Thursday, 19 October 2017

Breastfeeding into toddlerhood.

If you would have asked me when Oskar was 16 days old if I would still be breastfeeding him at 16 months old I would have sobbed and said no. Having such a difficult start, which didn't really get better until he was around 3 months old and the pain finally started to ease, breastfeeding a toddler seemed like an impossible dream. Going back to life before Oskar, had you have asked me at that point if I'd still be breastfeeding at 16 months I would have point blank said no. If I'm honest I thought, along with the vast majority of society, that breastfeeding past a couple of months of age was really really weird, and by the time they were toddlers, who moved and talked and could ask for milk, now that was absurd.

So what changed? Well I guess I became more aware, I educated myself, and I allowed myself to be open on this journey that is parenthood. See the thing is your baby is only ever one day older than they were yesterday, so it's impossible to land mark a day that it suddenly becomes the case that they are too old to breastfeed, if that wasn't the case only 24 hours before. Before I has Oskar I thought that babies only needed milk until six months, and after that they just had food. What nobody seems to tell you until you look in to weaning is that milk continues to be a baby's main source of nutrition until the age of 1, and an important part of their diet until at least two years old. So if I hadn't have continued to breastfeed him after six months he would have needed to have formula, and I hadn't worked so hard and put myself through so much pain for 3 months just to move to formula at 6. So we continued.

I planned in my mind to stop when he turned one. I'd had enough of being his constant and only milk source, I needed to stop and give myself some space. But by the time we reached his first birthday Oskar was eating three good meals, sometimes snacks too, and quenching his thirst with water. His milk feeds were reserved to morning, night, through the night, and nap times. The rest of the day he really wasn't bothered, and would occasionally sign for milk, or lift up my top and point to my boob, but the rest of the time he was happy to not have any.

See here's the other thing, society believes that when a baby can ask to breastfeed it's time to stop. He does ask for milk, sometimes often, sometimes infrequently if we are having a busy day, he signs, he pulls my top, he says "mama mu", but when he was a newborn baby, fresh out of my womb he asked for milk far more often, by screaming at the top of his lungs until I fed him. In my eyes it's no different, he just has far more advanced skills now, although sometimes yes, he does still scream at the top of his lungs until he has the boob in his mouth!

So what's it like? Breastfeeding a mobile, talking child with 8 teeth and the ability to ask for milk? Honestly, it's wonderful. It's an experience I am very lucky to have, and although it has required an awful lot of dedication and hard work on my part, I am now at the stage where I feel that is starting to pay off. We still feed on demand, although he now understands when I say "later / it's not milk time / Mummy needs a break now." Breastfeeding is much more of a two way process than it was when he was little, and he is starting to understand some manners... like it's not ok to stick his fingers up my nose, and I can't feed him if he asks me when I'm driving the car, for example. I feel like it's the biggest tool I have to help him through his toddler years, in so many ways. Not only does he still have milk to go to sleep, it helps him when he's hurt himself (which let's face it happens often in toddlerhood!), it calms him down when he is having a very frustrated day (again, often!), when he is feeling lost or sad or scared, when he's ill, or in pain, there are a multitude of reasons why he might need to breastfeed, not forgetting of course because he just fancies some milk!


But it is wonderful; he looks at me with his gorgeous big blue eyes, and grins his cheeky little smile, and we have a moment of connection, that runs deep and wild and free. He is my boy, I am his milk Mama, when he sees my breasts there is nothing sexual, there is nothing weird or perverted as society thinks there is, all he sees is his milk, his comfort, his Mummy. And yes, at this age we could transition him on to "normal" milk, but cow's milk is for baby cows, and as a non dairy drinking / eating family we wouldn't be choosing to give him the milk of another species anyway, it'd probably be almond milk. But he's not a baby almond either, and almond milk doesn't contain live antibodies to build his immune system, it isn't perfectly tailor made for him, and it isn't always available, at the right temperature, for free, and wherever we are.

So when will we stop? We are happy to continue to feed until natural term. Children have milk teeth for a reason, giving them the ability to latch on to the breast and suckle effectively. As their jaws grow they change shape and they lose their latching ability. So natural term means the point at which you are both mutually happy to stop, and this is definitely what we are aiming for, regardless of when that might be. Until then I will enjoy the warmth of my child snuggled in my arms drinking the milk made only for him, I will relish in the chance to watch his eyes close gently in the safety and happiness that breastfeeding brings him as he gradually falls asleep, and I will offer him the very best protection I can against illness, against pain and help him through this rollercoaster that is toddlerhood one breast feed at a time.

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1 comment:

  1. I love watching your journey. It's inspirational for me to see you guys where I want to be in 6 months time. I'm finding biting a real problem at the minute, much more painful than my tongue tied newborn (maybe I've just forgotten!). It's made me have fleeting thoughts of stopping. It's so nice to see other people's experiences of getting through these challenges, especially as I know nobody in 'real life' that has breastfed for this long. Charlie is at nursery 2 days a week now as had to return to work. As soon as I pick him up, I nurse him. It's the best way to 'check in' with each other and to make the whole thing less stressful for us both.

    So thanks for the motivation from afar. What lovely family you three are :)


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