Mom Monday: Abbie & Mia – An Extended Breastfeeding Journey

Never in a million years would I have thought I would be someone who breastfed their child past babyhood. Yet here I am, “still” nursing my child who is now almost three-and-a-half-years-old.
It’s been quite a journey. Some days it feels like one that will never end.
When I found out I was pregnant, all I knew was that I wanted to breastfeed. I knew it was the best thing for babies and mamas. My mother exclusively breastfed me. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do it, or for how long I would do it…I thought I would only nurse a baby for about a year.
My daughter Mia’s birth was nothing like I wanted it to be. The last two weeks of my pregnancy, I developed symptoms of Preeclampsia. My doctor decided that I needed to be induced a couple of days shy of my due date. I was induced and had an epidural…everything was fine until the pushing stage. My doctor didn’t show up until after I’d been pushing for 2 1/2 hours. Nothing was happening. I don’t know if it was the induction, the epidural, or the fact that the nurse made me push while lying on my back, (or maybe all three)…but Mia was stuck. Once my doctor appeared, she had to use the vacuum to suction my baby out of me. By that time, Mia had become stressed and had inhaled meconium. Because of that, the entire NICU staff was in the room, waiting for Mia to be born. Finally, after thirty minutes of the doctor trying to get a grip on her little head, she was out! The cord was wrapped around her neck and she had a bluish tint. She wasn’t breathing. I only saw her for a half-second, before she was whisked away to the NICU staff on the other side of the room. After a few minutes, my blood pressure crashed as I started hemorrhaging. After that was resolved…I started wondering why I hadn’t heard my baby cry. I looked up at my husband, only to see him sobbing. I asked him what was wrong and he said, “Nothing. Everything’s fine…”
Later, my husband told me that he thought both his wife and his baby were dying. He could see the NICU staff doing chest compressions on her. She failed the APGAR exam twice. In a few minutes, she improved a bit and was taken out of the delivery room to the NICU. My husband went with them. In a few minutes, a NICU staff member came and told me that they were going to send her in the hospital helicopter to a bigger hospital because they had better equipment to help her…but that never happened. My feisty little Mia pulled out of her rough start in life. I was finally taken to see her about 20 minutes later. The NICU staff had given her a pacifier and they said she had taken to it really well. Even though part of my birth plan was that she was NOT to be given one, I don’t remember being mad at all. I was just so happy that my baby was alright. At the time, I didn’t think about how the pacifier could affect her ability to breastfeed.
Because it had been such a traumatic birth, the NICU staff said they weren’t going to bathe her and they gave her glucose IV to keep her hydrated and fed. I didn’t even attempt nursing her until the next morning.
She had a hard time latching. Probably because she wasn’t hungry enough-what with having an IV with sugar-water going through her- but the hospital wouldn’t take that away until she was eating better/more. Most of the nurses in the NICU were really great. One found a nipple shield for me to try and finally Mia seemed to get it. Only one nurse suggested I try it with formula…and she was fine when I quickly turned that suggestion down.
Mia stayed in the NICU for five or so days. Finally, they were satisfied with her progress and we got to go home.
I had to use the nipple shield while nursing for the first few weeks. One night during a nighttime feeding, I was too tired to deal with the nipple shield, so I tried nursing her without it. She did just fine. I tried it the next day and sure enough, she no longer needed the shield. After that, it was pretty smooth-sailing in our breastfeeding relationship. I exclusively nursed her on demand. I felt like all I ever did was sit on the couch, watch tv and nurse her. I always nursed her to sleep. She started sleeping through the night before she was even three months old! I didn’t do anything to encourage it.
We introduced solids when she turned six months, but it was a very gradual process. I didn’t know about Baby Led Weaning at the time, so I mixed pumped breast milk with rice cereal. She seemed to think it was fun, but she didn’t eat much. Every few days, I’d try something new, but she never liked anything very much. She liked oatmeal and mangoes best. From the time we introduced solids, I tried to feed her those when I thought she might be hungry and tried to nurse her only when I thought she needed to nap. At that age, I let her sleep on demand, too-so she was probably taking about four naps a day. Life was good.
Then we moved when Mia was eight months old and everything changed. We tried having her sleep in her crib in her new bedroom and she stopped sleeping through the night…and has yet to return, almost three years later! As she got a little older, and separation anxiety took hold…she became a little harder for me. That, combined with the sleep deprivation, made me feel a little crazy. A few months later, she started teething for the first time…and started biting me while nursing. Ouch! I think it took me a few weeks to get her to completely stop…and I even wondered if I’d have to wean her. I really didn’t want to. She only nursed before going to sleep. Nursing was the only way she’d fall asleep…and I wanted to do what was healthiest for her…so I kept going. She stopped biting.
When Mia was around 18 months old, some of her new teeth cut into the side of my nipple. For a few days, I tried to just nurse through it. The pain was bad enough that I would get tears in my eyes. Because I kept nursing her on that side, the wound wasn’t healing. I tried using skin-like bandages that my husband (who is a Registered Nurse) had at home, and that helped, but the wound still wasn’t healing over two months later. Still, I kept nursing. Finally, I decided to stop feeding her on that side until the wound healed. It took about 4 days (and a very lopsided chest!) but then it healed. That was one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with while breastfeeding. Up until then, the only problem I’d experienced was clogged ducts-nothing that more nursing couldn’t fix.
Our nursing life returned to being pretty calm again until Mia was almost 2 1/2 years old. Up until then, she was nursing when she’d first wake up in the morning (we cosleep), before her nap, before bed, and whenever she woke in the night. It felt manageable. But a few months before she turned 2 1/2, she started wanting to nurse more. Before she was able to verbalize what she wanted, she used to reach her hand down the front of my shirt, for comfort. My husband and I semi-joked that my boobs were her security blanket. She used to be content to reach her hand down my shirt while sucking her thumb. She wouldn’t do it all the time…just when she was feeling tired or needing comfort. Then, something changed, and as she was able to talk more, she started asking to “snuggle” (or “wuggle” in Mia’s toddler language) more. At first, I’d tell her no, but after a while, I gave in and let her. It took a little while for my milk supply to increase so that there was enough milk for all the times she wanted to nurse. I even took Fenugreek and Blessed Thistle to help get my supply back up. I don’t know how much it worked…I just know she stopped complaining about there not being any milk!
So…that was just over a year ago. It’s been a year of my child wanting to nurse 24/7. She nurses when she wakes up in the night (we cosleep, and she is gradually waking less & doesn’t fully wake up, so it doesn’t feel that bad), she nurses when she first wakes up in the morning, she nurses while she watches tv in the mornings, she nurses if she feels tired (she’s even started saying, “Mommy, I tired! I want to wuggle!”), anytime she feels sad, anytime she has a dull moment…pretty much the only time she DOESN’T want to nurse is if we leave the house for an outing or if we have visitors. It’s been pretty exhausting for me. A lot of the time, I love that I still get to share this special time with my child. A lot of the time it makes me crazy.
A few months after Mia started nursing more, my menstrual cycle started acting really strange. My cycle became longer and longer. The last two cycles I’ve had were about 110 days long! For almost the whole last year, we’ve wanted to have another baby…but it hasn’t happened. I’ve seen a doctor, who said she didn’t think it was the nursing…but I don’t know if she understood how much Mia was nursing. That was about six months ago, though, and I haven’t been back to see her. We’ll see. I desperately want another baby…but I also want to let my firstborn nurse until she doesn’t need it anymore. I wish we had tried to conceive back when she was nursing a lot less and my cycle was regular. I’d love to get pregnant and for that to gently encourage her to wean. As much as I want another child, both for myself, and for my child to have a sibling, I truly feel like I can’t take her one-and-only security blanket away from her.
There are other issues that come with extended nursing: my family doesn’t understand why I’m still nursing Mia. Thankfully, they don’t say much about it.  I only recently experienced someone (who I thought was a friend) attack me for “still” nursing and tell me that I should not still be nursing a three-year-old. To those of you who may be reading this and feel similarly…I’d recommend educating yourself on “extended” breastfeeding. It is the biological norm for humans. Some great books to read are: The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger, Mothering Your Nursing Toddler by Norma J. Bumgarner,  How Weaning Happens by Diane Bengson, and The Nursing Mother’s Guide to Weaning by Kathleen Huggins.
Even on the most frustrating of days, when I second-guess my decision to let Mia self-wean, I’m so happy we made it this far. I have no idea how much longer we will continue to nurse…she could decide tomorrow that she is done with it…and I know a big part of me will be sad when that day comes.


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