The Bliss {and Blisters} of Nursing a Toddler

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My son and I are breaking up.

Our breastfeeding relationship of 21 months is coming to an end.  This is something that seems to have happened gradually and then all of a sudden. Which means I feel both relieved and devastated at the same time.

We’ve been winding down for a couple of months now. I decided when he was about 18 months that we’d move into the “don’t offer/don’t refuse” phase of nursing. We naturally transitioned into an easy rhythm of nursing at bedtime and in the mornings, and occasionally during the day.

We fell into this easy rhythm, and it worked for a while.

And then he stopped asking as much. Or when he did ask to nurse, it would often be fitful and distracted.

Things are getting more and more physically uncomfortable when nursing my toddler. From finding a way to fit his long, energetic body onto my lap and into my arms, to his distracted nursing style.

As difficult as nursing a toddler can sometimes be, there are moments of pure bliss.

At bedtime, I ask him if he wants “num nums”, and a quick smile breaks across his round face. “Num num nums!” he agrees, ambling over to where I sit in the glider rocker. He quickly scrambles up onto my lap along with his soft red and blue blanket and a lovey so putrid and fragrant it has secretly earned the name Stinky Tofu.  He has a specific place for each of these things in our nursing setup: Blankie goes between his knees and up onto his stomach. Stinky Tofu gets draped over his shoulder and is purposefully clutched in one hand. His right arm shoots out between us, searching for the space between the side of my body and the chair. He likes to tuck it there, and it feels like he’s giving me a sweet little side hug.

Finally, we are ready to nurse.

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In the early days, breastfeeding was difficult for us. It had been long enough since my daughter nursed that I felt uncertain about how to hold his not-so-little head and how to help him latch on. His bottom lip seemed to be permanently sucked in under his upper jaw, making a wide open latch near impossible.

We spent what felt like hours working through the learning process together. My shoulders and wrists ached from holding him close for hours on ends. My skin was hot and tight under the pressure of all the new milk. And my poor nipples felt like they were permanently chapped.

But one day, it all clicked. His squirmy little newborn body found its place in my arms, the place where everything just worked. We fit together in only the way we could, filling in each other’s gaps and squishing together in an intimate embrace. His little noises, snuffly breathing and eager, regular swallows and sighs, became the soundtrack to my evenings and nights. It became a time I longed for, even when I was staggeringly tired or hotly frustrated or completely touched out. That moment we found our two selves melding into one and sighing into a familiar rhythm.

We fit together in only the way we could, filling in each other’s gaps and squishing together in an intimate embrace.

Now, as I feel the days of our breastfeeding winding down, and the frequency of those peaceful moments is less frequent, I cherish them all the more. Daily it seems I feel the hot sting of tears coming to my eyes when I watch him nurse. If I close my eyes and let my mind go quiet, it’s almost as if he’s a tiny newborn again.

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Two is still so little – hell, he’s not even really two yet, but I’m rounding up, trying to brace myself for the emotional blow when he does turn two.  He’s still so little in this big world, and yet he’s changing so very quickly.

At 21 months he is an incredibly active, sparkly-eyed little guy. He walks, jumps, runs, and climbs on everything. He is talking up a storm, and seems to be adding new words every single day. He likes to zoom toy trucks, buses, and tractors on any stationary surface. And the boy can eat.

On Halloween he went trick or treating for the first time. He walked up to the doors behind his big sister and confidently thrust his little fist into bowl after bowl of candy, choosing his favorite thing. Even though he didn’t really know what candy is, he quickly got into the routine of walking from house to house, anticipating the swift opening of a new door and the promise of a colorful treat.

In those moments I can see both the little boy he is becoming, and the baby he once was. That night he went to sleep without nursing, the stain of chocolate around his little lips.

I know that he’s doing everything he should be doing at this age, and more! And yet.The end of our nursing relationship signifies the ending of his babyhood. The thought of him not being this small forever makes my heart ache. I know how quickly these moments will pass, and I want to hold on so tightly.

We waiting so long and went through so much to have our kids. At this point we know there will not be any more babies. This is one of the reasons I want to hold on to these last nursing moments as long as possible.

Like so many moments in motherhood, this one is filled with complex and contradictory emotions.

At the end of a busy day, the nursing ritual is a touchstone for us. It’s a moment that all is still and quiet in the world, and we connect in such an intimate way. As this part of our journey winds down, I find myself knowing that we’ll find new touchstones and moments to connect. And I’m not going to lie: I am more than a little excited to have my boobs back.  Yet the idea of being finished breastfeeding is also a difficult one to wrap my head around.

How did your breastfeeding journey wrap up?  Any suggestions for new evening routines?


 

Yarn Along:: Thoughts on Breastfeeding

After taking about a week and a half hiatus from knitting my Climbing Vines pullover, it’s back in circulation!  I had made good progress, knitting the back in just one week.  But with family in town, and two boisterous toddlers boucing around, knitting a charted sweater with shaping just wasn’t happening.  After going into the knitting dead zone for a few days (no knitting whatsoever!) I did end up casting on a new project.  It was a quick baby knit (so quick in fact, that it’s finished already, so I’ll be saving it for another post).  The yarn and pattern are still lovely, and I remain optimistic that I can finish up in a couple of weeks.  I probably won’t be meeting my end of the month goal, but that’s okay.  Knitting is fun, not homework, remember!

Last week I found myself in the parenting section of our local library looking for books about teaching babies sign language.  Inspired by my sister and other families, we incorporated the use of a few signs into our daily life with PB early on.  They have been very helpful so far, but my vocabulary is limited.  I got distracted at the library that day, however, and ended up bringing home two books on breastfeeding: Unbuttoned , a collection of essays, and How My Breasts Saved the World, a memoir.

I never really had strong feelings about breastfeeding before I became a mother.  There was this sense that it was a good thing to do, a natural, healthy way to feed and bond with your baby.  But I never held one way of feeding your baby in higher regard than another, nor did I judge a woman for choosing bottle over breast.

When I was pregnant, I still didn’t give it a whole lot of thought beyond the fact that I knew I wanted to see what this breastfeeding thing was all about.  If it worked, great, and if not, there seemed to be a whole industry out there designed to support me.  Friends of mine have done just about everything on the baby-feeding spectrum, from immediate formula feeding to militant nursing on demand.  I figured I’d fall somewhere in the middle with a moderate sensibility about the whole thing.  I did nothing to prepare myself for what was ahead, believing the act of nursing would be instinctual between my baby and me.

Then I had Peaceful Baby and realized I had no idea what I was in for.

Breastfeeding is hard.  Especially in the beginning when you don’t really know what is happening with your body, what It is supposed to feel like, how to hold your baby, how often to feed her, what kind of bra to wear, what kind of lotion to use, and more.  Breastfeeding can often be uncomfortable, even painful at the beginning, and it demands a lot of time and commitment.  In those early days and weeks of learning what to do when, I considered throwing in the towel more than once.  It would be so much easier if I could sleep and let someone else feed the baby at 2 am and again at 4 and 6 and so on…

After the kinks were worked out and I became more confident in my abilities to know when my baby was hungry and how to feed her, it got easy.  It was like a breath of fresh spring air the day I realized we had this whole breastfeeding thing figured.  It took about 3 months, but finally I wasn’t worrying about how to hold her head, or if it was okay to nurse out in public anymore.  It was just me and Peaceful Baby doing our thing and doing it well.

Oh how I wish I would have read these books while pregnant, and especially when I was in those raw early weeks of first-time motherhood!  I’m confident I made it through this first year because of the support I received from my partner and the other women in the breastmilk trenches at a local breastfeeding support group.  There is so much insight and support to be gained through the wisdom of others, and breastfeeding is an area where women need to speak honestly with one another.  These books both offer up a thick slice of honesty: the good and more challenging aspects of nursing, pumping, going back to work, coping with motherhood, giving up breastfeeding, and more.  If you are expecting and think you’d like to try nursing your little one, please check these out.  I’m thinking they’d also make a great shower gift, along with a darling hand-knit baby garment, of course!  And please, ask your friends about their experiences nursing their little ones, or share your story with a friend; this is one of the best ways we can support one another through the adventures of breastfeeding.

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So, that’s what I’m knitting and reading this week.  If you’d like to yarn along, head over to small things and put your blog on the list, or leave a comment here telling me what you’re up to.