Anshin and the Breastfeeding Preschooler

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When Violet was born, I had no idea how long I would breastfeed her. I only knew that I would breastfeed her. By the time she was 1 year old, I knew she wasn’t near being ready to stop and so I decided to just keep going.

I know that I am not the only one practicing full term breastfeeding, but at times, I do feel like the odd ball in the group of nursing mamas. When I attended the Big Latch last year, I was, by far the one with the oldest nursling. Part of me felt slightly concerned with what the other mamas might be thinking, but most of me felt proud and accomplished.

If those of us that do continue to nurse our older babies and preschoolers can’t talk about it with others or always feel we have to do it behind closed doors, we might start to feel strange or even embarrassed. I write this post to share with you all in hopes that it will encourage other full term breastfeeders to do the same. You are not alone and there are others out there like you. I hope that by reading this it will encourage you to not give in to the pressures of friends, family or those around you to wean before it feels right for you and your nursling. I am trusting my heart and my own judgment to know when it is best for my child to wean and I hope that you can trust yourself as well.

According to Katherine A. Dettwyler, Ph.D.,an award winning anthropologist, professor, and mother, the natural age of weaning for modern humans based on our size, development and life span is between 2.5 years and 7 years. Therefore, a child still nursing at 4 years old is normal, natural, and o.k.

I am planning to continue breastfeeding Violet for as long as she would like to continue. I have been practicing baby/child led weaning since Violet was about 2 months old. From the moment she was born, I practiced on demand feeding. If she cried I usually checked her diaper and if it was clean, I put her to my breast. She has always been an active nurser. She went from every hour in the first 2 months to every 2 hours and gradually to where we are today.

Violet wakes up slowly by nursing herself awake. Her body wakes up first and before she has even opened her eyes she reaches for my breast. Since she sleeps right next to me all she has to do is reach up and nuzzle in. She nurses there for anywhere between 5-20 minutes. I usually wake up as she first begins to wiggle and so I am awake while she is nursing. I stroke her hair and kiss the top of her head. If it is still very early I whisper into her ear that she can go back to sleep. If it is close to the time I need to get up, I start whispering good morning and gently massaging her back and legs to wake her up. I sing to her, softly, “Good morning to you” (to the tune of happy birthday” She smiles sweetly as she gradually opens her eyes. Some days she sits right up and says “good morning, mama!” and other days she puts her hand up on my chest as if to say let’s stay in bed a little longer. Eventually she wakes up and stops nursing. And then we get up for our day.

Violet goes to school Monday through Friday from 8-3. On those days she doesn’t usually nurse again until 5 or 6 pm. Sometimes, though, she wants to nurse as soon as we get in the car after picking her up. Since she turned 4, I’ll admit that I have become a little more apprehensive about nursing her in public. I don’t feel like I am doing anything wrong but some days I just don’t feel like enduring the looks or questions. I try to practice “don’t offer/don’t refuse” as much as possible, but sometimes I do tell her we need to wait until we get home. She is capable of understanding the need to wait for something and this is a way we practice having patience and consideration for mama’s feelings. She doesn’t always wait patiently and she sometimes cries and gets angry because I have said no but we try our best to work through it. Thankfully, our drive from her school to our house only takes 5 minutes. I know that she is yearning for that connection for “skinship” as is it called here in Japan, skin to skin contact, and so I understand where her anger is coming from.

When we get home, as soon as we walk in the door, she takes off her shoes and takes me by the hand and says “Mama it’s time for milkies”. We head to the couch and she hops up on my lap. As I get my clothes situated, she smiles up at me and giggles. Then, at last, she dives into my chest and wraps her arms around my chest and pulls me as close as she can. She drinks there and looks up at me with eyes of contentment and relief. I can feel her body relax and I feel mine relax as well.

There is a word in Japanese that describes this feeling that I think we both have during this time, it is あんしん,安心(anshin). Anshin translates to relief or peace of mind, obtaining peace of mind through faith or ascetic practice. It is so much more than that though. To really grasp the meaning one needs to look at the etymology of the word. The characters that make up anshin are these 安,which means relax, quiet, rested, contented, peaceful and 心, which means heart, mind, sprit. I actually feel that my entire being relaxes and her whole being relaxes too. My heart feels peace after a day of adult worries and stresses and her heart releases any worries that have built up in her mind during our day apart. It is a time we can unite and really be present to one another.

After that we play a bit and then I am off to make dinner. She doesn’t usually nurse during dinner anymore (unless she isn’t feeling well) and so we finish our meal and transition into our bedtime routine. She has a bath with daddy, usually, and then we either watch a short program on our computer or we just play and read together as a family. We head up to the bed with our books for the night and situate ourselves in our family bed. She is usually playful and shouts out “I’m gonna get those milkies!” as I try to arrange the blankets. When we finally lay down she settles in once again for her last nursing session of the day. I read to her as she nurses off and on and she sometimes falls right asleep during the 2nd or 3rd book. Other times, we finish the 3rd book and then I turn off the light and sing her lullabies as she nurses herself to sleep.

There have been a handful of nights when she has fallen asleep while snuggled up instead of nursing herself to sleep, but for the most part, she still falls asleep at my breast. She rarely awakens during the night anymore, but if she does, she whispers up to me “mama, may I have some milkies, please?” Then she nurses herself right back to sleep. And then we start our day over again.

Nursing a four year old is not something that I set out to do in the beginning but it is where we are today. I am fully confident that one day she will wean herself. I know that one day she will just not want to or need to do it anymore. And when that day comes, I hope that she will know that I am still here for her when she needs me. My arms will always be wide enough to hold her, my lips will always be ready to talk or offer a comforting kiss, my ears will always be ready to listen, my lap will always have a spot for her to rest on and my heart will never run out of love for her.

She often tells me that when she is all grown up and I am an old lady that has grown small again, she will hold me and rock me and give me her milkies. To her, I believe, this is the ultimate expression of love, to nourish and comfort someone at the breast. I am honored and overwhelmed by love that she imagines doing this for me one day.

So, here we are 4 years and 4 months old and still nursing, still co-sleeping, still living this life the way we feel we should be. Still feeling anshin.

Some great links for full term breastfeeding mama’s and those that love them:

A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD

Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives (also by Katherine Dettwyler, PhD

Handling Criticism about breastfeeding on KellyMom.com

Dr. Sears on handling criticism on extended breastfeeding

Are you still breastfeeding an older baby or child?

Have you felt pressured to stop or overly criticized?

I hope that you felt encouraged by today’s post.

If you feel like sharing your story, do so in the comments below.

And if you’d like to make a guest post here about your story please email me at violetsmama.wordpress@outlook.com

Mama’s Milkies

I have been anxiously waiting to share with you all some very exciting news!

I have written and published my first children’s book!

Cover

Mama’s Milkies is a children’s book about a full term breastfeeding child. The reader will follow the little toddler through the day as they wake and play, read, sing and finally drift off to sleep. All the while knowing that mommy still has “Milkies” when they feel like nursing.

I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to work with the very talented Katie m. Berggren on this project. She has illustrated the book with such careful thought and close attention to detail. She brought so much warmth and light to the text and I treasure each piece as a work on its own and as a part of the full project.

I wrote the text to this book when Violet was about 15 months old. We were lying in our bed nursing one morning and the words just started flowing out. Thankfully, I had saved the poem on my Ipod, as our computer was lost in the tsunami. I always dreamed of turning it into a book but wasn’t sure how to go about it. With the helpful advice of Katherine Havener, author of Nursies When the Sun Shines, and the support of my husband, I decided to go the self publishing route.

As a breastfeeding, co-sleeping family, we often look for books that portray our life style to read to Violet. There just aren’t enough books on the market about breastfeeding babies and only one that I could find about a breastfeeding toddler. So I thought, why not make one myself.

I hope that the lyrical text and Katie’s gorgeous illustrations find their way into your hearts and that you will enjoy reading it with your child. Whether they are still breastfeeding or not I hope that you find it brings a smile to your face and snuggles to your arms.

I now present to you Mama’s Milkies.

The website for the book is www.mamasmilkiesbook.com

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Click the above button to buy your own copy and receive it in time for Valentine’s Day! It would make the perfect gift for your favorite nursing couple.

Other exciting news is that each individual piece of art will be available for purchase through Katie M. Berggren! Stay posted for information on her Virtual Art Opening.

A girl and her milkies 3 years of breastfeeding

Some call it extended. Some call it extreme. We call it normal. For three years now our precious daughter has been bringing us joy, love and laughter. She is a bright and loving child and we cherish every day with her.

She has also been breastfeeding for three years now. When I first started nursing her I never imagined she would still be doing so and doing it so much at this age. But she is.When we started out I did not have a clear cut line of when we would stop, I just knew that one day she would. I started out just hoping I could do it and then hoping she would continue for a few months, six months, a year. We just kept going.

I had some good advice from a friend about baby led weaning. I had never heard of it before. But I liked the sound of it. So at about 2 months in I decided that is what we would do. I imagined that at some point after her first birthday she would start to give it up little by little. She didn’t start really eating food until she was about 10 months old. So I knew she still needed the nourishment from my milk.

Her first birthday came and went and she was still nursing like a 4 month old. She preferred breastfeeding to food. We were o.k. with that. She has never been under weight but just at the bottom of average. The doctors never told us she was unhealthy or malnourished. So we just continued on.

Before her second birthday we lost our home in the tsunami of March 2011. As you can imagine it was a tumultuous time for all of us. She no longer had her safe place and we were living with other people for about 2 months. She nursed more frequently at that time. She nursed for nourishment and mostly for comfort.

As her second birthday approached I started wondering if this would be the time she would start to let go. But still she continued. At 2 years old she was going to nursery school from 8-2:45. She nursed when she woke up and as soon as we picked her up. She nursed 2-3 times before bed and always nursed to sleep. She woke up at least 2 times to nurse in the night as well.

Violet started eating more food and gaining more weight as she started to eat different foods at school but still preferred nursing during dinner time. It was hard for her to be away from me and vice versa. When we got home she wanted to be attached to my body. She wanted that closeness and I did too.

This has continued on and we have now celebrated 3 years of life with this precious girl. She is just recently, in the last 3 months to be exact, started to drop some nursing sessions. She now will go from after her morning feeding until 5pm at the latest. Some days she still wants them as soon as we get in the car to drive home from school. Other days she is content to play and sing and drink other yummy drinks until closer to dinner time.

She still nurses during dinner and and she still nurses to sleep. I don’t know if I am doing this the right way or the wrong way. I just know that I am doing what feels natural to us. I have never denied her her milkies unless she is screaming for them in an unpolite way. She has to ask for them nicely. Other than that I don’t offer and I don’t refuse. She still uses my breast to calm down when she is hurt or when she is feeling overly upset. It is still the quickest way to calm her down and stop a tantrum.  I am not an expert or a psychologist, I am just a mom doing the best I can to raise a healthy and loving child.

Nursing a 2-3 year old is very different from nursing a newborn or even a 6 month old. Our connection is so much deeper. When I nurse her and she looks into my eyes it is almost as though we can read each other’s hearts. She is sometimes playful at my breast and other times she is just gazing up at me with a love like I have never known before. She sometimes comes off my breast and just tells me “I love you, mommy! I love you!!!” Other times she puts up her hand in the I love you sign. I return it and she likes to touch our fingertips together in the I love you sign.

When we go to bed at night she looks into my eyes as she nurses and rocks herself against my body as she drinks herself to sleep as I sing her favorite lullaby. Her teeth sometimes clinch down as she falls asleep but if I flinch she wakes up and apologizes. Her small hands now cover my breast when she holds them up to her mouth. And when my milk lets down she smiles up at me as the milk drips down her chin and says “Milkies are coming milkies are coming!” in a voice that suggests she has just won the lottery.

We have many new positions in which we nurse and some have remained old favorites.  She still loves me to cradle hold her while she nurses. She still loves it when I stand and rock her as she nurses. We both still love laying down facing each other on our sides. Sometimes she likes to sit up straddling me and nurse. Some of the new positions are laying directly on top of me with her head turned to the side or lying on her side beside me as I lay on my back. (I fear this one may be stretching my breast beyond repair) Sometimes I feel like we are in the middle of an Olympic acrobatic routine.

Somethings are the same as nursing a newborn. I still cherish caressing her cheek as she suckles my breast. I still adore breathing in the scent of her newly bathed head. I still love the feel of her little hand pulling my breast into her mouth. I am still amazed at how perfectly breastfeeding works.

Breastfeeding our daughter for 3 years has been a joy and I have never regretted it, not even for one day. I have loved it. It has been a lesson in control for me and a lesson in sacrifice. I know that not all women enjoy it and not all women will choose to do it for as long as I have. But it has been a truly amazing experience for me.

Some of my friends ask me how I can still not drink coffee, still not drink alcohol, and still not diet to loose my pregnancy weight. The answer is in my daughter’s eyes.

When she looks up at me and I see how much love she has for me and the love I know she feels from me, I know that it is all worth it. When I realize that I am setting an example for her to be self sacrificing, loving and gentle, I know that what I am doing means something.

Sure there are days when I don’t like my body. I am still carrying about 15 extra pounds that just won’t come off.  I am still wearing nursing camis and shirts that open easily. I am still sleeping in nursing pjs and I don’t feel as sexy as I used to. But when my daughter tells me I am beautiful I believe her. I am beautiful to her.

I have a motherly body that she loves to fold herself into. She doesn’t care what size clothes I wear or if I have the latest fashion. She loves me just as I am, which is exactly what we are trying to teach her to feel about herself. If I desire her to have a positive self image then I too must accept and love my body the way it is.

Sometimes I crave a good latte with caffeine in it! Sometimes I would love to eat or drink anything that tickles my fancy. I am not a saint, I still have cravings and sometimes I do give in to them. These things will all come in time, I am sure of it.

I never expected that I would still be doing this 3 years later but I am willing to continue until she is ready to stop. Someday she will stop nursing and I will miss these “milkie” days. I’ll miss that sweet glint in her eye as she drinks the sweetest of drinks. I’ll miss the feel of her tiny hands caressing my breast and her looking up at me with ultimate contentment.

I have already witnessed a bit of letting go. She has not nursed to sleep 3 times in the last month and has instead wanted me to cuddle her. I will get my body back and I will eat and drink what I choose one day.

Until that day I will cherish these nursing days. I will try to soak up every moment that we share as a nursing couple. I often remember this quote by the great Dr. Sears ““The time in your arms, at your breast, and in your bed is a very short time in the total life of your child, yet the memories of love and availability last a lifetime.”

May you have many happy”milkie” days with your little nursling. May your hearts be filled with love for each other and may your love radiate to others you meet. Happy Birthday Violet and Happy birthday Milkies!” We’ve come a long way sweet girl!

My baby girl!

Violet nursing on her 3rd birthday

No longer Sleeping Beauty

When I was growing up my aunts and grandmother loved calling me Sleeping Beauty. I love sleep! I love sleeping in. I love sleeping without an alarm clock and getting up when my body wakes up naturally. When I was in middle school and high school, my mom would let me sleep in on Saturdays. She wouldn’t bother me unless we had somewhere to be or something to do. On some occasions I would sleep through lunch, wake for dinner and then go back to bed. When I was in college I loved that no one was responsible for waking me up except for me. This proved to be a great challenge to overcome as my first classes were at 8:30 my freshman year. Luckily, I had some good friends who wouldn’t let me sleep through class too often. 🙂 When I got pregnant I knew that I would need to savor every last minute of sleep before our daughter was born. Towards the end of my pregnancy it was hard to sleep though and I was getting a bitter taste for what was soon to come. When Violet was born it was time to say goodbye to Sleeping Beauty. Goodbye sleeping till noon, heh, goodbye sleeping till 7! I can’t remember the last time I slept more than 4 hours in a stretch and when I slept past 7 or 8. In the beginning I felt like I was walking around in a fog. Now, 2 years and 9 months later….I finally feel like I am getting used to the lack of sleep. Will I ever get to sleep again? Maybe. But probably not until Violet has gotten married and has children of her own. Yes, when I am a grandmother I will sleep again! 🙂

When you nurse on demand (or request) you may start to feel like your days and nights all meld in to one long year. One long but amazing year. When I read about breastfeeding before our daughter was born I believed that she would eat every 2-3 hours. I believed that this would last for about a few months and then taper off into every 4-5 hours. This was not the case for us. Violet loved (loves) nursing. She would nurse for an 30-45 minutes at a time sometimes without coming off. She would stop for a while and then go right back on. We started calling her the milk monster. 🙂 Later when milkies got their name she became “my little milkie monster”. We laughed about it and my husband and I joked about the fact that she seemed permanently attached to my breast. Day and night she wanted to be nursing. I started out nursing at night by sitting up in bed and holding her. We did not have a head board though so my back really started to hurt from lack of support. So after a month or so, I started laying down in bed with her to nurse her to sleep. After she would fall asleep I would carefully lift her back into the snuggle nest (baby safe co-sleeper). Because I still needed to alternate breasts for each feeding and sometimes she even needed to drink both sides before falling back to sleep, I started waking up my poor husband at the end of each feeding so that we could switch sides on the bed. Was this fair to him? Probably not. But I thought it seemed fair since he never had to wake up to feed her since we never used any bottles. He hardly ever complained though. He was very supportive. He did, however, decide to sleep on the couch for a while until we got into a better pattern. I love nursing her to sleep. I loved watching her little eyes get heavy and finally giving in to sleep. She really was a good baby at night. She did have her bouts of seemingly endless crying when it was time for sleep. But I would bounce and bounce until I thought my legs would fall off. I still bounce when I hold her out of habit. But all in all she slept very well. She would wake up often but she would always nurse right back to sleep.

When Violet was about 5 or 6 months old I figured out how to nurse her on both sides with out switching sides on the bed. I could turn my body over till I was almost on my tummy and she could nurse on the left breast as I laid on my right side. Call it lazy or call it nursing acrobatics…it worked and I felt more rested when I didn’t have to get up and switch sides. Then when she was about 10 months old we stopped needing the baby safe co-sleeper and she just slept in the middle of the bed. We put up a guard rail and also had her crib (which she never slept in) beside the bed. So there was no way she could roll off.

When we lost our house in the tsunami and started sleeping on the floor on Japanese futon mattresses we developed another style of sleep nursing. She would just open as she pleased and nurse back to sleep, only on the right side. I tried it for a couple of days on and off and before I knew it, my left breast stopped producing as much milk. I cannot remember when it happened exactly, but Violet pretty much stopped nursing on the left side all together when she was about 1.5 old. I still produce milk in that breast but not much. It only comes out if she sucks on my nipple. Whereas my right breast still sprays out when I let down. Now she just nurses on the right day and night and when we sleep she nurses to sleep and when she wakes up she asks for milkies please, before helping herself and I usually can fall right back to sleep with her.

The days and nights of long hours of uninterrupted sleep may be over for a while but I wouldn’t trade them for what I have now. My nights may be scattered with bouts of wakefulness but they are also sprinkled with beautiful moments of loving words, sweet kisses and precious memories that will warm my heart for the rest of my life.