My Extended Breastfeeding Journey
Welcome to day 281 in my breastfeeding journey (21 months and counting). If you would have asked me 7 years ago how long I planned on breastfeeding I would have told you three months to a year. With my first child (my son) that was my goal, make it through the first 3 months while I was on maternity leave. Then something changed, breastfeeding got easy!
After the first month of having problems latching, sleepless, exhausted, and having no friends who breastfed I finally got the hang of it. It wasn't easy those first few days or weeks. In fact, I really struggled but I made a pact with myself that I wasn't going to give up. I had rented an industrial double breastpump from the hospital to take my son home and fed him from a tube and/or a bottle until he learned to latch. During one exhausting shopping trip to the local big box retailer I found heaven - the nipple shield! While most of the articles I had read discouraged the use of the nipple shield I was determined to find a way for my son to breastfeed 'normally.' To my surprise the shield taught him to latch on and with some practice (we would remove the shield during the feeding) we both learned together how to breastfeed. After that first month or two we removed the shield all together and breastfeeding finally became easy!
There were no bottles to worry about preparing, no formula to buy, and no need to wake up the entire house in the middle of the night for feedings. I never 'forgot' the milk because it was always attached and came with me. However with this ease came speculation from my family; was he getting enough milk, how did I know how much he was eating, and how long will you continue were among the most common questions. To them I always reminded them that 500 years ago there were no bottles, no formula, and no speculation - you simple breastfed. If your body couldn't produce the milk back then there were wet nurses (milk mothers) who would feed your baby for you.
I continued to breastfeed my son even when I went back to work. I bought a double breastpump and talked to my male boss about my needs. That wasn't a comfortable topic to talk about but I had to let him know that when my office door was shut I couldn't have anyone popping in to chat. My privacy was respected and my journey continued. I even continued breastfeeding at 11 months when I found blood in my milk after pumping. I had called the OBGYN office and scheduled an appointment because in all honest it freaked me out! The midwife who saw me that day told me to QUIT breastfeeding and scheduled me a mammogram. Now - if you are laughing you'll know that this midwife (a male by the way) had no clue about cracked nipples - but then again neither did I. I decided to surf the web and found a LLL website and forum that was filled with information. I immediately called a local LLL contact and started asking questions. I was so relieved that I didn't listen to that midwife because the consultant on the phone explained the situation to me and told me that in a day or two (with the help of some nipple salve) I would be back to normal and that the blood would not hurt my baby. I actually had plenty of milk in our freezer at the time so I dumped the tomatoe juice looking milk until it returned to normal.
I continued to breastfeed my son until he was 11 months, 3 weeks, and 3 days old - just a few days shy of my one year goal. That was when my husband and I decided to take an anniversary vacation alone and a perfect time to wean.
Skip ahead 6 more years and we were blessed with a little girl. Of course this time I was already aimed with my nipple shield before I went to the hospital - just in case! To my surprise our little girl came out with the natural skills needed to latch on and was a pro but it still took a few weeks before my nipples had adjusted to the routine again. Her latch wasn't perfect so we practiced until the pain went away. I guess I'm stubborn because a lot of women these days simply turn to the bottle of formula instead of trusting their gut - or asking for help.
This time I work from home and for the first 8 months she was at home with me and a nanny. Then she started going to an in-home care provider so I had to begin pumping again. Since she was older and was able to hold a sippy cup we rarely even used the bottles I had saved from my son. Our journey continued. However once we made the one year mark I didn't see a reason to stop. She was still asking for it (using sign language or by wrestling with my shirt trying to find the secret entrance to milk land) and I was still enjoying my last baby and our quiet time together.
I began researching the benefits of extended breastfeeding; both for her and myself. Then I found several articles about the natural age worldwide for weaning. Did you know that the average is actually 4 years old? We are one of the only countries in the world where the average breastfeeding age is less than one year. Many parents don't make it out of the hospital and very few make it to the three month mark. Those of us who do make it to a year simply go with our doctor's recommendations and introduce cows milk (or other alternative). I was suddenly determined to continue.
I've now mastered the breastpump (which rarely gets used unless I'm on a work trip) and I've mastered the speculations that she's just simply too old for the boob! I think the only two people who think that this relationship should continue is her and I. I do have some supportive friends (those who have breastfed until a year or longer) but for the most part even my spouse doesn't understand the extended breastfeeding. I don't let any of that stop me and we continue to breastfeed even today - at 21 months and counting.
When will we stop? I tell myself that I'll stop at two - but only time will tell. There are days when we don't breastfeed at all. Life gets busy and we're always on the go, somedays she just forgets to ask for it. Then other days she's constantly asking for a sip every five minutes. I like to offer some structure so we try to limit our breastfeeding to morning and evening when she needs to snuggle with mommy.
The most important lesson I've learned from our continued journey is to TRUST YOURSELF and your INSTINCTS! Only you can know what is right for you and for your baby. Don't let others persuede you with their negative words and thoughts - just enjoy the bond. It won't last forever!
Want to read more about my breastfeeding journey? Visit The Eco Chic blog (archive) where I will randomly share stories and conversations over the boob.
What about YOU? Did you breastfeed? Why or why not? Do you think that if you had more support that you would have breastfed longer? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
The Eco Chic