Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Breast is best - but for how long?

As I think I've mentioned in a few posts (see here and here), Duckling is a huge fan of breastfeeding. Despite having a tongue tie, he latched on within minutes of his arrival and remained clamped on almost permanently for the first three months or so, until we got the tongue tie properly sorted and he was able to feed more efficiently. He continues to breastfeed with great enthusiasm and acrobatics, and has never refused a feed in his life (except the one time I put cabbage leaves in my bra to alleviate the pain of a blocked duct. Apparently the smell was not to his liking). Through necessity as well as philosophy, we adopted a 'feed on demand' approach from the start, which seems to have resulted in a (mostly) very happy and healthy little boy. However, I'm now really starting to feel the pressure to give up.

While a few of my nearest and dearest have raised an eyebrow at my continued dedication to breastfeeding, the pressure, oddly, comes mostly from my own expectations. Even though I believe in letting babies wean themselves gradually, at their own pace, for some reason I've always had eighteen months as an ideal stopping point in my head, perhaps because that's the age at which my Mum stopped breastfeeding me. I suppose I always assumed that Duckling would have naturally weaned himself by this point, or at least shown some signs of wanting to give up, but his love of my mammaries continues unabated, and as the 1.5 year mark approaches, I'm finding myself getting a bit twitchy about this. I love breastfeeding, I really do. It's relaxing, it's snuggly, Duckling adores it and it keeps him quiet and content for whole minutes (!) at a time. His excitement when we get home from the childminder's and the boobies come out is both touching and hilarious. I genuinely think he will be bereft when we finally pack it in, which is the primary reason I wanted the impetus to give up to come from him. My patience is, nevertheless, starting to wear thin.

For starters, having been fed on demand from birth, Duckling sees my breasts as 'his'. He is prone to trying to hook them out in the middle of Sainsbury's, and does not take 'no' for an answer (at least not quietly). I don't particularly care what other people think about me breastfeeding a toddler, but I do have some issues with my lady lumps being put on display in public places. I am attempting to help him understand that my breasts are mine and he needs to ask before engaging with them (and accept denial with good grace), but he's 17 months old - impulse control is not his strong suit.

The love of the boob also means that on days involving any kind of boredom / tiredness / illness (like today - he's poorly so I've been 'working' from home), he will badger me constantly for a breastfeed. Distraction and offering alternative sources of nourishment work, but only for a limited time, so I end up in an infinite loop of breastfeeding, singing and dancing like a loon, snack cupboard rummaging and tantrum regulation. Constantly having a small person climbing up your leg / pulling at the front of your top / twiddling your nipples is beyond aggravating, and I think this is what is getting to me most at the moment. I don't want breastfeeding to turn into a power struggle, but I really want some personal space back.

Then there's the sleep issue. Breastfeeding and sleep are closely intertwined for Duckling. Though we don't feed to sleep at bedtime now (just a short feed before story-time), I usually have to feed him in the night to get him to go back to sleep, and at some point he will come into bed with us and will latch on and remain there until I wake up to detach him. I'm sure it's habit that wakes him so often in the night to feed, and I suspect as long as I'm breastfeeding, I'm not going to get a proper night's sleep.

Finally I have the issue of my fertility. I haven't had a period since before I fell pregnant with Duckling, and I suspect I won't as long as he continues to feed as much as he does. Unless I seriously curb his appetite therefore, it's unlikely I'll be able to get pregnant again, should Drake and I be foolish enough to decide this might be a good idea. We have no plans to do so for the minute, but there may come a time when we do, and at that point, letting him wean 'naturally' may not be an option.

So I am very torn. Breastfeeding for me is starting to lose its charm, but for Duckling, it's as wonderful as it ever was. I don't want to take away something he clearly loves so much, but nor do I want to be breastfeeding a five-year-old only-child, who feels it's acceptable to claim my breasts as his property. I've put up with the inconveniences until now by repeating the mantra "only another x months and he'll probably be giving this up" in my head, but now my arbitrary cut off point is fast approaching, I'm not quite sure what to do . I suppose the answer is to find a balance - cut down gradually (and this will gets easier as he begins to better understand the concept of 'later darling'), teach him to respect my autonomy, up the use of alternative sources of comfort, and hope that eventually he will decide that breastfeeding is all just a bit passé. Of course, I'm sure when that moment comes, I'll be very sad and nostalgic for the cozy, warm, nuzzly times. For now though, I shall persevere and dream of the day when I can wear a crew-neck dress again without a second thought about the practicalities of breast access (seriously, ideas on this one welcome - I have half a wardrobe gathering dust...).

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