Sunday, December 21, 2008

Hiding a nursing toddler

nurslingI was reminded of those breastfeeding covers that are all the rage among the newborn-toting set, when an email about milk supply in my Gmail trigged a Google ad along the side for "secret nursing."

I've written before about my bad experience with any sort of "discreet" blanketing and my reluctance to make a big deal out of covering up what should be considered a normal act of feeding an infant.

But I reexamined the issue in light of the fact that I am now nursing a toddler. A full-blown, walking, talking (sorta kinda) toddler. I expect more and more people will find what I'm doing strange, and the ad made me picture trying to be discreet with my 18-month-old.

Imagine it in your head for a minute. It's a funny picture, isn't it? Long, gangly legs kicking around outside the edges of a blanket, a writhing figure underneath. Mikko refuses to let me put blankets on his legs. I'm supposing if I tried to put one over his head, there would be two possible reactions: If he's in a good mood, he would think it was a fun game of peekaboo (with my breast being the boo!); if he's in a bad mood, say, if he were hungry, well...it wouldn't be pretty. Either way, it wouldn't be useful.

That made me think that the trend for breastfeeding covers assumes that only newborns are going to nurse. Or, perhaps, that only newborns are going to nurse out in public. I have heard that many mothers of toddlers start limiting nummies to home, a practice I've considered but not implemented as yet. I can't take turning down Mikko's legitimate requests for food and comfort just because we're out and about, and just because someone might be offended. I know I always appreciate seeing a breastfeeding toddler, because it means I'm not alone!

I know I have become less discreet as Mikko's grown -- but I also care even less. I used to be able to position him just so and settle in for a long feed, but I've had to change my process because his nursing style has changed so much. He now flits from side to side, having a couple quick gulps back and forth, and then he's off to something else that interests him, before returning a few minutes later for another snack. If I had to arrange a blanket or special shawl every time that happened, I'd scream. As it is, I can barely take refastening my nursing bra in between sessions, and I've adopted the easier habit of just wrenching down my entire neckline rather than trying to deal with layers of shirts. Only if I'm in the presence of someone new or uneasy do I take the time to be more covered. But, hey, I figure Mikko has a big enough head to cover most of it anyway.

Keep in mind that Mikko still nurses frequently and all day and night like a newborn, unlike other toddlers I've heard tell of who nurse, for example, upon waking and before bed. I expect it's because of his large size but his continuing aversion to going whole hog with solid foods.

Oh, and his latest adorableness that might make others squirm: He has taken to pointing out "noses" everywhere we go. He finds his own nose; he finds his dad's; he finds mine; he finds his bear's; he finds the kitty's (and doesn't she love that!). Well, every time he feeds now, he touches a nipple and says "nose" to me, until I echo it back to him and, satisfied, he can start to eat. I thought about giving it the proper name, but then I thought about him saying it over and over while other people are around, and I chickened out. I'm settling on trying to modify it to "nummy nose." Wussy, I know. Hopefully he'll learn the correct term before he uses that one on any future amour.

What are other people's experiences and comfort levels? What do you think of nursing covers in general, and for toddlers in particular? Should I make more of an effort to hide my skin, or say "deal with it" to any glares (which, I might add, I have never yet received)? Is there any age at which it's too awkward to nurse a child in public, and at what age could they understand that? I know it's not 18 months for my guy -- 18 years, perhaps?

And if any of you are breastfeeding toddlers indiscreetly in public, please bring your sweet self near me so we can match.

Here are posts with comments that offer some other voices on the issue from blogs I read and blogs they linked to on nursing toddlers. Feel free to add any other links in the comments here.

Beautiful nursling photo courtesy of Marek Bernat on stock.xchng

5 comments:

Kimberly said...

I have no personal experience nursing a toddler having weaned both my children around a year, but I have no issues with nursing and don't think a cover-up is necessary. It is a very natural act and the issues some might have with it are really their own problem. If they don't like it, all they have to do is look away.

Cindy said...

My personal opinion is that, out of respect for others, I will try not to flaunt my stuff where the world can see it, BUT I will not apoologize either if they happen to be exposed when I am feeding my child! I have no issues with anyone else nursing in public either, but personally I wouldn't do it past 2 or so only because stupid people will call child welfare services for the dumbest things, and some people think it is child abuse to breastfeed past two! It's ridiculous, but it is a legitimate concern. I wish people would just mind their own business and report the "real" child abusers!!!

But I am proud of you! If your child is hungry and wants to bf in public, you do what needs to be done. And if he is not eating many solids yet, then definitely feed your kid! I'm glad for you that you are still able to. I would if I could (our boys are the same age), but I just don't produce much milk, and we had so many problems. I made it for 11 months though (supplemented after 8), so we did pretty good!

Nursing Bras said...

When my nursing babies were toddlers, I nursed them in a sling. It was easier to hide those long legs, lol! I also made an effort to nurse them before and after we were going out. Toddlers can be put off for a bit or given a solid food snack without harm. And there's always the car or fitting rooms if you're really uncomfortable.

Hobo Mama said...

Kimberly: Thank you! I think that's the best opinion to have. I'd like for the culture as a whole to be that accepting. Maybe someday? And a year of nursing is awesome. By the way, I've enjoyed your blog for awhile now, and your girls are so dang adorable!

Cindy: I didn't even think about the CPS angle -- yipes! It's true. I've heard of CPS called on people for carrying their babies in a back carrier or for their kids being "dirty" (heaven help us!). There's that well-known story of the couple who got in trouble for having a photo developed of their young son nursing. I don't think most people notice when I'm breastfeeding Mikko in public, maybe because it's so incongruous in this society. I just try to be casual so that it looks normal, and I do kind of shield any exposed skin with my hand, just for my own comfort. By the way, yea for you for fighting through your breastfeeding problems and going for so long.

nursing bras: (not that I'm suggesting that's your real name! :) I'll have to check out your site) We do end up in the car a lot, simply because it's a place to sit down and there are fewer distractions -- not counting the steering wheel, the radio buttons, the windshield wiper lever, etc. etc. lol I didn't even think about a sling -- were you carrying them in it, or did you bring it around just for nursing? Because my guy is 36 pounds now and the only comfortable carry for me is on my back in an Ergo. I can do a front carry for very short periods of time (less than 20 minutes?) because it's too much of a strain on my hips, still wrecked from the pregnancy. But I think feeding in an Ergo is actually pretty obvious, at least for an older baby, because you have to pull down your shirt and show a lot of chest. Anyway, I'm digressing. Because I'm good at that.

Thanks to you all for your input! I'm glad to know it's not considered completely freakish. He just loves it so much and clearly needs it. He's signing in two-word sentences, starting today -- and his second one was "MORE NUMMIES"!! (In his language, that means "I want to breastfeed, thank you, mother dearest.")

molly said...

My daughter (13 mo.) has also changed her nursing habits and in a restaurant today I was hesitant to nurse her because it was so crowded...which surprised me! So, I ran across your blog tonight and I'm so glad I did, for two reasons: (1) it's nice to know that your boy's nursing pattern changed, too; and (2) you've given me an opportunity to step back, realize what is really important to me (breastfeeding my baby!) and given me courage to stand up for myself and my daughter.

Thanks for sharing! (Love your writing, too - my husband keeps asking what I'm chuckling about over here in the corner.)

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