When I first started breastfeeding, I was faced with many challenges, from a NICU stay due to failure to latch, to a milk protein allergy that had my doctor telling me to quit. But I persevered, and by around five months had established breastfeeding as a comforting (for both of us) routine and ritual. I loved it.
The thing about breastfeeding for me was that it helped prove to myself that my body was capable of doing something right, after years of infertility and miscarriages. It helped heal me, in a way. I was able to feed my baby, to make him grow. All that weight he gained? That was from me! It was an amazing feeling.
After I got laid off and decided to stay home, I ditched the pump and the bottle, and continued to let LM nurse on demand. Breastfeeding was a big part of our first year or so together, a way of bonding us together. This was something special only we shared.
As he passed a year, the age at which most babies are weaned, many of my mom friends stopped breastfeeding. But I didn’t see any reason to stop, so we kept going. Luckily, I faced no pressure from my husband or family to wean. They were supportive of my decision to keep nursing.
Eventually, though, in the back of my mind I started to think it might not be a bad thing if he weaned. Nursing a toddler is not as calming as nursing an infant. There is a lot of twisting, kicking, pulling, twiddling and general gymnastics going on. I wanted to tell him, “Just stay still!”
Plus, I wanted to think about having another baby, which would entail fertility treatments yet again. Now, doctors will generally tell you to wean before attempting an IVF for two reasons. One is concern about the medications, and another is that a raised prolactin level may impede your lining’s growth and make implantation less likely. But, both of these concerns are greater when you’re talking about an infant who gets all of his nutrition from nursing — less so when talking about a toddler who nurses once a day. Plus, although there haven’t been any studies on fertility meds one way or another, the little research I could find said that the drugs, which are naturally occurring in a woman’s body anyway, are safe.
There seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude when it comes to fertility doctors and nursing. I was worried when we saw our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that she would ask me if I was nursing, but she didn’t. I talked to a few other moms who cycled while nursing toddlers. I felt confident that I was producing so little milk that LM would not be at risk from nursing, nor would my prolactin level be too high (and bloodwork showed it wasn’t).
Then in a serendipitous turn of events, LM started weaning as I geared up for my fertility testing. The first to go was the nursing around naps. Our routine became such that he would fall asleep in the car on the way back from our morning activity, and then I would transfer him inside. When he woke he would sometimes ask for it, but after telling him no a few times, he stopped asking. He still threw a big tantrum after waking up from naps cranky, but he didn’t seem to connect that with needing to nurse anymore. Then, because he started staying up super late when he napped, we started encouraging him to go without napping anyway.
Then it was the morning. Because I’m lazy, I would generally take LM back to bed with me to nurse. But on the days Foggy Daddy got up with him, he just took LM straight downstairs. And LM didn’t seem to miss it. One Saturday morning LM burst back into our room after Foggy Daddy changed his diaper. I was still in bed, and he hopped up, asking to nurse. FD asked if he wanted to go downstairs with him. LM thought about it for a minute, said, “downstairs,” and got off the bed. He actually chose his breakfast (or his father) over me.
That left nursing before bed. It just so happened that last week my sister was visiting my parents, so we spent several evenings there. We’d change LM into his pjs before leaving, and he’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we’d transfer him to the bed. One night as I went to lay him down he woke up. “Mama, lay down,” he instructed. Here we go, I thought, believing he wanted to nurse. But he just cuddled next to me and went to sleep.
The last night at my parents’ house I decided to stay over. LM stayed on an airbed on the floor, and he made me sleep next to him. But, he woke up throughout the night, frequently asking to nurse. Because I had put my foot down on night nursing a long time ago, I felt comfortable refusing. In the morning, though, he asked again, and the desperate look in his eyes made me give in. A few sucks, a few minutes, and he was done. I was so tired I had my eyes closed the whole time, but now I wonder if I missed the last time he would ever nurse.
The real test would be putting him to bed at home. So far, two nights have passed in which I’ve put him down without nursing. The first day he asked, settling into position in the cradle of my arm, but I asked him if he wanted to read a book instead and he popped back up.
Last night he didn’t even ask.
So this might be it. This morning he did briefly ask, but I gently redirected him and he was OK with it. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. Part of me is glad — now I can pursue fertility treatments without worrying about it. But what if I can’t cycle after all, or if I don’t get pregnant? I feel like I would have encouraged him to wean for nothing. I could have maybe had a few more months of nursing my baby.
I will miss that special relationship. I tell myself that if I’m determined to have another child, I will nurse again. Even if our second child ends up being adopted, I will try to induce lactation, or at least feed him or her with a supplemental nursing system (in which a tube is taped to the nipple through which breastmilk or formula flows) in order to experience some of the same bonding I had with LM. There is no reason a baby can’t be nursed for comfort, even if he or she gets her nutrients elsewhere. I recently read about a tribe in Africa where the fathers actually nurse the babies when the mothers aren’t available.
So maybe it’s just time. There were no (or few) tears. True, there was gentle encouragement from me, but LM seemed to be going down that path anyway.
So, breastfeeding, thank you for allowing me to feel like a woman again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby in that way. Thank you for this special gift that not everyone is able to experience.
I will miss you.
(Of course, there is a chance that LM could ask for nursing again. In fact, by writing this, I’ve probably jinxed it. So stay tuned.)
Extended breastfeeders, how did you feel when your child finally weaned? Did you have to encourage your child, or did he or she do it on their own?
This lovely quote came from one of LM’s doctors when he was just two months old and we were having some difficulties nursing. Unfortunately, stories like mine are all too common.
Yesterday was a perfect day for the beach – warm but not too humid, a gentle breeze blowing, swirls of white clouds in the otherwise blue sky. My mom friends and I had planned this day trip weeks ago, so we were lucky the weather cooperated. Whether our kids would was another story.
We were supposed to meet at 10, but I didn’t arrive until 11. LM was asleep, but the stroller ride to the beach woke him up. I was left with a cranky pants who didn’t know what he wanted – water, food, toys, none of it seemed to appease him. On top of that, I had just gotten a Fit Pregnancy assignment, so I had to do some research and emailing on my phone right away. I begged him to play on his own so I could take a few minutes. But he wouldn’t.
Eventually he started to settle down. We walked down to look at the ocean, and his initial hesitation near the water morphed into an obsession with running towards the waves with abandon. “He’s fearless,” a woman sitting on a chair nearby remarked. “I know, and it’s making me nervous,” I laughed. “He’s making me nervous, too!” she responded. When a stranger says something like that, you know it’s not just parental anxiety.
I dragged him away from the ocean, screaming (him, not me, although I wanted to), and tried to get him interested in the sand toys. Eventually, he started playing by himself near the other kids. I asked one of my mom friends to keep an eye on him while I wrote my email. Once I was done, I felt like I could finally relax. But then the other moms started packing up to leave.
So I decided to stay on my own with LM. As my mom friends loaded up and started walking away, I hoped they didn’t think I was rude. Because I had gotten there late and had been preoccupied with work, I didn’t feel like I had really been at the shore for very long. I wanted to try to enjoy it – as much as one can while trying to make sure your kid is hydrated and fed and sunscreened up and not about to run directly into the ocean.
LM played by himself for a little while longer, letting me decompress and start to calm my mind. Then he suddenly pointed toward the waves. Oh no, not this again, I thought. But when we got down to the water, he asked to be picked up. I did, and he seemed to relax in my arms. I started to slowly sway with him. Although he had napped in the car on the way down, he was so tranquil it seemed as though he might fall asleep. I started softly humming Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song,” my lullaby for the beach, as LM took long, deep breaths. He put his head on my shoulder and his arms around my neck. I leaned into him, perfectly present and blissful in the moment. He suddenly lifted his head up again, and gave me a soft, serene smile. He pointed up the beach toward our chair.
Walking away from the ocean, I knew he was going to want to nurse. I usually don’t breastfeed in public anymore, because LM doesn’t ask and because he squirms all around and changes from boob to boob. But I decided this was the right time to do it – it is World Breastfeeding Week after all. I grabbed a towel to cover me a bit and pulled my bathing suit down. LM was not squirmy – instead he seemed perfectly restful. I wondered, then, if he could feel my moods and was taking them on. So when I was anxious about being late and having work to do, he was whiny and cranky; but when I was peaceful, so was he.
I try – and fail – so hard to be present in the moment, but my natural type-A personality has a very hard time with it. Even if I’m not actually multitasking, my brain has a way of drifting and thinking about other things besides what I’m doing right then. It makes me feel like I miss parts of LM’s life because I am so concerned about all of the other things going on.
I don’t know if it’s just the calming effect that the shore has on me that allowed me to, finally, accomplish being mindful and present. But in that moment at the beach, I wasn’t concerned with other things. I wasn’t distracted. I was absolutely focused on LM, loving and treasuring him and just being, well, content.
Do you also struggle with being perfectly present in your child’s life? Have you ever had a memorable mindful moment?
This week I read a piece by a former coworker of mine about how she is tired of people who “fat shame” her eight-month-old by remarking on her rolls and overall chubbiness. The response to her story was mixed, with some praising her for speaking out and others saying that it was her own issues with weight that were going to give her daughter a complex, not the comments of strangers.
I understand where the author was coming from. She had weight problems in the past that made her sensitive to “baby fat” comments, and she wants people to understand how such remarks make others feel. Likewise, I had infertility issues in the past that made me sensitive to comments about having more children. People who responded to my piece about it told me to chill out, that it wasn’t fair to expect everyone to be sensitive to my particular problem. An advocate for infertility awareness, I argued that yes, I do expect people to be more sensitive to it.
But in my case, the sensitivity I was arguing for was solely for my own benefit, not my child’s. He’ll hopefully never have to deal with infertility, and if he does, it won’t be when he’s a child (duh); although the attitudes he perceives about infertility as he grows up might affect how he comes to terms with it should it ever happen to him. But in the case of weight, it’s a little different. I have heard of girls in elementary school already worrying about how fat they are or how they need to diet. This hyper-awareness of weight in young girls is a problem we need to face.
At the same time, I believe that the most important factor in how a girl develops self-esteem and positive body image is her mother’s own views and attitudes. So I also agree with the commenters who argued that the author of the piece was putting her own issues with weight on her daughter by taking to heart comments about her roly poly-ness, and that that would be more likely than anything to affect her daughter’s views on her body.
I’m coming at this without a history of weight issues. I was always curvy but still thin growing up, through college and into my twenties. I used to be able to eat whatever I wanted and not gain weight (yes, you can hate me for that). My mother and sister were also naturally thin, so dieting was not ever a thing in our house. We ate healthy and my parents prepared homemade, mostly Mediterranean-style dinners. We were only allowed to have “sweet cereal,” like Lucky Charms or Cap’n Crunch (mmm), once a week. My parents didn’t keep junk food like chips in the house; although there were definitely cookies and ice cream to be had. But thanks for the most part to good genes, we never got fat.
Then I got older, had fertility issues and had a baby. I am about 11 or 12 pounds heavier than I was at our wedding, and probably more than 15 over my high school weight. That might not sound like a whole lot, but I’m only 5″1′. Plus, my stomach has taken to bulging out thanks to a slight case of diastasis recti, which a PT friend of mine diagnosed me with. So I am definitely wider than I used to be. Foggy Daddy gets really annoyed when I make him help me pick out clothes to wear, because it usually ends with me in a rage screaming, “Nothing fits me anymore!” But he’s no help with my losing weight — he looooves food, especially food that’s not necessarily good for you, and seems to find me attractive no matter what I weigh. Annoying, isn’t it? Just kidding. Of course I’m happy that he accepts me no matter what; I wouldn’t want my husband critiquing my weight. But a little encouragement or mutual agreement to eat healthier would be great.
My mother and sister are still thin. Actually, everyone on my mother’s side of the family is incredibly trim and in shape, including my 93-year-old grandfather, who still walks five miles on the beach in Florida every day. True story. But lucky me, I got my body type from my father’s side of the family, whose women tend to grow round as they age.
But my weight issues are not so deeply engrained that I worry about passing along my hangups to a daughter, should I have one. Although, I would have to curb my habit of joking about my weight gain (favorite weight-related movie quotes that I like to pull out when I’m feeling large: “I will always be just a little bit fat” from Bridget Jones and “Ooooh would we call her chubby?” from Love Actually). But in general, I think a parent with deep-seated issues with weight is much more likely to inadvertently teach their children that weight matters.
I do believe being “healthy” is key – obesity is a real problem, and it’s a fine line we walk between encouraging kids to be healthy and accepting them no matter what they look like. In terms of what’s healthy on a baby, though, fat is good. A breastfed baby (and I’m not sure if the baby in the piece I referred to was) cannot be overfed because they stop eating when they are full. It’s hard to get milk out of a breast, so you can’t force a baby to nurse the way you can, conceivably, have them drink more from a bottle than they need. When they start eating solids, it’s encouraged to give babies healthy fats like avocado because it helps with brain development. We give them whole milk. We are even told by doctors to load olive oil on the food of some slow-to-gain babies (like mine).
Although the author makes reference to how this is not the middle ages, when people had to stock up on food because no one had enough to eat, slow weight gain in babies is a real problem even today – one that the author is not sensitive to in her quest to make us sensitive to other issues. And I am very familiar with it, because LM was born tiny at 5 pounds 10 ounces. He was in the NICU for low blood sugar. We had major breastfeeding problems. His weight gain was always a source of anxiety for me – I even bought a scale and had to do “weighted feeds” to make sure he was taking in enough. So when he finally got the hang of nursing and grew rolls, I was ecstatic. I was proud of his chunky monkey legs. I loved when people commented on his baby fat. It was evidence that nursing was successful and that I was feeding my child. It did not even occur to me to think it was a case of “fat shame.”
I believe there is a biological imperative for noticing, commenting on and loving chunky baby legs – because, in general, it is a sign of a healthy child and the perpetuation of the species. Even though it’s not the middle ages, this is not always an easy thing to achieve. As long as it’s not presented in a negative way (like the “I hate my thighs” onesie), I’m OK with remarks on baby fat.
What do you think: Is remarking on baby rolls “fat shaming”?
Lately when I think of LM’s food habits, I think of this line from A Christmas Story: “Every family has a kid who won’t eat.” That pretty much describes him.
LM has always been small – he only weighed 5 pounds 10 ounces at birth. He did get pretty chubby by around 6 months, although because he was still short he was only in the 25th percentile. But I was OK with that. He was on his growth curve.
When he first started on solids he ate great. I attempted “Baby Led Weaning,” in which you don’t puree or spoon-feed but instead give the baby a chunk of real food to gnaw on. But after a few gagging instances my nerves couldn’t take it, so I started mashing up with a fork soft foods like bananas, sweet potatoes and avocado (I’m too lazy to puree). He ate that great too, even grabbing the spoon to feed himself. We offered him a wide variety of food and he seemed eager to try everything.
Then all of sudden at 10 months he started refusing solids. We took him to the doctor, and even though he didn’t have any visible symptoms, she could tell he had coxsackie virus, otherwise known as Hand, Foot and Mouth disease, from sores in his throat. At least we had an explanation, so we waited for it to pass. In the meantime, he lost weight.
His weight did eventually go back up after the coxsackie healed, but ever since then he’s been extremely picky with his food. Things he used to love, like avocado, he now flat out refuses. Other foods he’ll like one night and not the next. He stopped feeding himself and instead only wants us to spoon or even hand-feed him.
He got a cold around 13 months, and a visit to the doctor revealed that he had again lost weight. She said we needed to come back for a weight check in a month, and when we did his weight had gone up – but not much. He is now in the 5-10 percent range.
At this point, every meal requires a multipronged approach. First we give him Cheerios, which is just about the only food he will feed himself, as a sort of baby amuse bouche. Then we move on to whatever main food we want to try him on – if it’s dinnertime, that means whatever we are eating. He may refuse it right off the bat, or he might have a few bites and then not want anymore. Or on some occasions he will go to town and eat a ton.
If he hasn’t eaten much of the main meal I try some healthy fall-backs: cheese, yogurt, banana, toast with hummus. And when I say I try these, I don’t mean I try one of them. I try them all. I basically empty out my fridge for every meal to offer him everything, because maybe if he takes a few bites of a bunch of different foods eventually it will add up to a whole meal. I end the production with watermelon, his favorite fruit, as a kind of dessert (although when I tried it this morning he refused is…so maybe he’s going off watermelon, too!).
When we’re out, I watch with envy as other moms simply put some food on their kids’ trays and they feed themselves. I feel it’s yet another area in which LM is behind, and I have to remember not to compare or put too much pressure on him.
But what of his weight? The doctor has not yet suggested we see a specialist. She seems OK with it for now. I worry that it’s all connected, that the reason he seems on the low end of normal developmentally is because he’s not getting enough nourishment.
Some moms I know have been told by their pediatricians to cut down on nursing in order for their babies to eat more solid food. But if LM wants to nurse, no amount of solid food can tempt him. In fact, he seems to eat better when he has nursed because he is more relaxed, although I try not to nurse him too close to mealtime. Weaning before a child is ready just seems to go against my natural instinct, and indeed against the natural, biological function of breastfeeding itself. It just doesn’t seem to follow that this is the solution.
So what is? My husband was an extremely picky eater as a child. Maybe our son is just taking after him. There have been times I’ve literally chased the kid around the kitchen with a spoon.
I’m also worried about fostering bad habits. I’ve read not to make mealtime a battle, because kids will eventually learn that they can use it against you. And I want LM to have positive associations with food. But I don’t want to have to offer him a million different things in one meal – I’d rather it be, “This is what we’re having for dinner today, and if you don’t like it, too bad.” With his weight concerns hanging over my head, I can’t do that.
But what if I’m unwittingly creating an even pickier eater by giving him too many choices? And in my desperation to get him to eat something, anything, I’m worried that he’s not eating the healthiest things. He seems to really like pizza – I know, what kids doesn’t? He also likes fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt – it’s full-fat organic, but it still has added sugar. Will I cause him to get so used to sweet things that he’ll end up obese?
I spend so much time throughout the day trying to get the kid to eat and ending up frustrated. I feel like I’m doing something wrong, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve tried everything. I find it very ironic that we spend so much time as adults trying to lose weight, and that we equate “healthy” with “skinny,” yet when it comes to babies our main goal is to fatten them up.
If anyone has any ideas on how to get my kid to eat, I’d love to hear them! Do you have feeding frustrations with your child, too?