The Pains of Nursing a Toddler

I wrote the following for MamaNook, where I’m a contributing editor.

My stomach and sides are covered in tiny little scratches.

My areolas have bite marks.

Nursing my toddler is not fun right now. That’s OK to admit, and it doesn’t mean I have to stop breastfeeding.

Violet, 16 months, is my third baby. A lot of people consider third kids to be the curveball — just when you think you’re experienced and you’ve got this motherhood gig figured out, they give you challenges the first two didn’t. That’s the case for us.

She’s feisty and has a huge personality. She’s quick to lose her temper, and instead of normal tantrums, she acts violent beyond her age, courtesy of having two older siblings who’ve shown her the ropes!

That means that when she’s teething (when isn’t she teething?!), or sick, my worn-out body gets the brunt of it. I’ve been bit by my other babies plenty of times, or pinched, or had them grab the breast they weren’t nursing from… but nothing like baby Vi. She loves to nibble my nipple and knead at my skin. Clipping her fingernails is a lot like bathing a cat, so it doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should.

So, what’s a mom to do? As with my other kiddos, I try to teach empathy as early as possible. I don’t overdo it, and I try my hardest not to have my reaction be seen as funny, but I make tons of sad eye contact. I tell her, “Ow! That hurt Mama. Can you show me how you can be gentle?” I actually do that with any physical acts of aggression — at 16 months, she takes that as a cue to pet whoever she’s hurt. Before she learned that, I’d take her hand and physically make her pet me a little. Depending on her ability to stop and nurse pain-free, I may end the nursing session and give her something to chew on, like a cold veggie, popsicle, or toy.

Sometimes, especially when I’m caught off-guard, I’ll yell. Not yell at her, but yelp in pain because a surprise chomp to the nipple is its own circle of hell. Leigh Anne O’Connor, a lactation consultant who’s worked in the breastfeeding field for two decades, has a hilarious and helpful article about babies who bite here. “As he is feeling those incisors pushing through his flesh,” she writes, “nothing will soothe that sensation like biting down on something nice – like a breast!  Ouch!”

She and I can both assure you, though, that this shouldn’t be taken as a signal to wean. Sure, you can wean whenever you want, for whatever reason you’d like. But don’t misconstrue this phase as a definite ending to your breastfeeding relationship. It certainly doesn’t have to be, as the phase will pass.

How can you cope with this? Honestly, talk about it. Normalize it so you and moms around you don’t think you’ve got the only bitey baby. There’s strength in knowing you’re not the only one going through something hard.

If you need to, and/or are able to, pass the kiddo off to your partner or a support person after a bite episode so you can take some time to breathe. As immature as it sounds, it’s hard for me not to hold a bit of a grudge as the soreness of the bite wears off, and some time to myself is a nice remedy for those feelings.

If you know biting is likely to happen — if teeth are about to cut through, or baby has the sniffles — try to stop it before it starts. Treat the teething (teething oil, ibuprofen, chewing on a cold wash cloth, etc) or cold (suction their nose, use some eucalyptus rub) before you nurse.

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The Great Spaghetti Massacre

Excuse my absence lately. I’ve been up to my elbows in children.

My other half has had the possibility of a long business trip looming over his head for a few months now, but when it got serious, it got serious fast.

We had about a week and a half’s notice that he’d be headed to Europe for 3 long weeks. We’ve done this before — thank the gods for Facetime! — but the distance is hard, and the 8-hour time difference makes the evenings long for the kids and I.

One night, I made a spaghetti feast. I’m having trouble scaling down my meal sizes and accidentally ended up with entirely too much. I served each kiddo a bowl, and stripped 1-year-old Violet down to her diaper.

My strong-willed little blossom baby stood up in her high chair, took off her diaper, casually threw it on the floor, and sat down to eat. Except she didn’t eat — she apparently doesn’t like spaghetti.

Penny, 5, and Malcolm, 3, thought Violet was hilarious. They picked at their dinners while laughing hysterically at their rebellious little sis.

As dinner was wrapping up, Violet was restless of being in her chair, so I put her naked self on the floor to run laps around the kitchen table. I decided a diaper would be silly, since we were all headed upstairs to the bath anyway.

The chance of Vi accidentally peeing was so funny to the big kids. I realized the level of tomfoolery was rising and went to put my massive amount of spaghetti into some tupperware.

The kids were cackling as I tried to get the pasta into three separate containers. Spaghetti was all over. Meatballs rolled along the countertops. I was picking up leftovers with my fingers and shoving them into clear containers, spaghetti squeezing out when I tried to secure the lids.

Then, I heard a rush of liquid.

Immediately, I looked at the naked baby. Nope, she wasn’t peeing.

Penny told me proudly, while laughing, “Mom! I’m peeing!”

This girl… wow. She seemed bored about Violet’s lack of accidents and wanted to stir up some fun.

There I was on a Sunday night. Kitchen covered in spaghetti, naked baby, two little kids in absolute stitches, and pee all over my carpet. Husband soundly sleeping in his hotel in Europe.

I grabbed the last fistful of noodles, squeezed lids on the tupperware and shoved them into the fridge. My motley crew marched upstairs to scrub off the stains of marinara sauce and stink of urine.

Shortly after that night, my husband’s trip got extended an additional 2 weeks. Instead of coming home tomorrow, as planned, he’s working his cute little arse off in the United Kingdom, wearing a hardhat at job sites, joining conference calls, and eating authentic fish and chips.

So if I seem absent… it’s because I’m parenting solo 36 hours a day, 12 days a week.

Nooo! Kelly Clarkson!

It’s really hard to be a mom who’s an empath, especially when you’re just learning to flex your empath muscles and have a hard time turning off the big feelings before they affect you.

It’s extra hard when parenting topics go viral in the media — topics that literally make my stomach turn — and I find myself smacking my dashboard until the car radio shuts off, or hiding stories on Facebook, because I cannot stomach the conversation around said topics.

The latest challenge I’ve had to deal with is Kelly Clarkson, one of my favorite singers, defending her choice to spank her children.

Now, let’s get this straight: I’m not judging (though I do judge people, just like everyone else on the planet). I’m not mom-shaming. But I struggle to turn off the part of my soul that tunes into the feelings of kids being smacked around by their loved ones. I struggle to entertain the idea that it’s OK to physically hurt anyone to assert dominance. It’s senseless. It makes me sad. I’m not up on my high horse, saying I’m right and someone else is wrong — I’m trying not to cry when it’s brought up, and honestly I just don’t want to talk about it because it puts so much pain in my heart.

I remember so much emotional hurt from my childhood, and how I absorbed the energy from the actions of others. Maybe some kids could waltz through life after routinely being hit by their parents, but if that would’ve happened to me, I promise you I’d be damaged today. And my parents wouldn’t have had a way to control if it affected me into adulthood or not. That’s out of their control. My parents didn’t know I was a medium, but I know at least two of my children are, so I parent in a sensitive, gentle way. Discipline in our family should be mindful and meaningful, because they’re likely to have long-lasting negativity from anger and punishment. (Read about the difference between discipline and punishment here.)

Despite being as sensitive as the day is long, I’m not weak. I’m easier to upset than most people, but that doesn’t mean I’m not strong. My face just leaks sometimes. With time, I think I’ll develop the skills to dial back on how much I’m affected by this and other topics. I long for a day when I don’t have to cover my ears and yell LA LA LA LA until I can find the remote control when something emotionally taxing comes on. But… today’s not that day. Tomorrow probably won’t be, either.

My psychic kid

Kids say the darndest things, right?

Sometimes, if you listen with an ear open to the spiritual side of life, children in your life can blow you away. Some things just can’t be discounted as a coincidence.

Like when my darling Penny, as a 4-year-old, coyly told me “the twins” were behind me. She gets a certain look on her face when spirit is involved, a little smirk, and then refuses to explain further.

Well, shortly before that day, I had a reading with Brittany Selle of The Guided Life. She told me that part of my spirit guide group was a set of boy-girl twins named Cody and Caida. OK, that’s neat. I didn’t not believe her, but I didn’t have “proof.” Well, Penny helped give me that proof. I’d never told her about that reading, let alone any details… I mean, she was 4.

A few months later, my sister was over for lunch. There we were with my kids, eating sandwiches, when Penny calmly asks, “What’s Caida’s brother’s name?”

We were gobsmacked. I mean… how. How could that be a coincidence. I don’t mean to be rude, but Caida is hardly a name. It’s not like Ann or Jenny or whatever — it’s not common whatsoever. This wasn’t a coincidence. My little Penny Pie definitely has a gift.

Fast forward to a few days ago. Penny leaned out of the shopping cart in the check-out line and told our cashier, “Hey! Mason has a kid named Carey!”

Mason is my brother. I don’t want to say we’re estranged because it’s a little too raw to use that word, so let’s just say… he’s taking some time away from the family, in Europe, for several years. He got married and they’re expecting a child soon, which I found out by shamelessly stalking social media accounts. The baby should be coming soon.

I hardly talk to Penny about Mason, and if I do, he’s Uncle Mase. She doesn’t know he’s married, or that they’re having a baby. He hasn’t been to the States since she was a newborn. Now I’m lurking on social media entirely too much to see what the name the kid! Thanks for the extra push to be nosy, sweet daughter of mine.

Take me to Lily Dale, please.

If you want a super realistic, easy-reading look at the world of being a medium, check out the Lily Dale series.

Author Wendy Corsi-Staub grew up outside the small town of Lily Dale, New York, a spiritualist community. That means, most residents are lightworkers of some variety — mediums, psychics, healers, tarot card readers. The real-life town is hoppin’ in the summer season with tourists looking to find connections to loved ones who’ve passed. Corsi-Staub’s interest in the community was real, and she visited many mediums as a teenager. She took that interest and turned it into seven books, four of which are of the young-adult genre.

Lily-Dale

Protagonist Calla Delaney is a teenager who finds herself in “the Dale” under tragic circumstances: her mother passed away unexpectedly, and she goes to stay with her estranged maternal grandmother, a medium. Her skepticism is quickly replaced with firm belief in the world of psychics and mediumship as she realizes she also has a gift.

Throughout the series, readers watch Calla grow and blossom, which is super relatable to my teenage and young adult years. With my busy lifestyle and collection of small kiddos, I need easy, interesting books. I need to lose myself in someone else’s life and journey, and this series delivers. I also have been craving another outlet for mediumship, and honestly didn’t know fiction about it existed until I found Cori-Staub’s series.

lily dale

It’s worth admitting that this addictive series has me researching a dream trip to Lily Dale…

My brain needs sun.

I wrote the following for MamaNook, where I’m a contributing editor.

There are many reasons why returning to standard time is the worst thing about fall.

“Falling back” an hour can disrupt all members of the family, especially causing a frustrating shift in naptimes and bedtimes for the youngsters. For me, the few hours between sundown and my husband getting home from work feel especially heavy.

It’s getting dark! He should be home by now! Bedtime’s soon! But it’s only 4 p.m., and I still have to make dinner, tidy the kitchen, read several books, bathe my three kids if I’m feeling particularly ambitious, and get all of them to sleep. It’s confusing because the darkness usually means my mommy shift is almost over (spoiler alert: it’s never over!).

This is my sixth “falling back” time change as a mother, and it’s the first to really, truly affect me emotionally.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that usually starts in the late fall or early winter — it’s related to the lack of sunlight available during the shorter days. People who already suffer from depression are more likely to be affected, and it tends to alleviate in the spring.

I spent the week after the time change miserable. I didn’t connect all the dots immediately because there were other stressful factors at play: my husband had a few rough days at work that had him worried, my 1-year-old is in a superbly clingy phase, and kiddo sickness had kept me away from necessary adult interaction.

The whole week was a slow decline in my ability to cope with normal, everyday frustrations. Instead of giving a heavy sigh, I’d get teary-eyed. My patience for my young children’s shenanigans was running low. I needed a break in a big way, but didn’t want to ask for one. I was embarrassed.

Finally, I opened my mouth and an emotional breakdown spilled out. My husband had no idea — I’ve become pretty skilled at and talented at hiding my mental health struggles, including three cases of Postpartum Depression — and he felt really bad. Like, really bad. Which made me feel worse.

That night, I took myself out for a drive-thru dinner and cried in the parking lot about nothing in particular. I was just sad. Life felt so heavy. Why, though? What was so bad about my life?

Then it dawned on me. That darn lack of sunshine!

Don’t underestimate how much it could affect you. In fact, when my midwife prescribed Zoloft for my PPD, she said very clearly: do not stop taking this medication abruptly, and do not plan to stop in the winter. SAD is real, and it’s exactly how it sounds. Sad.

My first course of action, besides admitting I’m struggling and asking for help, is taking Vitamin D. Sun exposure is an easy way to get Vitamin D, but that’s pretty rare in the rainy, cloudy Pacific Northwest autumn that I’m accustomed to. I know I personally should be taking supplements year-round, but when my bottle ran low several months ago, replacing it slipped through the cracks of motherhood’s many responsibilities and I never got more.

Other natural remedies to consider include diffusing some essential oils: sweet orange and peppermint tend to perk me up! And so does a spritz of Sunshine Spray.

Next, I want to spend more time outside, even if the weather’s cruddy. If I can’t get real, legit sunshine, I at least want fresh air. My kids do, too!

If my depression worsens as the days get shorter through next month, I plan to reach out to my midwife for advice and a potential dosage increase.

This is no way to live. My family needs more from me, and I deserve to have energy, interest in fun activities, and hope as opposed to hopelessness.

And you bet I’ll be counting down the days until Daylight Saving Time returns on March 11.

From Mayo Clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Oracle cards with kids? Why not!

I have fond memories of holiday get-togethers including a nice dose of spirituality as a young child. Family dinners would wrap up, the table would be cleared, and my mom and Auntie would lay out Tarot card spreads. My siblings and I loved watching and connecting with certain cards. Our Auntie would do a watered-down reading for each of us, and it was just neat to be included. I didn’t realize that this wasn’t a mainstream holiday tradition until years later.

I love my deck of Indigo Angel Oracle Cards. There’s no reason why they’re not kid-friendly, except that the illustrations are a bit sophisticated. But I never got the urge to show them to my children. However, when I received Affirmators! Cards from my best friend for my birthday, I was thrilled. Not only was I hankering for another deck of oracle cards, these were perfect to share with the little ones!

I waited until Violet, 15 months, went down for a nap. I lured the big kids downstairs with brownies and the promise of showing them something cool. After treats were eaten and hands were washed, they asked if the surprise was pizza. Dare I say, the Affirmators cards are cooler than pizza?

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Luckily, when I brought out the totally rad bunny-riding-a-unicorn cards, it was love. First, they laid them all out so the back of each card faced up. Then, I showed them that each card has a different illustration on each side. They flipped each one over, narrating their findings. It occupied them for a good few minutes.

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Penny, 5, really liked the Joy card. Maybe it’s because she likes popcorn, maybe because she’s a joyful little bundle of energy. Regardless, she was drawn to it.

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She also enjoyed Malcolm’s favorite, the Friendliness card, and said it looks like her dad. For the sake of clarity, their father is NOT an alligator.

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I didn’t really have expectations for this experience; I was just hoping they would have an interest in the cards. And they loved them. Mediumship friends have recommended pulling them out to flip through when tensions are high, which is something I definitely plan to do.

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And even though this deck is made by a clever gift company, the cards are legit. I’ve pulled some when life is rough and guidance is needed, and I was blown away by the accuracy. I guess it goes to show that the methods of receiving guidance vary — oracle cards, tarot, tea leaves, rubes, the list goes on — but if you’re in the zone and ready to connect to spirit, they’ll be flexible enough to adapt to your preferred method and come through with a message.

This review was not affiliated with or paid for by Knock Knock.