This weeks Breast Mates guest post is from Simone who writes amongst others at From rat racer to positive parent and she shares her story about breastfeeding beyond 2 years of age.
I’m one of a growing number of mums who has decided to let her child choose when to stop breastfeeding – this is sometimes referred as extended breastfeeding. It wasn’t planned - breastfeeding wasn’t neither easy or pain free (my daughter kept feeding on the nipple despite getting help from various breastfeeding counsellors and always took around 20-30 minutes to empty each breast). This was quite tiring and even boring at times so early on I invested in a breastfeeding pillow that allowed me to browse the internet and even working on the newsletters of a parenting charity.
Over three years and a half on, I’m still breastfeeding my daughter. Some people find it inappropriate. Mums breastfeeding toddlers are considered freaky, and some mothers have been harassed for breastfeeding a toddler. There are some really sad and enraging stories in Breastfeeding Older Children by Ann Sinnott, a book on extended breastfeeding that came out last year and provoked a heated debate on TV and online.
Yet, most people know that the World Health Organization (alongside breastfeeding charities) recommends continuing breastfeeding up to the age of two or beyond. This is not advice aimed to developing countries as some people think, it is not country specific. The NCT’ Reasons to be Proud makes an interesting read. Did you know that if you breastfeed up to the age of two, your child is likely to have higher average scores on intelligence tests? You can also expect fewer visits to the orthodontist when your child is a teenager and your risk of breast cancer is reduced by eight per cent. These statements are based on research, but still some people think they are made up to push the breastfeeding agenda.
I’m not a breast basher, nor a smug breastfeeder. I think mums should breastfeed as long as they can – even a short time can be beneficial. For instance, if you breastfeed for just six weeks, your child’s risk of chest infections is reduced up the age of seven years old.
My breastfeediing journey
Michela was born in April 2007. It was a positive experience, despite the interventions – I’m 5ft 2in and Michela being a big girl at 8lb 2oz in weight and 52cm long required an episiotomy and the ventouse – but gas and air, plus diamorphine took the pain away. Diamorphine makes babies sleepy in the first days (crucial for your milk supply) – luckily a midwife told me to wake Michela up for regular feeds and I managed to breastfeed successfully at the hospital.
At home, breastfeeding became difficult. The latch had deteriorated and Michela would only feed on the nipple. This led to more vigorous sucking to get the milk out and to very sore nipples. I persevered trying to correct the latch, tried nipple shields (useless as Michela didn’t want to suck on a piece of plastic and I now know that they can interfere with breast milk supply so they are recommended as a last resort), then gave in to pressure from my partner and he fed her one bottle of formula a day to give my nipples a rest. Michela was not that keen on the bottle and we eventually gave up and had to throw all the formula away, which was a waste of money. I did try expressing several times but didn’t get on with either the manual or the electric pump – they ended up on Freecycle.
Obviously if I knew what I know now, I’d have sorted the latch by going to a breastfeeding cafe straight away. When I asked for support it was too late and Michela would not open her mouth wider whatever you tried. Or she would perform well at the cafe and then revert to nipple feeding at home. I relieved nipple soreness with creams and chilled Savoy cabbage leaves – luckily there were no gashes nor blood although it was painful enough. I kept giving myself deadlines: I do it for two months, then three months, six months, etc. I think my nipples toughened up as the feeds became less painful. The latch was never corrected.
Bad latch alert
Weaning and breastfeeding
Michela started to show signs of extreme interest in the food I was consuming at around 20 weeks so I introduced a few spoonfuls of baby rice. I soon realised that she wasn’t really ready and waited until she was six months before trying again. I now wonder if my early start meant that she wasn’t having the three meals a day at seven-eight months. She loved breast milk above all and would fill up on that. I weaned her with purees, but if I could go back in time I’d try a mix of traditional and baby-led weaning. I think Michela didn’t like being spoon fed and she would have enjoyed exploring food. Throughout this period I continued to breastfeed as it was easy by then. So I think it’s really unfair that it is hard at the very start when you feel vulnerable – it does get easier later on.
|I breastfed Michela, 18 months old on this French tourist train, I haven’t the pic, though!|
Breastfeeding as a parenting tool
When Michela was one, I introduced cow’s milk but still breastfed. That spring I did a course to become a breastfeeding peer supporter. After the course I started volunteering at a breastfeeding cafe in London. I continued breastfeeding, which was handy when we went for a motoring holiday in France.
I did find myself more relaxed breastfeeding in public abroad, nobody batted an eyelid. It was quite handy as we didn’t have to worry about buying and storing cow’s milk.
In summer 2008 we moved to Rugby, where I volunteered at a breastfeeding cafe, held first in the library and then at a children’s centre. I confess I was still breastfeeding at home as a way to send Michela to sleep. This is described as a bad sleeping habit by healthcare professionals but control crying didn’t appeal nor worked for us. Eventually we had to teach her to go to sleep on her own, which was probably trickier at this late stage.
Meanwhile, the breast was becoming a handy parenting tool as it calmed most tantrums, soothed after bumps and falls, and could even be presented as a treat. Michela was doing very well with solids and drank cow’s milk happily, so breast milk was a special extra.
Breastfeeding also turned into a one-breast activity – Michela rarely fed from my right breast and it shrank fast. I was lopsided, which my partner found funny but I wasn’t too worried. I had talked to mums who had breastfed their children on one breast and they all agreed that the breasts would eventually go back to being the same size. This turned out to be the case in the third year as Michela breastfed less.
Breastfeeding a toddler
There are misconceptions about extended breastfeeding. It’s not like breastfeeding a baby. As my daughter got used to drinking cow’s milk, at around 18 months she was only breastfeeding twice a day (unless ill). When she turned three, she breastfed once a day, but from December 2010 (when she was over three and a half) the breastfeeds became irregular and were not requested every day.
However if Michela is ill or wants special attention, she will ask to a breastfeed. For me the advantages of breastfeeding a toddler are: I get an extra lie-in in the morning, it’s handy when Michela is ill and cannot keep food down, it has helped to defuse tantrums or upsets. Plus it’s great when travelling abroad. I love the reasons to breastfeed a toddler listed on this mum’s blog.
Thank you Simone for sharing your story and for being this weeks Breast Mates guest poster.If you would like to be a Breast Mates guest poster please get in touch by either the PLUS 2.4 fan page or Twitter.