Friday, May 11, 2012

You ARE enough & So am I

Ok, so I didn't really want to write this post, but the more I read comments about the TIME Magazine cover photo showing Jamie Lynne Grumet breastfeeding her nearly 4 year old son, the more I felt compelled to share my thoughts.  I have more to say on the picture and topic than I could fit in 180 characters on twitter, or in a comment to another article.

TIME Magazine cover
So, I have mixed emotions about this photo.  For one thing, bravo to the TIME Magazine marketing department.  You got people talking (hello Twitter and Facebook - is there anyone who has not heard about the cover yet?) and I for one cannot wait to read the actual article.  So job well done from the marketing standpoint.  The photo definitely grabs your attention.  I'd really love to hear from any mother that has nursed her child in this position, I mean really?  I'm a little surprised the author would want to have this particular photo taken.  It sensationalizes breastfeeding and as an extended breastfeeder myself, I don't think this photo does anything to make people more comfortable with the practice.  More on that in a minute.

I HATE the title of the article.  "Are You Mom Enough?"  The answer for every mother out there (except for the drug addicts, child abuser, etc.), is F*CK YES, regardless of whether you breastfed for an hour, a day, a month, a year, ten years or not one single time.  You are mom enough.  Period.  This headline simply fuels the mommy wars.  And for that alone, it enrages me.  We need to stop comparing ourselves to other moms and judging each other.  Most moms are doing the very best they can and they should be applauded, not made to feel inadequate because they don't breastfeed or co-sleep. 

Aside from the shocking photo and the horrible title, I'm happy that TIME is running an article that includes a discussion about extended breastfeeding.  At least it gets people talking.  I don't follow all of  Attachment Parenting's principles - Lukas slept in a crib in our room his first 3 months, we did not co-sleep.  Although, there were a few months when he was a bit older that he spent more nights sleeping with us than in his own crib and I might consider co-sleeping with future children.  I do love baby wearing as evidenced by my collection of baby wearing devices - we have a Baby Bjorn, an Ergo, a Moby Wrap and a baby sling - but I also have a stroller and don't think the baby needs to be worn at all times.  We also sleep trained Lukas with the Ferber method (aka crying it out), so we are all for letting a baby cry sometimes.  The closest I come to Attachment Parenting is the fact that at 18 months, I am still breastfeeding Lukas every day.  So if the article is about Attachment Parenting, I probably won't agree with all of it.  But when I read the part on extended nursing, I'll probably be nodding my head right along.

Most people are surprised when they hear that I am still nursing my 18 month old toddler.  So let me tell you how we got to this point.  Because I never in a million years would have thought this would happen.

Before I was pregnant and even considering having a child, I was disturbed by breastfeeding.  I had not been breastfed, I had no friends who had babies yet and I had very little exposure to, or knowledge about, breastfeeding.  But I had some pretty strong feelings on the subject, and I have no idea where they come from.  Society, perhaps?  Regardless, I remember being repulsed (yes, repulsed) by a mom nursing her toddler without any sort of nursing cover in the middle of  a room full of people at a party at my brother's house.  And I knew in my heart that breastfeeding would NOT be for me when the time came.

Fast forward a few years.  My nephew was born and I was around a breastfeeding mom on a regular basis.  And for some reason, maybe because it was my nephew, it didn't bother me to carry on a conversation with my sister-in-law while she nursed the baby.  Looking back, this is probably when my thoughts on nursing began to shift.  If only slightly.  I still firmly believed that breastfeeding was not for me, but became more comfortable with others who made that choice.

And then I got pregnant.  And nothing changed.  I still did not have a desire to breastfeed.  But my husband had strong feelings on the topic.  He had been breastfed as a baby and always assumed his wife would nurse his children.  (I guess we never had that conversation before he proposed...)  And then I had two really good friends who gave birth while I was pregnant and they were breastfeeding.  And at some point, I begrudgingly agreed to give it a shot.  I told my husband that I would at least try, but made no promises about how long it would last.  That was good enough for him. 

So I took a breastfeeding class (if I commit to something, I like to jump in with both feet), bought a Medela double electric breast pump, nursing tanks and bras.  My mom friends gave me breast pads, lanolin, a boppy, and other things I'd never heard about that I apparently needed to succeed at breastfeeding.  And no, this natural thing is not always as easy as you might think and requires props and support.  Lots of support.

Finally Lukas was born.  And he latched on right away.  Day 1 of nursing was easy and successful.  Day 2 was a disaster highlighted by Lukas screaming the ENTIRE day.  He nursed on and off all day, but screamed in between feedings.  The nurses offered to give him a bottle of formula, but I'd read about "nipple confusion" and didn't want to start off on the wrong foot.  Day 3 we learned at the pediatrician's office that Lukas was not getting enough to eat and had lost way more than 10% of his birth weight, which is the benchmark for concern.  We were sent home with a bottle of formula and encouraged to give it to him.  So on Day 3, my baby got a bottle of formula (gasp).  On Day 4 my milk finally came in.  Hallelujah (and hello p*rn star boobs)!  And from Day 4 on, with no sign of nipple confusion from the one bottle, the little man drank nothing but breastmilk.  We were lucky because it worked for us.  Unlike my friends, I never got thrush or mastitis.  My nipples never tore off and he never bit me.  He figured our how to get the milk and I was there whenever he needed it. 

I was surprised by my feelings about breastfeeding once I was actually doing it.  I loved it.  I bonded with my baby and felt empowered that I was actually making food for him.  I was keeping my baby alive.  With milk that I made!  How amazing is that?  And nursing always comforted him.  There was not one time in the early weeks when he'd cry and not be comforted by nursing.  I felt like I was cheating because I could always stop the crying.  I always knew how to make him happy.  And I was extremely taken aback by the euphoric feelings I had about nursing.  It's hard to adequately put into words the joy that I get from nursing.  The baby was getting good nutrients and I was happy.  It was a win-win for us both. 

One of the best parts about breastfeeding is that food for your baby is always ready.  If you are with your baby, he can eat within a few seconds of showing signs of hunger.  No preparing a bottle or heating the milk.  I have nursed my son in the car, in the middle of a busy food court, on an airplane, on the beach, in a sling while a repair man was working on our house and many other places.  I always use a cover or excuse myself to another room unless I am around close family or friends. It's not that I'm ashamed of nursing my son and I'm actually comfortable nursing in public now, but don't feel the need to expose everyone around me to my boobs or baby.  Nursing may be a natural thing, but it's also a special, private bond between me and my baby that I don't want all the world to see.  (I'll probably be criticized for saying that by some pro-nursing moms, but it's honestly how I feel and what I do.  And I think it's important for people to know that not all extended nursing moms want to be all "in your face" about it.)

When my son turned 12 weeks old I went back to work full time.  At that point I was committed to nursing until he was at least 6 months old and wasn't going to let my job derail that plan.  I'm a lawyer in a large(ish) national law firm and there were women in my office who had pumped before me, so at first I just followed their lead and pumped in the handicapped bathroom in our office.  After a few offensively smelling visits, I went to HR and demanded a private, non-bathroom place to pump and thus our office's lactation room was born. (Sometimes you just have to ask for what you want.)  Three times a day (at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm) I left my office, hooked up to my pump and pumped milk for Lukas to have at daycare the next day.  I didn't love pumping, but it was a necessity in order to keep on nursing Lukas when I was home with him. And every Monday, and as often as possible, I would actually go to daycare and nurse Lukas during my lunch.  I'm lucky that our daycare has two nursing rooms, specifically for this purpose.  Being able to actually nurse him in the middle of my busy day was one of the most helpful things in transitioning back to work from maternity leave.  I also used the nursing rooms as soon as I got to daycare after work to reconnect with my boy.  For me, being able to nurse him after being away from him for 8 hours made the time I was away from him OK. It helped me still feel physically close to him.  I know nursing isn't necessary to have this bond, but for us, it certainly helped.

Lukas consumed only breastmilk until just shy of his 6 month birthday, at which point we gradually added in baby food.  The nursing continued pretty steadily until about 10 months and I was still pumping 3 times a day at work.  As his food intake increased, his milk needs decreased.  Around 10.5 months I dropped down to pumping only 2 times a day but still nursed him in the morning, after work and before bed, and as often as he liked on the weekends.  Eventually a month later I only pumped once a day at work and Lukas started drinking cows milk with his meals.  In my head I was gradually reducing the pumping in preparation to wean him at a year.

Then he turned a year old and nothing changed.  My baby didn't suddenly start speaking in full sentences and stop needing his momma.  He was still this little baby boy who was gaining independence, but always checked back in with me or looked to make sure I was nearby watching him.  He always wanted to nurse if I offered.  And I had no desire to stop.  So I made the decision to keep going "for a little bit."

That's when the comments started.  When people found out I was still nursing after a year they would roll their eyes and ask why.  Didn't he bite me, they'd ask?  What does he need milk for at this point?  So I stopped really talking about breastfeeding and only mentioned I was still nursing if someone directly asked.  I knew very few people who breastfed past a year and felt like I was in uncharted waters.  Part of me started feeling guilty because I thought that maybe it was wrong or detrimental to Lukas.   I mean, if it was a good thing, wouldn't more people be doing it?  Well, as the past six months have continued, I've had to get over all my hang ups, because I've realized that I simply am not ready to stop breastfeeding my son and neither is he.

We now typically only nurse in the morning after Lukas wakes up and before bed in the evening.  In the morning he wakes up happy and he asks for milk.  I've tried giving him milk from the refrigerator, because he does drink cows milk with all his meals, but in the morning he prefers "momma milk". At night, he does not fall asleep nursing, as he did when he was a baby. He nurses until he's done, then we rock and he gives me a kiss goodnight and he goes in his crib wide awake. He is able to fall asleep on his own without nursing, so it's not a sleep crutch. It is simply something he likes and something I enjoy as well.

And yes, he can ask for it.  So I know what some of you are thinking: "If he can ask for it, he's too old".  Well, I think that the fact that he can ask for it has nothing to do with whether or not he is "too old."  Does he need breast milk to "thrive" as he did when he was an infant?  Arguably no, he does not because nutritionally he gets his main nourishment from table food.  But who am I to say he doesn't need my milk to prosper as the bright, happy, silly boy he is?  I have no idea why he has the disposition he has, but maybe nursing has something to do with it and I'm just not ready to stop doing something he loves especially when he is, in fact, thriving.

And so at 18 months old, I have no plan of stopping any time soon.  About a month ago Lukas seemed to lose interest and we went a few nights and mornings where he would rather read a book than nurse.  I cried and told my husband that if Lukas was done, then that was OK.  So the next night I started our bedtime routine and gave him a glass of water rather than offer to nurse and wouldn't you know, he asked for milk.  And has asked just about every morning and night since then.  So the nursing continues.

I've read that the natural weaning age for humans is between 2 and 7 years old.  I can't imagine nursing a 7 year old, but I'm not going to judge anyone who does, especially since I didn't previously imagine myself nursing a toddler.   I don't think our extended breastfeeding makes me a better mother, nor do I think it makes me a bad mother.  It is simply what has worked for us.  And I'm not going to set any timeline for me and my son to stop breastfeeding, but  I will be sad when our nursing time is over, whenever that may be.

So in a way, I think I should thank the TIME magazine authors for their cover picture/story on breastfeeding, because it pushed me to write about my experience with extended nursing, which is something I've been hesitant to put out there.  But I don't think the sensationalism aspect was necessary.  I don't nurse my toddler in the middle of the day at the park (or ever standing up) and I don't feel the need to tell everyone I know (despite this blog post) that I am still nursing my son.  I hope the actual article in TIME is better than the title and the cover picture.  And I hope by sharing my "breastfeeding story" that I will help to change someone's negative view on extended nursing.  It's probably not for everyone, but it's working for me.

And even if I'd never nursed him at all, I would undoubtedly be mom enough.  And so are you.


  1. Absolutely beautiful way to put it. I have a 7 month old, and I plan on nursing her for as long as she wants to. Kudos to you.

    1. Thank you for your sweet comment! Kudos to you for nursing for 7 months - that's no small feat!