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Monday, August 15, 2011

When nursing becomes a bad habit...

So just over a month ago my second son Jonathan turned a year old and while I celebrated that I made it to my one year mark of breastfeeding, I hoped that I'd be able to commit to nursing until he turned two (partially because of the new dairy / gluten issues we have in our household, but also because it's what the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend). Unfortunately, I'm not going to be able to reach that goal...it's complicated so let me explain why:

As my luck would have it, once my first born Ben started sleeping through the night I became pregnant and was up in the night with some nausea or frequent trips to the bathroom. As if my body was trying to prepare me by saying, "Don't get use to sleeping through the night, number two is on his way and he's going to make those 3 hour stretches of sleep look good!" Jonathan was a lot easier during the day than his big brother was (both as a newborn and as a toddler) but he never consistently slept for more than two hours at a time. The only consistency in his nightly wakings was wanting to nurse, and wanting to nurse on both sides every single two hours. During the day I didn't keep track of how often I nursed. It didn't matter. I nursed on demand. I was the best pacifier around (FYI we tried 7 or 8 different paci's every single one triggered an instant gag reflex) and since nursing only hurt the first two weeks it wasn't an issue. After 6 months though I started building some false hope that Jonathan might start sleeping longer stretches now that I was introducing solid baby jar foods into his diet. At 9 months he was eating table foods, lots of meats, vegetables, fruits, rice, etc and he was still up every 2 hours, all night long. 

Around this time I tried implementing the Cry It Out (CIO) method which we had used successfully to train Ben to sleep through the night. At first it seemed to work. I wouldn't let him fall asleep on the breast, and always made him go in his crib awake so that he had to put himself to sleep. Sometimes he'd give up, after crying and screaming and crying and screaming, and lay down and fall asleep. But most of the time he'd wake up 15-25 minutes after falling asleep and then he'd be up for good, in a horrible mood, still overtired, and EXTREMELY CLINGLY. It was as if I wasn't training him to sleep on his own. It was as if I was training him to be afraid of me leaving him, being away from me for periods of time where he'd cry and I wouldn't come. Suddenly, my little boy who would play happily with some rattles or blocks, now began sobbing the second I put him down and walked two feet away from him. I was exhausted from being up all night, running across the house, every two hours, for over a year (include the frequent trips to the potty while pregnant) and add a clingy, whiny, crybaby during the day that prevents you from getting anything done in the house, which only adds to the constant headaches, frustration, and arguments with the hubby about how is it possible to be home all day and get nothing done except add to the mess. Then, as if to really test our marriage (and sanity) our 2.5 year old was regressing, had lost what little speech / comprehension he had, was sick all the time, and was no longer sleeping through the night. Now the hubby is running into Ben's room to keep him from waking Jonathan after I just nursed him back to sleep. On top of ALL of this, we then get a pre-Autism diagnosis and turn our entire diets / lifestyles upside down. So now, on top of no sleep, clingy baby, regressing toddler, rocky marriage, messy house, etc I have to learn to shop and cook EVERYTHING from scratch. I don't know how single moms do it or how our great grandmothers did it without the convenience of a dishwasher, indoor plumbing and disposable pampers.

This was the breaking point and I finally caved, and gave into co-sleeping with Jonathan. I was so surprised at how much better I felt, even after being up every 2 hours all night, if all I had to do was roll over and nurse Jonathan while laying on my side. This allowed me to partially sleep through the nursings, as compared to running across the house and then shuffling back to bed 20 minutes later. I completely embraced this co-sleeping and even had hubby remove the four poster guest bed and sleep on a mattress on the floor with baby for extra security now that he could roll around and possibly fall off the bed. I believe this is when nursing became a bad habit. At any little peep, Jonathan figured that as soon as he began to whimper, I'd pop a boob in his mouth, and we'd all have silence. The second he began to cry, I'd hush him with momma's milk to keep Ben from waking up which kept dad from having to wake up. Right around Jonathan's first birthday I started noticing how "obsessed" Jonathan became with me. He wanted me to hold him ALL the time. He'd screech and scream and whimper if I wasn't holding him, and if I ran out to the store and returned, the second he saw me he lost it. While breastfeeding him always calmed him and gave me a few moments of silence, I'm sure it was only adding to the problem. I began nursing him every other hour, all day, and soon Jonathan was crying, and demanding both breasts, every hour at night too. Sometimes twice an hour.

These past couple of weeks I have felt like a walking zombie, a zombie that was being sucked on for 10 minute blocks, 12-16 times a day! A few nights ago I made it a point to keep track of how many nursings Jonathan demanded at night. I counted 8 times, 2 breasts each time. How deep of a sleep could he really be getting, sucking on 16 boobs over a 10 hour period of time? I calculated that if he's getting 4 oz per breast, that's 64 ounces of milk! He eats plenty of solid foods in the day, drinks water from a sippie cup, and isn't underweight. He clearly does not need that much milk, especially at night. At one year old, he should be able to go 10-12 hours, at night, without nursing at all! I had to admit the frequency of breast, was no longer best! Nursing had become a bad habit and I had to put an end to it. I had a big decision to make. Do I stop cold turkey? Maybe that's the easiest thing...Ben quit cold turkey on me when he went on his nursing strike, but that was Ben's choice. If Jonathan had his way, my breast would be permanently attached to his face, so going cold turkey might be really difficult, maybe impossible, and perhaps even scarring. What if it made him more angry, cry baby and screamy? After much talk with the hubby, sister in law, bff I decided to wean him slowly. Try and stretch out the day nursings to 3 or 4 hour blocks of time, then maybe he'd naturally stretch himself out at night. Not a chance. I wasn't so lucky. He seemed to be nursing even more at night, to the point where now I couldn't even unlatch him...he wanted to sleep WHILE nursing and cried when I finally forced him to unlatch.

I had hoped that maybe I could stretch him out and just nurse him a couple times in the day and at night. I could do that for another year, but that didn't seem like an option. So four nights ago I told myself I would only let him nurse 3 times: once at bedtime (8:00), once in the middle of the night (preferable around 2 am) and once when he woke up (7 am?).  Well, he woke up about 10 times, crying, and I gave in 3 of those times, but we went down from 8 feedings to 5. The next night we got down to 2 (inbetween the before bed and first morning feedings). Every time he'd wake up and cry I'd pat his back, or pretend I didn't hear him and just lay still, ignoring his tantrum. Occasionally, when he got really worked up I'd tell him, "lay down, it's nite nite time." The next night I sent the hubby in and all the angels came together and gave him the strength and patience only a god could show towards a screaming, tantrumming toddler! I watched him on our video monitor as he tried to get baby to fall asleep on his chest, stroked his head and alternated between taking the blanket on and off him. By 7:03 am Jonathan had gone his longest stretch ever, by far, and went 11 hours without the boob! While Nick was ready to die from exhaustion I was filled with so much excitement at the possibility of being able to sleep through the night again that I felt as though I had slept through the night, rather than listened to my baby cry, while watching him on the monitor all night long.

Last night, I nursed Jonathan only 3 times during the day (first thing in the morning, at 7 am with breasts the size of torpedo's from engorgement from going 11 hours without nursing) and once before nap and bedtime. I asked my sweet Nickle to co-sleep with Jonathan again, but our plan went down the drain when Jonathan woke with a 103.1 fever at 2 am. I caved and felt it was best to give him the breast to make sure he stayed hydrated (and silent) but tonight, and for as long as it takes, I will continue to try and wean him, first through the night, then removing a feeding a day. As sad as I could make myself over the fact that I'm ending our nursing relationship, despite his desire to continue on, I am so ready to be done. I'm ready to have my body back, to be able to go away for more than a 3 hour stretch of time, while having my milk "come in" in the middle of a movie / dinner, and am beyond ecstatic over the idea of having an overnight date with my hunny. So I hate to go back on my word, especially since just last month I was all "here's to breastfeeding to year two" but it looks like the very breast thing for me and Jonathan is coming to an end. Wow, typing that makes me want to say, "Nevermind!" because this could very well be the last baby I'll ever nurse (damn I want to scratch that!) but I am going to focus on that fact that I was able to breastfeeding both of my boys for just under a year and just over a year and that is something to celebrate!

I will keep you posted if there's any new developments in our weening process. I'm going to be a little slack with the nursings while Jonathan is sick with the fever, but I am hopeful that we will both adjust to this next stage in no time. Here's to the very breast thing - even if it's putting an end to it!    

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