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