Breast/Chest Feeding without Boundaries

Ian wakes around 7am (this is a new, very exciting development, as it used to be 5:50am for like, his entire life). He plays and talks and sings for a bit, then calls out, “Mommy daddy come get me!” Usually dad goes in, changes his diaper, and brings Ian into our bed, where he will nurse, if scheduling permits, for about 30 minutes. I cuddle him and play with his hair. We talk about the day. We look at Instagram photos. It’s a lovely, quiet time to transition from sleep to play play play play play until (hopefully) nap time.

Nap time is where the next nurse will happen (we may nurse in between, but those aren’t guaranteed, especially if we’re busy). We go into his room, change his diaper, turn on his small fan for white noise, grab his blue blankie that happens to be his receiving blanket, and have a nurse on a folded up brown futon. If he doesn’t pass out on the boob, the nap could very well not happen, but he at least has to have “quiet” time in his room for an hour while I take a break (i.e. pass out). His quiet time never is, but he does play pretty happily on his own with minimal disaster.

If a nap does happen, which it thankfully still does about 75% of the time, he will always want to nurse unless something super exciting is happening. He’ll go for another 30 minutes easy, and if he wakes in a bad mood, nursing is the only sure way to shift the energy. He is such an active child, always moving, always talking, and I see his nurse time help his body to slow, and when I talk to him I swear I can see his mind process.

The nighttime nurse. After teeth brushing, diaper change, story, kiss goodnight from daddy, Ian and I are back on the futon. This nurse also involves singing, and no matter how hard I try to bring new songs in the mix, I always end up singing Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Time After Time, My Favorite Things, The Sound Of Music, and Stay Awake from Mary Poppins. The last song is always Edelweiss, then a kiss on the forehead with the pronouncement, “All done with milks.” He’s awake and happy, tucked into bed, musical night light stuffed owl turned on, and mama’s out the door.

I’ve been nursing since 1.1.11. Before my son was born, I didn’t think much about breastfeeding. My mom breastfed me and enjoyed it. I figured I would, too. I didn’t think about bottle-feeding and I also didn’t demonize it. I didn’t think about how long I would breastfeed or if I’d breastfeed on a schedule or if I’d pump and bottle feed…I was focused on living through the whole labor and giving birth part. Everything else was on the periphery.

Then he came out: A successful water birth at home after 47 hours of labor. Ian latched easily and has pretty much stayed on. He was born 7lbs 4 oz and was over 9lbs three weeks later. A well-meaning aunt said I should only feed him every three hours or he would gain too much weight. Another aunt told me if I let him nurse for longer than ten minutes per side, “There isn’t any milk left anyway, and your nipples will become raw as hamburger.” Yea, I tried that for about 90 minutes and when I couldn’t comfort him any other way, he nursed. We’re an on-demand family, my nipples are perfect, and he’s strong as an ox and in the 50th percentile for weight.

I guess you could say my story is about not having a plan. Ian didn’t take many bottles because I am lucky enough to be able to mostly stay at home. I do a bit of work from home, and when I needed to leave, he would take a bottle when he was younger, and now he’s old enough to supplement with food until I return.

Ian will turn 3 in January. He nurses about five times per day. I think about the unusualness of our nursing relationship a lot. I justify in my head why we’re still nursing (the health benefits, the unspoken comfort he receives when he can’t express to me exactly what he wants, the precious, quiet, snuggly moments we share because my high energy, boisterous kid is most often anything but snuggly). Sometimes I fantasize about weaning (long weekends away-BY MYSELF), and there’s talk about weaning once he’s potty trained (lord knows how long that will take). Honestly, and I haven’t officially committed to it, but the concept of full-term feeding, nursing until he’s done, feels right to me. I feel incredibly sad when I read weaning stories of parents and babes who mutually loved nursing yet stopped because “it was time.” This is not to say that I judge parents who have a cut off date out of necessity or just because they feel done. I’m talking about people who love it, who mourn it, and wean because…why? Because Americans think it’s weird to nurse a toddler. Because the toddler can ask for it. Because their community no longer supports it.

I recently heard someone say, “When we’re babies, we are encouraged to explore, walk, and talk, and for the rest of our childhood, we’re told to not touch, sit down, and be quiet.” The same goes for breastfeeding. It’s beautiful, and then your baby turns one, and it’s shameful.

So yea, I’m nursing my big old boy. He’s 33 pounds, 37 inches tall, plays soccer and baseball and volleyball and golf and thinks he’s Super Why. He asks for “Milks.” I’m not running away from this aspect of our relationship. I embrace it. I totally didn’t think I’d be the nursing toddler mom type, yet here I am. As a doula, I’m grateful I can bring my experience to the table, not to pressure anyone into breastfeeding, but to be a support for mamas who want to experience it, because it takes a tremendous amount of support. It’s usually not easy, especially in the beginning. I was lucky in terms of an easy latching kiddo and abundant supply, but I also had mastitis six times. I can’t think of anyone I know that didn’t have an issue with nursing at some point. It’s hard, and it’s easy, just like parenting.

Letting go of “the plan” has been one of the most painful lessons I’ve learned (and continue to learn) as a mom, and surrendering when Ian will be done nursing is part of the great mystery I’m beginning to embrace.

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