August 8, 2012

World Breastfeeding Week: On Leaving My Nursling

World Breastfeeding week ended yesterday. I was out of town for most of it but I tallied them up and I've been breastfeeding for 169 consecutive weeks.

That sounds like a long time, even to me. Twenty months with Roscoe and almost seventeen months with Merritt, so far. With some overlap.

Merritt wasn't quite one year old when I bought my BlogHer ticket back in January. I hesitated to make such a huge commitment so far in advance for fear of leaving a nursling at home, but I convinced myself that fast forward seven months our nursing relationship would be on the down swing, maybe even over.

Winter came and he tapered off the frequency of daytime feeds, and then in early spring he night-weaned, which meant that in a given twenty-four period he nursed only twice. My plan was working out nicely, but August was fast approaching and so in June I nudged him along and he gave up the afternoon comfort nurse.

Summer finally arrived, and it has been a hot, hot, hot one. Maybe correlated with his hydration needs, Merritt started to ask to nurse at frequent and random intervals throughout the day. After snack, before stories, before nap, after nap. He "asks" to nurse with an endearing little bark from the back of his throat, a cough with the cadence of a cry. Even though he uses words to communicate on a regular basis he hasn't yet found a word for nursing. But I know what he means.

I almost always accommodate his requests although I was convinced that routine and comfort seeking remained his primary motivations--I really did not think that he was actually getting any milk.  In the weeks leading up to BlogHer he ramped up his demand, which (in a slight panic) provided rationale for outlining detailed instruction to Andy about facilitating ritual around the morning nursing session, to include quiet face to face time and a sippy cup of warmed cows milk, just in case.

What I didn't anticipate, at all? My supply. I left Wednesday morning and by Thursday evening I had that heavy, tingling sensation of engorgement. This odd realization was met first with surprise then sadness--my little guy was at home and I had his milk!  Unsure how the rest of the trip might play out without access to a breast pump, I decided to hand express before heading to bed that night.

I first learned to hand express in the NICU, and it really is a great skill for nursing moms. You never know! Taking 10 minutes twice a day served me well in preventing a plugged duct (or worse), maintaining my supply, and staying comfortable while in New York.

Once home I headed straight to our bedroom where Merritt lay sleeping, enveloped by darkness and the roaring whirrs of a sound machine. No words needed, he nestled into his familiar place and nursed for thirty minutes before falling back to slumber.

If you've been following along here for a while, you'll know that Roscoe's nursing path was abruptly cut short by Merritt's month-long NICU stay and my subsequent absence from daily home life.

I wonder if Merritt will naturally wean around the same time, or if he'll choose to nurse longer? Either way, it feels just right that this aspect of our relationship will have the opportunity to run its natural course without interruption.

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