March 26, 2014

breastfeeding: 14 months later

Remember sweet little photos like this?

Where, after nursing, your tiny newborn would drift off to sleep and peacefully hang out in your arms for hours? 

Yeah, I barely remember, too. Haha. 

If I wanted to get a picture of Alden's nursing now, I'd end up with a million photos of his hand trying to grab my phone :) I knew that nursing a toddler was going to present a few new challenges to the mix, but I definitely wasn't prepared for how different it would feel.

We've now been nursing for almost 14 months and even though he nurses WAY less often than he used to, I still really enjoy our nursing time together. Yes, he's squirmy and more "down to business" than he used to be but he still holds my hand and plays with my shirt, too :) It's nice to have a few minutes (really, it's rarely longer than 3 minutes a side and that's on the long side) with him every day where he's just my little boy, cuddling up in my lap. But it's definitely different. I can tell that nursing doesn't calm him the same way that it used to and he doesn't automatically fall asleep when he nurses before bed now, either. The way it generally goes: he pulls my shirt up, eats as fast as he can, then pushes my shirt back down when he's ready for the other side, and repeat. It cracks me up how businesslike he is sometime! :)

Part of me is really ready to be done breastfeeding, the other part is really sad that it will end. I always have a few days of weird emotions after our nursing schedule has changed (spreading out feedings, dropping sessions, etc.). This past week we officially dropped the mid-day nap time nursing session so I'm in the middle of my weird emotional mama phase. We're now down to nursing once in the morning when Alden wakes up and once before bed. He drinks almond milk/breastmilk from a cup during the day and is no longer eating during the night. While I am THRILLED! to finally be done with my breast pump (that midday session was the only thing keeping me chained to that pump every work day for the past 50 weeks), it's a little sad to know that I'm not going to have dedicated time with him before his nap to cuddle and rock. My baby boy is growing up! At least there haven't been any tears yet...I'll just save those for when he weans :/ 

Just in case you're curious about how we've gotten to the schedule we're in's some backstory:

Alden has been really great at dropping feedings himself as he's grown so I've had it pretty easy when it comes to adjusting nursing frequency. He decides when he's getting ready to drop a feeding and over the course of a few days, makes it known that he doesn't really need it anymore. Since he's at school so much during the days, we've allowed his cues at school to guide how we nurse at home. 

Starting around 5 months old, we began increasing the amount in his bottles (to 4 oz. from 3) but had one less bottle during the day. His teachers had noticed that he was less interested in one of his midday feedings and that he was guzzling down one of his afternoon bottles and looking for more. This told us that he was probably ready to spread out his feedings but that he still needed the same (or larger) amount of milk. We shifted his bottles around and he did great. Then, once he really got into solids around 7 or 8 months, he just stopped drinking one of his other bottles while he was at school. They would offer it to him, he would drink an ounce or two, then just be done. So, over a few days we gradually phased that bottle out and he wasn't even phased. Then, around 9 months (in preparation for his "graduation" to the next classroom), we started transitioning to a sippy cup and he got one bottle and one cup of milk every day. This transition was the only one where we saw any kind of resistance from Alden at all. It took him a relatively long time to be okay with taking milk from a cup and not a bottle. I think he had just associated milk with bottles and was being stubborn about the switch. He would drink water from a sippy without a moment's hesitation so we knew it wasn't an actual cup issue. 

Around 11 months, we had completely phased out the bottle and he was only getting milk from a cup during the day. He would drink a little at lunch but drink a whole 4 oz. mid-afternoon (around the same time he would have gotten a bottle before). By this time Alden was eating three solid meals a day so that mid-afternoon cup of milk was really more like a snack for him. Once we switched to one nap a day and he was preparing to move up to the next classroom at school (mid-January), he was still nursing once during the night, when he woke up in the morning (sometimes once around 4:30 or 5 am and then again around 8 am), before his nap, and then before bed. I was, no joke, starting to go a little crazy having to get up and nurse during the night so a month or so ago we night weaned. After our 1 year pediatrician appointment, I felt confident that he didn't need the extra calories (which I had worried about before since he's wasn't a great eater during the day) and I told Nick that I just really needed to be done with night nursing. Daddy stepped up and took over nighttime wakings since I knew Alden would ask to nurse if I came in the room and after a whole week of no night nursings, I was pretty sure we were done. It's been about a month now and, even though Daddy is still handling most of the night wakings (Alden is not a straight-through-the-night sleeper yet), I have gone in there at night and Alden doesn't even ask so I think we handled the transition well. In fact, I'm pretty sure that I was the one prolonging the nighttime nursings- Alden would have been fine to drop them a while ago I think. That was probably another reason why night weaning went so smoothly for us. 

Alden moved up to the next classroom at school the week of his birthday so since then his school day has followed a structured schedule. This was the biggest difference from the infant room where each baby is basically on an on-demand feeding and sleeping routine. We knew there would be some adjustments for the first couple of weeks and were pleasantly surprised when Alden did wonderfully with the transition. We actually think he's sleeping and eating much better now that he's on a consistent schedule every day. Once he was in a routine of napping once a day, at the same time of day, I started thinking about dropping the pre-nap nursing (mostly because I was SO ready to stop pumping at work...have you figured out that I really hate the breast pump?!). With the switch to the new schedule at school, Alden was already used to going to sleep without nursing which you'd think would be the perfect time to drop that nursing session when at home. What prolonged the change was Alden's lack of any other milk source. Typically, at one year old is when you would introduce cow's milk (or goat, etc.) to your baby's diet. Since Alden is dairy allergic, that wasn't an option for us. We tried almond milk right around his first birthday and he hated it. Then, we tried mixing the almond with breast milk and he still hated it. So we waited a few more weeks and then started with the goat. Alden loves the goat milk but we're still trying to figure out if he reacts to it or not, it's been a little up and down since his huge flare this past month. But, Hallelujah!, a week ago we started almond milk again and, now, Alden loves it! He'll drink it by itself or mixed with breast milk and I was finally free of the pump!! I wasn't willing to drop that pumping session until I was confident that we had at least one other source of milk since the fats that are present in milk are vital to a baby's nervous system development. Now that we have almond and goat to work with and since Alden was already used to not nursing before his nap at school, we went ahead and dropped the nursing session at home. Nick said that the first weekend of no nursing before nap made it a little harder for Alden to go down but overall, he still went to sleep and slept for just as long as he usually does. I think we can call it a success :) 

The breastfeeding relationship changes and sometimes I feel like the last thing I want to do is nurse again. But other times (most times), I am so happy that I can provide for my boy, that we have this relationship together, and that it's something he enjoys and is comforted by. Alden has been so good at self-regulating his nursing that I am confident he will wean when he's ready. I am also confident that the day he weans will be both happy and sad for me. Happy because he is growing and learning and ready for the next phase. Sad because it will be representative of his leaving babyhood behind and needing his Mama's closeness less. Happy because my body will finally be completely mine again- no more worrying about being home at exactly the right time, no more avoiding happy hour or dinner-time cocktails because I have to nurse in an hour, no more tiny hands pulling at my shirt or little teeth nibbling on my nipple because he thinks it's funny. Sad because there won't be guaranteed times in the day when he curls up in my lap and rests, no more tiny hands resting on my chest as he falls asleep eating, no more sweet middle-of-the-night smiles in between gulps of milk, no more silly games hiding behind my shirt or tickling his feet before bed, no more "just-something-Mama-can-do". I will cry but I will smile, too.

I think my final thoughts are this: whenever you're ready, little man.

much love, L&N

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