One quick note before I start ranting--Peter slept until 4:15am last night, hitting the 6 hour mark without waking to nurse. I think that's the third time this month--6 hours is mark-on-the-calendar-worthy to me. I actually get less sleep when this happens because I feel the need to stay awake and see how long he'll go because he's almost guaranteed to wake up if I come to bed. I don't even get engorged after that amount of time these days--the experts weren't kidding when they said mothers' bodies adapt.
I've been quite caught up in the nurse-in at "The View" and its aftermath this week. Most of the message boards I frequent were involved in the planning and I was very curious to see how it would play out. Rosie's remarks were shameful and Barbara Walters sure tried to spin her comments after the fact (but Jimmy Kimbel called her on it). Despite promising an open discussion on air on Wednesday, the show has done its best to let the topic die.
Breastfeeding is such a central part of my approach to parenting that I rarely think about things like whether or not I should nurse in public. Peter comes with me wherever I am and if wants to nurse, more often than not I let him. In his first few months I felt more awkward about it and usually tried to find a quiet place before events began (particularly at church). Then for awhile, Peter was super-distractible and I sought out quiet corners for HIS sake (and my poor nipple's). It was easier than the on-again-off-again routine he'd repeat indefinitely. But for at least the past six months, I've nursed him at his request, wherever I am. I'm not a blanketer, either. I'd like to spout something about how I don't wear a blanket over my head while I eat so he shouldn't either, but for me, it's all about ease. I carry enough crap around with me without bringing a blanket just for head coverage. When he was teeny, I needed to see what I was doing and as he got older, he would have just pulled it off anyway. If someone paid close attention, they might see my belly button or perhaps a bit of my side. If Peter plays with my shirt, I do hold onto it so he doesn't show the world my entire torso. But mostly, I figure I'm showing less skin than the average teenager, so whatever. And the people who said I'd be less modest after experiencing childbirth weren't completely off-base.
For me, breastfeeding has been a way to learn to trust that my body knows what it's doing. We had a rough initial two weeks due to Peter being in the NICU and getting pumped full of sedatives and antibiotics, but since then I've had it pretty easy. No mastitis or plugged ducts, I don't leak and was only rarely engorged. I remained in bra sizes that can be purchased at regular stores throughout the process. I've never been much of a "the experts said so" mother and I really ignore books that tell me when to breastfeed. I fed on demand from the beginning and let Peter decide when to begin solids--he didn't really care until about 8 months when he could feed himself. These days when he signs to nurse, I don't necessarily let him--I'll offer him water if he nursed quite recently. He'll often sign to nurse when it's time to eat and happily go towards his high chair when I tell him we'll go eat breakfast instead. He doesn't have a word for nurse, probably because the sign has worked so well for him. I'd prefer he use the sign than ask verbally or pull on my shirt anyway. I don't mind nursing openly in public, but a little discreteness is fine with me.
I don't really get it when people talk about the hardship they endured to breastfeed six months or a year or whatever. If they're pumping at work, that makes sense, but how can breastfeeding possibly be more complicated than any alternatives? Any time you're dealing with bottles, whether they contain pumped milk or formula, that adds the work of cleaning them. Bringing cups of water or juice is just another thing to lug around. Being able to breastfeed while out and about is so dang simple in comparison. All the health benefits to breastfeeding are nice, but I think my approach to parenting is to find the most straightforward approach.
I've been lucky to be surrounded by supportive people. My MIL and SIL both breastfed most of their kids a year or more. My mom and grandmas both tried and didn't have enough milk (at least according to the doctors of their day), but they're happy it's worked out for us. I've never noticed any dirty looks in public. At the zoo once, someone stopped to say what a great thing it was and I was surprised--nursing ought to be the norm, not praise-worthy. In April, I went to Ben and Jerry's on free cone day and talked with the lady behind me debating whether I should get two--one each for Peter and I--when I didn't plan to give him much of the treat. She responded that ice cream is probably better for babies than many other foods since breastmilk is similarly sweet and they need the fat anyway. I'm not sure if her logic holds, but I appreciated the way she assumed he was breastfed. That's the way I wish the world worked--formula could exist for the 2% of mothers who truly can't breastfeed, but no one else would bother with it. I have a lot of respect for working moms who give up their breaks to either pump or go nurse their babies--I can see why that would get tiring quickly. But I've heard great stories of babies of working moms reverse-cycling--they purposely consume most of their calories while their moms are home to maximize breastfeeding. Babies seem to find a way to get milk directly from the source whenever they can--they're such smart little things.
As we go forward in year two of breastfeeding, I wonder what lies ahead. When Peter was born, I saw myself nursing him until he was at least two, but I thought that by 18 months, that would mean just nursing before and after sleeping. Now I see friends still nursing their 2 1/2 year olds eight times a day and while it doesn't seem weird, I'm not completely sure I'd like to be there next year. I suspect that my next pregnancy will be the determining factor. If my milk dries up (as most seem to), will Peter want to keep nursing? Will it hurt enough that I purposely wean him? Will he naturally nurse less with the busyness of summer? I know he nurses less now than he did six months ago, but I'm curious to find out what the future will bring. For now, I need to drink more water so I don't need to keep unlatching Peter in the early morning due to my own dehydration.