By Cassandra Okamoto, Blog Contributor
It does not feel like I have a toddler. While my son is not actually toddling around quite yet, his first birthday has come & gone and left us staring the unchartered waters of toddlerhood in the face. We both don’t quite know what to expect.
We did pass that first birthday mark without a consideration of weaning from the breast though, which I almost always forget is “unconventional”. Like I said, he still very much seems like a baby in many senses and babies want mama’s milk, same as toddlers do to it seems
Our choice to continue nursing past the one-year mark involves many factors, below are three of the bigger ones:
1) We have not received any vaccines *yet* and I am most comfortable with this path as long as we are still nursing and do so until at least 2 years of age. This is also the recommendation from Dr. Sears if you are choosing not to vaccinate. Source: The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child, By Dr. Sears
2) Nutritionally there is still a requirement for “milk” until age 2. The majority of children start receiving cow’s milk at one year, the AAP recommends 16 oz of whole milk until the age of 2. Source Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5 (Copyright © 2009 American Academy of Pediatrics) Logically, if my child still requires milk why would I take him off of my milk and switch him to milk from a cow?
3) It isn’t time. Motherhood has taught me WAY too many things to be honest, but the biggest ones are to trust myself, and go with the flow (no pun intended!). I will know when it is time for both of us. It might not happen at the same time, maybe it will, but right now neither of us are there. We both are in fact ready to night wean though, more on this in a little bit.
So we have decided to continue on in our breastfeeding journey, but feeding a little baby at the breast is NOT the same as feeding a toddler at the breast. Personally, it has been a very hard transition for me. Breastfeeding actually did NOT come easy to us after birth, once my son was finally feeding at the breast we dealt with horrific reactions to proteins from many different foods in my milk and crazy elimination diets for me that lasted until he was 4 ½ months old.
Then it was the snacking. My son has always been a “snacker” at the breast and I was filled with constant worry and anxiety that he was not getting enough because he never fed longer than a couple of minutes, if that. Then it was distracted nursing, then it was only nursing at night, then it was the other nipple twiddling that would NOT STOP, and then we went through this period where he would lay calmly and take his time and nursing was oh my gosh BLISSFUL!
It was what everyone had been talking about this whole time and I felt relaxed and full of love, and then, it ended. And we entered into toddler breastfeeding, which although may not be the hardest of them all is definitely very difficult, especially when it seems more of a longer-term reality as opposed to “just a phase” like the other frustrations I mentioned. After a little bit of research, some trial and error, talking with other mamas, and attending a La Leche League meeting I put together some things that I think will make breastfeeding a toddler a little easier.
Boundaries: Discipline has such a negative connotation, especially when gentle parenting is involved. But I have learned that productive, respectful boundaries and discipline are really going to be essential for us. My doula says that “nursing a tiny baby on demand is entirely different than nursing a demanding toddler” and it is something I find myself repeating daily!
My son pulls down my shirt whenever/wherever, throws himself backwards or kicks when he wants milk NOW, will point and cry whenever I am changing clothes, throws huge fits because he wants to go back and forth nursing off of each breast (I still don’t know why this is?) and all of these things have put a huge strain on our nursing relationship. It makes me resentful, frustrated, consider weaning completely, and overall just feel very out of control. After I recognized it was time for us to set boundaries I turned again to Dr. Sears and ordered The Discipline Book: How to Have a Better-Behaved Child From Birth to Age Ten. I have not started reading it yet and am not sure exactly how I am going to go about setting boundaries as it relates to nursing but I know for us there will be no more “self serving”, or hitting and kicking mama for milk, nursing during meal times while simultaneously wanting to eat solid food, and no more pacifying at the breast throughout the entire night. I mentioned it earlier, and it is my next main point…
Night Weaning: I am not suggesting that as soon as your baby turns one he/she needs to be night weaned, not at all. Here are some other reasons why a mom might wean: mom is pregnant, Mom wants to increase fertility & become pregnant, Mom goes back to work outside the home and needs more sleep, etc.
In addition to the strains on our nursing relationship I mentioned above, my son wakes every 45 to 60 minutes throughout the entire night to nurse. He spends a lot of his time “sleeping” while still sucking at the breast and no matter how deep of a sleep I think he may be in, protests whenever I try to unlatch him. Teething has made this even worse and because he is half (or more) asleep while using his breast pacifier his latch becomes shallow and he bites with his top teeth so the nipple won’t sneak out, I am often half sleeping too and it will often go on for hours. This has caused a huge injury to my left nipple that is taking weeks to heal and is making all feedings very painful! Recently I have gone through long periods where I “hate” nursing and when I stop to really think about it and consider what not nursing my son at all anymore looks like I realize it isn’t nursing that I dislike, it is nursing all throughout the night.
I have considered night weaning in the past because of just plain sleep deprivation but it never felt right, after a year I had a complete shift in my heart. I just felt it was time. My son needs his own space, he has made that very clear to me and he also needs more sleep. Nursing throughout the night is just as distracting to him as it is comforting. More and more, he is waking up cranky in the mornings. It took me awhile to come to peace with this transition, but a nursing relationship is just that – a relationship involving two parties, both of which need to be happy in order for the relationship to continue harmoniously. Not only will night weaning hopefully afford me more sleep and subsequently more energy and patience but it will bring more peace into our nursing relationship that will allow it to continue much longer.
Nursing Space: Having a single dedicated place to nurse is not that practical with an active toddler that is probably breastfeeding at home, in the car, in public, in bed, etc. but I have found for us that going into a more quiet, dimly lit room with less distractions does help. I plan on creating a little “nursing corner” in my son’s room, where we sit down, get comfortable, relax and always nurse in while at home. When we are out and about if it is possible I will go into another less crowded or empty room, if that isn’t an option I like snuggling into the back seat of the car before we arrive or before we leave. My hope is that having to stop whatever activity my son is currently engaged with and leave it behind to go nurse will possibly change to having more nursing “sessions” than drive-by-just-a-couple-sips between ball throwing and block building.
Babywear: My Ergobaby has been my single most used piece of “baby” equipment and I still use it at least once every day. I can unbuckle the back, loosen one shoulder strap and nurse my son comfortably, discreetly, hands free and ultra conveniently. He nurses his longest stretches while being worn, and being outside and often walking allows for enough simulation that he relaxes in his pack and takes his time feeding. I see our baby wearing/breastfeeding time continuing well into the second year.
I will continue to share about our breastfeeding journey through year two as I put more of these into practice in our daily lives and look forward to hearing about how your breastfeeding relationships change and evolve over time too.
What all have you experienced with an older nursling? Do you have any other tips to continue the breastfeeding relationship successfully into the second year and beyond?