11 Dec 2012

Breastfeeding: My ultimate parenting tool

I am so grateful for nay-nay. That's Jacob's term for nursing, one that he started using about two weeks ago. Before that, I relied on cues like his thumb sucking and pulling at my shirt buttons to figure out when he wanted to breastfeed.

We've entered a new stage of toddlerhood that I'm told is normal, and familiar to parents everywhere. It's called "NNNNNNNNOO!" It is accompanied by furrowed little eyebrows, pursed lips, and flailing arms and legs.

This morning when we woke up, I tried to kiss Jacob on the forehead, and he said, "NNNNNOO!" I asked him, "Do you want eggs or oatmeal for breakfast?" I got, "NNNNNOO!" Later, he brought me his boots, and I said, "Good idea, we'll go outside," to which he responded, "NNNNOO!" In the afternoon, I said, "I love you, you're sooooo sweet," and, you can guess it, he replied, "NNNNNOO!"

Mercifully, he is almost always happy to nurse, and frequently asks for his nay-nay. In these moments of peace that punctuate Jacob's otherwise limitless and energetic curiosity, I know that he loves me. He is busier than any person I know, constantly exploring the world and striving to be independent, until he insists that he needs nay-nay.

I need it, too. Nursing is my most effective parenting tool. When Jacob is overwhelmed with frustration over having to take turns with a toy or eat only one treat instead of ALL the treats, we can turn to nay-nay to cope with the exploding emotions.

I once read a wonderful essay on this subject by Ruth Kamnitzer, a Canadian woman raising her child in Mongolia. She described how Mongolian mothers and even grandmas and grandpas literally wave their breasts around to try to distract toddlers in the middle of an argument. Instead of tediously explaining how to share, over and over again, they simply breastfeed, with a 100% success rate. Finally, I understand this anecdote on a personal level. I can open my shirt and point to my nipples, saying "nay-nay!" and thereby get Jacob to calm down and nurse.

In public, I don't often use nay-nay as a parenting tool, but I know that it is available in my repertoire if we need it. Tonight, for example, a well-meaning stranger tried to pick Jacob up to help him into a shopping wagon. He turned and ran from her, utterly terrified. As I held him, he gasped for breath and said a broken "nay-nay," a request that I couldn't possibly deny. I unzipped my winter coat and sweater and nursed him at the check-out counter. I waited for Ian to pay, and then we walked out of the store together, Jacob still nursing, his sobs slowing down. Ian smiled at us and nodded, agreeing, "Nay-nay."