Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Normal-Term Breastfeeding, or, "Mama, can I have noms?"

Old enough to ride a bike & still breastfeeding
If you've been reading my blog more than a year, you might know how long I breastfed my son: 29 months. That is a lot longer than average here in Canada, but I'm not looking for a prize or anything. I want to write about it to get all the other moms who are breastfeeding toddlers out of the closet. I want to encourage the moms who have 11-month-olds to just keep going & let their kids decide when they're done--as long as mom is still willing too. I hope that the moms who are going back to work know that they don't need to wean at that point, their babies will adjust & they can keep breastfeeding around a full-time work schedule.

Though not necessarily the average here in North America, breastfeeding past two years of age is normal for humans. Despite what the knee-jerk naysayers will tell you, or the trolls commenting on articles like the Time Magazine cover from last year with the woman breastfeeding her three-&-a-half-year-old, the worldwide norm for weaning is between two & seven years old. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least two years of age. There are countless studies showing that breastfeeding confers benefits on children's immune systems, cognitive development, & more.

But you might have heard all that. Maybe you've even been to a La Leche League Meeting. Maybe you're breastfeeding right now as you read this. So I'll just tell you my story, since that's more what Spokesmama is about.

With Linnaeus, I breastfed him when he was just a few minutes old, giving him a bit of help to wriggle his way up my belly to find my nipple. Though that was natural & things seemed to get off to a pretty good start, I was devastated to discover that he wasn't gaining weight properly in his first few weeks. I've already written fairly extensively about my difficulties with breastfeeding & low milk supply, so I'll spare you the exhaustive details.

Suffice it to say, Linnaeus was one of those babies who needed formula. We did get some donated milk from the BC Women's Milk bank, but nowhere near as much as he needed over the 10 months that we supplemented my own milk supply. Informal milk sharing wasn't really as big a thing as it is now back in 2010, so that didn't really cross my mind.

I wanted very much to breastfeed & was extremely frustrated that it just wasn't working despite fairly heroic measures. My goals in the first month were to get through each day. Then to make it to three months, then six.

Once we'd hit that six month mark & I'd done everything I could to increase my milk production, we settled into a routine of breastfeeding about six times throughout the day & adding in a couple of small bottles of formula each evening. After Linnaeus started solids, we gradually weaned him off the formula supplements so I was just breastfeeding him, on top of three squares a day, by ten months old.

Breastfeeding was a lovely bonding ritual, once we got past the stress of the early months & the brief phase of biting around when he got his first teeth. I nursed Linnaeus to nap & to bed at night--getting him to sleep was easy with the magic boob. He eventually grew out of this, though breastfeeding was still part of the bedtime ritual, he didn't fall asleep that way anymore by about 15 months old.

Breastfeeding also helped calm him if he was upset from a bump on the head or his vaccinations. It was also how we started our day--he'd wake up, I'd go get him from his crib & once he was talking, he'd ask for "noms". Once he'd had enough from one side, he'd say, "I want 'nother side noms'" & switch. When I was in school & he was at daycare one or two days a week, breastfeeding was how we reconnected when I picked him up.

Two years came & went. Linnaeus had gradually reduced how many times he was breastfeeding down to about once or twice a day. Somewhere along the way I stopped nursing him before bed & Papa took over all of the bedtime routine. Few people would have known I was still breastfeeding as he only wanted "noms" first thing in the morning, so unlike many of my friends, I wasn't nursing a toddler in public.

In December in 2012, when he was getting close to two & a half, Linnaeus started skipping days. Around Christmas, he didn't ask to nurse at all for three or four days & I thought we might be finished. It was a false alarm: he started up again every day or two, asking for "noms" when he'd wake up, run to our room & climb under the covers with me.

By mid January, I decided to give him a bit of a nudge to wean. I was getting very sore nipples because I was about six weeks pregnant with his little sister. I stopped offering to breastfeed & he really never asked & that was it. 29 months.

Determined to get more photos breastfeeding this time.
Fast forward nine months & I found myself mired in the same breastfeeding issues with my daughter Brontë. Sigh. I did a few things differently--I was more proactive about medication, herbal supplements, I had a double pump & a phone app to track things--but we were back to the formula supplementing again. Things went a little more smoothly the second time around, however, so by about three months, Brontë was getting exclusively breastmilk. Because I'd been on the low-milk supply rollercoaster before & exited the ride breastfeeding nearly two & a half years, my goals were not so short term this time around.

With Brontë, I want to get past two years again, but it's all up to wee girl herself to decide when we're done. Being the second--& I'm fairly sure last--child I'll have, there will be no pregnancy to make me want to wean her. Though Brontë began with the same rocky start to breastfeeding as her brother, she nurses a lot more frequently than he did at her age, so I predict I'll be nursing a walking, talking toddler for quite a while to come.

I wanted to share my breastfeeding story with you today to join up with some other bloggers & breastfeeding advocates that I know. The focus is on normal-term breastfeeding--aka, nursing beyond the point that they can walk up & ask for it. Please visit Hillary With Two Ls , Lilahbility , One Crazy Kid
Apartment Baby to read more stories. If you've got a story about breastfeeding a toddler to share on your blog, share the link with us! If you're not a blogger, you're more than welcome to share in the comments below!

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  1. I know people are not all fond of the idea of breastfeeding toddlers, but it is so much easier than breastfeeding tiny babies! They can wait a few minutes if you are in the middle of something and they want to nurse, they are much more interactive, and definately don't need to be burped and burped and burped after, and they don't puke up on you after. ;) Many reasons why toddlers are easier than a tiny baby. Breastfeeding one baby was much more cozy and interactive than tandem feeding two. When you feed two, they look at each other, and interact with each other, when you feed one, you are the center of his or her world for that moment. J and I used to hold hands while he nursed, and laugh at each other, make faces, tickle, etc. Perhaps that is why he weaned so much later than his sisters? It was more bonding together, while for them it was more nutrition based perhaps. None of them remember breastfeeding, and were too young to ask, so I'll never really know.
    It does feel different with your last child, for sure. Knowing that you won't have another little one to cuddle like that makes you want to extend your nursing relationship.

  2. Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa!

  3. Thanks for sharing! A frequent question I get asked is about returning to work and continuing to breastfeed. I totally agree with your advice and think that things will adjust and a new rhythm emerges.

  4. Isn't it amazing - so many of us who breastfeed into toddlerhood had difficulty/frustration/desperation at the beginning. Maybe it makes it that much sweeter and more rewarding in the long term?


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