Nursing In The Dark

My son will be three in September. Nursing has been changing lately. Most of it is done at naptime and bedtime/wake-up. I realized today that I can’t remember the last time he nursed during the day. A couple of times I have asked him if he wanted to, when he was really upset and I sensed that nursing could help him relax. He declined. I know the way weaning usually works: there is a lot of back and forth. Nursing sessions aren’t just dropped overnight. So I’m not ready to say that he is never going to nurse while we’re snuggled up on the couch again. But I have no way of knowing for sure. Maybe he’s just done with it.

I feel proud of him for not needing that afternoon or mid-morning nurse with the urgency he did before. And I feel a sense of wonderment about it because my older son wasn’t at this point when he was this age. I feel a bit of sorrow too, of course—that bittersweet feeling you get as your child reaches a milestone.

So lately we have just been nursing in the dark. Sometimes it’s light enough for me to watch him nurse—other times not so much. In just a few months he might be done napping, and that session will slide away. Today I realized all this with a rush of feeling, and so I decided to take pictures of our naptime nurse, in the half-dark.

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Oh my child, growing, changing, loving, breaking my heart, putting it back together again.

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Is It Normal Not to Like Breastfeeding?

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Many mothers start off thinking of breastfeeding simply as a feeding method. In those first few weeks, they want to be sure they are doing it right—and, of course, that their baby is getting enough to eat. Sometimes the technicalities of nursing can wear a mother down, especially if she is having difficulties. Sore nipples, for instance, are among the top reasons that women give up breastfeeding (sore nipples that make nursing unbearable are not normal, and there are usually simple solutions out there to remedy them). Other mothers are trying to remedy low milk supplies. Another, lesser-known discomfort is a phenomenon known as D-MER, where mothers feel strong feelings of depression and agitation when their milk lets down (these feelings are linked to hormones, and disappear soon after letdown).

Even without challenges like these, new nursing moms are often bogged down with concerns about feeding schedules (is he really ready to eat again?), leaking breasts, sleep deprivation, self-doubt, body image issues—and just the huge, often startling transition into motherhood. My own first son had trouble latching on. For the first few weeks it took lots of tries, repositioning, and coaxing to get him to latch on and suck. Once he latched on things were fine (though I was still an exhausted, leaky mess), but nursing often felt tedious, technical, and stressful. By the time the latching got more seamless, the fussy evenings began, and my son would often cry at the breast until we could calm him down enough to nurse.

I had this image in my head of tranquil breastfeeding, mom and baby nestled together with beads of light surrounding them. I had some nice moments, but I didn’t seem to be there yet.

This is very common, especially for first-time mothers. Breastfeeding or not—having a newborn for the first time is difficult. Very difficult. And it doesn’t help that there is pressure from within and without to “enjoy every moment.” It doesn’t help that people think breastfeeding is supposed to be easy and perfect right away. It doesn’t help that there is a seemingly easier solution out there (bottles and formula), while there is very little accessible, compassionate, affordable breastfeeding help out there.

I have led a monthly breastfeeding support group for six years now, and I can’t tell you how relieved breastfeeding mothers are when they gather in a room together and realize that all those conflicted feelings are completely normal. It is such a relief to them to know they are not alone. They relax a little then. And that is often when they start to truly enjoy breastfeeding.

Almost every time, it does happen: breastfeeding becomes enjoyable, second nature, comfortable—often lovely. When it happens varies for each woman, depending on her circumstances, support, and baby. Usually it happens after a few weeks, when any initial soreness disappears, and mothers actually get to see their babies growing from the milk their body produces. (Even moms with true low milk supply often are able to reach a point of acceptance with whatever supplementation is necessary, and are able to find peace with the amount of breastmilk they are able to offer.)

I remember when I began to relax into nursing. I was sitting in the armchair in my living room. My son was born in winter, and now spring was just beginning to blossom—little buds waving on the branches of the tree outside our window. I had just nursed my son, and he popped off the breast, milk dribbling out of the side of his mouth, his eyes fluttering closed, and a giant grin splashed across his face. I had heard the phrase “milk drunk” before, and now I saw it. It was bliss, pure and utter happiness. And it was contagious. I felt so content there. I was so glad that I had persevered and gotten to where I was with breastfeeding.

If you are at the beginning, know that chances are, you will eventually fall in love with breastfeeding (a small minority of women never enjoy breastfeeding, but most do). If things are so hard that you’re not sure how you’ll make it to the next feeding—just take it day by day, feeding by feeding, and you will get to the other side. Go to a breastfeeding support meeting. Meet other moms who are feeling as you are, and talk to other moms who made it through to the sweet spot of breastfeeding.

Even when you get there, know that it is normal to have rough days as your baby gets older. Teething, growth spurts, and other fussy phases can all drive a nursing mother mad! We have all been there. You have the right to complain. You have the right to vent. It’s all part of the cycle of life you are in with your baby, and with breastfeeding.

But all the difficult moments will be interspersed with the most delicious milky smiles, and the coziest snuggles. You’ll get there, in your own way, in your own time.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr

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A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

Just Because You Can Doesn’t Mean You Should

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It feels good to feel wanted. I have felt that these past few months. Awesome places want to publish my work (and, often, pay me for it). New mommies want my help and advice. And of course, my children with their endless wants and needs (and love).

I had always been a writer, but things slowed down a bit when my first child was born eight years ago (here’s a new piece I wrote about my firstborn). When the new year hit this year, I decided I was ready to “dive in” again. I have been blessed with words, and new places and people to share them with.

In addition to freelance writing, I’m a volunteer breastfeeding counselor and IBCLC. I get frequent emails, Facebook messages, and phone calls for help. I manage a Facebook discussion group, and I host a monthly breastfeeding support group. I have a part-time IBCLC business. I do consultations on weekday evenings and weekends. It is very part-time at this point, but I always have a mom or two I am working with in this capacity.

Let’s not forget (because I do so often) that I am a full-time mom. My own mom does come by to help a few hours a week, but it’s just me in charge of the house and the kids for 10-12 hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I think I kinda forgot that. I thought I would do it all, all at once. I was wrong, as usual. It’s happened to me before.

I reached a breaking point last week. I had about four writing pieces out (including this one about breastfeeding older children that went kind of viral), which meant promoting them, getting and answering emails from fans, and just generally feeling full and overstimulated from it all. Plus, there were a few breastfeeding emergencies along the way, from both my volunteer work and paid work. And of course, kids, replete with tantrums, spills, nightwaking, early mornings, and sibling squabbles.

I don’t drink coffee (gives me terrible anxiety and tummy aches), but I eat bits of dark chocolate to power me through the day. I realize this is not a terrible thing if done in moderation. It started with a few squares here and there. But with all the endlessness of my days lately, I had been going through several bars of chocolate a week. Plus, I’d been exercising less, eating more crap, and just generally putting everyone else’s needs in front of my own. I don’t usually weigh myself, but I’d gained five pounds in about a month.

I felt the weight of it all, just everywhere.

So I did some things I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured out some ways to cut back on my volunteer work, and streamline some other aspects of my life.

And I made the intention—just like I did six months ago, when I decided to write in earnest again—that I would take care of myself. That’s it. Take care of myself: those four words. However it works, however it manifests.

It may be thrilling to “do it all.” I may be able to do to it all, in the sense that I can get it done. But it doesn’t always feel right. Something gets lost along the way. This time it was me. Sappy, yes. But true, 100%.

Just saying I need to do it has made a difference already. The days have felt simpler already, less encumbered. I have been taking more time for stillness. I have been putting my phone away. I have been eating my bits of chocolate, but savoring each small bite instead of stuffing in more. And I have been enjoying my babies more, taking the time to sit with them, read to them, cuddle with them, draw with them—all those good things.

I want all the other things to, and I can have them, but I just need to take it slower, say no to some of them, and say yes to the ones that matter most.

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My Grandparents’ Garden

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The old aqua blue telephone on the patio table. The pansies my grandfather planted in a neat row. And the dahlias—oh those beautiful, intense, many-petaled dahlias—in a tall wooden pot next to the telephone.

But what I remember most is the wooden fence, and the tight alleyway my sister snuck through to get from their house to ours. My sister: Dahlia. My grandmother had planted the flowers for her. Dahlia, 8 years-old, the same age as my first child is now.

She snuck through with my grandpa because he would walk her home. Every day afterschool she would go to my grandparents’ house, and stay there until my mother got home. She did her homework, ate a snack (probably challah, soup, or toast). Sometimes she sewed with my grandmother.

And then my grandpa would take her hand, walk her home, through the alley, out the other side, around the corner to our house.

And why, when I write this, am I moved? Why I am shattered?

Why is that path between the houses—my grandfather’s hand, my sister’s afternoons eating and gardening and sewing with them—so triggering, so meaningful?

Partly because they are gone, of course. The flowers, the telephone, the wooden fence (now shiny white). My grandparents, buried together under a cherry tree in Staten Island. And my sister’s 8-year-old self—32 now, across the continent in misty Seattle.

What moves me the most is the love, the protection. It’s my mother finally having help and family nearby after all those years as a single mom. All those years alone, 3000 miles away from her parents, in California. It’s my mother not having to worry that her little girls had to stay at an afterschool center, or be latch-key kids. It’s that my mother didn’t have to do it alone, for the first time in many years.

The other day I was pushing my two-year-old son past my grandparents’ old apartment building. And I was swept back to that time. I could see myself then, 13 years old, reckless, full of teenage angst and lust, missing my father, my friends, my California. But a little calmer too, a little more settled, a little closer to home.

And my mother—I didn’t understand any of it until I became a mother. I didn’t understand at all how lonely she had been all those years in California, how hard it must have been for her to raise two girls alone. I didn’t understand what great solace she must have found moving back home.

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photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons 

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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The Gravity of It

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Nothing in my life is convenient right now. Being poked by a two-year-old at 4am most mornings? Nope. Never eating a meal without having to feed other people at the same time? I don’t think so. Never being able to leave the house without needing to persuade little people to put their shoes and jackets on, to stop fighting, stop kicking the wall, stop wiping snot on each other? Nah.

I used to be able to glide through my life effortlessly (though I probably didn’t feel that way at the time). My life was my own. I could wake up when I wanted, eat breakfast in silence, put my shoes on and leave. I could go where I wanted, nothing but my wallet and keys to keep track of. It’s hard to even remember when navigating the world was that effortless.

Things are different now. So different. I accept that most days I am tangled up in children. I accept that I am weighed down by their needs. I accept the gravity of it.

And yet, I feel the burden deeply. It pushes my body into the armchair at 4pm. It makes me say yes to extra screentime at that hour because I just can’t move another muscleI can’t muster up another smile. I can’t listen to another word coming out of their adorable little mouths. 4pm, baby, is when I feel the mind-blowing, earth-shattering heaviness of it all.

I think it’s important to say it, how terribly inconvenient motherhood is—especially motherhood at this stage, when the kids are so incredibly dependent on me. I think it’s important to say I feel buried in it.

And now I feel the push (from where?) to write about the joy, to tell you it’s all worth it. But I feel like that is the obvious part. My sons are gorgeous. Their stunning wondrousness makes me cry.

But I can’t deny that it is terribly inconvenient, stifling, so very hard to care as deeply as I do for them, and then to find the energy to care for myself as well.

I am trying to find the balance. Aren’t we all? I do, sometimes. And other times I don’t, at all.

And so I write. I tell my stories. I walk. I meditate. I do my best. That’s self-care. That sets me free.

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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How To Get Through a Nursing Strike

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Scenario 1: Your eight-month-old seems to be teething. He bit you while nursing and you screamed at the top of your lungs (ouch!). Now your baby cries when he comes to your breast, and refuses to nurse.

Scenario 2: Your four-month-old had a cold last week and was too stuffed up to nurse. Then you had a busy week—lots of plans out of the house—and your baby wouldn’t sit still to nurse while you were out. Today she arches away from the breast every time you sit down to nurse. You were already stressed out and now your stress is skyrocketing.

Scenario 3: Your fourteen-month-old seems too busy to nurse lately. He’ll sit on your lap, latch for a second, and then run off laughing. He would rather eat snacks or drink water from a sippy cup. Last night you were staying at your in-laws’, and he was restless and pulling off the breast even while nursing to sleep. Today he’s flatly refusing the breast altogether and you are concerned he’s weaning.

Sound familiar? These are just some examples of what might happen if your baby is experiencing a nursing strike.

First, how do you distinguish a nursing strike from weaning? Basically, any baby or toddler who suddenly refuses the breast is having a strike. It doesn’t really matter how old your baby is. Certainly any child under two years won’t just stop nursing suddenly without due cause. Even older toddlers can have nursing strikes. Natural weaning—even if it is pushed along a bit by a mom—happens very gradually, the child dropping nursing sessions one by one, over many weeks or months. So, when in doubt, assume your baby or toddler is having a nursing strike.

The first thing to know is that almost all nursing strikes resolve in time. Babies actually want to nurse, but something is upsetting them when they strike, and once this is resolved or forgotten, nursing will resume. In order to get through the strike, you need some faith, good support, and lots of patience. It can sometimes take a few days (or even weeks, in some cases) to resolve completely.

Even though it might take a bit of detective work, almost all nursing strikes begin with some kind of stressor that make nursing unhappy for your baby. The most common ones are illness, teething, developmental changes (both mental and physical), changes in routine (moving, busy family life), biting (especially if the mother reacts by screaming, and startling the baby), and high-stress situations in the family. Sometimes it’s a little more subtle than these situations, and often is a combination of things that push things over the edge for your baby, and result in a strike.

Remember that something is bothering your baby. It is nothing you did wrong. Even if you screamed while being bitten, or were “too busy” or “too stressed,” there is no reason for guilt here. These things happen in our lives. Like I said before, nursing strikes almost always work themselves out in due time.

So what to do once you have identified it as a nursing strike?

First, it’s important to protect your milk supply and feed your baby. Some babies will refuse the breast completely; others will still nurse for some sessions, but refuse the others. Unless you are dealing with an older toddler, you will need to pump or hand express in order to keep up your milk supply. Your baby needs to be fed the pumped milk to get adequate calories.

It’s preferable to feed your with non-bottle nipples (you can try a small cup or a spoon). If that isn’t possible, and your baby will only take a bottle, try paced bottle feeding to make bottle feeding most compatible with breastfeeding. If your baby uses a pacifier, see if you can use it less, or not at all—some babies will come back to the breast by first using it to pacify, so you don’t want to rely on artificial nipples right now.

Babies who are refusing the breast have a memory of something that happened during breastfeeding that upset them, and you want them to move past this memory. So now isn’t the time to force the breast. Definitely continue offering it—but if your baby cries when you do, this may not be the best strategy.

When your baby gets upset at the sight of your breast, a good strategy is to offer the breast when the baby is less aware of what is happening. My favorite time to do so is just when a baby is waking up from sleep because the baby is in a semi-conscious state then. You can also offer the breast in the middle of a sleep cycle, when the baby stirs. If you don’t already share sleep with your baby, now is a good time to do so, even if it’s just a temporary thing. Sleep without a shirt so your baby will smell you—he or she might latch on without your even knowing.

Lots of skin-to-skin usually helps. You can just hold your baby against your breast periodically without offering, without trying to “make things happen.” You want to remind your baby that the breast is a safe, cozy place. A weekend napping in bed together, skin-to-skin, often cures a nursing strike.

Other tricks include nursing in the dark, nursing in a baby carrier, nursing in the bathtub, or nursing outside. Just changing up the nursing routine can be helpful so that your baby can forget whatever caused the strike.

I highly recommend you talk to a breastfeeding counselor, or an understanding friend. When a baby refuses your breast, it can cause a whole lot of stress for you, and being able to talk it through can be immensely helpful. Often your baby will pick up on the relief in your body, and begin to relax as well, which will help end the strike.

So have faith, take your time, go back to basics, and get tons of support. I know how devastating it is when your baby refuses the breast. It’s hard not to take it as a personal rejection. But it will be OK. It’s just a nursing strike, and will be over soon.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/okbends/

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A version of this post first appeared in Natural Child Magazine

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Connect with me on Facebook and Twitter!

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If you are looking for breastfeeding help, you can contact a La Leche League Leader or a Lactation Consultant.  If you are interested in setting up a breastfeeding consultation with me, visit my website , or contact me at wendywisner78@gmail.com.  I do in-person consultations for mothers in Queens or Nassau County, NY, and I also offer phone/Skype/FaceTime consultations for mothers outside of my area. 

It Goes So Fast…I’m Holding On

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My two-year-old requires that I spend about half his nap lying with him/nursing him. Well, not requires it, but that’s how it’s always been. And if I don’t come to him, he will take a shorter nap and probably be cranky. So when he stirs, I come. I check Facebook, maybe try to write something (thank god for the “Notes” app on my phone), close my eyes for a bit.

At this point in my life as a parent (8.5 years!), I don’t really think about my  “parenting” choices, at least not in the way I used to when my first child was a baby. I obviously err on the side of crunchy/attachment parenting. But I don’t really think about it. What I do or don’t do is just…whatever. Just part of life. Nothing to be pored over or analyzed. It basically works, and if it doesn’t, I’m too tired to question it.

But it occurred to me this afternoon that there are a ton of parents out there who don’t or wouldn’t or simply can’t spend half of naptime lying there with their children. Some are working mothers, some have other kids to be with during naptime. Some have kids who have teddy bears, pacifiers, or blankets to cuddle with. Some just don’t have kids who need as much sleep assistance as my kid does. I totally get that. Every mom and kid does what works for them.

It was recently “Pajama Day” at my older son’s school. He was supposed to come dressed in PJ’s, with a favorite stuffed animal. Like his brother, he never had a teddy bear or another security object.

My son said, laughing, “I guess I’d have to bring you to school that day, Mom.”

He doesn’t sleep in our bed anymore (yes, they do eventually stop) but we lie together each night before he falls asleep and his dad or I (usually me) stay with him until he’s out.

My 2-year-old requires much more of me still. Naps, all night his body next to mine. I realize this level of need, sleep interruption, and closeness is not for everyone. I forget how strange it is to some people only because I have been parenting this way for so long and it feels like second nature to me.

Can I tell you why I do it? Yes, it started partly because I’m lazy, and going to my babies anytime they cried was easier than figuring out a different way to soothe them. Yes, I believe in breast as soother as well as nutrition source. Yes, it was just my instinct to do it.

But I also do it because I’m holding on. I’m holding on to their childhoods by holding onto them. My eight-year-old barely even wants to cuddle before bed anymore. I’m lucky if I get a second of it. Before I know it, he won’t even want me to lie near him. He’ll just go into his room, shut the door, and collapse into bed.

My two-year-old, though. He lets me hold him. He wants that. He’s small enough to still curl into me. His damp head in the May night still smells a little like a baby. OK, a lot. And I just don’t want to rush it. I can’t. It hurts my heart to think it will end. I know it will. I’m certain of it.

So, even though I sometimes get frustrated when my “off” time is interrupted; even though I sometimes feel touched out; even though I sometimes wish I could sleep alone, I go to him anyway. I lie there in the dark, mostly just waiting, sometimes just resting, often zoning out on my phone.

I’m taking him in. I’m stopping time for a second. I’m holding on.

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