Wild and Wonderful Toddler Nursing

I finally have to admit to myself that Cricket is a toddler.  She’s walking, starting to talk, getting more and more active, and starting to lose her baby rolls and chub.  I’ve been mourning this quite a bit.  She is my last baby, and while it’s amazing to see her grow, I have a lot of nostalgia for the cuddly baby stage.

These days, cuddles are short and to the point.  So is nursing for that matter.  Sometimes.  And then sometimes nursing takes hours and hours.

That’s right.  We’ve entered the land of…

Toddler Nursing

Anyone who has practiced full-term breastfeeding (also known as extended breastfeeding) is going to be able to empathize with me on this.

Toddler nursing can be exasperating.  Now is when the acrobatics start.  They nurse standing up, upside down, standing on one foot while balance on your leg (Cricket’s

personal favorite). They latch on and off as people walk past and daily activity happens around them.  Can you blame them?  The world is interesting!

They’ve learned to verbally (or with sign language) ask to nurse* and, like any new exciting skill, they like to practice.  A lot.  This means that they seem to constantly ask to nurse.

They are also learning to control their environments, which means that some babies (Cricket) may take to trying to open the shirt themselves.  Often in public.  Or in front of your male boss.

It is absolutely okay to teach nursing manners.  In fact, it is critical to do so at this time.  Teaching baby to show respect and kindness to Mama helps them to learn respect and kindness for themselves and others.  For shirt opening, I immediately either put her down or pass her to her dad. Consistency is key. She is gradually getting better.

Between the ages of 15 and 20 months, they seem to nurse like newborns!  Round the clock!  This is because they are in the middle of growth spurts, teething, and learning that they are independant people. Is it any wonder they need to come back to Mama so much for reassurance?

“I want to run and play, but I need to make sure you will still be here Mommy. You’re still here, right? That was a fun slide! Wait! Where’s Mommy? Oh, thank goodness. There you are! I still need you, Mommy. Don’t leave without me.”

Toddler nursing is just as wonderful as it is wild. Finally, they can thank us and show appreciation for our hard work. A kiss on the cheek, clapping, words of thanks, and hugs are just a few of the ways toddlers show us that they love us.  Those bedtime nursings are still the soft quiet times that they were in the beginning.  We still get to watch those big eyes slowly close in sleep.  The magic is still there.

Like everything else, toddler nursing is a stage.  The hard parts and easy parts and parts that you want to remember forever.

We are in the autumn of our breastfeeding relationship now, and every cuddle and every nursing is precious and fleeting.

*Let me be very clear for the “When they can ask for it, it’s time to stop” crowd: Babies ask to nurse from the moment they are born. We just don’t always understand their language. Believing that they should stop nursing when they finally learn our language is like telling an adult that he can’t have sushi anymore because he learned Japanese.

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Breastfeeding, Pregnancy, and Hyperemesis Gravidarum

pregnancy

I plan to breastfeed the Grasshopper for as long as I can during this pregnancy, even with hyperemesis gravidarum. Breastfeeding during pregnancy is called tandem nursing, and there are a number of benefits to extended breastfeeding and tandem nursing.

When my daughter was born, a lot of things went wrong from a breastfeeding perspective.  I really thought, by the end of the first week, that I would not be able to nurse her.  My milk was delayed in coming in (thank you pitocin), she wasn’t able to latch well, I had to use this stupid nipple shield, it hurt, the dang pillows kept sliding all over the place, and I just generally had no idea what I was doing.  The first Lactation Consultant in the hospital wasn’t much help.  The books weren’t much help.  It was so, so hard.  I kept at it, though.  And eventually I made it through the learning curve.  Things were finally going along as they should at about 6 weeks post partum.  And yes, a six week learning curve is actually really, really normal.

Once I did figure it out, I discovered that I loved nursing.  I loved everything about it, and my daughter did, too.  But I never imagined I’d be nursing a 3 year old.  If you had asked me about extended nursing, that is nursing a child past infancy, a few years ago, I might have said, “Oh, yuck!  Weird!”

When I was pregnant and the subject of breastfeeding would come up, I would say, “I hope I’ll be able to nurse.”  During the first few weeks I would say, “Man, I really don’t think I can do this for another week!  Let alone another year!”  Once things clicked, I reset my goal for a year, and then we just never really got around to stopping.

For those who follow this path, extended nursing provides many benefits.  The Grasshopper is able to benefit from my immune system via the antibodies in my milk.  I’m currently in the process of hoping we can keep her from getting a horrible fever and pink-eye outbreak that’s going through the daycare.  Please keep your fingers crossed!  Aside from the benefits to her, it benefits me as well: reduced breast, ovarian, uterine, and endometrial cancer risks, protection from osteoperosis, and a host of other tangible and intangible little bonuses.

The bottom line is this:  She’ll wean when she’s ready.

The next logical question I would expect to hear is regarding the safety of breastfeeding during pregnancy.  The short answer is that unless full pelvic rest is recommended for the mother, nursing through pregnancy is perfectly safe.

Things become a little more complicated when you’re a hyperemesis patient.  There’s the whole severe malnutrition and dehydration thing to consider.  Nursing doesn’t take anything away from the developing fetus.  The female body has incredible powers of prioritization.  However, we do need to be very aware of what I am able to tolerate and what medications will be safe for the Grasshopper.  If I become severely malnourished, what I am referring to as my disaster scenario, we will likely have to stop nursing, so I need to be aware of this possibility.

I’m going into this with open eyes.  We know what’s coming.  We’re going to be treating aggressively.  The likelihood of us reaching that disaster scenario is pretty slim.  I wasn’t anywhere close to that last time, and I don’t intend to get there this time.  Luckily, my doctor is incredibly supportive.  She’s prepared to ensure all the medications we try are safe both for pregnancy and lactation.

Here’s some good news:  Anecdotally, women nursing don’t have as severe nausea and vomiting.  Of course, that goes the other way, too, but I’m hoping for the first.

At the very least, on days that I can’t get up and run around with my daughter, this will be a way for me to give her quiet, undivided attention.