By April Wallace, nwaMotherlode contributing writer
My baby Elliott is beginning to lose many of his baby qualities.
It’s hard for me to admit, but he’s not technically a baby-baby anymore. Next week he’ll be 15 months old and he’s been walking—for months.
He’s picking up some words beyond family names and eats three solid food meals (and many snacks) a day. A burst in height has temporarily slimmed his features.
One thing has remained the same, we still breastfeed several times a day.
That has surprised everyone who’s asked: his pediatrician and nurses, his grandmothers and aunts, and quite frankly even me.
My oldest, Henry, lost weight at 7 months, which indicated that my supply was no longer enough nourishment for him. I still hung on to breastfeeding until he was 11 months, but it was an incredibly stressful time of our lives that felt frustrating and unproductive.
This time I’m much more relaxed in the role. That previous experience and the research I did during it taught me a lot.
With Henry, I let him breastfeed whenever he wanted (infrequently) and for however long he wanted (all day if I let him). It just led to chaos and resentment from my end.
I didn’t know how milk-making worked, let alone have any clue what a helpful schedule was or ways for us to be productive together.
This time I knew I didn’t have to spend so much time making sure Elliott got milk. We fed super frequently early on to help my supply stay strong. That habit comforted my baby, because he knew he could always have more, and took the pressure off both of us.
It’s given me the stamina to feed him overall much longer, knowing that our feeding sessions could be so quick—10 minutes or less once he got the hang of it.
Not every feeding had to be perfect.
But the difference is not all about me. Elliott’s personality is a big part of it, too.
Whether or not I had a good supply, Henry would have been done with breastfeeding not much later than we stopped it anyway. He’s always been an outgoing, alert little guy ready to play and make friends.
At 11 months Henry was fascinated with his newfound walking skills, so sitting down for a breastfeeding session was no longer of any interest to him. Give him a quick bottle and release him back into the wild—that’s all he wanted.
Elliott, though, is content to snuggle up to Mama often. He too is playful and active, but returns to me more frequently to show me things or sit on my lap for a second as he sits back and takes things in.
Even when he has a sippy cup of whole milk, he still seeks me out periodically for hugs or to be held.
It helps that he’s figured out ways to be playful while feeding. Henry briefly allowed a plush toy to distract him into staying still enough for feeds, but it was hardly a speedbump. Elliott, however, likes staring into my eyes, fiddling with my hair or hoodie strands and more recently gives me continual little high fives or plays peek-a-boo to keep himself entertained.
Unlike my firstborn, he’s just not a biter. For that I am grateful.
Once Henry had a couple teeth come in, we could hardly get through a session without him biting me. Looking back, it’s no wonder he bit me so much. We spent so much time feeding, which probably wore him out. Tired babies tend to do that.
Elliott got a little nippy when teeth numbers 5, 6, 7 and 8 came in all at once only because he struggled to see how they all worked and changed his mouth.
That’s not to say this has been all sunshine and roses.
Since Elliott was born, neither one of us have slept through the night. Not even once. Now that he’s drinking more and more whole milk, our middle-of-the-night feeds are slowing to once or twice a night, but we’ve never had that elusive 6, 7-hour (or more) stretch.
Twice now I’ve had what must have been a blocked duct and spent painful days of constant work applying heat, doing massage, even more frequent feedings on that particular side, and just hoping and praying for it to go away.
All this feeding has taken a toll on both my schedule and my body. To date, we’ve never been apart more than three or four hours, so literally everything has had to revolve around it. I count us fortunate that we had the choice to do so, but it’s also been a lot of work to make it happen.
Still, some differences are just small byproducts of feeding a baby so much longer than I did last time, nearly four months longer now.
Feeding Elliott at this age is more complicated because he is so much more mobile and alert. If a dog, cat or other people are in the room, you can forget about it. It’s not going to happen. Sometimes the TV or music distracts, or a playful touch from Daddy will make him smile and lose his latch. His legs hang far off the boppy, and switching a now 19+ pound baby to the other side is a much bigger chore than it ever was before.
I’ve breathed a sigh of relief as he’s grown accustomed to a sippy cup, so that in the event of a small choke on solid foods, I won’t have to clumsily whip out a breast and hope my letdown works fast enough. That’s one thing I hadn’t worried about before.
Aside from all the greater-known benefits of breastfeeding, I love having a way to comfort him quickly and easily when he falls, gets accidentally hurt by bubba or has to endure one of his regular vaccinations. It never fails to get him relaxed and ready to sleep, and it’s this wonderful reminder of calm for us both to slow down for a few minutes and take a breath at regular intervals throughout the day.
At this point, I have no agenda for our breastfeeding experience. He’s capable now of drinking whole milk and water from sippy cups and getting most of his nutrients from food. I’ve met my overall goal to give him breastmilk for a year and I’m starting to have those pangs of wanting a little more space, so I know weaning is on our horizon.
But on hard days and through times of teething, my baby is still a baby. He comes to me for comfort feeds and stays, content, on my lap. So for now I’ll keep with it because I see that independence growing and I know our time here won’t be long.
April Wallace is a stepmom to one smart, funny teenager, mama to two beautiful and curious baby boys and wife to a very kind and generous man. She spent the past decade as a news reporter, sometimes lifestyle writer, and recently left her job at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to be with her babies while they’re still babies. When she gets a few minutes to herself, April loves to run local trails and read fiction. For more of April’s posts on pregnancy, babies and toddlers, click here.