I would love for you to meet this weeks World Mama! UK mom Helen, from Stockton-on-Tees, wrote a post about extended breastfeeding. Helen has been breastfeeding her son Jonah for 18 months and in this World Mama post she is sharing her experience and tips. I have breastfed Isaya for 15 months and am a happy advocate for extended breastfeeding – if mom and baby are up for it! – so am very excited that Helen has written down her story for us!
I was so excited when Kari invited me to write a guest post about my extended breastfeeding experience. I’m so honoured to become a World Mama for her inspiring blog! It was never my intention to become an extended breastfeeder. My son, Jonah, is almost 18 months old and breastfeeds several times during the day and on demand throughout the night (we co-sleep).
In this article, I hope to relate our breastfeeding story, and share with you the reasons I love extended breastfeeding so much. Of course, it is not always a bed of roses, so I will share the negative points too. I also have tips to help you on your breastfeeding journey. Hopefully you’ll find them helpful!
When I fell pregnant, I immediately planned to breastfeed my baby. After his birth and still in hospital, Jonah tried to latch on, but couldn’t. We spent 2 long nights in hospital trying to figure out how to breastfeed. I fed him hand-expressed colostrum from a spoon. Luckily, a nurse introduced us to nipple shields just before we left the hospital. They were amazing! Jonah latched on right away. And so our breastfeeding journey began.
Jonah was a big and long baby, weighing 9lbs 4oz. In the weeks following his birth, he lost over 10% of his birth weight. During a particularly unsettled night, I called the hospital out of desperation. Why is my baby crying so much? Is my milk supply too low for Jonah?
Clueless to the nature of breastfed babies, we supplemented him with formula milk. I don’t regret my choice, as it made us feel that at least we’d tried to address his hunger. But, I felt like a failure for letting Jonah down. I saw a feeding specialist who recommended I pump to increase my milk supply. It took us 6 weeks to reduce Jonah’s formula and increase my supply with pumping. I was finally exclusively breastfeeding, and it was an amazing feeling! I have nothing against formula, it’s an amazing product that can be lifesaving, but I really wanted to exclusively breastfeed Jonah.
Next, to wean off nipple shields. Jonah decided at about 3 months old he didn’t want us to use a nipple shield any more. Naturally, I followed his lead on this decision. If I tried to use the nipple shield, he fussed and pushed the shield off with his nose. It’s really amazing how a young baby knows when he is ready to go without support of this kind! However, feeding without a shield caused me a great deal of pain for a few weeks. At times, I wanted to quit breastfeeding.
Emotional support from my husband along with nipple balm and regular massage with oil were my saviours. In time, my pain went away. Given all our issues at the start, I am so proud to still be breastfeeding Jonah. We’ve come such a long way. I’m so glad I didn’t give up!
The benefits of extended breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is an amazing way to bring comfort to your toddler during illness or pain. Babies are hardwired to suckle – this need doesn’t disappear once they hit one year old.
It’s a natural sleep aid
So many would disagree with me and say that toddlers need to learn to sleep on their own. Sure, eventually. For me and my son, at my breast is the best place for him to fall asleep. Not to mention that breast milk contains substances that aid sleep.
It provides portable, convenient nutrition
I don’t have to feed my toddler cow’s milk or any other kind of milk. It saves me money and it’s always available. I don’t need to shop for it.
We all know how kids who are breastfed are at lower risk of illness than those who aren’t. Jonah is about as robust as toddlers come! For mamas, extended breastfeeding lowers incidences of cancer, heart problems, and endometriosis.
Extended breastfeeding is a wonderful way to connect that only a mother can offer. It builds such an amazing attachment, creating security that lasts into childhood and beyond.
Peace, quiet, and still in our busy lives. Toddlers are so energetic, so it’s nice to have Jonah come and curl up on my lap to breastfeed.
The drawbacks of extended breastfeeding
Do I worry about breastfeeding my older baby in public? Not really. Distracted when we’re out, Jonah rarely asks for his “boo-bah”. And when he does, I’ve yet to encounter a negative reaction to breastfeeding him. Yet, I know mothers who have. But extended breastfeeding is completely natural and normal to me. I feel sorry for anyone who believes otherwise, and worse would confront a mother over it. Breastfeeding toddlers and young children is natural, but sadly not normal for everyone. Breastfeeding in public helps to normalise extended breastfeeding.
Jonah can be quite persistent when he wants to feed. Sometimes I feel resentful that my husband can’t tend to Jonah like I can, that it always has to be me. Sometimes I feel like I want my body back. But then I remind myself how much this means to Jonah, and my resentfulness slips away. I am everything to my son! One day, it won’t be this way. I cherish it.
Jonah got his canines and molars through all at the same time, and he couldn’t resist the urge to bite me. Not only that, his newly protruding teeth rubbed and scratched my nipples. I used nipple balm and breast massage oil to restore some comfort. It’s a good idea to go back to basics with attachment and positioning if your toddler’s latch is suffering due to teething. Hang in there, it will get better! If your toddler bites, it doesn’t mean they want to stop breastfeeding. It’s just that the pressure and pain are too much. You’re absolutely doing the best thing you can for your toddler.
My tips for mamas wishing to breastfeed beyond a year
Don’t give up on a bad day
As with any relationship, there are both good and bad days. This too shall pass, as they say – it’s true!
This may be from a feeding expert, or a support pod of new or more experienced mums who also breastfeed.
Let your baby lead
Feeding to a schedule isn’t ideal for breastfed babies. It is best to feed on demand. This will maintain your supply at the perfect level, and create trust between you and your baby.
Take care of yourself
A little self-care goes a long way. Regular breast massage is my thing – I feel like I’m really taking care of myself. Once you find your groove in the early days, extended breastfeeding will come easy!
As for me, I have no plans to stop breastfeeding Jonah. I think the time will come when it feels right to stop – when both of us are ready. For now, we’re enjoying the comfort, sleep, nutrition, health, and bonding benefits that extended breastfeeding provides. We are trying for another baby right now, and I plan to tandem feed. I am sure this will present new rewards and challenges that I’m really looking forward to.
I hope you enjoyed my thoughts on extended breastfeeding. If you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you.
You can find Helen over at her blog naturalbeautywithbaby.com, where she blogs about natural health and beauty for mama and baby. Be sure to check out how to make a breast milk bath and her list of natural breastfeeding products. You can also follow her on Instagram and Facebook!