It’s World Breastfeeding Week (barely, since today is the last day), and I thought now would be a great time to update you on my nursing journey. Because while I think it’s important for all of us to work toward normalizing breastfeeding, I think it’s especially important for African American moms to be visible, because breastfeeding rates are significantly lower in the black community, and infant mortality is higher. Visibility is how we reduce the stigma attached to nursing. Sharing my stories and photos shows how truly normal breastfeeding is, and hopefully, that will encourage other moms to give it a try, or continue longer than they may have.
Seven months in, I am so thankful that I’ve been able to exclusively breastfeed baby Juliza for this long and that some of the biggest challenges are far behind us. I was blessed with a baby who had an awesome latch from day 1, so that helped us avoid some of the challenges that other nursing moms commonly face. I’m grateful for that.
Because of that early connection and determination to work through any and all challenges, baby and I are in a great stride. I imagine it feels like a marathon runner would in the middle of a race: After the starting jitters but before the nerves take over toward the end when you wonder if you’ll be able to finish. Especially because now that Juliza is older than 6 months, I’m starting to get The Question. Breastfeeding mamas know the one I’m talking about.
“How long do you plan to keep doing that?”
It’s probably a well-meaning question, but the implication is that the baby is getting “too big for that.”
My answer is usually “at least a year.” Because that’s what I promised myself. But the more I read about the benefits of extended breastfeeding and spend time with other nursing mamas online, the more 12 months feels like an arbitrary timeframe chosen for no valid reason at all. I’m really leaning toward letting Juliza wean when she’s ready. I never saw myself breastfeeding a toddler, but if it’s still beneficial to her, I can learn to live with a new self-image.
Of course, my mind may change the first time she bites me.
It’s Teething Time
If there’s one thing that gives me pause about extended breastfeeding, it’s teeth. Juliza is cutting her first two right now, and it’s been — ahem — interesting.
Teething means that mommy is the pacifier. Not in the traditional sense, though Juliza is nursing a bit more than she was before. She just wants to be with me — on me — all the time. Daddy gets a lot of love too, but there are a lot of times when she just wants mama, and I’ve figured out that teething pain is part of it. So I let her chew on my fingers or even my clothes sometimes, because it helps. Thankfully, the crankiness is usually short-lived. She is putting EVERYTHING in her mouth and going through 5 bibs a day, but at least she’s not screaming her head off.
The thing is, when she’s latched, I don’t feel her teeth at all. But when she wants to gnaw on my fingers or my face or my arm, I realize just how sharp those tiny teeth are. And I’d rather not feel them on my nipples. Ever. Especially later on when she has more than just two teeth.
From what I’ve read, baby is more likely to bite unintentionally if she falls asleep at the breast, because then she’s not really paying attention to her latch. And Juliza has a habit of falling asleep while nursing. Still, she hasn’t bitten me yet, and I’m praying she never will. Say a prayer for us. For real, for real.
Because there’s something else these new teeth have affected: Bedtime.
Getting Baby to Sleep
To be fair, we recently moved into a home where Juliza now has her own room. Between the move, sleeping in a room alone and the teething, the child flat out refused to sleep in her crib at night for the first 10 days or so. She’d start the night there, but wake up 3-5 times before morning. Not to nurse, but for comfort. She’d go right back to sleep the very second I picked her up and put her on my shoulder or gave her my fingers to chew. She spent a few nights in our bed because I just didn’t have the energy to fight with her.
As you can imagine, this horrible sleep pattern made baby and mama very cranky.
But when my husband and I realized she was cutting teeth and that was the likely cause of some of the sleep issues, we decided to give her a dose of Tylenol just before bedtime one night to help with the pain. That night, she only woke up once, and my husband got her back to sleep in her crib before I even realized she was awake.
Now, I’m happy to report that for the last several nights in a row, she’s slept all night in her crib, even without the Tylenol. I’m not sure if that one night of peaceful sleep helped her realize she could get comfortable in there, but whatever the reason, I’m so happy that this phase seems to be over for now.
However, there’s another sleep issue we’re battling: Falling asleep. The child fights her sleep harder than Mike Tyson. It’s rare for her to fall asleep on her own (unless we’re in the car, because car = sleeping potion).
She always wants the warmth of another person — usually me. And even then, on my shoulder or across my chest, she’ll still fight sleep. Why don’t babies realize they can just close their doggone eyes and go to sleep? My goodness!
Anyway, this is especially true when it comes to daytime naps, but her last feeding of the night does a pretty good job of knocking her out.
There have been moments when, as I rocked and sang her to sleep for the fourth time in one night or had to stop everything during the day to get her down for a nap, I’ve thought that I’d created a monster. A monster who can’t fall asleep without help. But then there are moments when we lay together and she snuggles her face into my neck, and I wonder how I could ever lament this. When I feel like there’s no place I’d rather be. Because baby snuggles? The best ever.
So I’ve decided that I can handle this. If she will at least sleep in her own bed — and she seems to be back on track with that — I can handle having to physically put her to sleep. I’ll enjoy these moments of closeness and remind myself that this phase won’t last forever. I’d much prefer to look back on our bond with misty eyes and a full heart than to regret missed opportunities to just enjoy our connection.
The Breastfeeding Bond
What I’ve come to realize is that all of this is directly tied to our breastfeeding bond. Her desire to fall asleep on me. Her desire to be with me whenever she wants comfort. I obviously have a strong bond with my older daughter even though she was bottle fed, but this feels different.
I quite literally cannot be away from Juliza for more than a couple of hours at a time, because she has started refusing a bottle. Every feeding for the past 4 months or so has come directly from the source. This means that when I am away from her, I find myself constantly worrying that she will starve. Even when I’m just at the grocery store for an hour.
A bit irrational in that situation? Perhaps. But when you are the main source of nourishment for your child, it changes the way you perceive your time together — and apart. Which is why I find my parenting style changing as the the days march on.
With my older daughter, I encouraged her independence almost from Day 1. I wanted her to be able to sleep in her own bed, to be with other people without crying, to self-soothe when she was cranky. I wanted to spend a day without my baby without panicking (yeah, right) or worrying that she was miserable. This was easier to do because she took a bottle, because it meant that any of my loved ones could feed her. She was still particular about who she’d take it from, but at least it wasn’t just me.
This independent spirit shows in the child Ja’Naya is today. But with Juliza, I find myself wanting to hold on more. I’m a lot quicker to comfort her when she’s upset. While the “cry it out” method worked for Ja’Naya after a few heartbreaking days, I don’t even have the wherewithal to try it with Juliza.
I think I’ve lost my mettle. I may be becoming — gasp — an attachment parent.
There’s nothing wrong with that, obviously, but I never saw myself becoming this mom. I still tend to encourage independence when I can, so I’m not going full attachment, but Juliza and breastfeeding absolutely have changed me. And I can’t say I mind it one bit.