Monday, July 16, 2012

Nursing Two

Now that Emmett is home, healthy and has met most of our friends and family, I've noticed that there is one question that my mum friends (or friends who are mums to be) always want to ask .. "are you still nursing Oliver too?". I can't decide if the gleam in their eye is well meaning interest or more  voyeuristic curiousity (and either one is fine with me).

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed this morning while nursing Emmett, the subject of nursing - specifically extended nursing seemed to be trending in my Twitter circle, with widely differing perspectives and I realized I haven't really talked about my current nursing situation on here, and that I'd like to.

It is unusual, at least in my circle, to be nursing a toddler as old as Oliver - especially while also nursing a newborn baby. Despite the hype about it recently in Time magazine, and constantly in places like Mothering Magazine, I think it is actually fairly unusual in many circles - it was certainly a topic of major interest to all of the nurses and doctors when Emmett was in the hospital (doctors found it interesting, lactation consultants found it thrilling). In fact, when I spoke with Emmett's discharging nurse practitioner last week about something unrelated to nursing, the second thing she asked me was "Still nursing both boys?"

So yeah, I am.

I've been breastfeeding Emmett without any challenges since he was about five days old, as soon as all the tubes that stood in the way of him being able to suck were removed. And I was able to provide breastmilk to him from his first day on earth. Pumping every three hours to ensure that he had enough milk and colostrum to nourish him was the only way I could be a mother at first, and I took that job very seriously.

I was a little nervous about having to pump rather than nurse, as I never seemed to get much milk when I pumped for Oliver, but within 24 hours, lets just say I had a LOT of milk. I pumped around the clock for six days, and within six days I built up a supply in the NICU freezer that Emmett's nurse assured me would last a month at least.

At the same time when I was with Oliver, which wasn't often, I was nursing him as well. At first it was an easy way to be there for him when I really couldn't be there for him at all and I knew it was a comfort to him while things were stressful and strange. And I believed that it was helping me to produce more milk for Emmett (and certainly it helped with the engorgement that was an issue due to not having unlimited access to Emmett).

Oliver's desire for milk and ability to ask for it became a source of stress for my husband though. Although I am sure what he meant was that he needed and missed me, apparently he was constantly asking for "Mummy milk", and it made Chris feel like he couldn't comfort him and he started to suggest that I should consider weaning. I really didn't want to start that process while also handling the stress of being in the NICU and putting Ollie through the stress of being separated from me, so I kept nursing when I was home and able.

Now that I am at home with both boys full time, Emmett is still a great nurser - gaining weight at a rate that is frankly a little alarming and Oliver continues to ask for "Mummy milk" around the clock. As when I was pregnant I've set boundaries around his access, limiting him to morning and night nursing, and also limiting the amount of time he can spend nursing with songs and counting. The more limits I set the more he seems to want to nurse. And the more I say "no" or "later" or "only for a minute" while nursing Emmett on demand, the more I feel like I'm creating stress around his relationship to his brother.

At the end of the day, I wish I wasn't tandem nursing and I wish I hadn't started. Although all of the reading I did in my pregnancy supported it and I felt good about it at the time, in retrospect I feel like it set me up to either have to nurse my toddler for a very, very long time or to have to wean him at a time when he feels most vulnerable. I could keep going indefinitely - waiting for Oliver to wean himself as most of the literature says that he will (before three tends to be the claim) but nursing has become such a source of stress for both of us with his constant demands and my constant denial, that I am starting to consider cutting him off cold turkey. I just don't have the heart for it.

Some might suggest that my overly permissive parenting got us into this trouble in the first place, and this is the hardest part of the job for me - balancing the deep and unwavering love for my children with making choices that seem to hurt them in the short term but are healthy in the long term. When Oliver was born I was overwhelmed with learning about a new kind of love. Now that Emmett has joined our family and that love has doubled, I'm learning about the responsibilities of that love, not just to express it with tenderness, but also with firmness. Better late than never, I suppose.

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