Wednesday, June 17, 2015

When To Stop Nursing The Baby Of The Family

Breastfeeding each one of my kids has been a bit of an up and down experience.

I grew up with it not on my radar at all. When I was pregnant with my first baby, after doing my research, I decided it was the only way for me. Then my Luke came along, and I was very anemic and taking advice a bit too literally, and we barely made it to three months. I cried and agonized over it, and felt like a failure.

I was so scared about doing it again, that when Henry came along, I only committed to doing it for six weeks. But I fell in love with it during those six weeks, and after an extremely peaceful experience of co-sleeping, and baby-led weaning, we made it to 20 months. 

After nursing Henry (who really, was a dream baby), I knew what was up, I didn't stress or even think twice about it. I was actually excited to do it again with Jake. We fell into nursing like I never took a break, and he'd been doing it in the womb all along. And here we are, 19 months later, and I'm wondering how much longer this relationship will last.

If you ask Jake? Well, it would probably never end.

When To Stop Nursing the Baby of the Family

But I'm noticing some things. One - my milk supply is dwindling. The same thing happened with Henry. For the last 2-3 months of nursing H, I wasn't sure if he got more than a taste each time he nursed. I blamed it on being pregnant (because I was, Jake was on the way), but I'm thinking now that maybe that's just my body's timer going off. Twenty months? Okay, we more than did our job, girls, pack it up.

Two - when Jake is very distracted, he doesn't really nurse that much. If he's bored or he notices me sitting down and not doing anything, he climbs in my lap and asks for it. He's also pretty rabid about it overnight. He wakes up and expects to have some, and his favorite is to come to bed and cuddle up with me to get back to sleep, even just for 20 minutes. But he can (and will, if we force him) fall asleep without nursing. And there's even been a handful of days in recent months that he nursed when he woke up, and not again until it was bedtime. Those are only on very, very busy days, though. He fills every lull in the day with a cuddle and a boob.

And so I'm wondering. If he's nursing mostly for familiarity and comfort, and my milk is disappearing, how long do I let it go on when there's not a lot of nutritional gain in it? Is there a point? Isn't that was pacifiers and loveys are for?

I know what most sides say on this issue. We made it past a year, so every day after is just a bonus. Whatever we decide at this point is fine, no matter which expert or extremist you ask. Some say kids need to stimulate the sucking reflex until they are two (we got pretty close - I weaned Luke off pacifiers at 21 months, and Henry stopped nursing at 20 months). There's a lot of health benefits to extended BF - ones that I STILL see in Henry, and he's almost four. And, ya know, at the end of the day, it's a personal choice between Mom & baby. 

But what do I want?

I've been in the haze of pregnancy, baby, nursing (plus some toddlers, preschoolers, ttc, and now a kindergartner in the mix) for 7 years now. Seven years! I'm no crazy Michelle Duggar, decades-long baby machine, but to me - that's a long time. I've devoted my body to nourishing three other humans for more than 1/2 a decade, consecutively. And, ya know, that's a big chunk of my youth I've sacrificed. I wouldn't change a thing, and I'm so glad I did it, but the idea of being FREE is sort of thrilling. Not free-free, but my body? All mine! I can take decongestants again (I miss you, Sudafed!!!). I can drink more than one glass of wine if I want. I can sleep all night long without someone using me as a midnight snack! I can send all three of them to sleep over Grandma's house, knowing no one needs my body to make it through the night.

That sounds gooooooood.

But. But, but, but.

Jake is my baby. 
My little caboose. 
End of the road. 
My last teeny tiny. 

And I don't want to let him go.

A part of me - okay, kind of a big part of me - doesn't want to cut him off. I don't want to think about the day that he never curls up in my arms again - in that special little way he does when he's getting into nursing position. It's heartbreaking, knowing that the day isn't all that far off. 

Henry's transition off the boob was so calm and peaceful that neither one of us looked back. We were both ready. I want to offer Jake that same luxury, but when I look at his progress, he's quite a bit behind where Henry was when he weaned. Henry stopped randomly asking to nurse somewhere around 14 months, and went down to nursing only one time a day (before bed) around 18 months. Jake nurses about 3-7 times a day, still - depending on what we're doing, how he's feeling, etc. 

I keep saying that I'm okay with his weaning taking us all the way up to his birthday in October. I'm totally fine with saying yes until he turns two. In fact, that ended up being my goal with Henry - one we obviously didn't reach (but we were totally okay with that). It's just.....I don't know that my milk will make it that far. I'm not sure if it will even carry us through the Summer. So should I let him do it anyway?

Matt doesn't care what I decide to do, but his advice is to push it towards an end. I think he wants the freedom FOR me, even more than I want it myself. I know that I will enjoy many perks to having my body all to myself, but depending on the day of the week - I don't know if I'm ready to have it.

I didn't struggle like this with my other two. Luke was just, little dude #1, and I knew there was more to come. When Henry was born, I looked at his little 4 day old face and said, "I'm doing this again!" I knew there'd be a third. But as soon as Jake arrived, I knew he was bringing up the rear. He said to me, without even having the words to say it, "I'm the last one, Mom. And I'm going to love you fiercely." Boy, does he ever. He is more hooked on Mom than the other two were. He wraps his little arms so tight around my neck. He gives me unsolicited sloppy kisses on the regular. He sometimes stops what he's doing to stomp his way over to me and say, "ah-low-ah", which is Jake for "I love you". He folds himself into a sweet little ball of soft and squishy boy, sort of fetal-position style, and nestles into the crook of my arm when he wants to nurse. His whole body just melts and sighs in a, "I'm home," sort of gesture. It's probably the sweetest thing in my world. 

How do I let that go?

Even when it stops making sense, or carrying any sort of requirement. How do I slowly tell my sweet, last baby, that he has to give up his nursing Mommy nook soon? I don't want that for him, and I don't want it for me. Not today.

But then tomorrow, I might want it for me. If it's a day when he's smeared his poop on the wall, and held down the fridge water dispenser until there's a wading pool's worth on the kitchen floor, and I have 10 errands to run and the PTA is calling my name, it might be really nice to not stop everything and nurse him. It might be kind of helpful to just lie him down when he's ready to sleep instead of spending a half hour rocking and nursing him to sleep. And I think yes, we can do this. He's old enough, we are solid, we're ready.

But then the next day happens. And he's fallen asleep in my arms. His pudgy lips are reflex nursing in his sleep, and his dimpled hand is resting over my heart, and I think......I'm never giving this up.

Oh, how I love him.

Henry had these moments, too - these late-in-the-game, sweet squishy moments. And it kills me that I find them hard to remember. The Henry in my heart has grown along with him, and he's old enough to mispronounce things and have strong preferences for the color orange and pizza. I have to look at some secret grainy iphone pictures I took when he was still nursing to remember those moments. I'm just not ready for the disappearing to start with Jake.

With any of my kids. It hurts, how fast they grow. I know in my heart that we are done adding to our family, and I have a lot of peace about it. Peace that I didn't even have to go searching for - it just came to me one day, shortly after Jake was born. I no longer feel like anyone is missing. But that doesn't mean I won't always wish for just one more baby. One more person to love beyond reason - to crave the feel of them in my arms, the smell of their tiny head, the warmth of their love and need. 

I will always miss these seven years. I will miss them with all my heart. Maybe it'll be 7-1/2 before it's all over? But the day Jake weans for good is a day a book closes on the best years of my life. 

When I was emotional about turning 30, Matt reminded me that my thirties would likely be the best decade of my life. I told him that I couldn't understand how that would be true - my 20's contained all of my lifetime's major milestones. We got engaged, married, bought 2 houses, and had three babies. What will top those things?! Maybe we'll buy our next house in this decade, but that's certainly not big enough to overshadow building our family. He pointed out that all of the trying parts of those 7 wonderful years will be behind us. Yes, I'll miss the squishy babies with their sweet little voices. But I will have all of my babies at home, under the same roof with me this decade. We will all be capable of making family memories. We can all travel, explore, play, and try new things. It won't be years of "taking it easy" while I'm pregnant or tending to a newborn. It will be years of all of us being on a similar level - being together, making our memories. This decade is the one where we will define who we are. This is the one my kids will remember and tell their kids about. 

I still want to cry when I think of saying goodbye to the baby years. A few tears were shed while I wrote about it just now. But with Jake's weaning will come a freedom that allows our family to be together in a new, full way. I'm really clinging to that.

So, we aren't stopping today, and we probably won't stop tomorrow, or even next week. But the end is coming soon, and it's really kind of crazy how much of my heart is pouring into one decision.

How did you decide when to stop nursing the baby of your family?

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