Saturday, February 18, 2012

Breastfeeding at a year

 Shira this afternoon, just after breastfeeding.

So my lovely cousin sent me a message the other day asking for some advice about breastfeeding her one year old. I had a few suggestions for her and I thought they might be of use to someone else. For what it’s worth, here are a few thoughts about breastfeeding around the one-year mark. I am not a lactation consultant, just someone who has been nursing for four years.

My baby still nurses through the night

So your baby is now a year old and still wants to nurse every four hours at night. Why is my baby so evil? I used to wonder. She probably wasn’t evil, though, just enjoying our nightly habit of her waking up whenever she pleased to have just a little more milk. But after a year of nursing through the night, there comes a time when you’re just ready for a complete night’s rest (that time was probably months before your baby’s first birthday, but here you are).

There is one very straightforward solution to this, but it isn’t for everyone: you could put him in his own bed at night and not go to him until the morning. This is what we did with Alyce. At this point she was going to bed around 6:30 at night, waking up around 1:00 am, and then again around 4:00 am. I decided that I would eliminate first feeding and only go to her if it was after 3:00 am (assuming that if she had her first night-nurse after 3:00, that she wouldn’t wake up a second time before morning). Eliminating that first feeding meant that I had to let her cry. If I went to her and tried to rock her back to sleep, or rub her back, she’d just lose it. And by lose it, I mean violently dive bomb my boobs in hope that one would fall out by accident that she could latch on to. If Matt went in, Alyce would scream for me endlessly. We came to realize that she cried a lot less, and coped with the missed feeding, a lot better if she just didn’t see us. So we let her cry, at first for fifteen minutes or so, but in a week she was down to peeping only for a minute. After a month or so we did the same thing for the 3:00 am feeding.

I might have been more open to breastfeeding once during the night if she didn’t start her days at 5:00 am. I am less into compromise in these early hours of the day. Side note: why do I make babies who start their days at 5:00 am? Does anyone have any answers for me?

Because Alyce slept in her own crib, in her own room, this course of action was pretty simple. It was different with Shira. Because we only had a two bedroom house at the time, Shira was sleeping in a crib in our room when her first birthday came around. There was not going to be any crying back to sleep when she was inches from my boobs head. So Shira kept on nursing through the night at least two or three times. When we moved back to Canada and the girls had to share a room, Shira usually ended up in our bed through the night so that her night wakings didn’t wake up Alyce. This meant that she continued to nurse all.night.long. After a month of cosleeping with my nursing monster it was time to try something new. Basically, I just switched bedmates. Alyce came into our bed so that we could both get some sleep, and Shira adjusted to not breastfeeding the night. I think it took two nights. Clearly she had been swindling me.

I have no real advice for those of you who want to continue cosleeping with your nursing  little ones. Sorry about that.

Balancing work and breastfeeding

In Canada (thank you, Canada!) a lot of women are able to stay at home for the entire first year with their baby. Many women can’t afford to pay the bills on the reduced income and return to work early, but for others, it’s an amazing opportunity to stare at their babies all day long. During my time in the U.S. I was in shock that many women only had four to six weeks off after giving birth, and that most could only take three months. I hope that the American government gets with the program about the benefits of mothers and fathers staying home for the first year of a baby’s life, especially for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding just won’t be a possibility for so many women if they have to go to work right away. Pumping is incredibly difficult and is not an easy solution. I am in awe of women who manage to pull this off--nicely done.

So I have little to say about going back to work in the early months (again, sorry about that). But since Alyce was still breastfeeding when she started at full-time daycare at 13 months when I went back to my PhD program full-time (that worked out well, didn’t it?), we still had our own work-balance issues to figure out. Here is what I learned: I had to trust that Alyce was getting enough nutrition from her solid food and cow’s milk at daycare and not worry so much about how much breast milk she was getting. I spent so much time worrying about her getting enough milk that first year (she has always been a tiny thing), that it was hard to trust that by 13 months that she was getting enough to grow. But she was. What helped me was coming to understand that breastfeeding had become less about food and more about comfort and time with mama. Of course breast milk still offered incredible things for her and her developing immune system, but it was so much more than milk. Breastfeeding helped her wake up to start her stay, calmed her to sleep, and cured all ills in between. I also stopped worrying about my milk supply. I knew there would always be some milk as long as she was nursing. She seemed happy and I was happy. Everybody was happy.

One thing to keep in mind: it turns out that babies are very stubborn. Prepare yourself for this. When Alyce started at her full-time daycare we would send two sippy cups of whole milk with her and one cup of water. But no. Alyce did not want sippy cups of milk or water, she wanted to nurse. So she simply refused to drink all day long, waiting instead for me to pick her up and nurse her right there on the spot. It was actually a nice little routine, and eventually she came to accept some lesser cup-milk. I asked her doctor and he assured me that she would not become dehydrated as long as she was eating food during the day, which she was.


I breastfed Alyce until she was twenty-two months old, when I was eight weeks pregnant with Shira. She continued to nurse in the morning and evenings until then. Shira is now twenty-one months and shows no sign of slowing down (she still nurses about four or five times a day, but not overnight). I still love it and have no interest in weaning (except some days when I do). Maybe this one will still be nursing at two.

Maybe three.

Previous posts on breastfeeding:

Ten things you ought to know about nursing a toddler
Uncharted Territory
Sobbing Again. Anxious, too.
Even Alyce tells me I look tired.
On boobs, breastfeeding, and not breastfeeding.


  1. Thanks Danielle;
    Lots of good ideas!
    I have been working on getting Tao to sleep in his own bed...but he usually ends up in our bed by 3am or's my fault I get tired and don't want to fight with him to stay in his bed.
    I am working on it though.
    I tried giving him water when he wakes up, rocking him back to sleep without nursing...but he just wants the milk!
    its so tiring working, and STILL not getting a nights sleep.
    The more I talk to people the more I hear how common this is.
    I have not yet tried letting him cry himself to sleep, maybe I should...i hate hearing him cry!
    Fingers crossed for a boy who sleeps better soon!!!
    thanks again Cousin

  2. Wow, such great advice. I am working on boy #3 on the breastfeeding front and luckily having no problems, but I anticipate weaning to take a lot longer this time (it will be my last baby, so I'm not rushing anything!)

  3. You're welcome Lisa! Hope it helps.

    Lauren, I'm glad it helped. And yes, I understand about not rushing the last baby through breastfeeding. We plan to have another baby, but we don't know when. Sometimes when I'm nursing Shira I'm overcome with the thought that she could be my last nursling!

  4. It depends a lot on your particular kid, too. My first was such a happy kid in general that it was really really hard for me to hear him scream for me in his room. He also had a pretty strong mommy preference, so I didn't like sending my husband in to be bad guy milk denier. I put on a turtleneck, and went in myself, and felt better that I was holding him while he cried. It took only a few days to night-wean. My second is louder and more stubborn but doesn't hold a grudge, and it worked best to just let her cry it out. They shared a room, but her cries only ever woke my oldest if he was already on the verge of waking for some other reason. My second actually weaned a few months earlier than my first, at about 15 months. Public transit is hard enough without dealing with both a 3 year old and a pawing toddler who refuses to hear "not now". See louder and more stubborn, above. So, like every other parenting issue, I think it is important to be aware, that there will be kid/personality-specific issues that you'll have to take into consideration.