Monday, January 21, 2013

Nursing a toddler: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Orion will be 21 months old next week and he still nurses like an infant, but only in all the annoying ways. We nurse when he wakes up, then before breakfast, and after breakfast, before lunch, during his nap, after nap, pre-dinner and then to fall asleep at night.   He won’t nurse long enough for me to enjoy an entire episode of Ellen or any of the other million shows taking up space on my DVR.   Then there are the really quick nursing sessions that are pointless.  It’s like he does to just prove that he can or he needs to touch home base but it only counts if it is boob to mouth.

The worst part is that he has refused to nurse on my right side for months leaving good old lefty with all the action.  This means lefty is a heavyweight while no milk righty is back down to her pre-fighting weight.  You would think he would be done with my right nipple but oh no it is now a toy. Righty is now a plaything for him to poke, pinch, and twist while he nurses on the good boob. This really drives me insane. I have to remind myself to keep righty covered which can be hard to remember when a crying baby wakes you in the middle of the night and you find sleeping in clothes strange.  

Nursing a toddler is not comfortable.  He loves to slap my face or drum on my boob while my nipple is in his mouth.  Somehow he can still manage to put if his in my face.  At his 18 month checkup he was 32.5 inches long and 25 lbs. and 13ozs. Go grab something with those measurements and try holding it to your nipple for 20 minutes, bonus points if it is squirmy.  Orion doesn't seem to notice that he has gotten any bigger so he tries to nurse in the same positions he did when he was an infant not realizing that me and my nipple cannot contort into those position any longer.

And the teeth, so many teeth! He loves to drag his teeth along my nipple before he lets go. He does on occasion bite and we did go through a very bitey phase but for the most part he just has a lazy dismount.
So why do I still do it? For one, I do not know how not to nurse. I do not know how to refuse my baby (I know he isn’t a baby anymore but he will always be my baby) something he wants and that I can provide that gives him such wonderful nourishment and comfort.  If he doesn't get it he will pull at my shirt and has stretched out a few of my necklines.  And because this is what we have always done and I still hold on to the delusion that one day he won’t want it anymore.

If he wakes in the night I can (usually) nurse him back to sleep in no time with less physical effort than standing, holding him, and rocking him to sleep for a half hour.   If he is sick, nursing will provide him comfort and good antibodies. If he falls I can whip out a boob and wipe those tears away!  It is awesome to see his happy sleep face nestled against my breast.  But these are on our good days which are becoming less and less.

I want him to want me for me and not what my breasts can provide. My arms can comfort him just as well as my breasts. I can wipe those tears away with kisses and keep my shirt on.  I want to be a weaner.  If he was nursing on both sides or only nursing 3 times a day or if I could leave the house wearing a real bra, a dress, or shirts that do not have easy access to my nipples, maybe I would continue nursing. But our current situation is just too much for me to handle.  Sometimes I find nursing stressful because I am sore and neither of us can get comfortable.  At night when I try to nurse him back to sleep, it can take way longer than I would like and it can make me feel a bit angry.  Since I have the boobs and Orion associates them with sleep, it is me that he wants when it is time to sleep or when he wakes up in the night.  It would be great if Dad could put him to sleep/get him to nap/get him back to sleep. 
I also do not want to force or rush our nursing relationship to an end. So I try to keep us busy and out of the house as much as we can during a Mid-Atlantic winter. Last week when we went to the indoor playground he did not want to nurse at any time but he did go over to the highchairs to tell me that he was ready for a snack.   I try to distract him, if he wants to nurse I will offer him a sippy cup, a snack, story time, or some other activity.  This can make him mad and end in tears with a boob in the mouth.  When I try to delay nursing it will usually frustrate him as well.  Baby just doesn't seem to have much concept of time.  I guess I need to get him a baby wristwatch.

I have always nursed on demand and starting around 11 months went the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” route.  I don’t even understand how “don’t offer, don’t refuse” is even a method for weaning.  It has not changed anything. Orion has always nursed so much that it can be hard to keep track.  The first 6 weeks he was home I timed and noted every nursing session and which side he nursed.  I guess it is time to start making these notes and then systemically start refusing a few nursing sessions. 
This past Friday I had a doctor’s appointment and it felt so good to leave the house wearing a real bra, earrings, and a necklace. I was even joking with the phlebotomist that I was just happy to be out of the house.  My body has not been my own for about 30 months, that is 2 ½ years. I would like to have my body back because I am oh so selfish. I need a month or two to have my body be mine if I am ever going to get pregnant again. I know some people say that getting pregnant helped them wean but I worry that it wouldn't work for us, being pregnant and nursing would exhaust me, and that Orion would resent the new baby for taking what was his.

I am still hoping that one day soon he just will not want to nurse. Maybe I can give him chocolate milk like in Desperate Housewives and he will only want that instead of nursing. Legend has it that when I was nursing I was all business, often to the disappointment of my engorged mother.  I did not hang out on the boob, I was 3 chugs then off. (I also loved being my crib so I was just the coolest baby ever) Around 9 months I rejected the boob like it was something disgusting and that was the end of that.  Funny that my guy is such a booby monster, I guess this is just the first of many ways that my baby will be drastically different from me.

I have been waiting to change up our routine, when we nurse and how we sleep.  I have used excuses like he is sick or he is teething.   I keep saying that next week we will really work on this nap nursing situation but next week never comes. I worry that I have ruined Orion and spoiled him with my boobs.  Then I see him playing with other kids and he is happy and kind. He shares well and isn't possessive of me or his toys. He is a toddler so there are times when he does not want to share whatever he is playing with at the moment but this is a kid who will have 2 cars in his hand and will give me one so I can play with him.   He does not cling to my legs when we are in a group setting and will often go off on his own to play happy as a clam. 

There is a part of me that wants to go on vacation alone for 2 weeks in the hopes that I will come back to a happy weaned baby who sleeps independently and through the night.  Or maybe I could put him in daycare for a month and they would work their magic and solve my problems.  What I really want is more me time, an hour to myself in the middle of the day while he naps seems like such a luxury.  I also want my time with my son to be because he wants me and not my milk. 

I know I will have to work hard to change this relationship and it will not be easy.  Change has started, I now nurse him to bed at night in his room instead of our bed.  If he wakes at night I nurse him in his room and not in our bed. But I still nurse him for naps in our room so maybe today I will change this and nurse him to sleep in his room and hopefully he will stay asleep when I remove him from the breast and put him in his crib. (He has only ever napped in his crib a handful of times) I also need to put an end to napping in the car. These two changes will start today and hopefully bring us a few gentle steps closer to the end of nursing. (Update: today he feel asleep unexpectedly on the boob an hour before his usual naptime)  

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