Breastfeeding: not just for babies

Sorry, I made myself laugh with my click-bait-y title. Don’t worry, this isn’t a post about breastfeeding my husband, or a family pet.

But I do breastfeed half of my family: my baby daughter, who is seven months old, and my toddler son, who will be three in August.

My baby feeds “on demand”* but actually is fairly undemanding. She can go for quite long stretches in the day without feeding and she seems efficient in terms of feeding for hunger rather than comfort. In fact, she has been so determined to breastfeed on her terms that she decided at two months that she would feed from one boob only (it took my son a year to come to the same conclusion that my left boob is somehow deficient), giving me that not-at-all-coveted One Massive Tit, One Tiny Tit look that I’d finally gotten over during her pregnancy (when both tits became unfeasibly large despite not producing much milk at all). But lopsided boobs (and a few rounds of mastitis in the neglected left boob) aside, it’s going well: she’s relaxed, I’m relaxed, it doesn’t often hurt, all is good.

I’m still finding her relative indifference to breastfeeding quite unexpected, because it is such a departure from my son! He feeds in the morning when he wakes and at bedtime, but I’m fairly sure he would happily partake in his favourite drink throughout the day and night if I hadn’t placed some limits on it for my own sanity during pregnancy (when my milk pretty much dried up and nursing became painful).

I hadn’t anticipated that I would breastfeed him for so long. I presumed, if I gave it any thought at all, that I would try to breastfeed from birth and then when he was around one he would start drinking ‘normal’ milk and we would stop breastfeeding. Ha. Just like that.

I learnt pretty quickly, however, that, as with most things baby-related, it wouldn’t be that simple.

To begin with, I found breastfeeding to be quite brutal. From tongue ties to reflux to allergies to damaged nipples to recurrent mastitis (all or any of which I can discuss at length if anyone else is suffering or interested for any reason)… it was harder and more painful than anything else I’d ever experienced. But then it got easier and then it got much easier (and then, to be honest, it got much harder again – feeding during pregnancy wasn’t much fun) and then it got much, much easier. And when I occasionally wonder why we have kept on going (usually because someone has asked me about it), I pretty instinctively answer, why not? He is happy, I am happy, it’s good for both of us** and it comforts and nourishes him if he’s poorly. Why would we stop?

Obviously one potential reason would be that some people think it’s weird. In particular, some people seem to have some quite strict (and as far as I can tell fairly arbitrary) rules on when it ceases to be appropriate to breastfeed your child, including:

  • when they turn one (presumably because the needs of a baby who is 365 days old differ so starkly from those of a 366 day old baby?);
  • when they get teeth (according to Dr Miriam Stoppard, the “appearance of teeth” signals that breastfeeding should be “gently suspended”.*** Speaking as a woman who was bitten on the tit a couple of times by a teething nine month old, I can see what may have prompted her to spout such bullshit but I’m going to stick with WHO advice to breastfeed exclusively up to six months and with solids until two or beyond anyway, thanks);
  • when they can tell you that they want milk (although I’m not sure exactly what this means, as I’ve always found it fairly obvious when my babies want milk, however they choose to communicate it. My daughter’s favourite way to show me currently is to lurch suddenly from upright in my arms to horizontal, with her mouth gaping open, which is entirely effective but slightly hair-raising. My son will occasionally stop feeding to tell me that he’s “going to try a different latch”, so I think he is quite far beyond this deadline, whenever it may be).

Fortunately (and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, given how susceptible I am usually to the curse of Giving a Fuck What People Think), this is one occasion when I genuinely couldn’t give a shit. I don’t believe that there is anything unnatural about breastfeeding a toddler: my breasts still make milk for our mutual benefit, it’s bloody genius!

And so, for as long as we are both comfortable with it, we will continue. I think that’s my bottom line for feeding generally: do what is right for you and your child (whether that is exclusively breastfeeding or formula only or a mix of the two) for as long as it is right for you and your child. I’m assuming we’ll draw the line at some point before he leaves home. If we don’t, well, perhaps you’ll be able to read about it in the lifestyle pages of the Daily Mail 😂

My main health warning regarding breastfeeding a toddler is that you are quite liable to take a few kicks to the face. I’m not sure it smarts less for being a kick with a delicious, squishy foot enclosed in a cute penguin slipper, if I’m honest… 

*I actually hate the expression “on demand”: it is somehow suggestive of an unreasonable baby and a put-upon mother. I tend to think of it simply as feeding responsively to her needs.

**I’m not going to regurgitate the various health benefits for children and mothers of breastfeeding, although it is perhaps worth noting that some do extend beyond one year and, indeed, from a mother’s perspective some benefits (such as reduced risk of some cancers and osteoporosis) seem to increase the longer she breastfeeds. So yay for that. Here is the NHS page on breastfeeding for a brief summary of some of the benefits if you’re interested: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/Pages/benefits-breastfeeding.asp

*** I can’t actually recommend that you read this article but here it is for reference: http://www.mirror.co.uk/lifestyle/health/when-should-you-stop-breast-feeding-1259599

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Buy stuff; feel better

I saw a post on Instagram tonight relating to the closure of an online kids’ clothing shop that I have used a couple of times. The ensuing discussion was about the difficulties that small retailers are facing currently, in particular given the prevailing exchange rate. Although I hadn’t often used this particular shop, their closure made me feel surprisingly sad, and weirdly… guilty.

Since they ruined my figure and forced me to wear only clothes that allow the hasty removal of a boob at a moment’s notice, I have re-channelled my shopping compulsion in the direction of my children. I bloody love buying them clothes. In part because they look so cute in everything that it is extremely rewarding; also because they are so pleasingly quick to grow that I get to do it almost continually, which is extremely gratifying for an addict. I generally dress them in fairly gender-neutral clothes (I mean, I don’t care if my daughter wears dresses (as long as she isn’t physically inhibited by them) but I don’t want every t-shirt my son wears to have a fucking tractor on it and, if it does, then I’m happy for it to be handed down to my daughter). I try to dress them in well-made, ethically-sourced clothes. I want them to wear things that are fun to wear and fun to look at. And I don’t feel like it’s very easy to follow this approach using high street brands only.

So, tonight has provided a useful reminder that it is incumbent on me to continue to give my custom to the small shops that I follow on Instagram, who import the clothes I like and from whom I gain inspiration, because if I don’t, THEY WILL CLOSE.

Moreover, although I am a ridiculously avid online shopper, I also think there is a responsibility on me to frequent my local shops and… ACTUALLY BUY FROM THEM TOO … if I want them to stay around. I have an amazing local kids’ shop – Olive Loves Alfie – and they curate a beautiful collection of original and ethical kids’ brands. And yet I know I have been guilty of admiring something in the shop only to buy it at a later date online. (This isn’t because I am waiting for a better price, in my defence – it’s because I online shop in a daze of exhaustion and breastfeeding-induced oxytocin and so quite often justify purchases online that I have ruled out in the cold light of day!)

And, whilst I am confessing my sins, I am particularly bad at relying on Amazon Prime for books and art supplies, when I have a decent local bookshop and several local arts and crafts shops and most of my favourite online shops also stock these things. I do this despite knowing that Amazon have been accused of horrendous working conditions for staff and that the impatient, reckless consumerism that initiatives such as Amazon Prime have promoted props up the gig economy that has left so many people underpaid and burdened by the artifice of self-employment.

I. Must. Do. Better.

I know that I am writing from a place of privilege. I spend more on kids’ clothing than most people do: I appreciate that. And I am not proposing to stop buying things from the high street altogether (my children’s white vests will be M&S until I die, I’d imagine). But I really, really value my favourite online shops and local boutiques. And yet my valuing them is totally meaningless unless I actually give them my money.

I thought I’d share this in case it resonates with you too. And because, even if you don’t take it as a call to arms, at least you can use it as inspiration to buy something guilt-free in the name of supporting a small business?!

In case you are interested, my favourite brands are Mini Rodini, Kid+Kind, Tootsa Macginty, Indikidual, Bobo Choses, Beau Loves, Hugo Loves Tiki, Whistle and Flute and Molo – and The Bright Company and Sleepy Doe (for PJs). And my favourite online shops are Scout and Co, Bon Tot, Junior Edition, Desmond Elephant, Olive Loves Alfie, The Wee Department Store and Scandimini. For books, check out Smallprint Online for an absolutely beautiful collection. 

He often dresses himself and I don’t think it would be nearly so edifying if he didn’t have such excellent basics (including a wide range of animal prints) to choose from!