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May 12, 2012

Babies, Boobs & Breastfeeding, oh, my!

What a week.  If you haven't been on the internet this week, you might have missed it, but there was a bit of a hullaballoo over...babies & boobs.  Time Magazine decided to do a piece on Attachment Parenting and it ended up being more of an explosion over *extended* breastfeeding.  Or, as most of the world calls it, breastfeeding.  Why do I write that?

Despite AAP and WHO guidelines, it would appear that commenters, particularly those in America, have forgotten that breastfeeding into toddlerhood is normal and accepted around the world.  It is not something that is shameful or needs to be hidden.  Women are not trying to flaunt their parts or "whipping it out" (perhaps my *favorite*  term!), they are just trying to satisfy a need for their child.  Breastfeeding a toddler is not bad, weird, gross, dirty or wrong.  It is simply feeding them.  Contrary to some commenters' thoughts, it is not a replacement for regular food and it does not need to stop when a child can chew.  

I have not discussed this topic for, well, years now, for obvious reasons:  it just makes me too sad.  If you've read my blog, you know what happened in November 2010.  I was literally forced to wean Nicholas and still remember rocking and nursing him the very last time on that side.  Amazingly, I got through it without too many tears.  Due to no fault of my own, his nursing relationship was abruptly being cut short.

This is not to say that he nursed frequently as a toddler, but he did when the need arose.  High fever or stomach issues?  He nursed.  Morning time or a bit at night before bed?  Yes, those were nursing times. Throughout the day?  No, generally not.  He was too busy playing, going to school, eating real food (yes, really, he did!) and enjoying life.  Nursing was not his everything, but a supplement that gave him extra nutrients (the milk changes over time to satisfy the growing child's needs) and did especially help out in those few moments when he could tolerate nothing else.

Such as the time when he was 22 months old.  Peter was back in the DC area for high threat training and Nick had a fever of 102-103?  It wasn't just the fever, though, but also a stomach virus that caused him to throw up no fewer than 5 times in a couple of hours.  I watched him like a hawk and feared sleep. Finally, when the vomiting seemed to have pass, he began to nurse again.  For the next day, he nursed frequently and gradually added in other foods.  I would have been more worried, but I knew that by nursing, he was rehydrating and filling his body with needed nutrients, but not overdoing it.  He also had the extra comfort of being near me when he needed it.  In turn, I was grateful that I didn't have to try outside supplements that he may or may not like, and no doctor's visit was necessary.

Nick is not the only one who has benefited, though.  In fact, he and Kelsey can both thank Caitlin for their abilities to able to (almost) self-wean.  You see, I quit with Caitlin.  I tried...really I did, but I just felt like I was no good.  I was so stressed out.  I had a newborn and a husband with a new job that required way more of him than I had originally been told.  Travel was frequent and the only support I had at home was the dog (helpful with keeping me company and the floors clean, but not so much with everything else).  I nursed her frequently, but then on the poor advice of a pediatric nurse, began to supplement and everything unraveled.

I was told she had weight gain issues.  No, she was not a fat baby, but nor was she unhealthy.  She simply needed to eat more frequently (NOT every 3 hours, but on demand), but I was not given that advice by the pediatrician.  I was too nervous and scared to head to the Lactation Consultant (and had not liked the one in the hospital) and after a horrible experience with attempting to pump at work (was barged in on while pumping on the toilet, the ONLY place to pump at a well-known non-profit in Alexandria, VA), gave it up.  I kept up morning and night-time nursing, but Cait was in daycare, Peter was never home and I was at my limits.  I felt the guilt, however.  I should have tried harder and should have kept it up.  I should have fought for my rights at work and found a decent place to pump.  I didn't realize this until later, though.

Kelsey and Nicholas reaped the rewards from this, however, as I began to use the internet more, to realize that there were laws about pumping and breastfeeding and that I should have and could have fought harder (or at all). Then we moved to Venezuela.  I still remember walking around and seeing women breastfeed with their shirts unbuttoned and not a care in the world.  Women didn't stare, call it gross or point it out.  Men didn't gawk and it was just so natural.  I loved it and vowed from then on that I would do my best with Kelsey. Whether it be fighting for a space to pump or nursing in public (you know, feeding your child?), I was not going to be deterred.  I had a few setbacks, but did my best to work through them.

I had no idea at the time, but I was later so grateful for my turnabout in thinking.  Approximately 13 months after Kelsey was born, she was diagnosed with craniosynostosis.  A month later, she had a 4 hour long cranio-facial reconstruction.  While her recovery was amazing (she was in the step-down PICU by that evening), it sped up even more when she was put into a regular room.  Why?  She was still nursing, so when she couldn't tolerate (or see) regular food, she could nurse.  I was able to nurse her to sleep and while she was in pain.  While her 9 year old self could understand post-surgical pain, her 14 month self did not have the capability.  The nursing eased the pain and I was so glad to be able to do something physically that helped her.

She ended up nursing a total of 21 months.  She was in the process of self-weaning when my mom and I took a 10 day trip to England.  I regretted the timing of the trip at that point in time, but later realized it was the last good long chunk of time I had with my mom.  Sometimes moms know best, eh?

For years we tried to have a third child and had nearly given up when Nicholas came along.  By the time I gave birth to him, I knew several things:

  • I was going to exclusively nurse him for the first 6 months...no formula at all and I would use a lactation consultant as my nursing advisor, not a nurse or pediatrician
  • He  was going to nurse on demand, any time, any place. I'll never forget being called super mom at the grocery store when Nick was 5 or 6 months old.  I started nursing him in line while unloading groceries.  Guess what?  NO ONE saw my boob, no one freaked out and my baby was happy and fed!  Not that I did not feed the girls as they needed, but especially with Cait, I worried more than I should have about where I fed her...and was hassled about feeding Kelsey in public (I was grossing out customers in a store by quietly nursing her in a corner).
  • I was not going to freak about his weight, should he not gain as fast as formula-fed babes.  I knew to expect a long, thin wee one and was not surprised when he arrived as such.
  • I researched and researched and found supportive websites.  Kellymom became my best friend.  I loved that we were living in Iceland where breastfeeding was the norm and expected.  Formula wasn't verboten, but no freebies at the hospital and no nursery (only a NICU...rooming-in was also expected).
  • I had no preconceived notions of when he would wean.  I knew it would happen at some point and seriously doubted he would still be nursing by age 5 (guess I was right?), but refused to put a timetable on it.  I had a feeling he might be my last (naturally born) child and was not going to let anyone else tell me what I should or shouldn't do.

Which brings me to another point:  support.  One might assume that because I nursed Nicholas for so long or that I had the turnabout with Kelsey, that I must have had amazing support with both.  I did have a lot of support with Nicholas.  Kelsey and Cait? Not so much.  Peter's job required so much of him, my mother tried, but was not around, and I cannot tell you how much negative commentary I received with Kelsey.  From the fact that she needed to eat constantly or that she hated bottles (when I did need to pump), I was not immune from criticism.  Guess what that did? Yep:

It just made my decision to have Nicholas's nursing experience be the best possible that much firmer.  

To my surprise, it didn't actually end as soon as I expected.  While I did need recovery time, one day a month after my surgery, Nicholas randomly wanted to nurse on the other side.  Up until then, I had been in too much pain, but we tried, and it worked.  This went on for a month or so, until I had my follow-up procedure and then he just stopped.  We ended up nursing just shy of 3 years and while some parts of the experience were not ideal, it worked for us.

So, do I know have a clingy, unhappy child who can't do anything by himself?  Um, no.  We have always encouraged independence and use nearly every experience as a teaching experience.  There seems to be the thought that attachment parenting (or parenting, as I like to call it), is somehow wrong, stunts growth or causes a parent to be a helicopter parent.  This could not be further from the truth.  I was by far the most attached to Nick and while I don't like to compare, he is far more independent and outgoing than his sisters were at his age.  It could be any number of things, but I worried so much less with him...and co-slept more, breastfed longer, and carried him more.

Now the article wasn't supposed to be all about breastfeeding, but the title and the cover just shocked people (Kroger actually took it off the shelves...shame on them!).  Are they going to remove the candy and magazines with scantily-clad models, too? Or they might have watched the follow-up Today show episode and seen the 3 year old who was a bit tired and wanting of his mom's attention.  For those who watched that and criticized the parent, did you take into consideration that the child had been on a plane three times in one week?  Did it occur to him that maybe he was just exhausted

This post isn't really so much to delve into the topic of my boobs (again, sorry it's just rampant on this blog), but to draw attention to the parents who have helped us and are now being criticized for caring about and nurturing their children.  A friend of mine, Dionna, who writes over at Code Name:  Mama, was the third photo of the six (pictured with her son and daughter).  I have followed her blog for years and loved that her son was just a bit older than Nick.  I felt like I had additional guidance, especially as having a son (vs. another daughter) forced us to consider other things we hadn't with the girls. 


You might also remember Dionna from this post in October 2010.  She encouraged me to write about the experience I was going through.  It was extremely cathartic, exactly what I needed at the time.  She later organized efforts to send me good thoughts and wishes via NPN* and some folks went so far as to treat us to magazine & Netflix subscriptions, as well as books and emails to cheer me up (it worked!). 

So before you pick up that issue and think, ew, gross!, read a bit more about the people who make up the issue.  Read what my friends have written on the topic.  Throw away your preconceived notions and think that maybe what works for each family is best for them.  The people in the Time issue are moms (and dads) just like you and me.  They don't all do everything exactly the same, but have one thing in common:  they care about their kids.  Just like we do.  Really, in this day and age, why do we insist on finding fault with that? 


*NPN is Natural Parents Network founded by Dionna and Lauren, who writes at Hobo Mama (another amazing resource!).







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Thanks so much for this post. I always love your writing because you have a way of tackling the controversial stuff in such a clear, matter of fact way. I've been thinking a lot about weaning lately, not because I want to do it any time soon, but because I've finally gotten to a place where I really enjoy nursing my son. It took 9 months and leaving China to get here (the food safety stuff in China is just getting so scary) but now, I sort of feel like we aren't going to be quitting anytime real soon. Like so many things in child rearing, it seems like if you take the "attachment parenting" label off of the choice, it's just doing what works for your kid when it works for them. Thanks again for sharing your experience!

Love this post my friend! We made it 29 months...I still miss it! But at least I still get to co-sleep with him at 5 years :-) Not only does everyone else in the house get a good night's sleep - I get to wake up to arms and legs wrapped around me. xoxo

So encouraging. . . oht b/c I have a newborn nursling on my lap. My journey in bfing had its ups and downs, too. listened to bad advice, ftt... thank you for sharing...

Aww, I think me and my son have just reached the end of our nursing journey (he's 21 months and has stopped asking this last week), and this post is so beautiful it made me a bit teary!
I'm new to your blog (linked from jezebel) and I'm a big fan - congratulations on your wonderful family and your great writing skills!

"Or, as most of the world calls it, breastfeeding."

I read the rest, but I keep coming back to this. Such an excellent point.

Above all else, I hope that amongst the hubbub, mamas of nursing babes can hear our quiet, gentle voices letting them know that it's normal and healthy to keep nursing. Thank you for being one of those voices :)

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