatuated with the lawn mower. And tractors. And bulldozers. And more recently, garbage trucks and tow trucks.

Last summer I would sit him in his high chair out on the back porch and leave him there to watch Grandpapa mowing the lawn.  We tried to get him to ride along, but the noise frightened him too much.  If the lawn mower was turned off, he would climb all over it.  But with it turned on, he shied away.

This summer, he was finally ready.  He doesn’t want to ride every week, but some weeks look just like this, for maybe 30-40 minutes until Jax either gets tired of riding, or gets tired and actually falls asleep in Grandpapa’s arms while they mow.

I went out with my iPhone to capture them together, then saw the morning light and the swirling dust in the air, and ran back inside for the real camera.

My dad is a hard worker and keeps busy with projects around the house and other things, so this shared activity is one where Jax gets to enjoy his company and cuddles.  It doesn’t happen every week, but when it does, it always warms my heart to see them with their hats and glasses (and more recently, blue medical masks because breathing the dust and grass was getting too much for both of them).

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These Two

They bring me SO much joy and laughter every day.  I just can’t get over it.

I love cooking dinner while hearing peals of laughter in the other room.  These boys are my favorite.

We have needed to establish that Daddy is for climbing on, but Mommy is not.  They like to play the climbing/jumping/tickling/game so often.  Benjamin loves it when Jax lays across his back like the first two images here.

Moss and Smiles

 

 

 

 

 

 

I had my camera out, taking some babywearing photos… then he wanted to sit on the fence and smile for me.  And I found this gorgeous multi-colored moss on our tree bark, fresh from the rain.

Two lovely things that make me so happy…. this boy…. God’s beautiful world.

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