A month or so before Ingrid was born, I attended my first La Leche League meeting. A couple of women there were pregnant and also nursing toddlers. I’d been comfortable for a long time with the idea of nursing kids well into toddlerhood, but this was the first time I’d known of people nursing while pregnant or nursing two kids at once. What kind of insane martyr types are they? I thought. Why don’t they just stop? I felt like being pregnant took up every cell of my body and every calorie I could consume. What kind of nut would add to that the nutritional and emotional burden of nursing?
Well. Heh. You can probably guess where this is going. Here I am, almost 39 weeks pregnant, and here Ingrid is, still nursing anywhere between zero and three times per day.
It’s not a secret, exactly, but it’s also not something I talk about a lot. We haven’t nursed in public in at least six months, and, conveniently, nursing a kid over two, even without being pregnant, is so far off the map that most people don’t even think to ask about it. And, even though each step that’s gotten us here has felt completely right, I’m aware enough of how it probably looks (weird, perhaps unhealthy, possibly overzealous, and definitely a little nuts), even to reasonably well-informed other people, that I usually don’t bring it up. So, how did we get here, and how can I convince you that I’m neither a fanatic nor a doormat?
Last November, holding that unexpected positive pregnancy test in my hand, a whole marching band of worries trampled over me, and I believe the tuba player was wearing a jersey that said, on the front You’ll have to wean Ingrid and, on the back, or your bones will crumble.
Ingrid was 18 months old and still nursing a minimum of six times per day. She was going through a period, which I’ve since learned is common around that age, of “nursing like a newborn”—suddenly wanting to nurse more than she had been, and being more demanding about it and less willing to accept other forms of comfort. I felt overextended by her increased nursing already, and the thought of adding the exhaustion of pregnancy was overwhelming to the point of, at that moment, seeming impossible.
At the same time, it was clear that Ingrid was less ready for weaning than ever. Any effort I made to cut back on nursing, or even to limit it to certain times and places, just seemed to make her more clingy and unhappy. Maybe, A suggested, with more seriousness than you might guess, we can just give this baby formula from the get-go, and Ingrid can keep on nursing 'til she's four.
Looking for a more realistic solution, I naturally turned straight to the internet. Kellymom has some really comprehensive and reassuring info on this and makes it clear that, for well-nourished moms who aren’t otherwise at risk for pre-term labor, there’s no demonstrated health risk—for mom, baby, or toddler—associated with nursing through pregnancy.
I talked to a La Leche League leader about it, too. Actually, I called her on the phone, choked out my story, then sobbed while she told me that I was doing great, that I could choose what to do, and that Ingrid and the baby would be fine whatever I decided. She also told me how she herself had nursed kids born less than a year apart. (I have called LLL leaders on the phone two times and both times I have ended up sobbing. Something about calling a relative stranger out of the blue and having them tell me I am doing just fine...it undoes me every time.)
And I decided, for the moment, to take it one day at a time. To look for and respond to any signs from Ingrid that she was ready to cut back, and to stop offering nursing to her, but not to do anything right away to rush the weaning process. She had recently night weaned (a fact that had precipitated—in (ahem) more ways than one—my getting pregnant again in the first place), and that in itself had been a huge step. I was terrified of finding myself, this summer, nursing her in public with my giant belly hanging out, but I went with the thought that nine months is a really long time (it is!) and that a lot would change just on its own. And it did.
The first couple of months of pregnancy were hard; I was exhausted and very nauseated, and we all three got flattened by the Norwalk virus for a week in mid-December. It’s hard to say whether nursing made that time easier or harder. Sometimes I felt like nursing was wearing me out. Other times I was grateful to have that option as a way to comfort Ingrid when I had little energy to offer her. And while she was so sick with the stomach virus she took in nothing but breast milk; I have a hunch that nursing saved us from a hospital stay or a much sicker little girl.
Over the next couple of months, the “nursing like a newborn” phase passed, and Ingrid’s nursing settled into a pattern. We only nursed at home, and only at certain times, mostly associated with sleep and with separation.
And then, gradually, most of those nursing sessions just fell away. One day I’d come home from work and, rather than immediately attacking my boob demanding moke, she’d want to tell me something about her day first, and some days she’d forget about that nursing session entirely.
Now we are down to three nursing times: right after waking up in the morning, before going down for nap, and before bedtime. She’s starting to lose the morning one, and we’re trying to encourage that by not letting her see me lying down with my bra off. The naptime and bedtime nursing sessions are getting shorter, but she still gets pretty pissed off when I gently suggest we skip that step of the bedtime routine. But all of these nursing sessions are now optional. When I’m not around at naptime or at bedtime, she goes to sleep and gets up just fine without nursing.
But we’ve kept on doing it. Through the winter months when my milk began to taste different and caused Ingrid some crankiness and clinginess. Through the spring when the milk dried up entirely. Through last week when I started to notice Ingrid swallowing again as she nursed, and those weird yellow drops of colostrum oozing out.
Which I guess gets us to the question I asked two and a half years ago about those crazy La Leche League women: Why don’t they just stop? And my best answer is, Why would we stop? Things are fine how they are. The baby and I, by all measures, are totally big and healthy. Ingrid will not nurse forever; she’s on the road to weaning on her own. She’ll be fine being put to bed by someone else when I’m busy with the baby. And the nursing we have left is a sweet little part of our routine.
It’s also my ace in the hole, one I’ve used two times I can think of in the past six months, when she somehow gets worked into a serious tantrum and all other calming methods have failed for longer than I can stand. A little moke can really help.
My one worry is that after the baby comes and my milk returns to being sweet and plentiful, Ingrid will want to nurse more again. I know that's common, and I know I don’t want to let it happen, no matter how hard it is for both of us when I have to say no.
For the most part, I like nursing. I find it super convenient and easy, it feels healthy, I am fascinated and proud that my body can produce great baby food, and Ingrid and I have been very lucky to have had no significant problems nursing, pretty much from day 1 to day (gulp) 800. The only thing about it that gets me down is that only I can do it. There’s no delegating this task, and, with two kids, there’s no way I want to add anything more than necessary to the list of things caro must do.
So we'll keep going, keep taking it one day at a time. And if all goes well Ingrid will have to get used to the fact that she's not the only one in the family who loves the moke.