Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On Nursing Past a Year

"To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying 'Amen' to what the world tells you you ought to prefer is to have kept your soul alive." -Robert Louis Stevenson

***This is a pretty sensitive subject, so if you comment, please be respectful.  Thanks.  Also, I realize I am NOT an expert on this.  Plenty of people nurse way longer than I did, but for me this was kind of a big deal.  Among my friends and acquaintances, I know few people who have gone this route and because of that it wasn't really a decision that came naturally for me. ***

So, a few weeks ago when I published the post about weaning Graves, I mentioned that I wanted to do a little follow-up. As is the case with most things on my blog, I'm writing this mostly for me. However, as you'll see in this post, hearing this message (i.e. that you're not a total freakazoid mom with a fetish if your nurse past a year) was so important for me. So, I kind of feel like I'd be doing other mommas a disservice if I didn't blog about it.

I knew from the get go that I probably wasn't going to let Graves self wean.  I figured all along it would be directed by me and even though that stands at odds with some research, I thought that was what was best for all of us.  I'm so thankful he surprised me, though! When Ann Peyton was around a year, I remember telling someone that I thought that if you weren't willing to let a child self wean, you shouldn't nurse past a year, because at that point, they got really emotionally attached to it and it was mean to cut them off after that.  Clearly, my ideas on that changed a bit.

 Initially, I thought I would wean him when it just became "too much" for me.  I espesially had those thoughts during the throes of his dairy intolerance. [Sidenote: I always meant to do a formal post about him outgrowing it, because it was such a huge deal, but at first I was scared to say anything and be wrong like I had been before and then after months had passed, it seemed dumb to do a whole post.  But he outgrew it around ten months, just like so many people told me he probably would. (Sidenote within the sidenote: we're actually experimenting with almond milk because of some other issues he's had with dairy.)]

However, once that was resolved, it really became pretty easy and it was more a matter of figuring out what I was comfortable with.  This was something I really struggled with because I knew I wouldn't be comfortable, personally, with nursing an older toddler/preschooler, but I also knew I wanted to consider "extended breastfeeding" for a bit past a year for a couple of reasons.  For one thing (as I said in the previous post), I remember a specific conversation with Peyton in which he said, "No, I don't think you should wean him at a year.  Graves [him personally, not all babies, necessarily] needs it emotionally".  I'm sure he would be fine and well adjusted had I weaned him at a year, but there  quite a few situations where it's helped tremendously and I think it was a really good tool.  Clearly, he gradually became less dependent on it and other things comforted him in a lot of situations.  Secondly, obviously breast milk continued to help his immune system and that was a great benefit there.  Finally- and this was a big one- with Graves I really didn't know how to wean him at a year, practically speaking.  He  wasn't into a sippy until well past a year and nor was he a big fan of whole milk.  Initially when I dropped the first feeding I had to supplement with flavored PediaSure (per our pediatrician's recommendation) for him to really drink much. It was fine, though, because it helped him get more calories. But, I had to be reasonable. Y'all, I just wasn't going to start bottles with my one year old and I wasn't going to give him five chocolate milks a day, either.  At the same time, given that we've had concerns over his weight in the past, I knew I couldn't simply offer a cup of milk and go with the "if he drinks it, he drinks it...if he doesn't, he doesn't" attitude.  So, I figured I'd just nurse him past a year.

Seems pretty clear cut, right?

But then I  wanted to figure out how long.  I know for some people it would just be something they figured out as they went, but that's just not my personality.  Until he was over a year, I FORCED myself not to worry about it but once he turned a year, I knew I needed to come up with a plan for my own sanity.

Backing up a bit...with Ann Peyton, we parented in a little bit of a different way.  She was much more "scheduled"(which I don't mean in a bad way), she never slept in our bed, and I weaned her at exactly a year.  At that point, I was really scared and really protective of mine and Peyton's marriage.  I knew that realistically a baby would change a lot and for both of us (but more for his sake because I think it was harder on him) I wanted to control the things I could control.  Honestly, Annie did fine with all of this and I have ZERO regrets.  It may seem selfish to some people (and totally normal to others!), but we did what was right for us at the time. My mom jokes about how God gave us a "play baby" because we couldn't handle a real one and while that's quite the comical observation, as I see her now as a spirited, stubborn almost four year old, I realize it truly was God's provision in our lives at that time.

Graves came a long and he was different.  Thankfully, our marriage was in a much, much better place. He just required more- he wanted to be held a lot, he didn't sleep as well, and he wanted to nurse a ton.  Nursing was his thing.  He took a paci and really was more attached to it than AP, but nothing soothed him like nursing. Like I said, we were at a different place and it just felt right to do things a bit differently.  Early on, I began doubting I would wean him at a year.  With Annie there was a lot of other stuff-- physically and emotionally nursing wore me out, my hormones were crazy and parts of mine and Peyton's ahem, relationship were effected by that.  This time around those things were just much less of an issue.  So I knew my decision would probably be based more on my continued comfort level than on these outside factors.  A part of me was glad I had that freedom, but a part of me wished it were an easier decision.  I knew I didn't want to just arbitrarily stop at a year since I didn't really have a reason to, but how long?

Like I said earlier, I also knew that nursing a three or four year old was just never going to be in my comfort zone, but I really thought I'd like to try with a younger toddler.  It was hard for me, though, because I get self conscious and insecure and I didn't know anyone who was doing/had done just that.  [I know that may seem surprising to some of y'all because I think on the Internet I appear way more self confident than I really am.  That's a whole other post, though, that's coming one day.] When I briefly considered it with AP (VERY briefly) someone had asked me if I was comfortable with other people being uncomfortable and judgey about it.  And, although the other reasons were the primary reasons for weaning her, I'd be remiss if I said my insecurity about being judged as "weird" and "gross" didn't play into it.

I want to avoid labels but I'll just say that it was hard to find someone in my exact situation. I have several friends who have nursed older babies but they are, with varying levels of passion, really dedicated to a parenting philosophy that I haven't entirely embraced.  These girls are sweet as can be and I have leaned on them for advice and encouragement, but I knew my thoughts did not completely line up with theirs.  I think the easiest way for me to explain this is that I had seen instances where breastfeeding past a year was the norm, but it was all within a certain subculture and I wanted to see it just as part of *the*culture. [Sidenote: I KNOW these friends share my desire to see that, too.] Anyway, shortly after I started fretting about it (meaning I was totally obsessing and worrying about all my friends thinking I was weird and disgusting for nursing my oh, 12.5 month old), I noticed two friends discussing it on Twitter.  They are neither one even as "crunchy" as I am, so I was a bit shocked when they said they had nursed until fourteen and nineteen months.  It was neat because, from what I understood, they neither one were doing it because of a philosophy or any research; they just had babies who liked to nurse and they didn't feel they were ready to give it up.  That little interaction totally "normalized" it for me.

I decided shortly after that that I wanted to set a goal.  I knew that weaning Graves would be a long process and I also wanted to be able to have some sort of idea of when we could actually leave him.  Like I said, I'm the kind of person that feels better with a plan and it just seemed like it was time to make one. I still kind of struggled with feeling weird about nursing past a year, simply because I didn't have any experience with it.  I knew that there was a point where I would legitimately feel uncomfortable, but I was also letting social factors influence me way too much.  So I set up a little scenario in my mind.  And y'all I know this is a flawed analogy in several ways, but it helped me.  I asked myself if I removed myself (my boobs) from the equation, how long would I be comfortable with it? My best analogy I could think of was how long would I be comfortable giving him a paci or a bottle? I know some people are probably thinking, "well, that's different!" Well, yeah.  That's kinda the point.  To try to see it as something that was meeting a nutritional (bottle) or comfort (paci) need and divorce it from any weird view society had placed on it.  And I know the other side will say "Um, well, breastfeeding past a year is a biological norm, whereas the substitution of an artificial plastic nipple, um, isn't".  Which, yeah, that's true, too.  But it helped me to make it as far as I did, so there's that.

Now, let me clarify.  Like I said, I truly believe there's a level of comfort you have to listen to and that's going to look different for everyone.  Some people are comfortable nursing a three year old.  Some people are comfortable only nursing to one.  Some people are honestly not comfortable nursing at all.  I try to be respectful of all these people.  That's not what I was struggling with, though.  I knew I was comfortable with it in my heart, but my mind was making me think it was weird and unnatural after some arbitrary date on the calender and I think most of that was because of fear of judgement and what I had been conditioned to think.

Ultimately, I decided I would be comfortable with Graves taking a bottle or having a paci definitely until eighteen months.  Probably two years.  Past two, I figured it would be out of my comfort zone. [Sidenote: I very likely may be reevaluating the paci past two, ha!] I felt great about my decision and when I questioned if it was weird (or was questioned by someone else), I reminded myself of this. I know that probably makes NO sense to some people, but it was just easy for me when someone maybe made me question my decision to say to myself (and in some cases to them), "the paci is not an issue yet, why should nursing be?" Like I said, it's a flawed analogy on some levels, but it helped me in a lot of situations.

So there's the background of how I came to my decision of when I wanted to wean Graves.  I wanted to share it because it was such a big deal within myself as y'all can probably tell and also simply as an encouragement to others who may be interested in parenting in a way that's, in some ways, not typical among most of their friends.

Bud Bud right before I nursed him for the last time. I wish I was confident enough to put up the actual nursing picture (it's very discreet), but I'm just not there yet. And I have to give myself grace and realize how far I've come in challenging myself and my own comfort level.


Bech and Marley Evans said...

Thanks for sharing. I weaned Jack at a year and am happy with that decision. But I have definitely considered nursing a little longer in the future, as long as it works well with future babies! It is good to hear someone else's perspective on extended breastfeeding!

Amy said...

oh, friend....this post is....ME! change graves's name to laney's and you have our whole nursing experience. aside from the fact that i'm almost positive laney would have nursed until she was 5. seriously. i don't know if i ever told you, but we literally had to leave her with my parents for the weekend and that was the only way i could wean her. i felt awful about it at the time, even though she was 19months old and completely on table food/whole milk, but it was the only way. out of sight, out of mind (for her, not me!) she never fussed, cried, whined, nothing while she was w/my parents. but as soon as we came back, she wanted to pick right back up with nursing. that's when i had to be strong and stick to my guns. after a few days, it was a distant memory for her. but, like i said - i really think she was so emotionally attached that she would have nursed forever if i'd have let her! i'm glad you shared this, because it puts a lot of my thoughts into words, too. i have very few IRL friends that nursed past 6-8 months, so nursing my 19month old was the equivalent of nursing a 6 year old on dr. phil to them-ha! i'm anxious to see how nursing goes with baby #3 for me. and if there are any similarities/differences to nursing my other two.

Anonymous said...

Oh, honestly having no nursing experience I can't truthfully say how it would go (for me or the baby), but I am totally ok with nursing past 1 year, even to 2. My mom would have to have some serious retraining, but I've been retraining her my whole life anyway. :)). Now, after certain medical conditions have arisen, I don't know if biological kids will ever be a reality for me, but at this point, I could almost say the same about marriage and adoption. :)) But I'm almost(Almost, bc God is in the miracle business) positive bio kids are not in my future.So maybe I won't make the weaning decision, but the bottle & paci one. Either way, know if there is a baby #3 you have an IRL supporter (can't advise, but I can support) of extended breastfeeding. Thanks for the post.- Sara Ashley

The Taffs said...

I stopped nursing Eli at 17 mths. I have to admit, it was mostly because people were "weirded out" to hear that I was still doing that, and I was a little intimidated (why, I don't know) to admit that it was still working for us. Most of my IRL friends weren't successful with nursing, or we're "done" by 6 mths. Next go around, I'll probably go at least as long as I did with Eli...or as long as it still works for us! It's so nice to hear I'm not a loner in long-time nursing! : )

AmyKnight said...

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am an extended nurser of my 22 month old and NEVER would have thought that I would be nursing this long. In the beginning I just set small steps...make it 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months....and now we are almost at 2 years. I too have felt very alone on this journey. So many things you have said in your breastfeeding posts have resonated with me but especially the notion that that some kids just need the emotional, calming as aspect of nursing. That is my son. He is calmed by nursing in a way that nothing else does. C doesn't take a paci so I have become his paci. I am praying that he will self wean soon, and that I will begin to know see the signs that he is ok without it because I don't know if I am strong enough to direct his weaning. Thanks again for sharing. PS. I am a fellow Mississippi resident. We live in Starkville.

Mary Louis Quinn said...

I'll be writing my own weaning post in a couple of months, so of course I find this all so interesting. Because of my work, I really have to stop at a year (or at least stop pumping at a year), but I feel very confident that if I stayed at home I would continue nursing at least a few months after she turns one, at least if my supply was able to keep up. Were you down to nursing just once a day when you weaned? I'm always fascinated by people whose supply seems to stay at a good enough level to nurse for an extended period of time since mine seems to start decreasing before a year like it has with my two girls.

Sarah Denley said...

First of all, thanks everyone for being so positive and encouraging.

Mary Louis: Yep, I was down to just once a day in the mornings. I do have a question for you: do you mean that they wouldn't let you pump past a year or that you'd feel weird about it (I mean, I would, as I'm sure is clear from this post)? I have no idea how these things work so I'm just curious.

Mary Louis Quinn said...

It's just because of my line of work/work schedule. I see patients all day long- starting at 8am and going all day long until 5:00. The only break I have is from 12-1 for lunch. So to pump I have to leave in the middle of clinic twice a day (while patients are sitting in the waiting room waiting on me) and go pump, which takes at least 20 min and puts me behind. So out of consideration for my coworker and my patients, I really feel like I have to stop once I reach maximum benefit for SC, which in *my opinion* is 12 months. If I was in a different line of work I would probably go at least a few more months as long as I could keep my supply up, but my schedule has made it almost impossible to pump at work, so I'm just super glad (and super proud of myself) for making it as long as I have. My coworkers have been nothing but supportive (at least to my face) but I'm sure they're tired of it. :)

Sarah Denley said...

That makes sense, ML. Peyton and I have talked about this before and he said he could probably give his techs two fifteen minute breaks in addition to lunch, but more than that and the pharmacy would be all out of sorts. Also, I know if I was teaching, it would be really hard.

That's awesome your co-workers have been so supportive. And also, I'm proud of you, too! I have huge amounts of respect for working moms that really fight to make this work. I know no one really likes to pump and I'm sure it gets old fast!

Kristal said...

I love this post, SD. I love hearing your thought process and how you "normalized" it for yourself. And I love your honesty about it all - it's nice to hear all this from a more traditional perspective (rather than a more attachment parenting one).

This is not directed at you specifically, but I just generally hate hearing how many mamas are influenced by others thoughts of something being gross or weird. Our culture can be so frustrating. :-/