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Monday, September 17, 2007

Why is Sammy still nursing?

A friend from my LSMSA days, Spicy CPA Frog, asked this in response to a recent post. I know our parenting styles are radically different, so I thought it best to put some thought into the answer/insight into my thought processes rather than just glossing over it in a comment.

Here are some for the things that have entered or crossed my mind at some point:

  • When Sammy was born I had two fairly close friends, whose parenting style I greatly admired. I later learned both of them adhered to a lot of the principles of Attachment Parenting (AP). They had both chosen to nurse their toddlers, so I knew it was a valid (controversial in the US, but valid) parenting choice.
  • I did a lot of reading while Sammy was pretty small, mostly stuff on AP because that was what that made sense to my heart, and in that repeatedly came across the idea of child-led weaning. The more I read about it, the more natural and appealing it seemed.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that "breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired."
  • The needs of a 1 year+1 day old child are really no different than the needs of a 364 day old child. So why should I automatically stop nursing a baby just because he/she has reached some milestone on a calendar?
  • The World Health Organization recommends that after 6 months of age "infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond."
  • When Sammy was almost 8 months old, I got pregnant with Katie. I was already having issues pumping enough milk to keep up with him at daycare (at that time it was a pumping problem not a supply problem) and then my milk started dwindling because of the pregnancy. I felt terribly guilty, after having decided to let him wean himself, that I might not even be able to nurse him through the first year like I had originally planned before I knew anything about gentle parenting. That guilt carried over for a long time, and was a big influencing factor in deciding to tandem nurse.
  • Shortly after I got pregnant with Katie, I read Adventures in Tandem Nursing by Hilary Flower, to educate myself as much as possible about nursing a baby/toddler during pregnancy and beyond, to try to figure out if this was something I wanted to pursue or not. I was really touched by all the stories, greatly comforted to know that LOTS of people have gone through what I was about to, and armed with new knowledge I re-made the decision to let Sammy wean himself when he was ready.
  • I wondered what God actually had in mind when he designed humans? How did people 100, 200, 1000 years ago feed their babies and toddlers? They certainly didn't feed them formula as infants and/or wean them in the first or second year.
  • In many other cultures, breastfeeding toddlers and preschoolers is perfectly normal, and weaning children before they are ready is considered weird.
  • According to Anthropologist Kathy Dettwyler, cultural influences aside, human offspring are designed to nurse between 2.5 and 7 years, and...
  • ..."in societies where children are allowed to nurse 'as long as they want' they usually self-wean, with no arguments or emotional trauma, between 3 and 4 years of age."
  • We did not have to deal with any sibling rivalry or the usual feeling-neglected toddler behavior when Katie was born.
  • He gets immunities from it. (Did you know children's immune systems don't develop fully until they're about 6?)
  • Who knows what other allergies I may have protected him from by nursing him. (And eggs, milk, and peanuts are certainly enough for me!)
  • It has to be better for him than any of the alternative (non-human) milks that are out there. (He does drink rice milk, but not in the quantities that he would if he were not nursing.) And certainly is much better for him than any of the non-milks he could be drinking (juice, soda, kool-aid, ...)
  • It's statistically better for his IQ and eventual emotional maturity
  • It helps him calm down REALLY fast when he is upset or hurt (like after his prick test at the allergist)
  • It makes him happy and helps him feel secure
  • Sometimes when Katie is upset she nurses better if her brother is there nursing with her
I didn't always feel this way. I remember a conversation with Chicken, Roomie, Roomie at our 30th birthday spa-day celebration. Since I was pregnant with Sammy, the conversation revolved mostly around parenting and raising babies. At the time Chicken was the only 1 with kids (I think they were 5 & nearly 3 at the time???). She was still nursing her youngest, which I thought was totally weird. I told them I remembered being 3, and it would be just too weird to have a kid grow up and remember nursing. (I now have no idea why I thought that!)

Near the end of our Bradley Method birth class, our class discussed nursing. I was determined to nurse for 1 year (AAP recommendation) and then wean because "anything beyond that is just weird." Another classmate didn't even really want to nurse, but was going to do it for a little while because of financial issues. Boy did we both change our minds when we met our kids and got to know them! Mine is (obviously) still nursing. That classmate and I remained friends after the class, and she was SUPER sad when her son weaned himself ~18m!

There have been times I've been very tempted, and a few times where I actually decided (for a day or so) to change my mind about child-led weaning, but they're usually PMS related, so I end up making myself stick to my original decision. It is not convenient or comfortable to nurse a toddler, especially one with bad teeth, but I believe it is best for him, so I continue to do it.


Mamaebeth said...

have you read "mothering your nursing toddler"... it is so good.

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

Stac - I've said this before, but thank you so much for being intelligent and informative and very nonjudgmental when you answer such questions. Also, thanks for being open to answering such questions.

I have a totally different perspective (imagine that ;) ), including a ton of reasons why I wouldn't nurse a child past one year (and many of them are focused on the child's development...only a few are about my own laziness and crankiness :) ). But I appreciate that you are not offended by other perspectives and questions and never seem to take them personally.

Sometimes it's difficult to find people with various points of view about parenting without feeling like the blogger believes her way is the only way to parent. I've never felt my way is the only way to parent, and while I feel like it's the "right" way, I truly mean only "right" for me. (You have to be a certain level of anal to parent the way that I do. Sigh.) It's nice to read a blog that shows a very different perspective than mine, without feeling like the blogger (you!) is/are calling for me, or anyone else, to change our *eveeel* ways.

Spicy CPA Frog! said...

Thanks for the explanation. It definitely wouldn't work for me, but I'm sure the way I parent wouldn't work for many... Not that I believe I really have a parenting style. I'm sure I do, but I wouldn't be able to spell it out.

Thanks also for not taking offense from my comment. I don't mean to offend anyone I just do not see the benefits to breastfeeding past one. No, I don't think I'd just cut them off on their 1st birthday, but I'd definitely try and wean.

I did breastfeed for a short time. Not as long as I wanted, but I had a preemie and I had to bottle feed and breastfeed in the beginning. Well, it wore me out pumping, trying to nurse and supplementing.

With all the heatlh problems we've had, I definitely wish I could have done it longer (maybe until 6 months), but I feel I did what was best for me, Tad and my family. Next time, I'll definitely try again but if it doesn't work I won't beat myself up either.

Thanks again for the explanation. Even though I don't always agree with your parenting style, I LOVE reading about them.

Anonymous said...

Now, this question is coming from a mom who breastfed her son until he was two (so please don't think I'm against breastfeeding as I practiced it much longer than most!)...

If your son is allergic to eggs, milk and peanuts, what makes you think that his breastfeeding is helping ward off allergies? I've honestly never come across children with that many (genuine) allergies (and such devastating ones, I might add!). It just seems odd to me that you would use Sammy's allergies as a way to "defend" (for lack of a better word) breastfeeding, when your son has so many!

Anonymous said...

Chicken here.
First, I want to say that Stacy, you are one of my heroes for many reasons. I admired you before you were a mom, but I am so proud of the mommy you are...not because you are mothering the way that you think everyone should, but because you are mindfully adapting your parenting styles to the individual needs of your children.
There are topics more controversial than religion and politics, and number one is how to feed a baby! Number two is whether or not a mother "should" stay home with her child. I suspend judgement on these issues as well, and I have friends who do things differently from me and each other--and we agree that we are doing what is best for our families.
As for long-term nursing and allergies:
My son weaned himself at 13 months. We discovered his milk allergy somewhere between 2 and 4 months (I can't remember!). Perfume, dye, and cosmetics sensitivity apparent as a baby. (Mostly outgrown 8 years later, yeah!) Allergic to dog saliva, noticed age 1. We discovered his fluoride allergy at age 3. Latex sensitivity, age 1 (the Band-Aid year). He also has terrible seasonal allergies, ear infections, sinus infections, etc.

Daughter nursed for 37 months, and unlike her brother, was never supplemented with formula. She never ate baby food. She had nothing but breastmilk, water, and juice for 9 months, then when straight to fresh table food. Her only afflictions were a scary congestion after birth, and frequent viruses and ear infections from exposure to preschoolers. Aside from seasonal allergies, she is very healthy.

Draw your own conclusions about nursing vs. cow's milk. Any farmer can tell you that a calf won't touch pasteurized, homogenized 2 percent milk. Personally, I love the stuff, and I drink it every day.

Sorry so long!

Marie said...


Our new pediatrician (family doctor, actually) has mentioned to me both (three?) times I've seen him that his wife nursed their five kids up to about age 5 each. I've heard of many mamas nursing that long. When I thought of my son who was 5 at the time (never nursed as he was adopted) it did feel a bit weird to me. (He was actually hoping he could *start* nursing around that time!) OTOH my nearly 2.5yo dd still nurses a lot and yes I nurse her in public in the front row at Mass frequently.

So I understand both the "weird" thought and the "normal" thought.

I guess I'm bilingual :)

Mathochist said...

E - I have not read that, but yours was the 2nd recommendation in 24 hours, so I will definitely have to check it out. Not that I seem to be able to find time to read these days...

K - No, I don't pressure you to change your "eveel" ways, I just pray for you to. ;)

M - thanks for making me actually think logically about what I'm doing. Sometimes I get really frustrated and wonder why I'm doing it; it's good to have the reasons spelled out. I would call your parenting style "typical American." And I know you are too sweet to be offending anyone on their own blog. ;) I am glad you were able to breastfeed your preemie. That is so important to them. And isn't pumping just the pits!?!?

Anon - I guess that does seem weird. It's just a gut feeling, really, nothing I could actually explain. I am sensitive to dairy and eggs too, so those didn't surprise us at all. The peanuts threw us for a loop, though.

Chix - Isn't it great to live in a world where we can be each other's heroes and not get too big-headed to live with? " are mindfully adapting your parenting styles to the individual needs of your children" Thank you for noticing. I think this is one of the most important jobs a parent has.

Marie - isn't it weird how quickly our ideas can change when we get to know our babies? ;)

Mommy to Ander and Wife to Box said...

Darnit, Stac, you made me laugh so hard that I spit on my keyboard! LMBO! (laughing my bootie off)

FloridaWife said...

I've just come back to read this post. You documented in one post everything that I've read about nursing and child-led weaning. Age 7 -- wow! ! Honestly, I don't know how long I'll go.

I just want to say also that you have given your son a wonderful, selfless gift by doing this.

God bless.