I never planned on breastfeeding this long. I just woke up one day with a toddler attached to my boob.
I tried weaning her off, but she wouldn’t have a bar of it. So I’ll stick at it until she’s had enough. Sure, I went through a phase the forums describe as “breastfeeding aversion” (or, in my house, “Get off me I am not a cow!”) but I’m past it now. This is where we’re at, and I’ve decided to go with the (neverending) flow.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that babies be breastfeed until they are 2, but only 21% of Australian bubs are still going until 12 months (Donath and Amir, 2000). Obviously, everyone is on their own journey and I support every mum’s right to choose (and I’m fully aware that some mums don’t have a choice). But if you find yourself in the same position, chances are you’ll get asked a few questions. Some people are curious, some people are weird about it, new mums are keen to learn more and older mums love the chance to reminisce about their own breastfeeding days.
Here’s five questions I get asked the most:
1. You know there’s no nutritional value after 12-months.
Oh whoops, I forgot to check the use-by date on my boobs. How silly of me!
I hear this a lot, and I think it’s something people say without thinking. I looked into it, and there have been quite a few studies done. They all basically agree that breast milk never stops being good for a baby.
WHO says, “Breast milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6 to 23 months. It can provide…one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months.” In 2001, Dr Kathryn Dewey said that from 12-23 months, 448 mL of breastmilk can provide your bub with 29% of their daily energy needs, 43% of their protein requirements and 36% of their calcium requirements. Not bad at all!
2. Are you sure you’re not just doing this for yourself?
I’ve been wearing bras with flaps for over a year. The postman saw my nipple once (which is one time too many). Half the time she gets on there purely to chat, like we’re old friends catching up for coffee. Occasionally she’ll give into tempation and have a little bite. So yeah, I guess you could say I’m ready for a cuddle session that doesn’t end with an impromptu breastfeed.
3. Have you tried offering her a snack instead?
Everyone is different, but for my bub it seems to be more about comfort and closeness rather than a source of food. At 17 months she is really only feeding once or twice in a 24-hour period. I’ll pop her in bed with me for a snuggle and a feed in the mornings (this is particularly delightful in winter when I can’t face getting out up). Then she’ll usually have one in the afternoon.
When she’s sick, I give it to her whenever she feels like it. Last week she suffered a terrible bout of Bronchiolitis, and wanted to feed every few hours. She was totally miserable, barely touching her food and not interested in water. We ended up in Emergency, and the doctor said it was probably only the breastfeeding that stopped her from being dehydrated, so I was rather proud of my (previously unremarkable) boobs.
Sure, it’s awkward if we’re at the park or out for coffee and she decides she needs a feed. Once it’s in her head there is no dissuading her. I went through a phase at around 15 months where I got really embarrassed by this. I’d apologise, and make up some sort of fib about it being “totally weird, as she normally never does this!” The lying, the self-pity and the lack of confidence was making me feel like shit, so I pulled myself together and changed my mindset. At the end of the day, she’s only on there for about five minutes before she gets distracted and I’m usually with family or other mums who don’t give a shit – they’re too busy dealing with their own stuff. Once I stopped apologising it became much less of a drama.
But it means you can’t leave her overnight! That must suck.
Yeah, for a while it did. Not that I had anywhere to be, mind you. But at around 13 months I was thinking, “It was supposed to be different by now”. I always assumed that after a year I’d be free to go off galivanting around the countryside and having all this lovely independence. So I became super moody, and resented being “stuck at home”. I wanted to go out dancing with my friends, and pass out in their spare beds like the old days. It wasn’t fair that I had a curfew again!
But after a while, the self-pity turned into a massive bummer. When I took a step back, I realised that I actually did have plenty of freedom. It’s just that most of the time I simply preferred hanging out with my family. Lame! Haha. I also realised that… shock, horror…I’m old. And so are my friends. Nobody goes out dancing til 4am anymore, and the idea of passing out on someone’s lumpy spare bed was actually rather horrifying.
Regardless, I worked hard at weaning her off the night feeds by around 13 months. It was better for everyone, mostly in terms of getting more sleep. So I do have a few nights away planned for this year, which I’m really looking forward to. But I also know I’ll be just as excited to race home in time for morning snuggles with my two favourite people.
When will you stop?
Who knows. When she’s ready, I guess. I don’t want to traumatise the poor kid by witholding the milk that is clearly still being produced. She could lose interest tomorrow. Or my milk might dry up next week. Or I could find myself in the exact same position six months down the track. Who knows. For now I’m open to seeing what happens. Personally, I’m not keen on breastfeeding past the age of about two but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
Dewey KG 2001, Nutrition, growth and complementary feeding of the breastfed infant. Pediatr Clin Nth Amer 48:87-104
Donath, S, Amir, L. ‘Rates of breastfeeding in Australia by State and socioeconomic status: evidence from the 1995 National Health Survey’. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2000
All images c/o Mothering Touch, Flickr