Monday, 1 July 2013

Happy Birthday to my breastfeeding baby - again (Part One)

Our little princess is two. She's a raging ball of excitement, enthusiasm and energy. She loves singing nursery rhymes, dancing and drawing. She plays with her Duplo and Little People and play food. Some of her favourite games are playing dolls, playing cars, jumping in muddy puddles and going out to watch the garbage truck. She's also a WHO baby - but more on that later.

When I blogged about breastfeeding her for a year I said this about what would happen next
So, where to from here? Well, simply - on. Breastfeeding is beneficial and enjoyable for everyone in our family, so we will continue. Perhaps Chubs will wean soon on her own, perhaps I will encourage weaning. Perhaps something will happen which will force weaning; I don't know. There are two people in this breastfeeding relationship and we will continue while everyone is happy.
Well, it's yes and no to pretty much each of those points. Yes, she's still breastfeeding. No, I'm no longer pumping (except for one time when a friend needed some milk). Yes, it's still beneficial and enjoyable - at times, in some ways; it's also downright disasterous, stressful and upsetting at times, too. She certainly hasn't weaned, but is moving towards it - as she has been from when she first started eating solid food. Weaning - well, it's complicated. The three people in this family are happy - now.

When I left off at one year, Chubs was 'feeding on ask-nicely' (not feeding on demand-and-whinge), kinda. I would delay a feed if I was cooking dinner, or I was busy. Once I stopped pumping at for daycare, things were much more managable. As with all things with Chubs, we kept going along in a gentle, loving way, until something changes.

I while ago - I think when Chubs was a newborn - I came across this post at The Leaky Boob which I strongly, strongly recommend. It explains so much about the realities of nursing a toddler. If you've not read it, please go and read it now.

To paraphrase - if a toddler is frustrated and throws her broccoli on the floor, most people don't say 'well, time to stop eating vegetables'. If a toddler becomes 'overly attached' and decides that she MUST HAVE eight different stuffed toys in bed with her at night, most people just chalk it up as a 'phase' - they don't declare the child's bed a toy-free zone for fear that she will never become independent. If a toddler is scared or overwhelmed and wants a cuddle or to hide behind Mummy's leg, then most people 'indulge' the toddler, knowing that she is seeking help with meeting a need, and that she will come out at play when she feel happy, comfortable and safe. When a toddler asks for 'drinky' or 'teddy' or 'Daddy' we celebrate and encourage her language development and her ability to ask for what she wants/ need - and we give her what she has asked for (if appropriate, of course).

However, when any of these things involve breastfeeding, it seems that often breastfeeding is to blame for the 'problem'. These things generally aren't problems, they are normal toddler stages of development. In our case, Chubs developed her language skills, her need for comfort and reassurance, her ability to soothe and relax herself to sleep in the context of her little world, which includes breastfeeding.

Through breastfeeding, she has learned how to be respectful of someone else's body, time and feelings. She's learned to follow structures, and rules. She's learned how to ask nicely, how to say please and thank you. She's learned boundries, and that there are two people in this nursing relationship, and three people in this family. She's learned about a bedtime routine, and about Saturday morning snuggles. She's learned about love, family, togetherness and support.

Would she have learned all these things if she'd weaned at one day, one week, one month or one year? Of course she would have. Any toddler in a loving home learns about these things in the context of her environment, and breastfeeding is part of Chubs'.

Soon after her first birthday, I had some medical issues which made weaning (through drastically cutting my supply) a very real possibility. Whilst the frustrations that I had with many doctors who continued to blame breastfeeding for my issues (um, I wasn't breastfeeding when this was a problem when I was fifteen!) are the topic for another post, suffice it to say that what I needed wasn't just a breastfeeding friendly doctor, but a breastfeeding knowledgable one. At last I found her, and I had two options - one which would drastically cut my supply, and the other which had issues and complications of its own. After further investigation, discussion with Dear Husband, considering the benefits and risks of each option (including the benefits and risks to both Chubs and me of continuing to breastfeed and of weaning) I decided to try the non-supply cutting option. Thankfully, our predictions were correct and it has been a great treatment choice. I will never forget however, the panic that I felt at forced weaning. Even at an age when many children have already weaned or are almost there, it didn't feel right for us - actually, it felt very very wrong. Had the circumstances been different, then of course the outcome might have been different. I'm very thankful that we were able to navigate the issue and find a workable plan. Many women face breastfeeding issues which may force weaning at all stages; thankfully, on the balance of everything, we were able to find a way through.

Don't get me wrong, it hasn't all been happiness and joy and unicorns farting rainbows (to borrow a phrase - I told you to read the Leaky Boob post above). Sure enough, before I knew it, breastfeeding a toddler was. driving. me. fucking. insane. The gymnurstics were giving me sore breasts, and sometimes the frequency drove me bonkers. The same child who would happily go all day at daycare without a feed would feed con-stant-ly when she was with me. One morning I was out with a friend who had a daughter weeks older than Chubs and a newborn, and Chubs had more feeds than the newborn did.

At first we tried gentle rules. I canvassed lots of friends who had fed toddlers (a few IRL but mostly online) about what strategies they used. (The same way that I ask for ideas about what to put in lunchboxes, or to make outings less stressful, or how to manage bedtime - you know, pretty much like every other aspect of parenting.) At first some gentle guidelines were enough to keep me sane.

- I rarely offered feeds, and fairly frequently refused (or delayed). Chubs was so keen that this wasn't a biggie. I've heard of other kids who self wean much earlier - Chubs certainly wasn't  one of those.

- "When x then y" became a big thing. "When I've finished paying for the groceries, then you can have Mummy Milk." After only two or three times, Chubs learned that she could trust me to offer when we actually got the the 'when' bit, so this worked really well for us for a while. In my mind, it's acceptable for a newborn to scream and carry on asking for a feed while shopping, and either to cut the shopping trip short or to feed at the checkout. That's reasonable to expect of a newborn. It's also a reasonable expectation for a toddler to wait ten seconds or ten minutes for a feed - especially when she's munching on a biscuit while she's waiting and Mummy's doing something else.

- No gymnurstics. With a newborn, it's all very important to have correct positioning, so that you can get correct attachment and the baby can drain the breast effectively without damaging the nipples - and so on. With a toddler, it's certainly been my experience that just waving a breast in the general direction of the child is enough to be called 'positioning'. However, once the novelty wore off, all I was left with was sore breasts. Just because you can feed while watching TV and dancing to The Wiggles, doesn't mean I'm going to let you. We tried a few different positions and rules - like everything, it's an ongoing process of what works and what needs to change. All that really works now is sitting sideways on my lap or lying down. I've vetoed sitting next to me, moving while feeding, watching TV while feeding, switching sides more than three times and feeding from the 'top' breast when lying down.

- I continued the rules that we already had like asking nicely, no pinching, no hitting, no squirming.

So over the past year, we developed these rules, and continued our happy, exciting, crazy life of drawing, playdough, daycare, playgrounds, groceries and play time. Breastfeeding was just part of what we did - free of the fuss of pumping or needing EBM or formula, we continued on, making adjustments as required. However, as I said above, the time came when all of the rules we had developed weren't enough and I was going absolutely. fucking. insane over breastfeeding, and drastic action was called for.

to be continued in Part Two and Part Three

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