While I was nursing Rowan last week, someone asked me when I was going to be finished. I had been dreading Rowan's first birthday because I knew that I'd start facing questions, some merely curious, some almost disapproving. Questions that could cause me to second guess my decision to continue with "extended" breastfeeding.
Admittedly, I used to think it was a little strange to nurse a toddler. My experience with nursing babies has grown with each of my three children. With little support, little knowledge, and a baby with latching troubles, I only nursed Pacey for 2 weeks. After returning to work, having limited time to pump, and developing mastitis, I felt satisfied with making it to 6 months with Gage. My goal with Rowan was a year. And she and I have had our fair share of issues, but we have gotten through them.
I quickly learned that with a high-needs baby like Rowan, I could throw feeding schedules, sleeping schedules, and anything related to structure out the window. This pushed me to my limit. I like structure. Schedules? Yes, please! So not being able to count on predictable feeding schedules was a challenge. I am typically a 'by the book' person, so the fact that she wasn't waiting 2-3 hours between her feedings caused me to feel like I was failing. Then I found Dr. Sears. When I read things from him, I realized I was still a 'by the book' person. Just a different book! He encouraged holding babies as much as they wanted, wearing them frequently. Hubby used to ask, playfully, if I ever put her down. Both of these I already did, but a small voice inside questioned whether it was okay. Dr. Sears confirmed what my instincts were telling me. It was okay, and she needed it.
I remember the day when my struggle with breastfeeding ended. Rowan was crying. An inconsolable cry. I bounced her. I rocked her. I swaddled her. Nothing worked. I looked at my feeding app. She had recently eaten, so I figured there was no way she was hungry. But after nothing else I did worked, I grabbed the Boppy and decided to nurse her. She fumbled for a minute, still overwrought that it had taken her mama so long to figure out what she wanted, but she latched and immediately calmed. Suckling vigorously for a bit and then falling into a milk drunk sleep. I relaxed and realized that nursing didn't necessarily have to do with hunger; nursing provided her with comfort. She wouldn't nap anywhere else during the day, and my new motto quickly became, "When in doubt, whip it out." I deleted my feeding app and instead adopted the practice of cue feeding. She was smart and could tell me when she needed me. And if it meant that I spent the better part of the day on the couch, so be it. And now, a year later, I don't regret those quiet, nursing naps. There was nothing else I'd rather have been doing.
Today, I tried to take a teething, clingy, and cranky baby on a run. We got back home just as she was reaching her threshold. We settled into the rocking chair, and she quickly nursed to sleep. I listened to her contented swallows and studied her sweet face. Her hand instinctively reached up and found my face and lingered there until she found deep sleep. A year may have passed, but my little high-needs baby still needs this. As I type, she is nursing and sleeping. She woke up after only thirty minutes, still half asleep, and I knew she wasn't ready to wake up yet. Are there things I could be doing right now? Definitely. My hair is still wet from my shower. The house is still in disarray from our kitchen remodel. Does any of that matter right now? Not at all. This baby girl will only be a baby for a brief moment in time. She will eventually not need or want to nurse so much, and when that happens, we will fondly say goodbye to that part of our journey. Until then, I'm trusting that I'm providing her with nourishment to grow... physically and emotionally.