If you would have told me a year ago that I would still be breastfeeding, I probably would have laughed in your face and said no freaking way.
Because my breastfeeding journey was anything but easy.
Even before my daughter was born, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I was nervous about it and wasn’t sure what to expect. My friends had all formula fed their babies and even though I didn’t judge them for it, I still put a lot of pressure on myself to breastfeed and to succeed at it.
I remember the lactation consultants in the hospital and trying to get the perfect hold, the perfect latch, and just trying really really hard.
But my baby knew what she was doing, and she stuck with me through my many attempts and we left the hospital as a breastfeeding duo. However, I realize looking back that I was not mentally nor physically prepared for the toll that breastfeeding would take on me.
My daughter had lost weight when we went for one of her earliest routine well checks, and I was told to supplement with formula. She’d had a little bit at the hospital, but I was devastated. I felt like a total and complete failure, even though I wasn’t.
So, she started taking formula and because I wasn’t breastfeeding as often, my ducts got backed up and I developed mastitis.
Y’ALL. That stuff is the absolute worst.
Every nursing session hurt worse than the next. I was tired as I had ever been, had a fever and chills, and could barely take care of myself let alone my baby. I was pumping to try to relieve the pain so when my daughter sleeping, I was either pumping or washing pump parts and I didn’t have time to sleep.
To all you full-time or even part-time pumping mamas, bless your souls.
I thought about quitting nursing so many times. I hated it at some points. But I stuck it out, breastfed on-demand, and I’m so glad I did.
On my first Mother’s Day, my mom wrote me a note that said she was proud of me for sticking through breastfeeding and I’ll never forget that. It’s a decision that I’ll never regret.
But if you would have told me back then that I would still be breastfeeding my now-toddler, I really would not have believed you.
Even though I was passionate and committed to breastfeeding, I, like many other mamas, thought that you breastfeed to a year and then stop.
And that breastmilk isn’t even valuable after a year nutritionally.
And that it was freaking weird to breastfeed a child that could actually ask you for “boobies.”
Not to mention that when my aunt said she tandem breastfed her sons until they were two, I straight up told her she was bonkers.
So, what changed?
Well, I’m a research fanatic. So, when the one year “deadline” approached, I began researching the possibility of extended breastfeeding and the benefits of it.
I knew the nutritional benefit of breastmilk in the first year, but I had no idea that it is actually beneficial way past that mark! For all my mommas of picky toddlers, find comfort in this.
In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
– 29% of energy requirements
– 43% of protein requirements
– 36% of calcium requirements
– 75% of vitamin A requirements
– 76% of folate requirements
– 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
– 60% of vitamin C requirements
— Dewey 2001
Breastfeeding has many other health benefits as well. Research has shown that breastfeeding past infancy results in lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, less risk of type two diabetes, less risk of obesity and are likely to be smarter due to the unique DHA found in breastmilk alone.
Breastfeeding is also beneficial in protecting our children from illness regardless of age (thank you antibodies!).
It can also be the main source of hydration when our babies are sick. A couple weeks ago, my daughter came down with a nasty virus and she didn’t want to eat or drink anything. She never got dehydrated though, which I’m so thankful for, because she was nursing ‘round the clock.
Nursing was also a comfort for her during those days and continues to be even when she isn’t sick.
Why take something away from her that continues to give her nutrition and comfort?
I thought because it was time and because she was too old.
When I was on my research craze, I found something else that I thought was pretty crazy. The average weaning age around the world is from 2-7. SEVEN.
So, turns out one is not too old. It’s actually too young in many parts of the world. I don’t think I’ll personally go until 7, but hey! You do you.
There’s such a negative stigma around breastfeeding past infancy, but it’s actually biologically normal. Breastfeeding a baby? “Fine, but cover up.” Breastfeeding a toddler? “Your kid’s going to have serious problems!”
Here’s the thing. No child ever went off to college still breastfeeding. Our children will wean when they are ready. And I personally have no objection to letting my child breastfeed for as long as she needs to. But in order to fully come to this conclusion, I had to really evaluate my mindset.
Starting with the idea that we should stop breastfeeding our children when they can ask. It’s truthfully ridiculous when you think about it. We spend all this time trying to get our babies to talk and tell us what they need and then when they can, we stop?
When they can finally verbally communicate to us a need, that is so innocent and something that they have asked for in non-verbal ways since birth, we suddenly become uncomfortable and decide to deny their request?
Because breastfeeding is still seen as something shameful.
Breasts are sexualized to no end, when we were given breasts to feed our babies. That is the only functional purpose they have. Other than that, they are just lumps of tissue.
Our society has drifted so far off that it is making bottle feeding more normalized than breastfeeding. Bottle feeding, if you choose to do that, is fine … and if that’s the best choice for you and your family, you should be completely supported. 100%.
Mamas are shamed over bottle feeding too. I personally don’t have experience with that so I can’t speak to it, but our babies simply need to be fed no matter what route. And if you’re feeding your baby, that’s all that matters.
However, even though society might disagree, breastfeeding is natural and normal, even throughout and beyond toddlerhood. There’s nothing weird about breastfeeding. Nothing at all.
Breastfeeding is a comfort to our babies. They want and need to be close to us. And if we want our children to be independent, we support their dependence until they are ready to let go. True independence cannot be forced.
Breastfeeding is also a bonding experience between the mother and child. I absolutely love the bond that my daughter and I have because of it. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s been a wild (and tiring) ride!
I had no idea that toddlers sometimes breastfeed as much as newborns. Because we co-sleep, she still nurses throughout the night. And I’ve definitely flashed a few people because she decided to pull my shirt down in the middle of nowhere!
But one day she will stop when she’s ready and I’m in no hurry.
She will only be a baby for so long. Only need me for so long. One day she won’t be nuzzled up next to me and I won’t be gazing into her little eyes. She will grow up and be out in the world on her own, taking it by storm. But while she still needs me, me and my boobs are here.
If you’re considering continuing breastfeeding past infancy, I’d like to think this gave you some hope and resources to encourage you. And if breastfeeding was not an option for whatever reason, or you’re ready to stop, know that that’s okay too.