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TLB Comic: “..But I Can’t Lactate!”+ Bonus Frame

by Jennie Bernstein
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TLB Comic: Male Lactivists + Bonus Frame

by Jennie Bernstein

 

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TLB Comic: The Baby/ Toddler Balance..The Struggle is Real + Bonus Frame

by Jennie Bernstein

 

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Toddlers, Breastfeeding, and Boundaries

by Adina Henry

When our babies are first born and trying to get the hang of breastfeeding and regulating Mommy’s supply, we may feel like they are attached to our breasts 23 hours a day. Every time the baby fusses we stick a boob in their mouth, because it works and please child, stop screaming at me! And then we keep nursing, because everyone is happy and it’s working!

Then one day you look at your tiny baby and she’s a tornado of a toddler, “sharing” your whole plate of lasagna before you can get a bite for yourself and talking in sentences, most of which have the word “mine!” figuring prominently. And you’re still nursing, because everyone is still happy and it’s still working, except maybe Momma isn’t always so happy anymore. (Because the nipple twiddling, for example! Gah!)

(Related: The breastfeeding toddler explains when it is an appropriate time for a toddler to breastfeed.)

It looks like it’s time for some boundaries. My training and years as a preschool teacher/director have helped me when I need to set boundaries with my own daughter, and I can tell you first-hand that boundaries can save you.

When establishing breastfeeding boundaries for your toddler, it’s good to keep in mind that it’s healthy and helpful for both Mom and toddler to have limits. You are a person and a full half of the breastfeeding dyad and your feelings and needs matter. Your child is not being punished for growing up. It’s ok to set limits as both of your needs change. Boundaries are your personal choice. The boundaries for one mom at a certain time in their breastfeeding relationship may be entirely different from those of another mom’s. Even from child to child boundaries don’t have to be the same. Maybe it’s time to only nurse before sleep. Maybe you just want to start using the bathroom alone (Crazy talk! I know!). Maybe nursing sessions need to last 10 minutes, not 45 minutes. Whatever your needs are, the approach can be the same: The key is communication, and with good communication we can set ourselves and our children up for success.

Breastfeeding boundaries for toddlers

Here’s the most important part: Talk with your child about the change that will be happening. We are so used to doing things for our babies that it’s easy to forget to fill them in on the plans. Think about how you like requests to be made of you and go from there. From a very young age, younger than most of us expect, our children can understand more of our communication than we realize.

If you think of yourself attending to your child the way we would hope a nurse would attend to us in a hospital, a new, helpful perspective may be found. Picture yourself in the hospital for whatever reason. It’s the middle of the night and you’re thirsty and so you press your call button and wait for someone to come help, but she never shows up. Or she does come, but when she arrives and you ask for a drink she announces that the new hospital policy, as of now, is that no liquids are given at night anymore. You probably wouldn’t be happy about either of these scenarios hitting you without warning. But what if you were warned ahead of time? What if, earlier in the day, when you weren’t tired and upset, but just reading a magazine and doing your thing, a nurse let you know that there was gong to be a change in the night staffing routine and let you know what was coming. And even better, if she then reminded you again later, just to make sure you heard the message. You might prepare for the night by making sure you have a little bottle of water next to your bed. Or, at least, you might not be so confused when you wake up looking for assistance, but then remember the new policy.

Giving your child a “heads up” about what’s coming is a great way to help them transition to whatever’s next. Babies and toddlers can be more receptive than you might think about being talked to about what’s happening around them. Their brains are little sponges. Remember that children are paying attention to how we talk to them and will later talk to others in the same way.

How to bring up the change in routine? Make your request positive. We all generally respond to positive ideas and solutions better than roadblocks and problems.

Think back to the nurse in the hospital scene. You’ve just had your super delicious tray of hospital food and your blood pressure and temperature have been checked for the 1200th time that day. The nurse comes in to tell you about the new “no drink refills at night” rule. She can say, “I want to let you know that we’re cutting you off for snacks at night and no matter how much you want it, you can’t have any drinks after 11pm.” Or, instead, she might say, “We’re having a change in policy later this evening and we won’t be delivering snacks and drinks throughout the night anymore. I want to make sure you’re comfortable though, so I’ve brought you an extra bottle of water you can keep by your bed in case you get thirsty. And even though the kitchen will be closed during the night, if you find yourself in pain or with a problem, I’m still here.” Personally, I would respond much better to the second option.

Now that you’ve begun to set yourself up for success, talk about it more. When it’s happening, talk about it. “Remember how we talked about how when we’re having milkies, your hands can pet me gently, but aren’t going to pinch? This is what we were talking about. I’m going to help you touch me gently by showing you that gentle touch again. Remember this? Ah, this is nice. Thank you.”

And then talk about it after, and acknowledge any efforts on the part of your child to cooperate with this new boundary. “You did better with touching me gently during nursies. Thank you! It felt better to have cuddles like that!” Or, “I know it was really hard to not have milkies right when you wanted, but you got through that frustration and are ok now. I feel much better now that I actually got to eat dinner using both of my hands and while able to reach my plate. Thank you. Next time, it will be easier, I think.”

Here’s the kicker though; toddlers will hear a really good swear word once and use it correctly everyday thereafter, but it takes 5 million repetitions of “Please wash your hands after you use the toilet” for it to become second nature. You may need to repeat this process many times before you are successful.

But it will be worth it and setting you and your child up for a beautiful future together supported by healthy, respectful boundaries.

You can do this, Mommas!

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Adina Henry
Adina Henry is a preschool/daycare director and teacher, as well as a mother. She has been teaching young children in schools, homes and playgroups since 2003. Incorporating play, music, movement and imagination into each day, Adina believes that children learn best through play and exploration. In addition to being an admin in The Leaky Boob Community of Facebook, Adina bellydances when she gets the chance, and encourages you to dance too.

TLB Comic: Who Did It?

  by Jennie Bernstein

 

TLB comic, funny Friday

Six myths about breastfeeding toddlers and preschoolers

Breastfeeding beyond the first year has been something of a hot topic over on The Leaky Boob page this week.  It started when I shared this image from Health Canada.

Healthy Canada extending breastfeeding image, breastfeeding is not just for newborns

The conversation quickly went from “YAY!” and “awww!” to “gross,” and “that’s sexual abuse of a child.”  You can check it out yourself here but it may not be too good for your blood pressure and that’s with having deleted the worst of the comments.  The next day I shared another related post presenting the perspective of a rather well-balanced 12 year old that remembers weaning at 4 years old.  That thread on Facebook got pretty ugly too.

As I read through the comments I was a bit puzzled as to what the outcry was about.  Putting the pieces together I began to see that it came down to what is really just some misunderstandings.  Myths about breastfeeding beyond the first year and the women that are willing to do so fueled these passionate (AKA really, really angry) responses to these posts.  Then the mothers that are fine breastfeeding beyond the first year were hurt, feeling judged based on myths that they did not find to be true of themselves.  Some got defensive.  And then more misunderstandings happened.  It was a vicious cycle.

To help clear up the misunderstanding, let’s take a look at some of the (surprisingly) common myths held about natural duration breastfeeding.

Myth #1: Moms that breastfeed beyond the first year and definitely into the 3rd year or beyond are trying to keep their children as babies and can’t let go and let them grow up.  If you don’t stop when they are young, they’ll never stop.

I’ve never met a parent that didn’t experience their child growing up and leaving various stages as bittersweet.  We go into parenting knowing that’s the deal, and let’s be honest here, we’re all looking forward to being done with diapers when the time comes even though we’ll be sad when they don’t quite fit to cuddle on our laps any more.  The moms I’ve talked to and from my personal experience, breastfeeding beyond 12 months isn’t about holding on to our child’s infancy, but there is a lot about embracing where they are in the moment.  If they still want to breastfeed, fine, no arbitrary date on a calendar they can’t read dictates their needs or our response.  As of yet there is no record of an adult needing their mother with them because they never weaned, really don’t think we need to worry about that.

Besides, breastfeeding a toddler or preschooler really is nothing like breastfeeding an infant.  Gymnurstics, squirmy excitement, multitasking, etc., one can’t be breastfeeding a toddler and think “aw, it’s just like cuddling them that first day!”  Even when they are falling asleep at the breast and miraculously still (and mom likely is falling asleep finally too) there’s nothing to confuse between those newborn tiny baby days where they fit into the crook of your arm at 7 pounds and the big ol’ toddler days with 30 pounds of limbs covering your lap.  I am never more aware of just how fast my daughter is growing up than in those moments and breastfeeding isn’t helping me hold on, it’s helping her hold on as she gradually transitions from baby to toddler to preschooler to school aged child.

Myth #2: Breastfeeding beyond the first year is for the mom’s benefit, not for the child.

This could only be said by someone that hasn’t breastfed beyond the first 12 months.  I can’t quite grasp this, I can’t get my child to give me a kiss, put on her shoes, or eat her food if she doesn’t want to, how in the world am I going to force her to breastfeed?  And why would I?  I mean, seriously, there are teeth in that mouth, for me to be willing to allow that mouth on my breast there has to be some very rearust established and I’m not going to risk getting bit just “for my benefit.”  And breastfeeding a toddler or preschooler isn’t all rainbow farting unicorns either, it can be very challenging and while I’m no martyr I’m also honest and realistic enough to admit that not only are there some special sweet moments breastfeeding beyond the first 12 months but there are also some crazy hard moments that I can’t stand.  Breastfeeding beyond the first 12 months isn’t for the mom’s benefit, it is for the mom and child’s benefit together.

Myth #3: Natural duration breastfeeding means a child won’t learn how to eat solids or use a cup.  Breastfeeding should stop when the child gets teeth.

Say whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?  Where did that idea come from?  Seriously, I can’t even begin to understand how someone made that rather large leap.  Some babies are born with teeth, some cut them as early as a 2-4 months.  Having teeth does not negate the nutritional and developmental requirements a child has.  Not all babies warm up to solids right away but generally toddlers grasp the concept of eating solids and drinking from a cup quite well.  One word for you: cheerios.  All my girls that breastfed beyond the first year were well into solids and drinking out of a cup by the time their first birthday rolled around.  Cake smashing was an event they enjoyed.  Avocado was a favorite first food as well as banana, sweet potatoes, and chicken, and more, all by the first year.  I have had my toddler finish at the breast and immediately sign “eat” or “drink.”  She’s not confused, she just wants to have her boob, her cup, her cake, and to eat it too.

So let me set the record straight: breastfeeding for long beyond the first 12 months will not inhibit a child’s developmental ability to eat and drink other foods.

Myth #4: Mothers that breastfeed beyond a year are trying to force all other mothers to breastfeed beyond a year even if other mothers are uncomfortable doing so.  Also, they judge any mother that doesn’t breastfeed beyond a year.

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got my hands full trying to get my own kids to do things, I have absolutely no desire to try and get anyone else to do anything else.  Sharing information and promoting conversation is great, I’m all for it, but I don’t have the energy to force anyone to do anything.  Breastfeed, don’t breastfeed.  You don’t need my approval and I’m not looking to give it.  You can breastfeed for 3 minutes, 3 days, 3 weeks, 3 months, or 3 years, I will support you.  You may not breastfeed at all and whatever your reason, I can still support you as a person and fellow mother.  My choices are not a reaction nor a judgment on yours.  The information I share is not intended to guilt or to shame, simply share.  Conversation is great but if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s fine, there are lots of other people that do.

So now that we got that cleared up, let’s be friends.  You take care of your kids, I’ll take care of mine.  If we can learn from each other and encourage each other along the way, that would be awesome.  If not… I bet there’s a place where you can find that and it will work for you and some place else for me.

Myth #5: Breasts are for sex so breastfeeding past 12 months is sexual abuse.  Breasts are genitals and having a child suck on them is pedophilia.

Just… no.  This myth is one giant ball of NO.  Stop and think about it for just a minute.  There is nothing, I repeat NOTHING that would constitute as sexual abuse at 18 months that was acceptable to do to a child at 6 weeks.  People, please.  No.  Breastfeeding doesn’t suddenly turn into a sex act simply because of a birthday (or two or three).  Breasts have a powerful sexual attraction to them, biologically men are drawn to find female breasts attractive in looking for a mate.  Which makes sense because if they mate, well, breasts will be needed to feed the end result of that mating.  Babies need boobies.  Men are attracted to a mate that can feed babies.  It’s all kind of linked.  That doesn’t mean a child suckling at the breast is performing some kind of sexual act.  GIANT BALL OF NO.  Children are not sexually mature and hopefully a 3 year old hasn’t been exposed to the lies from society telling them that a woman’s body is first and foremost for the pleasure of others and selling things and all they know is that their mother is safe and warm and her milk is for them.  Children do not understand the concept of sex, that would be projecting adult ideas onto them.  In other words: if you see breastfeeding as a sexual act you have your own issues to deal with and you should leave the child out of it.

Myth #6: Breastfeeding after 12 months will cause a child mental health issues.

Thankfully, while there is a rise in mental health issues amongst today’s teens, breastfeeding does not appear to be related.  At. All.  Is “extended breastfeeding messing up our kids?”  The answer is a resounding no.

I’m willing to bet that if these naysayers against natural duration breastfeeding actually met most mothers who practiced natural duration breastfeeding out with her child, unless her child was actually breastfeeding when the encountered them, they would think she was a normal, healthy mother lovingly caring for her children.

And they would be right.

Because she is a normal, healthy mother lovingly caring for her children.

Maybe breastfeeding beyond a year isn’t for you, maybe you’re uncomfortable seeing it.  Maybe it’s no big deal to you and you have enjoyed that connection with your own child.  Let’s let the myths go, they cloud the issue and distract from open dialogue, breaking down what could otherwise be a supportive, encouraging exchange of ideas in conversation.

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What other myths have you heard related to breastfeeding past the first 12 months?  What has been your experience breastfeeding beyond a year?

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Parenting and Flexibility and Boundaries- more than surviving

Sponsored post by Itti Bitti cloth diaper company, featuring 20% off all products for Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend.  Find a retailer near you or online here.  Itti Bitti is also giving away 3 huge prize packs of over $200 value each for Leakies right now.

wall stretch, wall split

My eldest daughter can sleep sitting up, folded in half.  With her flexibility, her stretching classes for ballet offer very little challenge and her instructors are regularly encouraging to explore her limits further to find where she is challenged.  And so she does with oversplits and wall stretches and more.  But with flexibility comes the safety of boundaries.  A couple months ago Earth Baby injured her back by not respecting her own boundaries and in search of a challenge pushed her limits a little too far.  The consequence was a back worn out and unable to maintain her usual level of dance.  Rest and alternating heat/ice were prescribed along with arnica oil massages, baths, and very careful stretching.  It took her young body about a week to heal to a point where she could begin dancing again and in ballet a week is a very long time.  Particularly in the critical fall casting season.

Like Earth Baby, I have been growing in the areas of flexibility and boundaries, suffering consequences of putting one above the other along the way.  Nothing has developed these more in me than parenting.  Just as wanting to develop patience means more opportunities to practice patience, flexibility and boundaries become more tangible when we are aware of our need for them.  Children act as a magnifying glass on that need.

With breastfeeding we start out feeding on demand, their itty bitty tummies no bigger than a small marble or chic pea, they need food when they need food.  The relationship of milk supply and the infant suckling at the breast is so tied together that flexibility in being able to respond to our baby’s needs can have a critical impact on not only their immediate growth but future milk supply as well.  Recognizing normal infant behavior, we are the ones in the position to be flexible in order to meet our new baby’s needs.  But as time goes by, after that first year while flexibility is still important in our relationship with our child but lest we be pushed too far and become worn out, some boundaries may need to be put in place.  With supply firmly established and many successful feeding sessions under the belt, a toddler can not only handle but benefit from appropriate boundaries in the breastfeeding relationship.  Waiting a few minutes for mommy to finish the task she was working on when they wanted to breastfeed (such as dinner for the rest of the family, my toddlers always want to breastfeed when I’m making dinner), not permitting certain behaviors at the breast (pinching is a no go for me, I will not be pinched), or expecting a certain level of attention while at the breast (play time is play time, feeding time is feeding time, etc.) can not only save mommy’s sanity, it can begin to introduce boundaries as a part of a healthy, loving relationship.  A lesson I struggled to understand until well into my adulthood.

Western culture seems to be a little polarized regarding flexibility and boundaries in parenting, emphasizing one over the other as either good or bad parenting. In my experience the truth is we need both, flexibility and boundaries.  One without the other leads to either burn out or rigidity.  As a parent, flexibility helps me not only get through the hiccups that inevitably happen to my plans with having children, but enables me to enjoy the detours I discover with them.  With six children ages 7 months to 14 years, we all benefit from being able to go with the flow and adapting in order to be sure everyone’s needs are meet.  Boundaries are so important with our children, by modeling boundaries for myself in my relationship with my child at a developmentally appropriate stage, I’m helping her establish her own boundaries.  By being open and available to her with those boundaries in place, I have seen my children develop confidence that boundaries are a part of love and they are not insecure when they experience boundaries in other situations.  WIth age appropriate boundaries, it also encourages me when I feel my flexibility is becoming brittle and I’m wearing down because I know that there is a new stage coming where they will be capable of respecting new boundaries.

At 4 years old, Squiggle Bug is learning a lot about respecting other people’s boundaries in her relationship with her littlest sister.  A common phrase to hear in our house right now is “respect her boundaries please, does she need space?”  Increasingly I don’t even have to ask the question and after loving on her little sister, hearing a bit of a fuss, Squiggle Bug will back away saying “space, here’s some space.  I’m respecting your boundaries!”  Nine year old Lollie has discovered the importance of retreating to her room when she needs to clear her head and find some quiet admits the regular flow of energetic chatter that fills our home.  And I know that I’m better at being flexible the rest of the day if I ensure a 45 – 60 minute quiet time happens every day.  Boundaries are the fuel for my flexibility.

But perhaps most important are the boundaries and flexibility we have for ourselves.  In talking about boundaries and flexibility with my friend Sue, she shared: “Honestly, it was and is the most challenging thing to be flexible with myself, to give myself grace when I don’t measure up.  Other people’s expectations I can usually blow off, what do they know about me, but allowing myself the ability to fail without completely eviscerating myself in my thoughts- that’s hard.”  I can relate.

itti bitti cloth diaper

Sugarbaby in an itti bitti cloth diaper

After making the decision that we would cloth diaper I felt very strongly that we would never use a disposable diaper again.  So when a trip that would be impossible to do with cloth came about I tried so hard to make it work.  Flexibility to adjust as needed and boundaries about what I’d actually be able to do eventually won out but not without some self abuse that I wasn’t achieving my goals.  When I realized that I was not behaving in a way i would want for my children I had to relax and accept this new, temporary reality by using flexibility to help me respect my own boundaries.  Being flexible and adapting as the need arises is not a sign of failure or weakness, my family and I all benefit when I’m able to let myself adapt to respond to my children’s needs.  Neither is having boundaries any kind of failure, respecting my needs gives my family and me opportunities to grow.

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 Do you find the need for flexibility and boundaries?  How does this impact your parenting?  What examples of flexibility and boundaries have you experienced?  Do you find it more more challenging to be flexible and have boundaries in relating with others, your children, or yourself?  

How would you like to grow in these areas?

 

 

Breastfeeding: a Piece of the Larger Puzzle

 by Christie Haskell

image credit: flickr user ned the head

I’m sitting outside, laptop on a picnic table, watching my almost-3 year old daughter run around, play in dirt, draw on the patio with chalk and talking to the neighbor girls through the fence. Little things that seem menial mean so much to her. A robin landing on the ground to eat fallen crabapples fascinates her, and has created a whole interest in birds, of which she can now identify many. Childhood, the large and small parts, is so important for the framework that determines who our kids become as adults.

We let them play in dirt because it’s not harmful, it’s fun, and we know it’s good for their immune systems.

We let them explore as much as we can so they can learn about their environment, but still pull them back before they can do something that would really injure them so they can learn to explore, but safely.

We allow them treats because life is supposed to be about enjoyment, and a popsicle on a hot day is one of those things that makes childhood wonderful, but we also give them healthy meals because it’s important for their bodies to grow strong, their immune systems to function and for their lives.

I think it’s fair to say all of those things are true, yes? But it’s funny to me, because when discussions about certainly parenting choices arise, it’s inevitable that at some point, someone will say something like:

“In fifteen years, if you walked into their classroom, you would have no idea who was breastfed and who wasn’t.”

That’s true, of course. I can’t look around at teens and say, “Yup, nursed. Not nursed. Supplemented for two months.” No way. It’s not like breastfeeding or formula feeding creates purple kids and orange kids. However, it’s the sentiment behind it – that your choices when they’re children don’t matter – that is inherently flawed. Just like the examples I gave above, we know that the things we do for our children whether they’re newborns, toddlers, in elementary school or teenagers has an effect on them in the future. If it didn’t, why would we bother?

Some people eat junk food and stay thin and don’t have vitamin deficiencies, but that’s certainly not something you count on. We are safe to assume that a child is going to be healthier, stronger, grow to a better potential and even do better in school when they have a breakfast of eggs anf fresh fruit than a bowl of Cocoa Puffs every morning, or a dinner of baked eggplant parmesan instead of McDonald’s. In fact, it’s not just safe to assume, it’s kind of common knowledge and no one in their right mind would argue that the child eating unhealthily is better off than the other child, or that it would have no affect on the child’s future health or day-to-day function.

image credit: flickr user clogsilk

So, why when the discussion turns around to breastfeeding, is this truth, that their diet and bodies affect them both at the moment and long-term, suddenly dismissed?

No, I can’t walk into a high school classroom and tell you who is breastfed or who was formula fed or any combination of the two. I would never presume to be able to. However, what is true is that if you broke the children up into groups, of those with illnesses, allergies, those who were overweight or missed school often from weaker immune systems, you’re likely to find some similarities there.

I’m not saying the healthy kids would all be breastfed, not at all. I’m saying that you’re more likely to find that the healthier groups have families who eat healthy, are more active, and yes, ALSO that the children were more likely to be breastfed. I’m sure you’d find some exclusively formula-fed children whose families eat healthy there as well, because we all know it’s not just breastfeeding or just diet or just genetics, but a combination of everything, a bunch of little puzzle pieces that make up the whole picture that is your child.

We accept that there are certain ways to raise children that promote health more than others, and breastfeeding is no exception to that.

No, again, I can’t walk into a classroom and single out the breastfed children, however that may be the puzzle piece that makes the difference between which group of children your child stands in. When you put together a puzzle, you work hard to put every single piece in the right place. You wouldn’t get rid of some of the pieces that are harder to fit, because who knows if that one piece is actually a very important part of the final picture? Children are just the same – we can’t claim on one hand that healthy diets for children create healthy habits and healthy adults, and on the other hand say it doesn’t matter if you breastfeed because no one will be able to tell.

It’s not what people can see from the outside that matters anyway – I also couldn’t walk in and tell you which child has been raised as a homophobe or which one kicks his dog when he’s mad. Each puzzle piece that makes up your child is unique, is important, and deserves your best effort to put in the right spot so the final picture is as healthy, as happy, and as good as you can possibly make it.

 

 Christie Haskell is a writer, coffee addict, and mother to two adorable, hilarious and exhausting  children. She has written for CafeMom’s The Stir, Daily Momtra, Attachment Parenting International and Brio Birth, where she currently now tells other writers what to do as well. She’s a  huge car seat advocate after her own traumatic accident as a teen, and babbles endlessly about babies,  birth, breastfeeding, boycotting (Nestle) and other crunchy things that don’t start with a P.  Find her on Facebook here.

Toddler Breastfeeding, Frustration and What Keeps Me Going

For the last week I haven’t liked breastfeeding Smunchie.  Not just not enjoyed it but skin crawling, hair pulling, hiding in the bathroom couldn’t stand it.  I can’t tell you how much I’ve hesitated to admit this.

When Smunchie started walking I smiled and thought “wow, I’m now breastfeeding a real toddler again” and it was sweet, special and adorable.  It didn’t seem like a big deal either, just a natural transition easing the reality of my baby, more than likely my last baby, growing up.  I’ve breastfed toddlers before but this time I was more tuned in, intending to savor every moment, holding onto it because it was one of the last.  I told everyone I wasn’t going to try to convince them to breastfeed their toddler, just talked about breastfeeding mine.  Like a fairy tale marked only occasionally by moments that were just slightly less than fantasy, I rode the unicorns over the rainbows of my breastfeeding dreams once again into nursing toddlerhood.

Having breastfed toddlers before I know they can become little gymnasts at the breast, start drive-by nursing and attempt to help themselves if necessary.  They don’t hesitate to ask for it by name, loudly and repeatedly and they can become quite demanding.  I know all this, I’ve been there before so I knew what was most likely coming.  But Smunchie’s transition into toddlerhood and breastfeeding was sweet and full of sunshine kisses.  I was the freakin’ wood nymph breastfeeding a toddler while fairies fed me bites of ambrosia and sips of nectar as my cherub toddler caressed my cheek as she sweetly nursed while we gazed into each other’s eyes.  Rainbow farting unicorns.

And then last week Smunchie became that toddler.  Any time I sat down was clearly an invitation for her to breastfeed (really, what else could I have to do sitting down?) and she rejected any multitasking on my part.  She also solidly learned and established her word for breastfeeding, one created and handed down by a big sister, Smunchie now whispers, sweetly chirps or screeches “BOBBIE!” when she feels she needs to nurse.  Which, as it turns out, is all. the. time.  When she was a sleepy newborn with heart issues we could’t get her to wake long enough for a feed and if we let her she’d easily sleep 6-8 hour stretches from the get go causing much worry and alarm clock setting.  Now though she would be happy on the boob every hour, sometimes 3 or 4 times in an hour.  And sometimes she could be on the breast for 25 minutes, others she’s struggling to focus for 5 but if I close up shop she freaks as though I took her unfinished ambrosia meal away.  She’s also gotten jealous of the other girls giving me hugs, climbing up on my lap for a cuddle or even sitting next to me.  To be clear, it’s not really about me as much as someone else coming close to her precious bobbies.  Then there’s the standing nursing, the dancing nursing, the upside down nursing, the head flop nursing, the splits nursing, the humming nursing, the snacking nursing, the in and out of the pool nursing and the just-because-I-love-it-so-much-this-is-the-best-stuff-in-the-world-nursing.  There’s also the entertainment she creates while nursing, the pinching, the scratching, the tickling, the mole picking (Oh how I roar then), the smacking, the foot in the eye, the hand in the mouth and the random but oh-so-predictable raspberry blowing.  I’d love to say that I have a halo permantely over my head and the patience of a saint but the truth is this behavior is starting to make me a little crazy.  Or, a lot crazy.  The wood nymph is now chained to the couch with a screeching gremlin demanding the breast.  And the unicorn farts are not rainbows.

Now I’ve probably scared everyone away and you’re thinking “that’s what I’m in for?  I don’t want to be a wood-nymph!”  Before you go running for the least wood-nymphy outfit you can find that makes the boobies completely inaccessible to your nursling let me explain a few things.

This is normal. Not because my darling nymph baby has now morphed into a gremlin but rather because her toddler development is right on track.  She’s really come to understand that we’re not the same person which means her beloved “bobbies” can walk away.  Very scary when your favorite food source can freely move about.  Oh yes, she absolutely MUST capture it every chance she can!  CARPE DI LECHE!

Move it baby! Not only does she now realize the bobbies roam freely but she’s also discovered that she has a fairly decent amount of mobility all on her own now.  In fact, she’s exploring all the different way she can move and really, what could be better than having boobies around for the exploration?  It’s a good way to be sure she’s hydrated and keeps track of the boobies so they don’t get away.  I mean, really, can you blame her?

She needs more. As she grows her nutritional needs do too.  In Smunchie’s case she’s not a huge fan of solids, she’ll eat somethings really well and others not well at all.  We offer a variety of whole foods often and frequently but some days she just refuses to eat anything solid.  Except carrots, she’ll always eat carrots.  It shouldn’t really surprise me then when she wants to breastfeed more often because she needs something to fuel her.  And I know that breastmilk is still perfectly adjusted to her needs and her body can tell that too which is why she wants it so much.  Check out this info. from Kellymom.com on how mom’s milk meets so much of a toddler’s nutritional needs. (If you haven’t seen this yet you’ll really, really want to.  Hint: it’s pretty awesome!)  By the way, in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not concerned that she’ll never switch over to solids and give up breastfeeding all together and no, I don’t think breastfeeding past 1 year old has messed up how she eats. I’m completely confident that she’ll one day be quite happy to let the bobbies go.  In fact, have you ever met anyone that didn’t stop breastfeeding at some point? Have you ever met anyone that was still dependent on breastmilk as a teen or adult?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.

(Also, this study is kind of interesting which is why I’m randomly sharing it here.  The Abstract basically says that the longer a child is breastfed the more they will talk and more words they will have.  Which makes me realize I’m really doomed and The Piano Man and I have almost no chance of getting a word in edgewise around here.)

It makes her feel better. Toddlers fall a lot, get hurt or become frustrated. (Or get pushed/hit by an older sister.)  So much change happening so quickly, what are they supposed to do?  Sit down and rationally talk about it?  A pat on the back?  As adults we think that eating to comfort ourselves is bad but it’s really because of WHAT we eat when we’re eating to comfort.  Smunchie wants more perfect food?  If I reached for spinach or a head of broccoli when I was upset instead of a tub of ice-cream I’d be in great shape.  Smunchie doesn’t always need to breastfeed when she falls down but sometimes she really wants to and the skin-to-skin, the familiar taste and smell of mom and the position of being cradled all combine to be way better than spinach or broccoli.  Or ice-cream for that matter.  I would go so far as to say that by responding quickly to comfort her with the breast if that’s what she wants I’m helping her develop the confidence she is going to need one day to figure out how to comfort herself in healthy ways.

She talks! New words happen daily and she’s clearly assimilating all the nuances of communication.  Everyone around her are fairly decent experts at communicating and she’s trying really hard to get there.  Learning how to tell me she wanted to nurse the same way she hears other people communicate is a big milestone for her because, let’s face it, up until now breastfeeding has really been the most important activity in her life.  Now not only can she sign for it but she can verbally communicate.  Verbally communicate that she wants it with a full spectrum of volume.  She really HAS to use it!

Our relationship is changing.  She doesn’t always want to be held or worn in a carrier.  These days she really likes to get down and do her own thing.  Sometimes she loses track of me.  Others she gets so busy exploring and playing that she forgot to see what I was up to.  And then there are the times where mommy finds her standing on top of the piano or scaling the book shelves (that are anchored) and she’s quickly and quite rudely snatched from the middle of her adventure by fun-ruining mommy.  In those moments she may need to remember our connection, a crucial element of who we are to each other is our breastfeeding and it reaffirms our bond quickly.  Specially if she’s hurt that I’ve ruined her fun.

Boundaries. Smunchie’s developing behavior serves as a reminder to me that she is indeed always growing.  My baby is, in fact, leaving babyhood.  As much as breastfeeding has helped ease this transition, these new behaviors from her help to make the transition real.  As our relationship changes so does my parenting.  In our breastfeeding relationship I’ve realized I need to set some boundaries for both of us, it’s time.  Breastfeeding is a mutual relationship, it has to work for both of us.  Part of Smunchie growing up means her seeing boundaries not only for herself but for others.  This week I’ve started putting some of those boundaries in place with our breastfeeding relationship just as I’ve had to do with her big sisters.

  • This is normal but I have other responsibilities and children that need me.  If I know she’s ok and fed I don’t hesitate to make her wait a few minutes to breastfeed if I’m busy with making dinner, tending the needs of one of her big sisters, or need to transfer the laundry before I can sit down to nurse.
  • I love my baby’s new moves, she’s quite talented.  Still, my nipple isn’t a rubber band and I really don’t care to have it yanked around as she attempts a 360 degree turn while latched.  Or a full back flip.  Just like when she was a new born, if it hurts, I stop it.  Like with biting, if she continues I end our session telling her “ouch, you’re hurting mommy” then put her down and offer a toy that can handle the acrobatics.  Sometimes she’s happy to move on, others she gets upset but I find that she is much more settled at the breast then.
  • Her nutritional needs have increased and I love that my milk is up for the challenge.  Not crazy about being a snack bar though, I limit the number of times at the breast if she’s crossing into 2-3 times in an hour and sometimes offer a healthy snack instead of the breast to get her to stretch to 2-3 hour intervals a couple of times a day.  She’s also recently discovered that she likes almond milk and will accept that in a sippy cup when I need a break.
  • Knowing I can comfort just about any hurt is an incredibly empowering knowledge as a mother.  Knowing that she can get hurt every 10 minutes makes me tired.  So we’re developing other comfort measures.  Smunchie has a lovey and a baby doll that she loves to cuddle with.  When she’s been hurt (feelings or otherwise) I help her locate these items and cuddle her with them.  I also make it a personal rule to never pull my breast out assuming it’s what she’s going to want, I wait for her to ask for it.  When she does, I take it situation by situation and either find alternative ways to comfort or go ahead and nurse.  Having a big family, Smunchie has the added benefit of lots of other pairs of arms that would love to give a cuddle so I build up The Piano Man and her biggest sisters as sources of comfort too.  We have discovered that they all excel in getting her calmed down and moving on much faster than I can.  This also helps when I’m feeling touched out and is a great preventative measure to keep resentment from building when I’m at that point.
  • With our relationship changing Smunchie has started to really communicate that she doesn’t like me multitasking while breastfeeding.  When she really needs me she will reject me holding anything, watching anything or talking to anyone while she’s at the breast and wants me to stare down at her, stroking her hair and talking to her.  To respect her boundaries I try to be sensitive to that need and give her that when it’s required.  In doing so I’ve noticed that she doesn’t come back as soon to nurse again.  That connection established she’s secure enough to move on and explore again.
  • When she screams “bobbies” at me I try to respond softly and gently, affirming that I understand what she wants.  Children learn most through modeling and Smunchie very often drops her voice to the same tone I’m using.  I try to respond very quickly when she does to affirm this positive behavior and thank her for asking so kindly.  Which may explain why “thank you” is one of her new words too.
  • Letting go.  She and I are both having to start letting go.  It’s a gradual process but one that happens none-the-less.  I don’t believe that Smunchie is doing this to manipulate me.  I really believe it’s a part of the developmental fast track she’s on as a toddler.  Recognizing that she is going through a lot right now reminds me to respond more gently when what I feel like doing is rolling my eyes and locking myself in the bathroom.

All these realizations are very helpful in keeping me going when the going gets tough and the boundaries give me hope that this won’t be forever.  My patience is growing, maybe, little by little.   We’re not going to stop breastfeeding any time soon, I know she’s not ready for that and truthfully neither am I.  That does’t mean I never feel like stopping, nope.  I still feel crazy sometimes and I am still a little irritated at the unicorns a few times a day but we’re going to be fine.

One of the most cathartic moves I made as I struggled this week was to admit how I felt.  One evening in a moment of frustration and fatigue and the 4th time Smunchie had nursed in an hour when I had planned on being very productive I hissed at her “I HATE nursing!”  Yep, I said that.  And, in that moment, I meant it.  Twenty minutes later, I didn’t.  Ok, maybe it was more like two hours later but whatever.  The point is it wasn’t what I believed even if I felt it.  More importantly, even if I did believe it for myself my belief that breastfeeding my toddler is important and worthwhile is stronger.  To be able to stick with it though I had to admit how I felt and find ways to keep going.  Admitting it on Twitter was even more cathartic.  Because there I found out I’m not alone.  I typed, deleted, retyped, deleted, retyped, waited 10 minutes before I finally tweeted : “Dear world, right now I’m so sick of #breastfeeding. My toddler is constantly wanting to nurse and I am starting to go crazy. It will pass.” I was scared, what would Twitter-verse think of The Leaky Boob admitting she was sick of breastfeeding?  I even went so far as to add my own “it will pass” to dismiss my feelings and hopefully preempt any replies of the same.  Though I had some, mostly I was surprised by the number of replies saying they were feeling the same way.  When Stylin_Momma replied with “@TheLeakyBoob I needed someone else to admit that. Thank you. I’m trying to tell my 2.5 DD that she has to wait at least 1 hr btwn sessions.” and “I’m trying to encourage night weaning. These things make me feel like #breastfeeding support phoney. So thank you.” I wanted to jump up and down.  In fact, I might have.  The rest of the day I tweeted with Stylin_Momma and a few others about how we and our nursing toddlers were doing, passed around ideas and strategies and shared funny stories.  By that afternoon I was feeling much better and encouraged.  We weren’t breastfeeding support phonies just because we admitted we weren’t enjoying breastfeeding at the moment.  If anything, we were as real as breastfeeding support comes and could offer support from the trenches, knowing that sometimes it really isn’t all rainbow farting unicorns.  That day I leaned on my fellow breastfeeding-a-toddler moms and we propped each other up giving each other a chance to commiserate, laugh and develop some new tools for this phase of breastfeeding.

There are many great and wonderful parts of breastfeeding a toddler too.  I look for them and savor them to try and have a more balanced perspective.  That afternoon I pulled out a basket of instruments for Smunchie to distract her from wanting the boob again.  She immediately forgot about breastfeeding, or so I thought, as she became engrossed in the instruments.  Playing chimes on a drum and wooden xlaphone, Smunchie started singing.  I returned to what I was doing, smiling at the banging and chiming filling the living room as her little voice soared.  Then I realized what she was singing, the first time I’ve ever heard her put words to her songs.  Over and over again in sweetly sustained notes she was singing “BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBIEEEEEEEEEEE!  BOBBIE! BOBBIE! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOBBBIEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

See, only a toddler could write a song about how much she loves her bobbies.