by Katie Madden
“Udder one!” Lucy would exclaim and push me off the breast I was lying on. She wanted to nurse on the other side and she couldn’t get to it. She had only been on the first breast for 15 seconds and it was time to switch. Fifteen seconds of sucking, then back to the first. “Udder one!”
This was what prompted me to night wean. Despite my ability to nurse her from either breast while lying on one side of my body, she had taken it too far. After two and a half years of happily co-sleeping and nursing, I could no longer sleep through my little dictator’s demands.
Nursing Lucy as a toddler was equal parts magic, hilarity, and frustration.
Bump your head? Nurse. Overtired and cranky? Nurse. Hungry? Nurse. Thirsty? Nurse. Breastfeeding a toddler is a quick and easy way to silence the screams and ease the angst that goes along with this volatile stage. Anyone who hasn’t nursed a toddler would probably think this was lazy parenting… and maybe it is, but I had the magic tool at my disposal and I wasn’t afraid to use it. I didn’t see it as permissive or indulgent. The way I saw it, she needed help easing her body, mind, and emotions. She needed me to stop, sit, and touch her. She needed the deep cavern of uncertainty, pain, or overwhelm filled. Mom Milk always hit just the right spot.
At first, Lucy signed for milk. Then she signed and made a “mum” sound, different from the “ma” sound she made to name me. Ma eventually turned into Mama (Mom now when she is in public and needs to call me). “Mum” turned into “Mom Milk.” “Mom Milk!” she would request. I would happily or begrudgingly sit to nurse her. She would settle in, grab my big saggy boob with both hands like a hoagie, and sigh aloud, “Mom Milk” before diving in. Her big hazel eyes said it all as they rolled back in her head and settled into a deep stare into my eyes. “I love Mom Milk,” they said. “I love Mom Milk, I love Mama, I feel loved.” And in that look, my body would relax. I would relax my muscles, release the grudge I may have felt as I obeyed my tiny dictator, and soak up this oh-so-fleeting time in her life. I knew it was slipping away fast and I desperately held on.
Sure, a toddler is a challenge and a nursing a toddler is nursing a little bossy pants, but I think my favorite part about nursing Lucy as a toddler was my ability to understand what Mom Milk meant to her all these years. To this day, at the age of ten, Lucy will say, “I need a hug.” I stop and wrap her in my arms for a long-lasting and deep hug and I travel back to the time when she didn’t just need a hug, but she needed to drink my love to know everything was alright in the world.
When breastfeeding fixed Lucy or gave Lucy her fix, it was magic.
She loved Mom Milk and had fun while drinking it. Nursing gymnastics, as they are often called, are a common way for mobile nurslings to keep themselves entertained while sucking. Lucy would stand, kneel, or turn herself upside down. To be fair, I engaged in my own nursing gymnastics while she was riding in her car seat screaming her face off (which she did for the first two years of her life every time we rode in the car). I was known to fling my big ol’ saggy boob over the car seat so she could nurse while in her seat. No, I wasn’t driving the car at the time, guys. My boobs aren’t that saggy.
She was walking at 10 months and used this newfound skill to run up for drive-by nursing. I could just hand her a big saggy boob to suck on while she stood there and I sat on the couch. She would pop off and use laser focus and her adept pincer grasp to try to pinch my nipple. Not hard, just to show that she could get it. My heart would melt and I would laugh out load as she popped off and smiled, letting unswallowed milk pour down her chin. The gymnastics, though perhaps unsettling to the outside observer, warmed my heart and showed me the first signs of the silly little girl Lucy would become.
Breastfeeding a toddler is frustrating, especially when that toddler is particularly high needs, bossy, and stubborn. There were plenty of times when Lucy demanded Mom Milk and I was busy or feeling touched out. She would not be ignored and would be sure to let me know how upset she was about my decision not to follow her orders. How strong I was feeling that day and whether or not I had a good reason to deny her in the first place determined whether I would end up giving in or not. The older she got, the clearer it became that my parenting strategies were going to need to change. Denying her of Mom Milk didn’t mean I just got to not parent her. I still needed to address her needs and I began to realize that I didn’t know how to.
That is how I knew that weaning was approaching. Breastfeeding was becoming frustrating for her and for me. I was lying on the boob she wanted to drink at night. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to take a shower. She wanted to nurse while I showered. I wanted to cook a hot meal. She wanted to nurse while I cooked a hot meal. Lucy adopted what I call the “toddler lazy latch” where she just held the nipple with her tongue at the roof of her mouth and pacify sucked. I found this sensation as pleasurable as having plaque scraped off my teeth by the dental hygienist.
‘Breastfeeding as long as is mutually desired by mom and baby.’ That is the mantra in so many breastfeeding communities. Eventually, perhaps breastfeeding was still desired by baby, but I shocked myself to find that most of the time it was not desirable for me. So, after too many nights of being pushed and barked at—“Udder one!”—we night weaned. Lucy was about thirty two months old when we night weaned. We were able to maintain a co-sleeping relationship. For another two years or so we slept like Velcro, even without nursing. Once we night weaned, my supply changed drastically. She began to eat breakfast. Now that the all-you-can-eat mom’s diner was closed at night, she woke up hungry! Over the course of the next few months, Lucy became busier during the day and forgot to nurse. We would nurse at naptime (because even at two-and-a-half that child would not nap without nursing). We would nurse before bed.
I have a very vivid memory of the last time Lucy and I nursed. We were lying in the guest bedroom at my mom’s house. It was May 24, 2009, my 27th birthday. I nursed her down for a nap and we lay there together, sweaty skin sticking.
I don’t really remember what happened after that. I am sure she asked to nurse again a number of times and I had to tell her that there was no more Mom Milk. But just as with my labor and birth, it is the overall feeling of the experience of breastfeeding that I carry with me now and always. I believe she does as well.
For Lucy and me, Mom Milk was always about taking the time we needed to connect. That ability to connect with one another started with milk, but turned into intense physical touch.
Even at almost ten, Lucy will lay her head on my chest and nuzzle against my breast. I lean my head over to kiss the crown of her head and smell her deeply and it all comes flooding back to me—every time we nursed.
And I know that as the memories of each individual nursing session fade, she and I will always carry the experience of nursing in our bodies and our hearts forever.
Breastfeeding is the steadfast and rock solid foundation upon which our love was built and it will always be at the core of who we are as individuals and as mother and child.