Breastfeeding Beyond a Year - Um yes, well beyond...

Way back in my singleton days I was slightly freaked out by breastfeeding, having been conditioned by our deranged society to believe that breasts were designed for purposes other than nurturing our young.  How ridiculous that seems to me now!  Yet even when I was pregnant with Lara and had educated myself a little more about the benefits and beauty of breastfeeding, I still fell into the trap of buying in some formula 'just in case', and planning to make it to 6 months 'if I was lucky'!  Oh dear.

Initially, Lara latched on beautifully and fed well.  We were duly discharged by the midwife after a couple of weeks and left to get on with life.  Then I began to develop nipple soreness, and I can well remember sitting up in bed with tears rolling down my cheeks with the pain as I determinedly fed my baby girl.  Thankfully, I discovered Dr Jack Newman and sorted out positioning, latch and everything else.  Our breastfeeding adventure settled down into a happy symbiotic relationship with lots of sofa nesting and bonding, a truly beautiful time.

When I went back to teaching for 3 weeks in July (so I could get summer holiday pay), Lara was just 4 months old.  I had built up a stock of milk in the freezer and we had conquered the whole pumping, sterilising and bottle thing.  But she refused to take one drop of milk from this artificial boob, instead waiting every day for me to rush home at lunchtime to feed her, and then being brought to the classroom by Steve at 3.30pm for her next feed.  Challenging, but we managed.

At this point my initial 6 month goal had been replaced by a year, and I had met many lovely mamas through La Leche League who had even gone on longer than that.  Marvelling at this, I talked to Steve about the possibility of even going beyond a year, and began to research the health and psychological benefits.  Having researched all the whys and wherefores of baby-led weaning I knew how milk changes with a child's growing needs, and that actually food is pretty much just an add on before about a year, not a necessity.  But then I began to read about how our primate cousins do things, feeding on demand up until the equivalent of about 7 years of age.

Aha!  Milk teeth fall out around this time, the jaw changes around this time, the child's nutritional needs change around this time, growth patterns change around this time, could it be...  Yes, could it be that actually feeding into toddlerhood and beyond, even up to around 7 years of age when the child chooses to wean themselves, could be the norm of our ancestors?  A practice since discarded and even mocked by our so-called civilized society?  Then I read this article.  Blew my fizzing mind!

Not only was UNICEF now recommending that mothers breastfeed their infants to 2 years or beyond, but actually this was still normal in some cultures, it was evolutionarily the norm for our species, and best of all it was good for my child.  I was convinced.

Since my epiphany, Lara has continued to feed on demand in to her fifth year; Sophia is still going at 2.5 years and Tatiana is of course the number one recipient of glorious mama milk at just 6 months.  Their requirements differ and the older girls don't ask to be fed every day, but whenever they do ask the answer is always yes.  Sophia barely goes on most of the time, but always does when she is ill, so her body obviously knows that breast milk can still supply the antibodies she needs.  Lara asks a couple of times a week and shows no sign of stopping.  Tatiana is fed on demand, and currently near constantly!  She will continue into toddlerhood too, no doubt.  After all, look at all these benefits:

There have been some up hills and down dales about breastfeeding beyond a year, and breastfeeding three children, but on the whole it has been an easy decision and an easy journey.  Lara has the strongest constitution of any child I've met and is hardly ever ill, but Sophia, who cut down quicker than her sister, tends to be ill more often.  This may be completely coincidental, but I do think it relates to their breastfeeding history.  Unfortunately, I suffered my first bout of Labyrinthitis just after Sophia's first birthday and found feeding difficult for a while, which led her to decrease the number of times she fed.  Thankfully she didn't stop completely and, as I said, still has more when she needs to.

Breastfeeding during pregnancy has never really been a problem, despite what the health 'professionals' try to tell you, and with my second pregnancy Lara really enjoyed the 'chocolate milk' as it started to enrich again after the 6 month mark.  I think we did have a week or so of low supply, but as with a newborn, the best way to increase supply is to suckle more.  Luckily, Lara instinctively knew this, and supply got back to normal very quickly.  (Speaking of supply, having a willing toddler on hand is the best solution to any over-full rock heavy breasts when your newborn is asleep!)

Third time round, I had two toddlers feeding and we sailed through that aspect of pregnancy, and luckily, having an unassisted pregnancy and birth, didn't have any busybody midwives to deal with during the 9 months!  We did become a bit of a local sensation afterwards though, when a midwife and nursing assistant tried to talk to me about how to breastfeed, and asked if my milk had 'come in' yet.  The reply that it was all fine and all three girls were enjoying the rich supply was met with shock.  I even had several of these so-called experts asking me how it all worked, and if my breasts still produced colostrum for the baby!  Um yes, think you need to go back to your textbooks!

I then found out from a student midwife friend of a friend that we were being discussed at length on her course and in the midwife coffee room.  Obviously quite the phenomenon!

For us, breastfeeding is a part of everyday life, happening wherever, whenever and for whichever child is hungry/needs comfort/is ill etc.  The girls will stop feeding when they want to, and until then I know they can come to me for whatever they need.

Breastfeeding beyond a year is normal, it is good for your child, and it's actually no-one else's business.  The sensationalising of toddler and child feeding in recent years has portrayed it as somehow 'weird' or 'wrong', but this is purely a reflection of society's erroneous view of breasts as sexual objects.  The more we can normalise breastfeeding and recognise its benefits, the better off our children will be.  Feeding to two years and beyond continues to confer health benefits, as well as enabling a developing child to foster independence on their own terms.  I highly recommend it, and certainly won't be stopping any time soon!

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