AND I breastfeed my toddler.
While I thought breastfeeding would be the most natural thing on the planet (like giving birth — see how my 'plan' went sideways here), there was NO WAY I was going to nurse past one year. I didn’t really know anyone who nursed their babes past 12 months... if I did, they were very secretive about it. When I tried to recollect friends who had babies before me, I mostly remembered bottles.
When I think about it, there are a lot of things I didn't know before I had a baby. And there's a lot I wish I had known about breastfeeding, specifically. So, I decided it's time to be honest and share my story with you, plus a few things I wish I had known beforehand.
1. It might not be as 'natural' as you pictured.
I remember that first awkward nursing session with my son. I had these grand visions of some lovely bonding moment: there would be tears in my eyes from joy, my baby would be suckling like a pro, fairies would dance in the air, sprinkling pixie dust. I jest on the latter, but I did imagine a magical moment.
In reality, there was nothing magical about it. I was wheeled into a room full of other women — some of whom seemed to be laboring behind curtains. I had just been sliced open and stitched back together, and this was the first time I was actually allowed to hold my child.
He was screeching like a banshee — a hungry one at that.
The Sailor awkwardly tried to stand clear of the hustle, while a nurse barked at me to hold my breast like a hamburger so my baby could get a mouthful. (At this point, I hadn't eaten anything for over eight hours. I secretly salivated over the imaginary floppy burger I found in my hand.)
The Peanut squealed and writhed and struggled to latch and suddenly my illusion of 'natural breastfeeding' seemed to vanish into thin air.
I was a complete hot mess (seriously, blazing hot one minute, freezing the next. Hormones, you also get the blame.)
The nurses then stressed me out for the next few days, telling me that my baby needed to nurse more than five minutes at a time ('snacking' is fine, by the way). I started to panic when the nurses harped on about his weight loss (a certain amount of weight loss is normal, particularly if mama has had IV fluids beforehand).
Finally, they made me feel like my baby needed formula. (I was pretty adamant about breastfeeding only, but sometimes you DO need some help. Fed is best. And if I needed to make a decision to supplement or if I wasn't able to breastfeed at all, I'd most likely choose an organic brand like the Honest Company's non-GMO formula.)
2. I wish I had known that breastfeeding a baby wouldn't always take F-O-R-E-V-E-R.
Those first few weeks, I felt like I only got up from the chair to go to the bathroom (and even then, I often had the Peanut with me in one hand). Sure, I caught up on books and television and news of the world, but I wondered how I would ever make it to my initial goal of one year, with a child who could take up to 45 minutes to chow down, only to want a snack soon after.
I wish someone had told me that eventually, babies and breasts get more efficient with the process, and that I wouldn't be pinned to a chair forever.
|A milk drunk Peanut passed out in Singapore.|
Eventually, I did figure that out, and as the Peanut and I got into a rhythm, I learned to take it one day at a time. As a stay-at-home mom, I rarely stayed home. I made sure to get out of the house often: shopping, walking, sitting in the park, or meeting a friend for coffee.
I found it easy to simply pack a small cover or scarf, or to ensure I was wearing a nursing tank top under a shirt so that I could discreetly lift the outer shirt up, and the shirt under it down (a trick a friend told me about) and not expose much at all. I’m all for public nursing, but personally, I’m pretty discreet about it. You see far more of my body while I'm at the pool than you will ever see of me nursing my kid.
When I took the Peanut to South Africa, Singapore and across America, I never worried about carting around enough food. I carried the food right inside my body. Long nursing sessions or not, breastfeeding can be very convenient.
3. I wish someone had told me that schedules stink and that feeding on demand is totally fine.
Actually, someone did tell me this early on in my mommy game. One of the night nurses, seeing my exasperation at the Peanut's haphazard feeding schedule (initially, he liked to snack often for only a few minutes at a time) told me to forget the clock and just feed him when he was hungry, even if it was more often than the prescribed 'every three hours'. I remember feeling my whole body relax when she told me that.
I just wish someone had reminded me daily for those first few weeks, when I felt like gouging my eyeballs out with the same pen I used to keep track of the Peanut's eating habits.
4. Finally, I wish I had known earlier that I wasn't alone in nursing a toddler.
The Peanut will be three years old in just a few short months and yes, he’s still nursing. I don’t make a big deal out of it, and honestly, sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it, depending on who I'm talking to. There still seems to be a stigma attached to it that needs to be eliminated, which is why I wanted to share my story. While breastfeeding advocates shout that breast is best for baby, people often give the side eye when they hear your walking talking toddler still has ‘milkies’. And the Internet trolls! Don't even get me started.
The reasons for me still nursing him are vast and varied. Believe me, I certainly didn’t expect to go quite this long. Then again, I didn't even expect to have a baby, so there's that.
Our lives are far from conventional and we are often in a state of flux. The Sailor is gone for months and then he returns home for months. In the Peanut’s short life, he’s already lived in a several different places, traveled to three continents and slept in numerous countries, states and beds.
But one thing has been consistent throughout: milkies from mommy. Does he drink milk from a cup? Absolutely. Does he eat food like a champ. Um, yes. Ever since he took his first bite of 'real' food, he has technically been in the process of slowly weaning himself.
So, it may seem like I'm bragging to you about nursing my not-so-little guy when I meet you at the library, but in reality, I just saw your own toddler stick his hand down your shirt, while you quickly looked around to see if anyone noticed. I know the official (and unofficial) baby sign language for 'more milk', and I want you to feel like you're not the only one.
I'm the one who will give you details for La Leche League, because those ladies saved my sanity on more than one occasion, and I overheard you say you're afraid to nurse a toddler.
And I'm the one telling you all about various Facebook groups you should join, because sometimes, late at night during a nursing session, I too needed to know that whatever I was doing was normal, and Google and other websites were making me feel like a freak instead.
The Peanut doesn't nurse much now, and I know that one of these days it will be the last time, perhaps without any warning. While I'm kind of looking forward to that day (because let's face it, mama could use some new bras...) I also know it will be bittersweet.
I hope I always remember how much the Peanut sometimes giggles when he asks for 'milkies'. Or when he reaches out and pats me on the chest, then gives me a giant hug. I especially hope I will always remember what a miracle it's been to offer him such nutrition from my own body.
My little guy has taken me on a journey I never imagined I'd be on, and while it hasn't always gone the way I expected, there have certainly been some of those 'magical' moments — even if it took us a while to get there.