Monthly Archives: August 2017

day11

Breastfeeding Beyond the Fifth

day5

Otter and I in 2015 – she is three years old in this picture. Image: Erin Rudd Photography

I have been going back and forth on whether or not I wanted to share this part of our breastfeeding journey most of the summer.  It is hard to talk about breastfeeding beyond the first year in our US culture, let alone past the second birthday and beyond.

Otter and I have been nursing since her birth-day in October 2011. So that is now 5 years and 10 months…and we are still going.  She tells me that we are going to be nursing until she turns seven.  I am not so sure about that. She just lost her first baby tooth, and in my mind we were going to go until this point in her development.  Most mammals nurse their young until they lose their milk teeth, otherwise known as baby teeth in humans.

Did I ever imagine I would breastfeed a child this long?

Absolutely not! Never in my wildest imaginations did I ever think it was even possible. When I heard that people nursed into a child’s seventh year, I thought NOT ME. It’s crazy, it’s gross, it’s weird…yes, I thought all those things, too.

How did we get here?

Puma and I nursed until she was 22 months old.  She weaned on her own, it was an easy process.  We cut out one feeding at a time when she was around 18 months old. I happened to get pregnant around that time and she didn’t like the way the milk was tasting anyway.  After our miscarriage, she carried on as before, nursing 2-3 times a day. Then one night, she said she wanted to go to sleep without nursing, and that was it.  A couple of weeks later, she asked to nurse again; I said no because I assumed all the milk was gone.  Come to find out, it’s possible I may have made milk for her.  As they say, hindsight is always 20/20.

Night Owl nursed until he was around 18 months old. I stopped nursing him when I got pregnant with Charger. I tried to keep nursing through the pregnancy. My OB did not support that choice, and since we had already had a miscarriage, I didn’t want to take any chances with having more contractions. I was feeling them pretty much every time we nursed…so wean we did. It broke my heart – I knew he could use the boost of extra antibodies through the winter months, and I felt like I had to choose between breastfeeding and pregnancy.

Along came Charger…he was almost two years old and still nursing when I got pregnant with Otter.  I assumed he would naturally lose interest as Puma had when the flavor of the milk changed as my pregnancy progressed. I was wrong.  I could tell he wasn’t ready to wean – I tried all the things that had worked when I weaned Night Owl: replace the sessions with play time, or other food, or snuggle time.  He would take those options, and then insist on nursing after we had finished whatever we were doing to distract him.

I was definitely having contractions when we nursed again. Two years after our first experience of trying to nurse through a pregnancy, I had met people who had been able to and not miscarry. (Thank you, La Leche League!) This time around, armed with more knowledge, I made up a mantra that I would repeat as I started nursing to remind my body that the oxytocin I was making was for nursing, not for labor. Thankfully, it worked and the cramping during nursing sessions subsided.

He was still nursing when my milk changed to colostrum.  I could tell because all of a sudden he was having newborn-like diapers. YUCK when you are pregnant and you are changing toddler amounts of seedy, yellow, mushy poops.

He did tell me once that the milk tasted salty. I asked him if he was ready to stop then, and he just said, “No,” and kept on nursing.  Then came the mad scramble on my end – how was I going to feed two children at the same time? (set boundaries and expectations) Will there be enough milk for both children? (YES) Clearly the milk was adjusting to feed the newborn…would he still want the milk after the baby was born? (YES)

Thankfully, my wonderful La Leche League leaders helped me prepare and navigate tandem nursing. One of the leaders who had tandem nursed prepared me that the milk for the baby was going to be very creamy and full of fat again, and that most older nurslings LOVE to nurse again after the newborn milk comes in. This helped me set the boundaries and expectations that worked for us…after he ignored me for two days after his sister was born, he was right back to nursing without any hesitation.

We made some great memories as a tandem nursing family – as the sweet peas got older, they had quite the time telling each other when it was each other’s turn, and sometimes they made “reservations” to nurse on a particular “side”.  Hilarious. They usually took turns – I wasn’t crazy about having them nurse at the same time. We do have some Kodak moments captured of the few times they did happen to nurse together – for that I am grateful. Any way you look at it, I now understand the term “bosom friends” in a different light. Those two children remain close to this day.

Charger ended up nursing through his fifth birthday. At that time, I felt confident that I had honored his desire to nurse. He still wanted to keep going, however, he accepted that his fifth birthday was the time to end this part of our journey. I sure did miss the added immunity boost he got from breastfeeding. He was more sick that winter than he had ever been before.  The first time he got sick, I actually did nurse him and he recovered pretty quickly. It seems like there might have been an emotional component to healing without breastfeeding. Once we reminded him that he had a very strong immune system thanks to the years of breastfeeding, he seemed to stop getting sick so often. To this day he continues to make a quicker recovery when he is sick.

If you are doing the math, Otter was almost three years old when he weaned. She was kind of happy at first – both breasts all to herself…and then she was sad when she realized she and Charger were really not going to share in breastfeeding anymore.

Two things influenced my decision to allow Otter to self-wean. After seeing the remorse Charger had at being “forced” to wean at five, I did not want to make her have an end date. I also got to see a presentation by Dr. Nils Bergman in which he taught the biology of breastfeeding across mammals. He is the one who pointed out that the majority of mammals nurse their young until they loose their milk teeth, aka “baby teeth”.  LIGHTBULB. Okay, so now I really understood that nursing a human child until their the sixth or seventh birthday made sense from an evolutionary biological level.

Is nursing an older child like nursing a newborn or a toddler? 

Not in our case. Newborns nurse around the clock.  Around 6-8 months of age, most human children develop an interest in eating what is known as “solid food”. At that point, they breastfeed first, then try the solid food, and top off with breastfeeding to make sure they have gotten enough nutrients for that meal. We never stressed about what our children ate. We love that mantra that comes from the baby-led weaning crowd, “Food before one is just for fun.”

Around the first birthday, we would naturally lose a breastfeeding session as our children went from two naps a day to one. Then you drop some sessions around meal times as they become better eaters. As they start to move more and become toddlers, the interest decreases again. Our toddlers (18+ months) would nurse upon waking in the morning and before bedtime; anything in between was incidental: tired, overstimulated, injured, etc.

Somewhere between the second and third birthday, we told the sweet peas that they could only nurse at home. I was always willing to honor our children’s need/desire to breastfeed, however I was not willing to push social norms outside our home.

We kept to this morning/evening pattern until Charger and Otter were four years old.  At four, they had to choose: nurse upon waking or nurse at bedtime. At this point, any nursing during the day was as a last resort because all other comfort methods had failed.

I noticed that Otter’s pattern changed when she was 5.5 years old. She would go 2-3 days without nursing, and then ask again. I will always tell her, you can try and see what happens.  So far, she has always gotten milk.  How long will this last? I have no idea.

Why would anyone breastfeed this long?

For us, the benefits far outweigh being an outlier on the social norms scale.  The ones we have enjoyed are the bond between mother and child, the seemingly endless enjoyment of food and willingness to eat a large variety of flavors, and the immunity boost that lasts throughout the breastfeeding relationship (and beyond in Charger’s case).

I love this image from The Alpha Parent that outlines the many benefits of breastfeeding into the toddler years:

Little boy (2-3) with bare chest, arms up, portrait

 

What does my husband think?

He supports this choice. There is no way we would have breastfed Charger as long as he was, or continue breastfeeding Otter this long, without his support. It meant he had to be mature enough not to feel jealous of the children, which he always has been, thank God. In addition, he very readily accepted that my breasts were not “his” or the children’s.  They were MY breasts, and they could be used to feed our children, and still be sexy when we had our time together.

Is the choice right for every family? My guess is probably not, even though it would be lovely if more children were fed until at least the second birthday if circumstances allowed. If it is something you are mulling around and you would like more information,  I would be happy to help if I can.  Please leave me a comment and I will do my best to answer any questions you might have.

Other blog posts I have written about our extended breastfeeding journey:

Our Journey Into Tandem Nursing May 2012 intro about our chosen path

Still Tandem Nursing August 2012 update

Tandem Nursing – Extended  July 2013 update

My Take on Toddler Nursing – Today August 2013 photojournal of “gymnurstics”…thank goodness that was only a phase!

Breastfeeding a Toddler  August 2015 Otter was four years old and my only nursling at this point

Nursing By Example: The power of peer-to-peer support

Nursing a Toddler: Benefits, and why it’s good to follow your instincts and your children’s cues

Extended Breastfeeding: the science behind why it’s beneficial

Breastfeeding & Tandem Nursing: Encouraging parents to follow the right path for their family

 

 

TT Dear Dance Mom

Thoughtful Thursday: Dance Drama

As we enter a new season of dance, I feel compelled to write a little something about the drama that plays out after every audition season.  And believe me when I tell you that I have had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands…because I do not want to be one of “those” parents. So this is a reminder for me, and hopefully if even one parent who finds themselves getting wrapped up in their children’s activities can get a little peace of mind, then my intention with this post is fulfilled.

I see this every dance season: (mostly) mothers who are comparing notes as they receive their children’s schedules, complaining to the other mothers, asking their children why someone is in a class and they are not, going to the studio directors and asking after their children and their placement.

Number one: Your children have no idea why other dancers are the classes they are in.  Leave them alone.  Dance at it’s most primal element is an expression of emotion (joy when you are a child)…so let them revel in the joy of dancing.

Number two: When you hound the teachers, you become one of “those” moms. Do you really want to be one of “those” moms?

Number three: This is not about you. If you enrolled your children in dance classes to fulfill one of your childhood ambitions, then you are doing both of you a disservice. Children who feel pressured to do something will probably do one of two things: quit when they are ready to claim a little independence; or if they stay in it to keep you happy they may suffer the ill effects of stress: illness, injury, depression. What is this childhood ambition of yours really worth?

 

Here is the thing: if your child went through an audition process to be placed, their instructor saw them.  They see where they are today, and if you have history with the school, then likely, they have seen them the last 2-3 years.

Leave the schedule be. Even mindful teachers sometimes overlook children through the audition process, and when that happens then they will move your child into the correct placement. That is the key: THEY do it.  “They” as in the teacher, and “they” as in the child. You stay on the “cool parents” list, and your child has the joy of accomplishment as their progress is recognized and they on their own merit, get to move up to the next level.  When the child moves up on their own merit, they are not the kid whose mother got them in the class (people talk…both parents and children).  When a child does the work and gets promoted on their ability, the child knows they earned it themselves. Hence, the opportunity for a huge milestone on their journey to build self-esteem.

This is what it all comes down to in my book: either you trust your child’s instructors, or you don’t.  If you trust them, then deep down you can come to the realization that maybe your expectations for your child do not match their abilities “for now”. If you feel like the teachers are not doing their job or are not judging your child fairly, then by all means find another dance school that is a better fit for your family.

Bear in mind that “for now” doesn’t mean forever, it doesn’t mean for always…just for now.  Even though it digs at me sometimes, I have to go back to my mantra: I would rather see my child in the front line of a lower-level class, instead of pushing them up to the next level where they are relegated to the back line and lower self-esteem because they can’t quite keep up just yet.

I am not suggesting that you do not allow your child to goal-set.  Here is an idea if there is a class in which your child would like to participate, or you want them in.  Instead of appealing to the teacher to admit them, ask the teacher what the child needs to work on to be promoted to that next level. Then, if your child wants to, bring them in to the school a few minutes earlier so that they can work on those skills before classes start. I have seen other families hire some of the senior students help coach…that works, too, as long as it’s a child-led desire to do the extra classes to improve.

We have also seen our children flourish when they perform solos or small group numbers.  It allows them to receive more individualized instruction. In addition, a mindful teacher will choreograph a routine that plays to the child’s strengths while also putting in some sequences that challenge them to grow.

So trust the process, mama and papa. If you want your child to love dancing, then take them to class, feed them well, ensure they get plenty of sleep, keep them in shoes that fit, and enjoy watching them grow in the art of dancing. For grow they will, in their skills and their love for dance.

For tips on finding a good school, click HERE.

P.S. This is the cool part…when you leave your kids and their teachers alone, and you just sit on your hands and close your mouth because you trust the teachers and your trust their process…amazing things can happen.  One wish: your child becomes an amazing artist who is poetry in motion.

We had the honor of watching a very cool and collected Puma win not one, not two, but five national first place awards at the Dance Masters of America National Convention. Two for her solo, two for her duo with Night Owl, and one with her small group. She is a child who was “passed over” year after year as other children around her age were advanced. I trusted the process and stayed the course, trusting that her instructors are amazing, caring and capable people, and that they would move her when she was ready. Our beautiful, self-confident child reaped the rewards of HER hard work and dedication because SHE cared and did if from a self-drive to succeed. So very proud of her. For my part, thankful for the wisdom that comes with maturity. Because God knows that it took a lot for me to be still.