If you’re even the least bit squeamish about reading about breastfeeding, you should skip this entry (though it’s not graphic at all).
In the first three weeks of Lennie’s life, there were two or three nights during which she didn’t have access to M to nurse. Since then, not a single night has gone by that Lennie hasn’t nursed at some point during the night. I suspect a lot of people think we’re weird for allowing Lennie to nurse for so long (she is over two years old now, after all), but M read up on it, and there are lots of benefits to nursing longer. The American Pediatrics Society (or some such group that baby doctors tend to belong to) recommends nursing for at least a year, and some other primates nurse their offspring until they’re the human equivalent of 7 or 8 years old. There have been times when Lennie’s been sick and not eating during which nursing has probably saved her trips to the hospital to be hydrated, and of course, it has also provided comfort.
In recent months, M’s milk supply has begun to dwindle, and the result is that Lennie, when she comes to bed after we put her down on her own for a few hours, spends the rest of the night hopping from side to side to try to get milk. It’s been very frustrating for M, who hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in 2-plus years. So a few weeks ago, we decided to start trying to discourage nursing in an effort to slowly wean. We started with distraction at non-sleep times. She’d ask for milk (or to cuddle Mama, one of her stock phrases for it), and we’d just divert her. She handled it pretty well, sometimes whining a little, but generally dealing with it much better than we had anticipated. We still let her nurse at naptime and bedtime. Last week, we started discouraging nursing at naptime, and that too she’s dealt with better than expected. She’s learned to snuggle (we have to use that word now because cuddle has other connotations) with M in front of the TV to get to sleep. It’s not ideal, but it’s another step in the right direction. We hadn’t been 100% on-task about avoiding naptime nursing, but she’s had very little of that in the last week. Yesterday, M wound up driving Lennie around to get her asleep at naptime, and when I came out of the office after she got back, I saw that she had actually removed the whole car seat from the car with Lennie in it (a feat of strength and flexibility not to be sneezed at) and brought her into the house that way to avoid the probability of waking her up by removing her from the seat itself.
This week, Lennie’s been very fussy, and we noticed an escalation of tooth erosion on the back of one of her front teeth. She grinds her teeth, and a depression had been forming in one of them, but it began to look much worse. We took her to the dentist (trying to play it up and make it fun by talking about how the dentist was going to count her teeth, a prospect she was amused by), and it turns out that in spite of some things M had read to the contrary about nursing’s effect on baby teeth, all-night nursing has played a role in eroding those teeth. We’re getting on the schedule now to get crowns on them to prevent further erosion and pain. We’re also ramping up the no-nursing campaign.
Which brings me back around to the title and the first paragraph of this post. Last night, after having dinner over at Dave and Karen’s, we drove around a bit in hopes of getting Lennie to sleep in the car. She hadn’t nursed since M turned over at 5:30 yesterday morning and Lennie woke up and declined to go back to sleep. She did fall asleep in the car on the way home, but she woke up as I was putting her in bed. She was really angry and threw a little fit. I’ve learned that when she’s doing that, I sometimes have to just let her have a fit for a few minutes, making sure she knows that I’m available and eager to comfort her when she’s ready. Trying to force my comfort on her just makes her angrier. So after a couple of minutes, I got her to come hug me, and then we stretched out on the floor in front of the TV on our backs with her using my arm as a pillow. We lay like that for an hour-and-a-half until she was good and asleep. An hour or so later, she woke up crying, but I hopped out of bed and was able to pat her back to sleep. When I got up at 6:00 this morning to go to the gym, she was, astonishingly, still asleep in the living room.
It was her first full night’s sleep since the very beginning without boobie and without significant intervention on our part.