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How Long You Gonna Breastfeed that Baby?

The number one, nosy Nelly question, stated or implied with an eyeroll.

laraVariations include:

  • When are you going to stop breastfeeding?
  • You're STILL breastfeeding!?
  • You'll stop when he has teeth, right?
  • You know, there's no nutritional value after a year.
  • She doesn't take a bottle!?
  • It's time to stop nursing now. You did it long enough.
  • The "say-nothing-but-wrinkle-their-nose-raise-their-eyebrows-and-look-at-you" look

 

 

Ending breastfeeding is full of emotions for you and your baby.

It can be hard to be OK with all of your own feelings around weaning, let alone articulate and share them with random strangers and rude relatives.

Weaning might be forced at a few weeks or months due to lack of support, misinformation or medical cause. It might be an independent one year old too busy with his big brother to nurse. It may happen after 5 or more years of mutually satisfying breastfeeding.

Even in relationships where baby-led weaning is desired, you will swing between overwhelming love and feeling trapped. Closeness and connection can quickly turn claustrophobic with 24/7 soothing and feeding. You can dislike your larger, leaking breasts, and breastfeeding related problems like plugged ducts and mastitis, even as you love your baby's robust health, milk drunk naps, loving looks and snuggles.

The obvious neediness of a normal baby doesn't look like normal in our culture. 

We pride ourself on bootstrapping independence. Many nursing mamas feel, and are told that they are somehow "causing" this innate neediness, because their baby insists on connection and reconnection with their mama. While there are many variables in personalities, babies who are breastfed longer tend to develop greater confidence, security and independence in the preschool years and later.

When asked for responses to "How long are you going to breastfeed?" Moms find many ways to answer, and their overwhelming reaction is this: 

"It is an intimate question; one that shouldn't be asked!"

Rude people are everywhere and the best defense is a good offense. It can be helpful to practice a few responses. Write down ones that pop up after the offender has left. You may find a few responses here that resonate with you. Practice saying them and you will gracefully handle this question every time it pops up!

People are curious about breastfeeding.

If this might be the case, try a straightforward answer, grounded in life as you know it. You might say:

"When he's ready."
"Whenever my baby decides she's done."
"When we are both ready."
"Whenever it feels like it's time. I'll follow my baby's lead. No specific age in mind."
"Whenever my baby wants to."
"When my daughter decides to or I stop producing... whichever comes first."
"I was surprised we got to 1 year...now she's 3 so I gave up guessing. One less thing for me to worry about as far as her being a picky eater."
"When my baby is done or when she becomes too old for me to be comfortable with continuing."
"When it isn't working for us anymore. He's 3.5 years and we're still going strong... Very, very strong."
"My first was 4 when he stopped. my second just turned 3 and the baby is 9 months, so I have years left."
"My son just turned 1 and I am so done. I am slowly in the process of weaning."
"I'm hoping to make it at least a year. Anything after that will be a pleasant bonus. We'll wean whenever we're both ready after that.

Being evasive is a time honored way of subtly letting rude people know that their question is not welcome!

"Some day."
"Eventually."
"In about fifteen minutes."
"After we switch sides."

Be prepared for what happened when other mamas were evasive: 

"I told someone 'When he's ready' this weekend. She went all bug-eyed and said, "WHAT IF THAT'S NOT TILL HE'S FIVE?" My response was a shrug."

"When he doesn't want to anymore. I love the look on everyone's face when I say that.

Another milestone, college, is often mentioned to politely deflect the question.

"Maybe the day I drop her off at college."
"I just say college and change the subject, because it's no one's business."
"It's hard to side-lie in a dorm bed!"
"Of course if he decides to stay local as opposed to going away, say SUNY New Paltz, well, obviously we'll have reassess weaning.

'I'm sure he'll quit by middle school..."

If they don't take a mild hint? Bring out the big guns!

"When are you going to stop minding my business?"
"When you pry this baby from my cold dead hands!!!!
"Never! She's gunna breastfeed til I die."

Finally, there's nothing like confidence and personal experience to educate another:

"I would like to be completely weaned before she turns 2. I went to 18 months with my first."

"I've breastfed two kids to their second birthdays and they self-weaned. I plan on letting my baby do the same and hopefully she'll go longer than her older sisters! When my baby is done, that's when I'll stop breastfeeding."

"I remember holding my 3 year old child, who wasn't breastfed, and thinking I wouldn't be comfortable breastfeeding a child this old. Of course, it may be different with my second, because I have a breastfeeding relationship with her already....we shall see."

"I say one, but I love it so much, I don't know. I'll let her decide. I never realized what a bond it is. I love it. My hubby knows how much it means to me too, so he is good with it. We were at my mom's yesterday and I was feeding the baby on the couch. He pulled down my shirt. He was being funny! He said "I don't care if your boob is out, but cover the belly." Ha! I never thought I would hear that one."

"We are at 7 months. I would personally like to stop at 1 year, but she seems to be on her own schedule, as usual, so whatever her majesty wants, I guess her majesty gets!"

"There are days when I'm over it- when she still nurses like a newborn. She's 19 mos, but for the most part I'm so glad we're still at it!! Especially when she goes through eating strikes or when she's sick...I'll let her decide when to wean."

"I used to tell people that my minimum goal was the guideline set by World Health Organization and talk about the importance of that. If pushed, I'd tell them that my goal is baby-led weaning."

"In the end, none of my four were entirely baby-led weaned and I would have liked things to go differently. My first was 4 years 9 months and cut off cold turkey in desperation when baby-led weaning, tapering feeds slowly and discussions didn't work. It was a HUGE mistake. It affected our relationship for years. I nudged my second, third and fourth along a little faster than they were ready for, but I was never going to cut my kids off cold turkey again. The second and third were 5 years when they weaned. The last one weaned a bit before her 3rd birthday because I ran out of milk, dry nursing was very uncomfortable and she wasn't especially upset."

"When my pediatrician and I agree that the baby is no longer breastfeeding. (this puzzles them) I often had a diaper bag full of articles and research that I would offer to family members who had something to say about it. I told my MIL that when she graduated from medical school and completed her residency in Pediatrics, I would be happy to discuss the care and feeding of my child with her, but until she is a doctor I will not discuss these issues with her at all. That shut her up."

"I went to 2 1/2 last time. Not really thinking I want to do that again. We'll see how it goes."

"When baby feels like it. My first weaned around 16 months but I hope my second makes it to 2 years."

Whenever you and your baby decide to wean, whether breastfeeding is measured in days, weeks or years, know that it is a highly personal decision that is rarely based in hard facts. It's often unpredictable and complicated. When you are finished, you will have appreciation for nursing and for yourself, and probably some regrets and 20-20 hindsight. But, you will never forget how breastfeeding and weaning made you feel.

My thanks to the mamas of Café Mama's Breastfeeding Café for their wise comments and quotes.

If you are needing information about weaning your breastfed baby or child, please call/text Donna Bruschi at 845-750-4402 or read more here.

Teething, Biting & Being Mean

"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

It was a wonderful and exciting day I lost my first baby tooth!  The entire class gathered round to see the tooth. To stare at the bloody gap. To speculate how much the tooth fairy would leave. (I think I got a dime per tooth.) And, for some crusty first graders, to completely deny the existence of The Tooth Fairy. (No!!! And Santa? And the Easter Bunny?)

The excitement passed hands within a day or so, as another classmate took center stage with a tooth falling out. 

It was one thing to be the bloodied master of my own destiny, yanking my tooth out of its socket, triumphantly holding it in my fingers, going to the nurse's office and coming back with a small brown envelope and a bloody gauze square!

It was another to be in the middle of the pumpkin toothed masses with big gaps and even bigger teeth crookedly making their way front and center. When that happened, I remember becoming acutely self-conscious. I yearned for my beautifully aligned, small, perfect, baby teeth.

But, growing up doesn't work that way. It was the end of one era and the beginning of another.

Whether for a 6 month old or a 6 year old, two front teeth are a perfect gift! Teeth are wonderfully useful things to have, to use and to look at. Teeth make possible a whole new way of eating, relating to the world and, of course, change a baby's looks dramatically.

The process of teething requires your patience and understanding. It's often uncomfortable or painful and when we have a painful spot, our instinct is to apply pressure. That is exactly what babies do to mama's breast, daddy's shoulder or brother's fingers.

Unfortunately, it usually result in the first act of discipline that a child experiences.

One idea I often hear, and would like to clarify is that babies aren't evil and they don't "like" to inflict pain on you. What they do love is "surprises." When they bite you and see you jump, your face changes dramatically and your exclamation is not what they usually hear. (I hope!) They laugh at the surprise!

Because of this misunderstanding, a number of parents are dramatic or harsh when their baby bites and their dramatic responses may actually prolong their baby's biting experiments, because the baby is looking first for a pattern and then for a surprise.

A respectful way to handle baby bites is try to decipher a pattern of biting, anticipate bites, and avoid them. If baby does land a bite, try to quickly pull the baby in closer, try to stay calm and redirect them with something they CAN chew on - a frozen cloth, a wooden or silicone teether, or a snack.

A kind way to stay out of harm's way, yet connected and communicating correct behavior is to keep the baby on your lap and face them out while putting a teether in their mouth or hand.

As with any discipline, practice makes perfect! And, with 20 teeth to practice on, it is inevitable that you will find a way that works best for you and your baby.

Toddlers who bite are another 'beast' altogether and I will talk about them next week.

You're OK - Be a Better Mom Without Doing Anything!

toddler girl

One year old Maya was taking her first steps when she abruptly face-planted, startling herself and bumping her head. Her daddy scooped her up and snuggled her in.

"You're OK! You're OK. You didn't hurt yourself. You are fine. You did it! You walked!"

To his surprise, she just cried harder. He started to bounce her and chant, "What's wrong? You aren't hurt. It's just a little bump. You are OK. All Better! See? Just a little bump. Nothing to cry about."

Her response was to scream and thrash her legs wiggling out of his arms. She slid down his leg onto the floor and continued sobbing.

Her daddy stopped. He looked at her. While a goose egg was forming on her forehead, big tears ran down her face. She was sobbing deep sobs and had refused his comfort. It seemed way out of proportion to the fall she had taken.

And it was. The bump hurt, but not badly. The suddenness of the fall frightened her and that hurt more, so she cried in fear.

But what hurt most was her daddy's dismissal of her fright. In her mind, her protector had failed to protect her and was now dismissing her fears as unimportant. In other words, he was dismissing one of her basic needs.

We can't always protect our baby or child from harm. Things happen that we have no control over. Toddlers trip and topple over. We have car accidents and children get sick.

On some level your child understands this but still has a basic need for you to protect them from bad things. When that need isn't met, because we can't possibly catch every fall and prevent every bruise, something else has to take it's place.

That something else is empathy and compassion.

Compassion is when you understand that a person has their own reasons for behaving in a curious way. Compassion forgives their inexplicable behavior and lets you be kind to them. We offer reassurance. We have patience with babies and children as we do when someone is handicapped. We don't expect a person with a broken leg to run. We don't expect a baby or toddler to be smiling all the time.

Empathy is relating with someone from their perspective. We all know or have heard of a baby who was terrified of Santa. We don't understand it from our perspective. Why would any child be scared of Santa Claus? But if we look at it from a toddler's perspective, things look really different. A toddler might think:

"This person is a stranger! I've never seen such a big beard. He acts like he knows me but I don't know him. He's loud and too close. If I could take my time and meet him, I might want to know him more, but I don't know what he'll do to me. Better to be safe and stay with Mama. She will protect me."
 
When you are empathetic and compassionate, you look and listen to your child and try to figure out what is wrong from their point of view. You listen and make an educated guess based on their age and development. You acknowledge their feelings, instead of shushing them, which helps them calm themselves.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. A baby who is colicky and crying causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in us and there isn't much you can do. When your baby cries like that, you would do anything to make them stop. But telling them that they are OK, that there's nothing wrong and telling them that they are fine isn't true. What is true is that you don't know what is wrong and you can't do anything more than hold them until they feel better.

If you have ever been upset, you can understand this. It's a universal experience to have a family member tell us to be quiet, that there's nothing wrong with us and certainly nothing to be upset about! But inside, we know there is something wrong. Others don't have to fix anything or hurry us through our problem. All they need to do is witness our unhappiness so we don't have to face it alone. When someone takes time to sit with us in our pain, that action, in itself, eases the pain.

Why is this important? We are human beings with emotions. When we are encouraged to feel all our emotions, and that all of our feelings, good and bad, are OK, we can feel normal! We learn to have a healthy respect for ourselves and our powers of perception. We can trust that if we hurt, there's something wrong and we can ask for help!  If our baby's emotional needs are not allowed to be expressed and develop, they can not be empathetic to others. They may fail to form family relationships and friendships that nourish them. When you are empathetic and compassionate to your baby and toddler, you model ideal human behavior that they can use with their siblings and friends.

By contrast, when the all-powerful, all-knowing parent tells a baby that “You are crying over nothing.” “You should be ashamed of yourself for not being a big girl.” “Suck it up! Be a man.” “Don't be a cry baby!” The child mistrusts what they are experiencing. They may find themselves in a situation wondering if something bad is really good because they have lost touch with that inner guidance that was in place when they were babies.

Each developmental stage has its own developmental needs which requires parents to respond differently as their baby grows. What is universal is the need  for babies and children to be listened to and receive empathy and compassion.

If you would like to learn to be more compassionate and empathetic as a parent, please read more about my Parenting Repatterning.

 

At the end of your rope

P028 ZP9299 What do you do when you are at the end of your rope?

You know, the point where you can't take it any more and lash out at your baby or child. And then, feel terrible because, your child is only a child, doing childish things, and doesn't deserve to be the object of your anger.

There are unlimited opportunities to lose your cool. Babies and children need a lot of attention. They require regular feeding, clean clothes, a roof over their head and medical attention on a regular basis. As a parent, you are the one who does all this for them.

And to make things worse, because kids need so much attention, they will also demand it from you. Even if it's for negative attention, your kids will dig into the tenderest places under your skin just to get your undivided attention. Even though you know this is why it is happening, you may not stop yourself.

Anger is a sign that something needs to shift. It's powerful and effective when used to set limits and boundaries in a clear and kind way.

When you lose it, though, you have to be the one who stops it. You have to recognize the signs that you are getting overwhelmed, nearing the end of your patience and take a timeout, get help or calm yourself before you say something hurtful

Your kids don't make you angry. You get overwhelmed and let yourself get angry.

What causes overwhelm, and more importantly, how can we reduce or minimize it?

Four biggest contributors of overwhelm are in the acronym, H.E.L.P. Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired.

Hunger. It may seem impossible to believe that in a world where you are making food for your little one a bajillion times a day, that you could be hungry. It happens!

Anger is easier to understand because babies and children are needy, not very articulate and meltdown in hysterics when you don't understand them. This triggers many people's anger. You may want to explode, but rage worsens every situation. It hurts other's feelings and makes babies and children feel scared and hurt. Many of us were raised in families where anger was used to control others. It creates families where people are walking on eggshells to avoid another blast.

Loneliness. Who has never felt lonely in their life? Whether you are going hours or days without being able to share your feelings or talk to another adult, you can go a little lulu. Most moms feel overwhelmed when they have to listen, problem solve and entertain babies and children at the child's level without any adult interaction. We all need friendship.

Tired is part of parenting. Even if you have a wonderful sleeper for a baby or child, they get sick, they have nightmares, you can't sleep, you worry and so on. Even if you sleep enough, you can feel mentally tired from endless laundry, endless crying and whining and repetitive rounds of "Why?" and "Mom-mom-mom!"

So, sometimes...you can't take it anymore. You are exhausted. Maybe hungry? You don't have anyone to vent to and something in you snaps! You find yourself yelling the same dumb things your mother said to you.

And, you feel ashamed. And, you don't know what to do about it or how to stop yelling at your poor child. As much as you thought they deserved it in the moment, you can remember what it was like be yelled at and feel guilty because you want better for your child.

The solution to overwhelm.

When overwhelm happens, there is a time crunch involved. When we remove the deadline, often the overwhelm goes away. In the heat of the moment, ask yourself, "What will happen if there's no deadline? What if we take more time to do this? What if we stop and try again another time?" If that's not possible, close your eyes, breathe deeply, count to 10 and rephrase what you were about to say. Getting angry takes way more time than we realize.

  • When you are always angry, it's a sign that you need help. Not necessarily mental help, although that is helpful. You need some domestic help. Someone to help do chores and take care of the kids so you can sleep, shower alone, go to yoga, walk or just sit in peace to recharge your energy. If you haven't yet, give your partner a list and tell them you need time off to recharge. (Buying groceries alone doesn't really qualify as 'time off.') Sometimes chronic anger means that we are not good with setting clear limits on our time, good nature or responsibilities. We give too much physically, mentally or emotionally without refueling.
  • Moms need friends, dad need friends, and kids need friends. A friend is someone who can see our life as we see it, listen to our stories and offer support and empathy. Before kids, you may have been happy with having casual acquaintances and your partner. You also had time to pursue your hobbies and other enjoyable things. Now, your kids are your work, your hobby and your everything. Without friends, you may feel like you are in a deep funk.  When we feel connected, we don't feel lonely. Friends can be found at Café Mama, the playground, the park, and the library. Be a friend. Ask to exchange phone numbers! You need a friend with kids. You can hang out at each other's houses and watch each other's kids for an hour or two.
  • If you are hungry, eat or drink something. Think of 3 or 4 foods that you can eat any time or anywhere and keep them stashed in your car, purse and at home. Emergency food doesn't have to be terribly nutritious. Its purpose is to get you over a hump until you can have a real meal. Granola bars, nuts, chips, powdered energy shakes, fruit, cheese sticks, crackers, even a candy bar will buy you some time and calm the hangries.
  • Routine is a positive word for monotony and there is a sweet spot between the two. Having routines makes your children's life predictable for them and easier for you, giving you more time to pay attention to them. Variety is the spice of life and routine is the meat and potatoes. One or the other is exhausting. Eating chicken nuggets four nights in a row makes me want to snap but I appreciate the simplicity of shaking ready to eat pieces onto a tray so that we can still eat at 6:00
  • Simplify. Your kids don't need so many activities or possessions. They need your attention. Owning toys is a responsibility that contributes significantly to overwhem. It's a bargain we make with our kids. "If I buy you this, will you leave me in peace?" At the moment of purchase or giving, the child has your undivided attention. It's a sweet moment. But they don't want the toy as much as they want that sweet moment of YOU and them and the toy together, forever. Activities whether for enrichment or fun can also contribute to overwhelm. You need some, but you don't need some every day. Create a home that's about relaxing, recharging and connecting with each other rather than a place to change clothes and grab a snack before heading out to your next activity.

Anger is a force for cleansing and creating powerful change. It is also a hurtful, damaging force when used incorrectly. Overcoming unhealthy anger habits requires new skills that you can learn through being mindful, in therapy and in anger management classes. Anger management classes are offered for free through places like your county health department and through Café Mama. They aren't just for people with anger problems, they are for anyone wanting to live a more positive, fulfilling life through a positive use of anger.

My love to you and your family....