Adventures in Breastfeeding after Age 1

I am part of a relatively small group in American society – or maybe I just think it’s small because no one really talks about it. My baby just turned one year old, and she’s still breastfeeding. She knows how to use a sippy cup, and she even dribbles water from a glass or mug now and then, but she’s still on the boob, especially at night. I read all the books and I know I totally screwed myself over by allowing her to nurse to sleep, but honestly, the sleep training did NOT go well. So, now that she can talk, she asks for ahm num num, particularly during her night wake ups. 

  1. She does not want a bottle, and will not accept it as a substitute for ahm num num. If ahm num num is not forthcoming, she gets agitated…and as anyone with children will tell you, if the baby’s crabby and won’t settle down, nobody gets a break. But I tell ya, breastmilk straight from the source gets the job done around here like nothing else can, and to be completely honest, I am loathe to give that up. It’s the most powerful tool in my tool kit – soothes everything from immunization shots to bad dreams. I’m counting on it when I take the baby on her first international flight in February. Asking me not to breastfeed on the plane would be like taking away my magic wand!
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Almost a year old…or should I say 11 months and two weeks?

When I was pregnant, I was somewhat mystified by the references to weeks instead of months…”How far along are you?” “Oh, I’m 17 weeks pregnant.” Guess what…only your OB/GYN cares about the weeks! Tell the rest of the (non-pregnant) world how far along you are in MONTHS, because everybody knows a full-term pregnancy gets to about 9 months, and we don’t want to have to do math just because we asked how far along you were.

Now, I seem to be facing a similar issue in reference to my daughter’s age. She’s about to turn one year old, and I have noticed that there’s this unwritten rule that one must refer to the baby’s age in months: twelve months, eighteen months, twenty-four months. I mean, how hard is it to say that your baby is two? Is it somehow more developmentally relevant if a parent refers to his child as a 36-month-old rather than a three-year-old? It’s utterly bizarre, and people who do not have children kind of glaze over when you tell them your child’s age in months, because they have NO point of reference. Okay, so he’s 15 months old…let me check my chart of developmental milestones for a 15-month-old and quiz the parent on where his child is on each of those skills…then again, people who are parents probably do this, but to me, it just seems odd, and a bit rude. I guess it’s like finding out someone just turned 16 and immediately asking if they got their driver license, or wanting to know what kind of car they drive. (I’m sure a lot of newly minted 18-year-olds are getting asked whether they voted .)

 To other mothers, I mention her age in months. To everyone else, I usually say, “Oh, she’ll be a year old in a couple of weeks’ time” or “She’s almost a year old…can you believe it?”

First birthday!

I can’t believe it’s been a year. I’ve been a mother for 366 days (2016 was a leap year). We survived pregnancy, a C-section, colic, breastfeeding, crawling, babyproofing, teething, vaccinations, zero major illnesses, zero trips to the ER, and one major household move. Proud of you, baby girl.

The Teeth of it

I am planning to breastfeed my daughter for a full year, but her teeth are coming between us. She doesn’t have very many (her two lower front teeth have been around for a while) but her two upper front teeth are erupting, and  as she tries to soothe her sore gums, she chomps.

It took me a while to love breastfeeding, and I feel as though I am back to a love/hate relationship with it. The bonding time with my daughter is lovely, as is the knowledge that no one else in her life can be this intimate with her – but the biting does hurt. It doesn’t happen every time we nurse, but when she has a tooth coming in, her pain makes her nurse, pull off, cry, bite, suck hard and then we go heat up a bottle of formula, which gets wasted because, you guessed it, she’d rather nurse than take the bottle.

Awesome. My friends who had babies around the same time I did are all bottle-feeding now and are perhaps wondering why I’m taking so long to wean her. I want to make it to a year because: 1) I work from home, therefore I can actually do this, 2) I do believe it’s kept her healthier (she has only gotten sick once in all the time she’s been out of the womb) and 3) I believe the bonding is important. Plus, I’m saving bank on formula, as she only needs it when my mother babysits for a couple of hours here and there.

That said, my back hurts all the time, I only wear clothes that hide the nursing bras, and the teeth are like four tiny pearly horsemen of the Breastfeeding Apocalypse – the dental harbingers of doom. 

I’m also vaguely aware of the social consequences of continuing to nurse her as the months roll by: I’ve heard people speak quite disparagingly of women who nurse  children who are old enough to ask for a nursing session. Nursing a pre-verbal child who is clearly under the age of one is still acceptable, though most women quit before then, as either they have had to go to work, or the teeth have made breastfeeding too painful to continue.

When my daughter first started teething, she wasn’t a biter, but soon she couldn’t resist giving it a try. I knew she wasn’t doing it to hurt me, but I still needed advice on how to make her stop.

I called La Leche League, and they told me: 1) Tell her no! She can’t speak, but she understands you. 2) Offer her something she can bite, like a teething ring, and say, “You can bite this.” 3) Stop the feed and give her a bottle.

Well, from down here in the dentures, er, the trenches, I’m here to tell you that SOME of that advice works SOME of the time.

Now that my daughter is nearly 10 months old and still breastfeeding, she has discovered that she can use her teeth to express her anger, her exhaustion, or her frustration – and I’ve got the bite marks to prove it. However, we have made some progress. She rarely bites the nipple, preferring instead to sink her little choppers straight into my sternum, or my unwitting shoulders. I shout at her: “Don’t bite Mommy!” This used to make her cry, but now she doesn’t much acknowledge it. I’m still working out how to handle it, quite honestly. I hope to make it to a year, because I love that I’m the only person in the world who can comfort her in this special way, but I’m also physically vulnerable if she decides to take out her anger and frustration on me by biting. It’s a tricky situation. Almost to month 10, though! 

Six months old and still lucky…

Recently, there was a news story about a mother who had her 3-day-old baby and her dog in bed with her one night. Suddenly, she coughed, and the dog freaked out and bit the baby’s head. The parents called 911 several times and were unable to get through, so they drove their child to the hospital, where tragically, the baby died from severe head injuries. Another grievous outcome of this disaster is that they also had to euthanize their dog. 

This story haunts me every day. After I read it, I was horrified and felt a layer of anxiety whenever my own dog was around my baby, even though he has been absolutely wonderful with her since the day she came home.

In fact, I realized my biggest worry is that in trying to protect her, he might end up injuring someone else. He is fiercely protective of both of us, which makes taking the stroller and the dog out for a walk somewhat challenging. If anyone approaches us, even acquaintances he knows, he barks furiously, and sometimes growls. His behavior, while both annoying and embarrassing, is also potentially dangerous.

The other day, I was struggling to maneuver the stroller onto the curb, when I saw a couple on their morning walk approaching us. I pulled the stroller into the gutter, told my dog to sit, and waited for the couple to pass. Instead of walking on by, they tried to help me with the stroller, which caused my dog to bark angrily at them, which frightened the baby.

Embarrassed and annoyed, I kept saying, “Please, just go! Please, just go!” Obviously, I need to train my dog to handle strangers better, which sucks because, in anticipation of having a baby in the house, I had already put him through a $2500 boot camp…but the owner of the boot camp had warned me that a trained dog is only as consistent as his owners. My parents, who are none too thrilled with the dog in the first place, help me with him two-thirds of the time, and their interpretation/implementation of the training he received is, well, spotty. So, he is now less than perfectly trained.

I had a fantasy of being able to bring my dog and my baby to the park and watching happily as he pleasantly interacted with other dogs and people in a public space.

I have had to regroup somewhat. But one of the revelations I’ve had is that of the two training experiences I’ve put my dog through, he responds much more enthusiastically and promptly to commands that are followed by treats -positive reward-based training.

Yanking his leash has its place, but he doesn’t respond well to commands that, if not followed, result in a sharp jerk at his collar. He is a treat-based dog, and now that he gets treats for behaving well on his walks, he is much more well-behaved. I also help him out by wearing the baby so he doesn’t feel like he has to “defend and protect” the stroller. 

I go through a lot of training treats, but it’s worth it to be able to pass by people and other dogs without incident.

I’m also particularly cautious when he is around the baby at home. I nearly always have my body between the two of them when he interacts with her, and I barricade the area around his crate so that when she is scooting across the floor, she can’t get in his face or try to put little fingers through the bars.

I knew raising a baby with my dog would be a challenge, but I keep working on it every day because I love them both so much. If he hurt her(or worse), I don’t know how I would recover from losing them both. I hope it’s something I’ll never experience.

Training

There seems to be a lot of training involved in raising a child: sleep training, potty training, training wheels, ┬ávocational training…I’m still stuck on sleep, though. At first, I wondered who the callous woman could be who could listen heartlessly to her baby’s cries and not go to the child. Then, I realized that the more sleep deprived one becomes, the easier it is to harden one’s heart in the name of some shut-eye. I’m not quite down with the cry-it-out method; I think I would cave too often and render it ineffective – but I certainly understand the impetus.

Training a child to expect that when she cries no one will come to her seems cruel to me. Judging from what I’ve read on the Internet, I am not alone in that assessment. However, I do envy the uninterrupted sleep of those who sing the praises of CIO, just as I envy the longer naps of formula-fed babies. Doesn’t mean I’m going to start feeding my daughter formula, or start letting her scream alone in the dark without coming in to see what’s wrong. But I fantasize about sleep…

I haven’t slept in a year. I was one of those poor souls who got saddled with pregnancy insomnia and pregnancy rhinitis (feeling as though you have a cold while pregnant.) When I did sleep, I was propped almost to a sitting position by many pillows in the forgiving arms of a couch. I could not envision ever being able to lie horizontal again, as doing so made me feel like I was drowning.

So after I gave birth, I expected to resume my formerly solid relationship with my bed. Ah, the folly of a first-time parent! The bed is for nursing, cuddling, co-sleeping (gasp!!) and occasionally changing diapers. My own rest is an afterthought. I am able to lie horizontally; I just don’t get to do it for very long. I often find myself making room for the baby in the bed as a form of bribery. This strategy has actually bought me many precious minutes, as I can pull her close the minute she begins to fuss upon waking, but lately, she has foiled me by also requiring a diaper change.

I stare longingly at my bed during the day. It calls to me from the nursing chair and the changing table. Alas, when I finally get into it, I take a while to relax into non-mom mode. Sometimes, I can’t relax enough and my screens lure me. And, let’s be honest: the bed is usually littered with baby clothes, burp cloths and toys that keep falling from the changing table to the floor. I have to shove everything to the side just to lie down, and I know that instead of lying down, I should be putting all that stuff in its proper place. Guilt is not the best sleep aid.

Update: As I write this, my daughter is a few days shy of turning 6 months old. She’s eating some solids (one meal a day) and these were supposed to help with sleep. They do, to an extent…I now realize that her night of sleep is broken up into sleep periods. Period 1 is the part that starts with her evening bedtime routine around 6pm: nurse, eat oatmeal cereal, take bath, nurse and have story time with sleepy music playing, burp, rock, sleep, go from arms to crib.

The sleep achieved from this routine may last anywhere from one to three hours. Then she’ll wake up and need a diaper change and more nursing, usually around 8 or 8:30pm. This begins the second sleep cycle, which can last beyond midnight if she has fed well and doesn’t notice her wet diaper. She wakes again between 2:30 and 4, this time for a diaper change and comfort feed. I usually pull her into bed with me after this one, hoping that my proximity and warmth will keep her asleep, but she’s usually up by 6:30 anyway, hungry and sporting another wet diaper. And that’s how my day begins.

Thus, I remain confused about the phrase “sleeping through the night. I would amend it, in my daughter’s case, to say “sleeping THROUGHOUT the night.” There is sleeping, and it happens at night; but it’s not continuous.

Her first two teeth came in, and that was pretty rough.Took me right back to those inconsolable colic days. She got her first cold too (courtesy of Grandma, whom we call Abueli) and spent a few nights being cuddled and coddled in Mommy’s bed…but for the most part, she sleeps in her crib, and there are times when I think she prefers it! She’ll roll away from me and get grouchy until I put her in there and give her her space!

So the sleep journey continues…I’m nervous about telling the pediatrician that I can’t bear to sleep-train her, but I’m the parent, and I have to find a way that works for both me and my baby.

Sleep…or the lack thereof

I need more sleep. So does my 3-month-old. But unless she sleeps, neither of us will. So I eat copious amounts of chocolate to compensate. The important thing to remember about this strategy is that it does not help. She stares at me with big blue eyes and a smile that would melt snow, and wordlessly says, “Mommy, I’m not tired. I’m gonna make you work for this!” And I do. I sing songs, I stroll her in the stroller, I jiggle her, I feed her, I burp her, I change her. Rinse, repeat. I look down, and damn it, she’s still awake. 

The other night, I went out to a party – my first adult outing without my daughter in tow. I wore earrings. I wore heels! I stayed out til 11:00pm. She still woke for her 3am feeding, and again at 5:30 for a feed and diaper change…and the next day, I was wiped out. I kept trying to get my non-napping baby to take a nap because I wanted one!

She used to sleep like a champ as a newborn, and now, as an infant, she’s got a whole new (non)sleep pattern. She resists being lulled to sleep, she won’t stay down for longer than 45 minutes and she awakens at the slightest noise. It’s exhausting. My only weapon in this battle is my breast milk. When she’s full, she conks out. But I remain wary because she often opens those big blue eyes the minute her head goes from my arms to the crib. Fakeout! When it’s time for her to go to her mattress, I go to the mattresses.

I’ve recruited other soldiers in the battle to get her down: her father, her grandmother, her grandfather…she has defeated every foe. As soon as her sleeping body feels itself being transferred from arms to crib, she pops awake and begins to fuss. Last night, I gave in and just pulled her into bed with me. 

I’m not a fan of this strategy either because then I don’t get much rest. She’s a cuddle bug, and when I put her on her side of the bed to sleep, she migrates over to mine. I’ve tried sleeping with her in my arms but I usually wake up with arm pain from where her massive head has been resting. I’ve tried putting her on my belly with her head resting on my chest, but I feel as though the air is being crushed out of me (although she is happy to sleep that way!) 

Plus, she still wakes twice a night to feed, and woe be to me if I don’t change that wet diaper after she eats. My daughter does NOT like to be wet, and this sensation alone can cause her to thrash herself into wakefulness.

I’ve read the books, I’ve browsed the websites, I’ve listened to the advice of friends (and not-friends) and I have resigned myself to the fact that, much like the colic phase, she’s just going to grow out of this at her own pace. In the meantime…I remain…Sleepless in San Diego….zzzzzzzzzz

Don’t judge…

Being a new parent is tough, but one way we make it tougher is by constantly comparing ourselves to other parents, especially those who have babies the same age as ours. We ask leading questions at Mommy & Me groups, like, “What’s the latest research on co-sleeping?” That’s code for “I co-sleep and am feeling the need to justify/rationalize my choice.” Or we drop not-so-random comments, like “Oh, it’s so much easier with the formula. Now I can drink/let my husband get up for feedings/track the baby’s intake accurately.” That’s code for “I feel guilty for not being able to breastfeed.” 

Why do we do this? One possible reason is that parenting is so overwhelming. There are so many decisions to make, and the responsibility of raising a child is so huge that we sometimes look for proof that we’re doing something right. 

For me, this process of driving myself crazy with unnecessary comparisons started with my pregnancy. I felt holier-than-thou about the things I was already supposed to be doing or abstaining from. No smoking? Easy – I never have. No drinking? No problem – I don’t drink. But I agonized over the things I knew I should be doing   and wasn’t: I didn’t start my prenatal vitamin until almost the second trimester. I made it to maybe three prenatal yoga classes, and was completely intimidated by everyone else in the class each time I went. Then I agonized about being fit enough for labor (I had a c-section after all, so that ended up being a moot point.) I worried about the nasal steroid I had taken for my pregnancy rhinitis – was I hurting the baby’s development?

Plus, I felt guilty about the thoughts, feelings and emotions I was having. When I would cry, from frustration, discomfort, or anger, I would worry: Was the baby getting negative chemicals from my unhappiness? I remember apologizing through my tears to my unborn child, cradling my belly as though I had somehow already damaged the child within. Of course, the surging hormones that were causing me to cry  and think horrible thoughts (“I hate everybody,” and “I want a divorce” were among the most prominent and disturbing) were only there because of the baby in the first place! What a frustrating biological conundrum.

Now that my daughter is finally here, and healthily approaching the 3-month mark, I feel more confident. However, I still wonder how other people solve certain baby problems. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse in this regard. When my daughter didn’t poop for nine days, I consulted the Internet and found that this was quite normal and common for exclusively breastfed babies. (She had an epic poop the next day.) Which are the best diapers to use? Bam – the Internet has the answer. (Pampers Swaddlers, btw.) But you can also drive yourself nuts reading anecdotal evidence, and I will consult my pediatrician if something seems really wrong.

That said, the milestones are another area which invites comparisons. My daughter is quite  the little babbler, and she can roll from her tummy to her back already. But I can see myself getting concerned about how she measures up to other babies her age. I suppose it’s natural to do this, but I don’t think it’s healthy. And she hasn’t even applied to college yet…I am already a nightmare parent!

To my dear daughter: I am going to try to enjoy you right now, just as you are. Please accept my advance apology for when I fail to achieve this goal. I love you.

“Mama” Begins at 40

Pregnancy is hard for many people. Mine sucked. The nausea and smell sensitivity had me bedridden for the first 12 weeks – well, really the worst part of the nausea was during Weeks 7-12. I couldn’t stand the smell of the house, the garage, the bathroom, or even my own deodorant. I took Reglan and Benadryl  for the nausea, and it basically kept me from puking, but that was about it. I wouldn’t leave my bedroom, or even sit up, in case it made me retch. (I have severe emetophobia – that’s a fear of throwing up – so I never threw up once during my morning sickness; but I was stay-in-bed-and-try-not-to-move nauseous for 6 weeks.) Then, by Week 12, the nausea passed, and I was hit with a bunch of new symptoms I’d never read about: ever hear of pregnancy rhinitis? It basically means your nasal passages act like you have a cold while you’re pregnant. I sneezed and coughed and slept sitting up for the rest of my pregnancy. The hormones, which often made me cry, would cause extra mucus to build up in my sinuses. I couldn’t take any cold medicine (pseudo ephedrine is bad for the fetus) so I just felt like I couldn’t breathe all the time, which caused me to have panic attacks on occasion. My anxiety was off the charts, but I wouldn’t take meds for fear of harming the baby.

Then, I began to feel weak. My tongue hurt, and walking the dog became a major task. I felt as though I were experiencing a separate gravitational field that was pulling me down. I was exhausted, and just thought, “Well,  this is pregnancy!” Ummmm, no. This was a severe iron deficiency. I had anemia. Additionally, when I went for my glucose tolerance test, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes as well. Ech. I started taking liquid supplemental iron, and doing insulin shots every day, in addition to being on a restrictive diet to control the diabetes.

My third trimester was memorable for the leg and foot swelling, and for the thrice-weekly doctor visits to check the level of my amniotic fluid. I retained so much water that strangers would ask if I was having twins. (Don’t say this to a pregnant woman – she feels fat enough as it is!)

The best part of my pregnancy was that I went into labor two days before my scheduled C-Section, and I only labored for two hours before my OB came to perform the Caesarean. We both knew I was going to need one – I’m a small woman, and she was a huge baby – 9 pounds, 5 ounces.

Blessedly, after her birth, my troubles were pretty much over. I had a little trouble breastfeeding until my milk came in four or five days after birth, and I was constipated from the pain meds, but I had given birth to a healthy baby girl, and that was all I had hoped for. Being a new mom, well, that’s a topic for the next post. I’m surprised no one has coined the term “pregnancy survivor.” I’m a pregnancy survivor!