“Just look at my baby, all grown up.” I’ve probably heard this line hundreds of times…from teary moms watching their children wave from school bus windows on the first day of kindergarten or from fathers beaming over their sons’ or daughters’ graduations. I’ve even heard it from my own parents through the years, when my brother moved out of state, when my sister was accepted to a graduate program, and when I was pregnant. These are words that one can’t fully understand until he or she has a child of his or her own. These are the words of proud parents, reflecting on how time passes so swiftly by, and how although it all happens before their eyes, they still cannot fathom how their children go from helpless infants to curious toddlers to rambunctious grade schoolers to argumentative teenagers to adults, who are looking at their own children and repeating the same line.
My baby is hardly a year old, and already, I find myself asking where the time as gone. On vacation this week, and then with my husband and stepson gone again this weekend, Jacob and I have spent much more time together lately. And, it’s been priceless! But, it’s made me all too aware of how much he has changed and is changing with each passing day.
Ma’s milk in the morning
I’ve written many times about my journeys in breastfeeding. I’ve explained how it may have been one of the most challenging and also the most cherished parts of my first year as a mother. And, I’ve talked about how difficult it was for me around that first-year mark when I was contemplating whether or not to wean him.
At fourteen months old, I see the end of breastfeeding in plain sight. For the past couple months, Jacob’s taken little interest in nursing during the day or even before bed. By the light of day, he’s been too busy exploring, and before bed, he’s far too impatient to wait on the slow release of ma’s milk. Still, each morning when he awakes, nursing has been the first thing on his mind. Although from the beginning my milk supply always has been the greatest in the morning, I still find it simply amazing how my body has adjusted to his new schedule. As I stopped pumping months ago and his breast milk breakfast doesn’t really affect any of my eating habits—drinking coffee during the day, or having a glass or two of beer or wine at night–I’ve been perfectly satisfied with his choice.
The past few mornings, however, have been different. Jacob’s had a pretty bad cold and has been very congested. Though bottles or cups seem to adapt well to these changes, my breasts haven’t been quite so compliant. Even after I’ve suctioned his snot with a nasal aspirator (way better than a bulb syringe– check out the link if you haven’t tried one), he has a hard time suckling. Each morning, within minutes of waking, he’s come to my breast and attempted to nurse, but then through significant sniffles, has rolled away, crying in frustration. I think my morning milk supply has dwindled a bit each day since this pattern began. And, that makes me a little sad. My emotions are nothing like the hormonal swings I experienced when he reduced from eight feedings to just one over the course of two days. However, I am grieving a little over the loss of the closeness that nursing has provided to us since his birth.
Then, there are all the new things he picks up every day. He watches my husband and me as we get dressed and then grabs clothes and tries to put them over his own head. He waves his hand to push away food and says “ah duh” (all done) when he’s had enough of something. Just this morning, he was reaching for the spoon so much when I was feeding him that I figured I would see what he would do with it. Without thinking, I put the spoon in his left hand. Immediately, he shook his head back and forth, put the spoon in his right hand, scooped up some yogurt, aimed the spoon at his mouth, and even got a bit in there (as well as all over himself and the highchair.)
I mentioned a couple weeks back that’s he’s been pointing at all sorts of things and saying “uhzzhat?” (what’s that?). His vocabulary is growing all the time. He loves to say the names of animals and their noises. His two favorites are “daw” (dog) which he follows with “ruff ruff” and heavy panting, and “dow” (cow) followed by “mmmmmmmmmmm.” And, he tells us what he wants, whether it’s “muh” (more), “buh” (up), “ah-tzha” (outside), a “dottle” (bottle), or his beloved, “zsha-zsha” (his brother, Jackson), or “dada”. (I’m still not convinced he ever has said “mama” to refer to me…although of course, my loving husband insists he says it all the time.)
And, Jacob spends his days learning and exploring. He pushes buttons, flips switches, turns knobs, and pulls objects in and out of containers. (The trash can in our kitchen is the center of his world. He has placed—or attempted to place—toys, hats, shoes, magnets, picture frames, and all sorts of other things in there.) He also reaches for anything he can get his hands on—which is an ever-expanding repertoire of items as he grows. We’ve had to move dishes and kitchen appliances to the back of our countertops, and we officially have stopped using the two front burners of our stove. Though he’s still a bit of a wobbly walker, he hasn’t given up on learning to run, though he has moved on from Yoda and yoga.
And, to think, this bright and active little boy was the tiny creature kicking and squirming inside my belly just over a year ago…the fragile little doll that fit perfectly in the crook of my elbow…and only months ago, the one whose only movements were rocks and head bobs and whose only ways to communicate were to grunt and cry.
It’s all going way too fast. Before I know it, he’ll be walking up the steps of a school bus or pulling away in the driver’s seat of a car headed halfway across the country to start a life of his own. These are the thoughts that fend off the stresses and frustrations of motherhood…
I remember the first time I set foot in a Babies“R”Us. I was only a few months pregnant, and I had been looking forward to the day I could wave that scanner gun thingy at all the cool stuff that I wanted for my son. My husband and I had been waiting to register until we knew baby’s sex. Within a couple days of spotting the beans on the ultrasound, we decided it was time.
I had imagined that creating our registry would resemble a shopping spree. I thought it would be totally…awesome. Unfortunately, it totally…well…wasn’t. The store was like a giant warehouse full of products we had no idea if we needed. What was a Diaper Genie, and why was it better than a trash can? Did baby really need his own tub and laundry detergent?
When we found something we knew he would need, we were overwhelmed with options. How do we choose among so many styles of strollers, shapes of bottles, or types of pacifiers? We left the store with our heads full of questions and not one item on our registry.
For the next few months, I started gathering info from all the moms I knew. I called the girlfriends I grew up with; I approached women in my classes at the gym; and I talked to my coworkers. Finally, I spent hours online researching various products. And, lo and behold, I was able to complete my registry and do some shopping before Jacob was born. Much of what we got worked; a few things didn’t. Some of what we bought or had bought for us simply wasn’t necessary. I’ve gone through a similar process with every buying decision over the past year since my son’s birth. My intention with today’s post is to save other mamas at least some of the trouble.
Recently, I asked the readers of this blog to share the strategies and products that made their lives easier during baby’s first year. Thanks again to all of you who contributed. In my last post, I included strategies–things moms can do for their babies and themselves during the first year. Today, we’ll look at products–things moms can buy (or have bought for us). Just like last time, I organized everyone’s thoughts, added in some of my own, and included a few anecdotes straight from the mouths (or emails) of moms. And, again, I want to preface the list with a reminder that different things work for different babies and different moms. In fact, you will see there are even a few contradictions within the list itself.
Here’s what real mamas suggest you get your hands on…
Think 0 to 3 months. Tell everyone you know NOT to buy you a bunch of newborn outfits. My son weighed in at a whopping eight pounds, five ounces at birth. Newborn clothes go up to eight pounds. That meant many of the adorable little outfits people bought were never worn (by him—I did give away some of them). Although it’s possible you’ll have a preemie on your hands, the average baby weighs somewhere around seven and a half pounds. If you’re counting on the odds, you pretty much will have no use for newborn clothes. Go for the next size up: 0 to 3 months.
You’ll need lots. I mentioned this in my last post—my child was always spewing at one end or the other. He spit up all day long and had several leaky diapers most days of the week. This translated into going through ten or more outfits on a bad day. And, Lord knows I didn’t have time to do a bunch of laundry. Have clothes washed and ready to go well before your due date so when you arrive home with your precious package, doing laundry can wait.
Keep it simple. I had received many cute outfits—overalls, button-down shirts with jeans, and socks and shoes to match. None of that stuff got worn…well, more than once, at least. For the first month or so, when you’re busy enough trying to get a handle on more important things, I say to go for the one-piece outfits. In the summer, the short-sleeve onesies are great. For the rest of the year, the long-sleeve sleepers with the feet and the built-in hand mittens are perfect—lighter cotton fabric works for spring, and thicker or lined fabrics are better for the cooler months.
Bibs with plastic lining. In addition to being the king of spit up, my son had an uncanny ability to produce buckets of drool each day, which soaked through his clothes in minutes. The cloth bibs we received as gifts only delayed the problem slightly before the drool soaked through to his clothing underneath and left a rash on his skin. The bibs that worked best were fabric with a layer of plastic underneath.
Don’t forget mittens. I was due in April. At my shower, I received newborn mittens and thought it was a joke. Why would my little guy need mittens in the middle of spring? (I know, I know—laugh if you must, but I hadn’t been around many newborns.) Well, I learned quickly. Somehow my soft and cuddly baby had razor sharp talons that grew at unbelievable rates and that always ended up leaving tiny red scratches on one of us. The mittens are GREAT for protecting baby and you from falling victim to his claws.
Zutano booties. I had the good fortune of being handed down a few things from a fellow mom just before Jacob’s birth. When she gave me these fuzzy booties with buttons, she said, “Really, we found these are the only ones that will stay on.” She was right. We tried lots of socks to no avail. The booties never failed.
BPA-free bottles. You’ll want Level 1 nipples to start (and nothing higher if you are breastfeeding—you don’t want baby getting milk from the bottle faster than it comes from your boob.)
Thick burp cloths. Although most of the burp cloths out there are super thin, a few moms agreed that burp cloths that soak up a lot of liquid are much more practical. All babies spit up a little. Some babies, like my son, spit up 10 to 20 times a day. A heavy-duty fabric is the only way to go when trying to catch the puddle as it hits your shoulder.
Boppy pillow. After my c-section, my entire abdomen was sore for about six months…so sore I couldn’t hold baby against my body. Until Jacob was several months old, I would sit down, position the Boppy pillow around my waist and over the arms of the rocking chair, and place him on top. That way, his entire body weight was on the pillow instead of on me. He nursed and napped this way without me wincing in pain. It works for bottle-feeding too:
“During feeding, my Boppy pillow saved my back….[it’s also great] for support when babies start to sit.”
Cheerios. These are often one of babies’ first finger foods—they’re easy for tiny fingers to grip and for tiny teeth and gums to chew, as they soften quickly.
“I’ve heard moms call them ‘baby valium,’ and it can be true in restaurants or in the high chair…sometimes [my son] throws them on the floor, so they become ‘Floorios’ if he eats them before Mommy cleans them up!”
Freeze-dried fruit and yogurt melts. Even picky babies like these. My son is all about freeze-dried apples and bananas. Just like Cheerios, they’re easy to grasp and soften up when they hit baby’s tongue. They’re great for travel too and often come in portable containers.
Yogurt. I’ve mentioned before that my son is a picky eater. In fact, there’s not one baby food he likes…unless it is mixed with yogurt. When mixed with yogurt, he does not discriminate between carrots, peas, green beans, squash, or any other puree that he’ll reject by itself. I can do 50/50, and he’s still kicking and squealing for the stuff. Who knew it was all in the mixer?
For Keeping Baby Satisfied, Occupied, and Safe
The Happiest Baby on the Block (by Dr. Harvey Karp) on book or video. A few moms mentioned this. One of my best friends gave me the VHS tape while I was pregnant (yes, I still have a VCR). It was so, incredibly helpful. The video was only about 30 minutes long, and out of all the hours upon hours of time I spent reading baby books and websites, it provided the simplest, most practical advice that I actually used.
Pacifier. Although this is a no-brainer for some moms, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to offer one to my son. When Jacob was about a month old and breastfeeding was going well, I thought I would give it a whirl in the middle of a major crying fit. It shut him up like magic. Unfortunately, since the day I decided to use it and even still, I must say Jacob depends on it for sleep. Still, we save the binky for naps, nighttime, and public emergencies when he’s super cranky. It still works like a charm to soothe him.
Pack ‘N’ Play. There’s really no need to buy expensive baby cribs. These are durable, portable, and cost much less. We keep ours in the middle of the kitchen with a bunch of toys inside. It’s perfect for keeping Jacob safe and somewhat occupied when I need to do the dishes, prepare a meal, or just eat. (Although, I admit, these days, my son cries in there mostly, unless I’m facing him and actively amusing him in some way.)
Bouncer/jumper. This is one thing that actually worked for Jacob (although it was for a short spell, and I had to be within 5 feet of him.) Still, it meant I could get a few things done, as long as I was in close proximity. He loved bouncing along with me when I did my step-aerobics videos. He would watch my feet and bounce to the music.
Thick foam mats. Play mats are safe and cushiony. The best are about an inch or an inch and a half thick, because babies fall way more than you expect (or than you will think is okay!). Jacob’s favorite pastime when he first learned to sit was to fling himself into a backbend and bonk his head on the floor. Then, as he learned to stand, he fell on his head quite a bit before realizing that falling on his bottom was a better plan. Although you learn pretty quickly about just how durable babies are, the foam mats can ease some anxiety.
Baby-proofing products. Outlet covers, latches for drawers and cabinets, and gates for stairs are some of the necessities once baby is crawling and walking.
Rocking chair. I mentioned using my rocking chair in combination with my Boppy pillow. The rhythmic motion also works to soothe baby to sleep.
Good swaddling blankets. Most babies, especially newborns, like to be wrapped up tight. Swaddling is one of the five “s”s of the Happiest Baby on the Block video mentioned above.
“We swaddled [our daughter] until she was nearly six months old, and it really helped her sleep. We used receiving blankets at first, but she was able to wiggle out of a regular swaddle within a few weeks. Next, we used the miracle blanket for a few months. When she outgrew that, we devised our own two-blanket technique that functioned pretty much like the Miracle Blanket. Whenever we would find her unswaddled, we’d just adjust our technique to keep her in. In fact, other moms would tell me that they couldn’t swaddle their babies because they would get out of the swaddle and I would think to myself ‘clearly, they aren’t trying hard enough!’”
Sleep sacks. A lot of pediatricians warn against the use of loose blankets. Once baby is too old for the swaddle (usually once he/she can flip over), sleep sacks are great for keeping him or her warm without the risk of suffocation.
For Tidying Up Baby and Baby’s World
Baby nail file and/or clippers. For reasons I mentioned earlier, you’ll need to keep a constant eye on baby’s fingers and toes. Some moms are all about the tiny clippers made just for babies—if you use those, then wait until baby is sound asleep, clip the corner of the nail, and peel the rest away. Baby nail files work if you are afraid you will clip more than the nail.
A gentle baby soap. Our favorite is a Vanilla-Tangerine Organic soap (http://www.naturesbabyorganics.com/organic_shampoo.html). As I mentioned, Jacob spit up so much those first few months that he smelled like some kind of fancy, stinky cheese within a couple of hours of his bath. His neck was a permanent hideout for remnants of dried breast milk that formed into balls resembling cottage cheese. Ugh. This soap made him smell like the push-up pops I used to get from the ice cream truck as a kid.
Natural house-cleaning products. I was surprised to learn that babies mostly do not discriminate about what they stick into their mouths. I remember one mom watching me wash my Jacob’s pacifier and saying, “For the first few months, you’ll do everything you can to wash things off before he puts them in his mouth. Then, when he begins to crawl, he’ll start licking the floor, and you’ll just give up.” It’s true. I feel like the least I could do is steer clear of harsh chemicals.
All Free Clear Detergent. This is a detergent that I’ve been using for years because my husband, stepson, and I all have sensitive skin. It has worked equally well for Jacob. It’s free of dyes and perfumes, is gentle on our skin, and it actually works! Plus, it’s inexpensive and available at most stores.
For Going Places
Grab ‘n’ go bag (or diaper bag). It’s pretty straight- forward that moms should have some sort of diaper/travel bag. More than one mom suggested the Diaper Dude bag—which is practical for both parents to carry. I also got a lot of suggestions for what should be inside: toys, books, diapers, wipes, Desitin or Balmex for diaper-rash prevention and treatment, Eucerin for dry skin (pediatrician-recommended and hypo-allergenic), extra clothes for both you and your little one, cereal or freeze-dried fruit, a first-aid kit, and baby hand and face wipes (I like http://www.babyganics.com/index.php?route=product/product&product_id=86.)
Stroller/jogger. Nearly every day of my maternity leave I took at least one walk with Jacob in the stroller. To this day, as soon as the weather is nice, I strap him in the jogger and go for a walk or run. It’s the getting out of the house that’s key, I think. Even when he’s crying, it’s out in the open air instead of echoing off the walls. Priceless.
Carrier. Different ones got different votes. For me personally, the suggestions I received didn’t work. With only the best of intentions, many people recommended we get an Ergo or a Baby Bjorn. I can’t imagine they could possibly have been nursing moms. For the first half year of his life, anything that reminded my son of ma’s milk made him cry until he got a sip. This meant he could absolutely never face my breasts unless he was about to eat. The carrier that worked best for me was the Moby because he could face outward in it. Plus, it distributed his weight evenly. My husband loved the Infantino Flip (though this one hurt my shoulders if I had it on for more than an hour or so.) Each was under $40! Here’s another opinion:
“I made the mistake of asking for a Baby Bjorn as a gift. My son hated it! I later learned that it’s not very good for boys, because the whole contraption holds up your baby boy by one point, right under…his wee-wee. I’ve collected many other carriers, and the best ones (I did an informal poll with my mommy friends) are the regular sling and the Ergo carrier or Boba.”
Lansinoh Lanolin and Soothies Gel Pads. Sore nipples, be gone.
Spanx. Some moms bounce back to their pre-pregnancy bodies in no time. I wasn’t so lucky. It took me about a year to get rid of my belly. In the meantime, to fit into my clothes and especially my spandex aerobics instructor gear, I was all about undergarments that sucked me in. I had several “shapers” and wore them under almost all my clothes for about 11 months.
Video monitor. There’s something very comforting about being able to see your baby even when you know he or she is resting peacefully. I mentioned in my last post that my son goes to bed hours before my husband and I do. He sleeps upstairs, and we’re downstairs, with the monitor next to us. We watch his chest moving up and down to ensure he’s breathing (yes, we’re a little paranoid). Our monitor is portable so we can even clip it on as we go about our business throughout the house.
Gym with a nursery. Although this isn’t exactly a product, it’s something you certainly pay for. I know there’s no need for me to say much more about exercise as my saving grace, as I write about it all the time. But, one more thing—being able to get a break from my munchkin and bring my blood from boiling to baseline with a good workout…yes, salvation!
Fenugreek supplements. This one is exclusively for the breastfeeding moms. It’s a safe way to stimulate milk supply that is often used when moms return to work and have to pump (which isn’t as efficient as baby’s mouth).
“I had a noticeable decrease in milk supply when I returned to work (probably due to the transition from nursing to pumping during the day), and taking fenugreek nearly doubled my pumping output. [My daughter] is almost a year old, and I’m still breastfeeding. I seriously doubt we would have made it this far without the fenugreek.”
Nutrition bars. This isn’t too new of a thing for me. I’ve always been all about nutrition bars—they’re quick, and they feel sinful even though they’re not quite as bad as eating the triple dip ice cream sundae I’m craving. As I’m even more in a hurry as a mom, I make sure to have a few Luna, Lara, Pure, and other bars in my purse, diaper bag, and desk at work.
A plan for childcare. Again, this isn’t exactly a product, but it’s something many of us put a good amount of money toward, so I thought it fit. If you plan to work post-baby, get recommendations from friends, coworkers, and family well before baby arrives. Some day care centers have ridiculous waiting lists—like years. Also, have at least one good sitter who you can call when you need a break. If you have no family around (like me!), then have a few sitters handy. I even use them for doctor appointments or to go to the gym when the nursery is closed and my husband’s not around. I’ve found you may have to pay a little more for someone who is reliable and pays careful attention to the things that are important to you, but the peace of mind is worth every penny.
That’s what we got for products. Hope this helps some of the soon-to-be and new mamas out there! Please send your comments, critiques, and additions so we have an even better list. Happy mommy-ing!
I have felt psychopathic exactly three times in my life. During each of these episodes, my world was gloomy; my behavior was wholly out of control; and I felt completely unlike my typically chipper and mostly stable self. I cried at random times, screamed at the people I love, and wondered why I had suddenly lost my cool. The answer always had something to do with my hormones.
The first time was years ago, several weeks into the first (and last) time I tried the Pill. I’ve always been the natural type. I’ve been a regular shopper at health foods stores since sometime around the 12th grade, and among other things, I’ve been avoiding hormones in meat and dairy products for years. The idea of taking birth control didn’t appeal to me ever, actually. Still, it seemed so much safer than other options when I really didn’t want to risk getting pregnant. When I heard horror stories about others’ weird reactions to taking it, I thought it could never happen to me—I was simply too “together”. With each week on the tiny pink tablets, I started to gradually derail. Yet, I wasn’t really sure what was going on. It wasn’t until the night that I threw a frozen dinner at my future husband’s head (thankfully, he ducked) that I connected the two: the Pill was making me mad. As soon as I stopped taking it, my sanity was restored.
My second experience in marble loss was just a year ago. Right after I gave birth, I was a complete mess! I know I can’t attribute it fully to the hormones—I mean, come on, my entire life was suddenly not my own anymore. But, still, I was so emotional! After the slightest thing, my floodgates would burst open. Streams of tears. Currents of cursing. I ate more ice cream and chocolate bars as meals that I would like to admit during that time. Sometime around my son’s one-month birthday, I became me again (well, me with the new mommy characteristics, of course).
My third somewhat psycho phase is happening as I type. This time, I’m trying my best to hold it together, and I’m doing a decent job…but I don’t feel like myself. This one, I attribute to weaning my son. Again, I’m sure it’s not the hormones alone…I’m a little sad that he’s growing up and moving on. However, I did a little research after the crazy started to set in, and I found out there are some major hormonal changes that coincide with weaning. I wish I had prepared myself a little better.
Only a few weeks ago, I wrote about my decision to wait to wean my son. I looked into the science behind it. I read others’ stories about extended breastfeeding. I put so much thought into it. As his first birthday came and went, I was even more sure that neither he nor I were ready to give it up…until he suddenly changed his mind. Without warning, sometime within a few days of turning one, he just lost interest in nursing. He wanted to crawl, stand, and explore his environment instead. He even cried when I put him on my lap when he was hungry. He wanted other food. After a few days of this, I decided that it was time to wean him from the daytime feedings. After all, that would mean I could give up pumping—and I’ve been dreaming about retiring my breast pump since the day I started using it. So, I stopped nursing him during the day and stopped pumping…and I’ve been on my period for almost two full weeks! (Mine usually last three days, tops.) And, it’s the heaviest I’ve had since I was a teenager. Not to mention, I’m feeling semi-psycho.
Just like so many other things with pregnancy and caring for a baby, no one cautioned me about this part. I don’t know if I would have listened if they had. Still, some forewarning would have been nice. Either way, like anything else, this too shall pass. And, I’ve bought enough somewhat healthy junk food to last me until it does. (In the meantime, my husband has hidden all the frozen meals.)
Thank goodness that babies are so cute and cuddly…and that in general, we, moms, naturally have so much love for our children. It reminds us that all of the other crap is worth it. Joyous, joyous motherhood.
A few days ago in a meeting at my office, I was introduced to a woman about my age. She wore a stiff, black suit and no makeup, and her hair was pulled back in a bun. Although her demeanor was friendly and polite, she seemed much more serious than most people who come through our office. As the meeting came to a close, when a coworker suggested some local coffee shops, she said she hadn’t returned to coffee because she was still breastfeeding her daughter who had just turned one. As I secretly had been scrutinizing her, my immediate and unfiltered response was a proclamation that I, too, had a baby that age and was still breastfeeding. With my words, she leaned toward me and whispered, “Have you started thinking about weaning? That’s all I can think about lately.”
Seriously? She had to ask that? I had tried to avoid thinking about that one when I was at work. I had heard it so often lately in one form or another. I had discussed it on multiple occasions with moms of babies the same age. I had put off thinking about it until just recently. And, yes, of course, I had thought about it. That’s the question I had asked myself a hundred times… but that I still wasn’t sure I was ready to answer.
Seeking an Answer
Earlier this month, in looking for weaning advice, I ran into a call for blogging mothers to share their experiences on “extended breastfeeding” through Motherwear’s Carnival of Breastfeeding. Although the instructions did not define the terms “extended breastfeeding,” I assumed without thinking much that they were asking about women who breastfeed longer than the typical mom. Knowing so many moms that never even attempted to breastfeed and others who only lasted a week or two, I felt qualified to participate and entered my breastfeeding story.
When I was invited into the Carnival, I was sent the links to the stories of the other mothers who wrote on the same topic, and I made it my mission to find time to read through each post. New to the blogging scene, I was curious to check out the writing styles and content these women shared, and I was interested in hearing about their journeys through motherhood. Plus, as the expiration of my goal to breastfeed for one year was approaching, I had been seriously contemplating the weaning process lately and looked forward to hearing the insight and experiences of others who nursed for longer.
Little did I know, their stories would significantly alter my thinking.
Not the Answer I Was Expecting
Article after article told about nursing well beyond eleven months. These women were nursing toddlers, not babies—children three, four, even five years of age, and up to three children at once! As I read on, I suddenly felt a bit silly for entering a post about nursing my then eleven month old to a Carnival on extended breastfeeding. In their stories, these mothers told about their children asking for mama’s milk, telling her what it tasted like, and thanking her for sharing. These moms discussed the challenges of breastfeeding into toddlerhood, with many of them mentioning the difficulty of continuing to nurse beyond what is socially acceptable in our culture.
Just in time for my one-year deadline, they redefined for me what breastfeeding can look like well after the first year and made me question why many of us who have breastfed the first 365 days of baby’s life suddenly feel compelled to consider weaning as soon as that first birthday approaches. In a recent post, I discussed the limitations of conventional thinking and suggested that talking to other moms can expand one’s perspectives. Well, with no intention of following my own advice so soon, here I am turning over my own new leaf as a consequence of pure serendipity.
No Need to Ask
So, how has my perspective changed? Well, pre-Carnival, I knew lots of moms who breastfed and then stopped shortly thereafter. I had seen the CDC statistics that less than half of women in the US were still breastfeeding at 6 months and less than a quarter at 12 months. In that sense, I knew that I was in the minority of the mothering world. But, what I didn’t know was that there were many women out there who continued months and even years after me!
My parents, coworkers, and friends are surprised that I am still breastfeeding and hold the expectation that I will stopping suddenly when Jacob turns one. Honestly, before his one-year mark was approaching, I sort of thought the same thing. After all, my doctor, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and all the people around me said breastfeeding should last 12 months. Society says so. Think about it. While it is not uncommon to run into a mother nursing an infant in public, we rarely, if ever, see a mom nursing a toddler. Yet, the 12-month mark is actually quite arbitrary. And, I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I never had thought about it that way.
Jacob turns one next week. And, it makes me sad that soon my baby isn’t going to be a baby anymore. But the good news is his turning from baby to toddler doesn’t mean I have to suddenly cut off his milk supply. Sure, I’m looking forward to the days when I can drink more coffee and wine and stop wearing bras that remind me of the ones I used to see hanging on Grandma’s nightstand. And, honestly, I don’t know how I would feel about my son nursing after he can speak sentences. But, at least I don’t feel pressure to change something right away just so I can have an answer to a question that didn’t need to be asked in the first place. Besides, I have enough to worry about with his birthday party around the corner—mommy can only handle so much!
I remember the first time I offered Jacob something other than breast milk. Somewhere near his four-month mark, I mixed a teeny, tiny bit of organic, brown rice baby cereal in with my pumped milk. When I put the watery mixture on a spoon to Jacob’s mouth, he gagged. When I did it again, he cried. I decided he was too young.
A few weeks later, we tried again. And again. And again. We waited a few more weeks and then gave it another shot. No luck.
What the Experts Say
When I went online, I kept seeing that it takes babies fifteen to twenty tries of a food before a preference can be developed. I heard from my pediatrician and read in baby books that we were supposed to start with rice cereal thinned with breast milk, then thicken it, then slowly move on to pureed vegetables, and then fruits. We were to stick diligently to the same food for five days in a row before switching to a new one, to ensure he didn’t have an allergic reaction.
What Everyone Else Said
“Try mixing the cereal with fruit or sugar. Babies love sweet!” was one suggestion we heard over and over. Nope, not Jacob.
“Are you sure you’re starting out with the cereal thin enough?” Yep, nice and watery.
“Maybe it’s too watery? Have you tried making it a bit thicker?” Check…he hated that too.
“Have you tried giving him other baby foods? He probably just doesn’t like the cereal.”
And, so began the daily trials: pears, apples, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, squash, beef, chicken… We offered each new food several times a day in five-day blocks. I even tried making my own baby food. You name it; he wanted none of it. He responded with nothing but gags and cries. I kept thinking, “How is this possible? Baby food is made for babies.”
By the end of Jacob’s seventh month, I began to wonder if I was going to be nursing him for the rest of my life. What happens if baby only likes mama’s milk…forever? I laid in bed picturing him in junior high school pulling a baby bottle full of my pumped milk out of his lunch sack in the school cafeteria.
The Turning Point
As Jacob was approaching eighth months old, we went on vacation. I decided I was getting too stressed about Jacob’s non-eating habits, so I didn’t bring any baby food with me. In the small kitchen of our cabin in the mountains, I put a bowl of chopped salad vegetables on the table next to the Pack ‘n Play that Jacob was standing in. And, he began reaching for a red bell pepper cube. Just out of curiosity, I peeled off the skin and took a little corner of the pepper and put it to his mouth. He smiled, smacked his lips, and reached for more! When I tried a tiny sliver of cucumber, he did the same thing. Next it was cheese, and then the chicken I had sautéed to go on top of the salad. I sat and stared, bewildered. I thought to myself, “I’m breaking all the rules.”
Within that week, Jacob tried and liked tens of foods. And, if we kept giving him the same thing for more than a couple of days (to follow the 5-days-of-the-same rule), he got bored and stopped eating it.
Where are we now?
Four months later, Jacob still hates baby food. I’ve held onto several (not cheap, organic) jars I bought and will test one on him every now and again. His aversion hasn’t changed.
So, where are we with eating as Jacob nears his first birthday? Here are some of his favorite foods:
Oatmeal with cinnamon and milk
Cheese cubes dipped in hummus
Lentil Soup (homemade or from the can)
Chicken cooked any way
Zucchini (cooked until soft and then sliced)
Broccoli (sautéed or boiled)
Whole wheat bread
Whole grain basmati rice with butter
Pretty much anything on mommy’s plate, fork, or tongue
The Keys to Getting the Food Down?
It’s been quite the learning process, but here’s what has worked:
Eating with him. Whatever I’m eating, he wants to try it. Today, he ate several cubes of watermelon, almost a whole slice of the leftover whole wheat zucchini and parmesan pizza I made last night, about a third of my veggie burger, and about a quarter of my stir fried veggies. When he’s eating in his highchair, I pull up my own chair in front of him. He offers some to me sometimes before he’ll take his first bite. Almost always, if I eat it, he follows suit.
Letting him do it. Sometimes when I’m feeding Jacob from a spoon, he just refuses to eat. As soon as I switch over to foods he can feed himself, he’s back in the game. I don’t know why, but some days he simply doesn’t want any help.
I do it. There are other times when I know he’s hungry but he’s not picking up any of the finger foods I’ve offered. It reminds me of the feeling I have sometimes when my stomach is growling at the end of a long day and I can’t muster the energy to prepare myself something to eat. Every once in a while, I have to put a few pieces of food to Jacob’s lips before he realizes he wants it. Even less frequently than that, I have to feed him his whole meal.
Spicing it up. Seriously? Yes! Jacob prefers his oatmeal with cinnamon. He likes garlicky hummus, and lentil soup with lots of onions. I make a yogurt dip with cucumber and dill that he loves. If he doesn’t seem to like the plain version of something after I’ve offered it several times, I always try adding a little twist: cinnamon, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of garlic, etc.
Giving him a mommy-size version. Diced pears, peaches, apples? Jacob’s face tells me “not a chance” every time. However, if I peel a soft pear or nectarine and give him the whole piece of fruit, he takes little baby bites until most of it is gone! (I make sure to stay close enough to keep my eye on what he gnaws off. Although Jacob has always spit out anything that is too big for him to chew, I realize he could choke.)
Yogurt surprise. One thing Jacob kicks his legs and squeals over is flavored yogurt: vanilla, banana, blueberry, peach—he gobbles them all up. With the many jars of baby food I had left from the first few painful months of trying to get him to eat, I decided to do a little experimenting. Funny enough, he’ll gladly eat some (not all) of the foods he absolutely refuses by themselves…if they are mixed with yogurt. I can do a 50/50, veggie to yogurt mix with Gerber green beans or squash, and he’ll gladly accept.
The bonus of all this is:
- It’s no longer stressful to get Jacob to eat, and he still gets the nutrients he needs!
- I don’t have to buy or prepare separate foods for baby (although I’ve wasted a good amount trying to get him to eat it and will be giving away the rest he hasn’t touched.)
- It’s making me think a little more about my own eating habits. When I know Jacob is going to dive for everything I stick in my mouth, I want to make sure I’m making healthy choices.
- I see an end in sight to my nursing days. As much as I will likely hold onto breastfeeding as long as I can, it’s a comfort to know I won’t be pumping and packing my breast milk in his school lunches down the road.
Out of all the moms I know (including friends, coworkers, acquaintances, my mother, aunts, grandmother, and in-laws), not a single one had this issue, so I thought I’d share in case it hits home with anyone else. If you’re in my boat, give up on the baby food for a day and see if baby likes mommy food. You may be surprised. Who wants to eat mushed up everything anyway… even if all the other babies are doing it?
The post below is part of the Carnival of Breastfeeding. At the end of the post are links to the other participants and their posts on extended breastfeeding. Please visit their blogs after you finish reading mine!
One of my favorite times of the day is the middle of the night. Like clockwork, around 3:30 every morning, I wake to tiny hands on my waist and the sweet voice of my 11-month-old son singing “mamamama.” From my side, I turn toward him slowly in my bed without knocking him down—these days I wake to him standing, facing me, using my shoulder or my hip as a ballet bar for quick and tiny pliés. As I pick him up, lay him next to me on his back, and whisper in his ear his favorite line that he’s heard thousands of times, “are you a hungry baby?,” he kicks his legs excitedly and squeals. I lift my pajama shirt, he pops on for his early breakfast, and I doze off to the rhythm of his sucks and swallows with his warm little body close against mine.
I didn’t know I would nurse this long. Although I had planned to heed the American Academy of Pedicatrics (AAP) recommendation to nurse “for the first year and beyond,” I honestly wasn’t sure I’d make it. Though I had excellent breastfeeding support in the hospital after my c-section (not an elective procedure—I had to endure 40 hours of labor before surrendering to it—another story for another day), I had millions of questions when I got home. While pregnant, I read several books on nursing, which certainly helped. Still, there was so much I didn’t understand. I remember asking myself hundreds of times: “how can a natural process come with so many questions?!” For me, the main challenges were too much milk (I was engorged a lot at first and my milk would choke my precious newborn because it came out so fast!). Some other challenges were a breast infection (mastitis) I got sometime around my son’s three-month mark, the biting that began (and thankfully ended shortly after) the appearance of his first teeth, and then the heat I took in general from my family, co-workers, and friends—especially those from past generations—for “inconveniencing” myself with nursing when “formula is just as good.”
The kicker for me was when I went back to work full time after my four-month maternity leave (a godsend). This was the most challenging period of my breastfeeding days thus far. Bringing my pump and all its tiny parts to work, and then finding time to assemble it, use it, and wash it several times a day between meetings and deadlines was tough at first. On top of that, the first week I was back to work, after months of sleeping in his bassinet seven to eight hours a night without waking, my once good sleeper began waking every hour or two of the night and refusing to go back to sleep until I nursed him.
Fortunately, it all got easier. If you are a mom in some challenging phase of breastfeeding, I tell you that with confidence—it gets so much easier! I still pump twice a day at work, which I admit I don’t love. That’s one part of the breastfeeding process that I doubt sincerely I will miss. However, my frustration with the process has dwindled. Now that my son eats solid foods and has spread out his nursing sessions, I only need to pump twice a day. Moreover, my (male) boss is used to my office door being shut a couple times a day and to me having to step out of meetings to take care of “mommy duties”. As for the nighttime feedings, after several nights of getting little or no sleep after pulling baby out of his bassinet and into a rocking chair to nurse him every few hours, I decided it was time for him to sleep in our bed. That way, he could nurse when he wanted, and neither of us had to get up. Months later, that’s still how we do it.
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things.”—Unknown
This has been one of my favorite quotes for years. I’ve reflected on this quote many times since my son’s birth: when he was a teeny tiny newborn that would cuddle up in my arms for hours at a time, when he first began smiling and then laughing, babbling, crawling, standing, and pointing. There are so many precious little things that I’ve made sure to treasure, knowing that although they are all short-lived, these are the things that I will look back on as meaning the most.
The choice to nurse is no little thing. Ask any mom who wakes several times a night to hungry cries or who pumps three times a day, five days a week. But, nursing is something that brings so many little moments to be cherished. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement in my son’s face when he knows I’m about to feed him, his loving gaze into my eyes while he’s nursing, or all those times we have snuggled close to each other, skin to skin, and my milk was his lifeline. I imagine, years from now, when I wake to the digital 3:30 on my alarm clock and my son is asleep in his room, I’ll think of what it was like when he was nestled against me as a baby and drinking from my body. And it will be a big thing.
The post above is part of the Carnival of Breastfeeding. Please use the links below to hear from other participants in the Carnival on extended breastfeeding.
Elita @ Blacktating: The Last Time That Never Was
Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC: Old enough to ask for it
Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama: A Song for Mama’s Milk
Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Favorite Moments
Tamara Reese @ Kveller: Extended Breastfeeding
Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: The Highs and Lows of Nursing a Toddler
Christina @ MFOM: Natural-Term Breastfeeding
Rebekah @ Momma’s Angel: My Sleep Breakthrough
Suzi @ Attachedattheboob: Why I love nursing a toddler
Claire @ The Adventures of Lactating Girl: My Hopes for Tandem Nursing
Elisa @ blissfulE: counter cultural: extended breastfeeding
Momma Jorje: Extended Breastfeeding, So Far!
Stephanie Precourt from Adventures in Babywearing: “Continued Breastfeeding”: straight from the mouths of babes
The Accidental Natural Mama: Nurse on, Mama
Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Gratitude for extended breastfeeding
Nikki @ On Becoming Mommy: The Little Things
Dr. Sarah @ Good Enough Mum: Breastfeeding for longer than a year: myths, facts and what the research really shows
Amy @ WIC City: (Extended) Breastfeeding as Mothering
The Artsy Mama: Why Nurse a Toddler?
Christina @ The Milk Mama: The best thing about breastfeeding
TopHot @ the bee in your bonnet: From the Mouths of Babes
Beth @ Bethstedman.com: Extended Breastfeeding: To Wean Or Not To Wean
Callista @ Callista’s Ramblings: Pressure To Stop Breastfeeding
Amanda @ Postilius: Nursing My Toddler Keeps My Baby Close
Sheryl @ Little Snowflakes: Tandem Nursing- The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Zoie @ Touchstone Z: Breastfeeding Flavors
Lauren @ Hobo Mama: Same old, same old: Extended breastfeeding
Tanya @ Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Six misconceptions about extended breastfeeding
Jona (Breastfeedingtwins.org): Breastfeeding older twins
Motherlove Herbal Company: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler
Mama Alvina of Ahava & Amara Life Foundation: Breastfeeding Journey Continues
Mamapoeki from Authentic Parenting: Extended Breastfeeding?