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Breastfeeding For 3 Years And Beyond

*I shouldn't have to say this, but I want to make sure anyone reading this understands this is my journey, and I have no judgement or opinions on anyone else's journey. Whether you were unable to breastfeed, tried your hardest and it didn't work out, or chose not to, your journey is special and your own. Whether you breastfed for 0 days, 1 day, 1 year or many years, you are a warrior and an amazing mother. My support for breastfeeding is just that - support. The more support we can collectively give, the more mothers who want to breastfeed will hopefully get the support they need to navigate through the many challenges involved with this beautiful gift from nature.

Even before becoming pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I have always been so fascinated by the idea that a mother can grow and nurture a baby exclusively using her own body. There's no technological advancement humans can make that I will ever be more in awe of. Working for many years in the zoological field, I watched species after species, mother after mother, nurse her young until they no longer needed her milk. There were, of course, many times when a baby would need to be pulled and cared for by humans, so I knew that this mother-baby nursing relationship did not always succeed for many reasons, and for that I am very thankful for other options.

Birth Story Summary

Sadly, like many mothers, my birth story was not picturesque. I wish I had known the things I know now regarding birth, obstetricians, and interventions, as I surely would have made different decisions. As I would find out, my son was a whopping 9lbs 6 oz and was in an occiput posterior position, or "sunny side up". The induction I was given caused him to try his hardest to come out, however facing the wrong way and being so large...well, let's just say it was the most painful 36 hours of my life. While I didn't originally want an epidural, I was eventually begging for one. After two different tries, we learned that I am part of a small and unfortunate club of women who's bodies don't respond to epidurals very well. Once I got to the point where I realized I would rather die than continue to endure this pain, I waved the white flag and told my medical team I was ready for a c-section.

So happy he's in my arms, but so utterly defeated

It was pretty clear from the beginning that our breastfeeding journey was not going to be an easy one. I couldn't get him to latch, and I attributed this solely to me being a new mom and not having a clue (which, I mean, was true). I felt inadequate. I felt defeated. The nurses and lactation consultants would come in to "help", trying out different positions and telling me I had perfect nipples (um, thank you?) and he should be able to latch fine. Every nurse and LC who came into our room specifically said he did not have any ties (it amazes me how many medical professionals are still so clueless on this extremely important topic). It got to the point where my baby was HUNGRY and anytime he got anywhere near my breast he would just start screaming in frustration. He wouldn't even try anymore. I had no choice but to give him formula, which broke my heart. I am NOT demonizing formula. I am obviously grateful for it, as it sustained my baby when I could not. But none of what had happened up to this point was the journey I was hoping for. So I pumped as much as I could for him (which was just tiny bits of colostrum) and promised him we would do anything we could to successfully breastfeed one day.

The day after we got home from the hospital, we took him to his first pediatrician visit. The very first thing she said when she looked at his mouth was "he has a severe tongue tie and I recommend you get it revised asap!". I felt both anger and relief in that moment. So many people told me he didn't. So many people led me to feel it was my fault my baby wouldn't latch. But now I had answers! She also recommended an IBCLC (International Board Certified Lactation Consultant) in our area.

*I should mention that during this pediatrician visit, I started to get a really bad headache and was feeling extremely weak - which I attributed to being in post partum recovery.

The very first thing we did when we left that office was call this lactation consultant. We told her we wanted an appointment at her first availability, however I wasn't feeling physically well enough to come in that day. She offered a home visit and was at our house within a few hours. That woman contorted my boob in positions I didn't think was possible, but she did get him to latch once! She also agreed with our pediatrician that his tongue tie was most likely the problem, and if I wanted to breastfeed it would need to be revised asap. We called the recommended doctor for these types of revisions in our area, and got an appointment that very next morning.

Later that evening it became apparent that the worsening headache I was having earlier was just the beginning of some serious medical complications. After our lactation consultant left, I was so physically worn out, I laid down to take a nap. My head was throbbing and I couldn't get a deep breath of air when I inhaled. Again, I (stupidly) thought this was just postpartum recovery. A little while later, my husband woke me up and told me we were going to the hospital immediately. He noticed a gurgling noise I was making in my sleep, called our doctor on-call, and she said to get to the hospital right away. Talk about a fluster! We had JUST gotten this baby home the day before, and had nothing prepared for another hospital stay. We grabbed a few things, threw them in a bag and headed for triage.

It turns out I had post partum preeclampsia. That was the cause of the worsening headache. My blood pressure was dangerously high. I had fluid in my lungs. I was also dealing with anemia. It took 6 more days in the hospital, draining the fluid from my lungs 3 times, a blood transfusion and countless other medications, pokes and blood draws. We obviously missed our tongue tie revision appointment, and I was steadfast in my pumping. I pumped around the clock, and we supplemented with formula when I couldn't keep up. There were concerns about the medications drying me up (especially the lasix for draining the excess fluids), so I was so excited when my milk finally "came in" (a common term, but also a misconception, as your milk was there all along, but converts from a thick colostrum to a more watery milk). The day I left the hospital I weighed 40 pounds less than the day I got admitted - talk about a lot of excess liquid that needed to be drained!

Not the introduction to Motherhood anyone deserves
So proud to finally get this much milk in the hospital!

The day after we got home from the hospital, we got his tongue tie revised. It was a super quick procedure and while I know it caused him pain and he cried, I am so thankful for it and would recommend any parent with a tied child to get it revised as soon as possible. There are many more benefits other than breastfeeding (I'll let you research those yourself). Our lactation consultant was literally by our side for the procedure, and she helped me latch him within 60 seconds after the revision. I couldn't believe how well he immediately latched! From that point on, we only had the more typical issues - a few bad (painful) latches here and there, some clogged ducts (so painful!) and just overall adjusting to learning this new skill. I want to say around 6 weeks is when I felt like things were getting easier and I knew our breastfeeding journey was here to stay!

First public nursing, in Target's clock isle, haha!
Mastering carrier nursing, feeling like a world conqueror!

My Initial Goal

My initial goal was 1 year. It's just one of those milestones you read about on the internet, so that seemed like a good plan. He was around ten months old when I started freaking out a little bit about this 1 year plan. I was working at the time, and pumping every day. Pumping at work, as most who've done it can attest to, is absolutely miserable. Also, employers are only required to allow you pump time for one year from the birth of your child. My baby was still very much a baby, and it hit me that in two months, when he turned 1, he wasn't going magically just turn into this toddler who wouldn't want to nurse anymore. You see, once he was revised and could latch, he was OBSESSED with the boob. He turned into one of "those" babies - you know, the super clingy, naps on you, absolutely doesn't sleep through the night without a boob kind of baby. It was hitting me how traumatizing it would be for both of us to wean him at 1 year old. In my early naivety, I had just assumed weaning would be an easy process, but now I knew it would be anything but easy. To add to it, I had no interest in weaning. The boob still got him to sleep, fixed all his boo-boos, calmed him when he was upset, and I knew it was still a huge source of nutrition for him even though he had started solids.

So proud to make it to one year, but neither of us were ready to quit.

I'm not going to say I decided to quit my dream job of 11 years solely because I wanted to continue to breastfeed (and was worried about my health if I couldn't pump at all during such long shifts), but it was a contributing factor. I am so grateful we have the means for me to stay home, and I just felt like I was becoming a different person. A person who no longer needed to identify herself with her career. A person who wanted to be a certain type of mother, but couldn't with such a demanding workload. A person who wanted to be home for every single birthday, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, baseball game, etc. Again, I realize this is not an option for everyone, and I am so so grateful it is for me. I also realize it's absolutely possible to be the mother you want to be while still maintaining a career, but it just wasn't for me.

My last day of work was 2 days before my son's 1st birthday. I miss it every day, but I do not regret it for a second

A New Goal

It was around 18 months, when I thought "just how long are we going to be breastfeeding?". I knew he wasn't interested in weaning, and neither was I. I thought maybe 2 years? Then two years rolled around and I thought "nope, not ready!". 2.5 came and went by. Then 3. Now here we are at over 3.5 years. The boundaries have changed. I'm not comfortable nursing in public anymore (but fully support any extended BF Mama who is!), he's not allowed to nurse during the night (but I'll supply countless cuddles), and he typically only gets to nurse right before bed (and yes, he often still falls asleep on the boob). If he gets sick, then he can nurse as much as he wants, however otherwise we do not nurse on demand anymore. These are the boundaries that make me feel comfortable and still enjoy offering this comfort to him. I constantly go back and forth between thinking I am ready to be done, but also not wanting to lose this special connection that only I can have with him. So if you ask me when we'll be finished, I won't have an answer for you.

Photo credit goes to Stella & Calypso Photography

The Benefits

I'm not going to site any references, you can easily go online and research these yourself if you'd like. Also, I know he will be a healthy and thriving child even without my breastmilk, however there ARE benefits to extended breastfeeding, so if you aren't ready to quit, do not allow outside pressure to make you wean. Wean only when you and/or your child are ready. Remember it has to be a mutual decision between you and your child to continue on - meaning, if you are ready to be done, you can absolutely stop. While there are benefits, your child doesn't need this milk past the age of eating a significant amount of solids.

  • Nutrition - it is a myth that after a certain point, there is no nutrition in your milk. That makes absolutely no sense. While it's not pertinent for your child's health, it's still good for them.

  • Comfort - just as in the days when they were a newborn, breastfeeding offers comfort. If you want to continue to offer your breast as a source of comfort, go for it!

  • Health - again, go find your own resources, there are plenty of them out there. Breastmilk, at any age, helps children get through illnesses faster and with less extreme symptoms. I have personally witnessed this many times. When he does show any signs of illness, I nurse often, and he is better within 2-3 days. When you breastfeed, your child's saliva enters your body and signals your body to start making antibodies, which then your child will receive through more breastfeeding.

  • Bonding - breastfeeding is just one of so many ways to bond with your child. That does not mean not breastfeeding = not bonding.

  • Health of the mother - the longer a mother breastfeeds, the more she is statistically less prone to things such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and heart attack.

  • Extended breastfeeding can help with mental and social development - there are many studies done on the correlation between length of time breastfeeding and mental and social development. The idea is that you are creating a secure attachment between you and your child, which in the long run makes them more social and independent. That being said, if you don't breastfeed there are MANY ways to create a secure attachment.

The Takeaway

For those who are able, whether you decide to breastfeed, and for how long, is up to you and your child. There is no scientific evidence of any cons to extended breastfeeding, and The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) writes that 2–7 years old is the estimated “natural weaning age for humans”, with most kids naturally weaning sometime between 2–4 years. The only major con is the social stigma, and that is the main reason for me writing this blog. If sharing my story helps just one Mama continue on her breastfeeding journey until she is ready to stop, then it was worth it. If you are one of those people who doesn't like seeing a mother breastfeed, I hope you'll just do the right thing and keep your mouth shut and turn your head to look in a different direction. And best of all, if you want to be supportive of breastfeeding, at any age, help a Mama out and give her a big smile or thumbs up. Those tiny gestures really do go a long way and mean the world to us!


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