The theme for this week’s Keep Britain Breastfeeding is ‘Feeding after the first month’. That’s great and I’m sure you’ll find a wealth of information by reading through some of the other blog posts, but I want to skip a few months – around 24, to be precise, – and talk about breastfeeding an older child, a toddler.
When I think about breastfeeding my toddler, at the moment, the word ‘challenging’ comes to mind. My circumstances are different to yours, perhaps, and I know that breastfeeding her through pregnancy was tough, but not challenging. I know that breastfeeding her up to the point of pregnancy was not hard either. But suddenly with a newborn attached to my nipple all the time – and not as much as many other newborns – my feelings towards extended nursing have changed. I find it challenging. Not impossible, not hard enough to force wean my beautiful girl, but challenging.
See, for me, right now, the big thing is feeling utterly and entirely ‘touched out’. And having a toddler who has decided to nurse four to six times a night again, when even my baby doesn’t nurse as much, is… you guessed it… challenging. But those are my cirumstances, now, and we’re working back to a place of sleepy-time breastfeeding, or waking up breastfeeding. I am happy with nursing my almost three year old three times a day. That’s my personal level of comfort.
There are a few things to prepare yourself for the day you realise you’re officially an extended breastfeeder:
- People will criticise you. They will say you’re doing it for your own gratification. They clearly have not breastfed a gymnastic toddler.
- People will say you’re being too soft on your child, holding on to tight, or making them too dependent on you. There are plenty reasons to breastfeed into toddlerhood, so I’d say don’t worry about it. If you feel you need to, know the facts about breastmilk through the ages. It makes for a better argument.
- You will have days or nights where you are so ‘over it’ and ready to give up. Your child may not be, however, and even if it is purely for comfort, who doesn’t want to comfort their baby?
- There will be times when you want to end a nursing session and your nursling refuses and wants you to carry on. There will be times when your body feels imposed on or intruded on or overwhelmed by the constant need. It’s okay to say no. It’s okay to draw boundaries. If you want to nurse in public, and your toddler insists on lifting your shirt and you’re not comfortable, it’s happy to set limits, to refuse them and to insist that you, your body and your boundaries are respected. How can you teach them that they have a right to say no and that no is to be respected if you can’t say it yourself?
- It’s okay to have a night out and leave daddy or someone else to deal with the bed time routine. My daughter will get very distraught if I’m home and say she can’t have sleepy time milkies. If I’m not home and my husband puts her to bed, she rarely even asks for it. I go to a monthly committee meeting for a local charity I volunteer for and when I go, and take the baby with me, I tell Ameli that I am going out and will give her milk when she wakes up through the night, or the next morning or whenever she asks for it again. She has an uncanny way of waking up 20 minutes after I walk through the door. I comfort feed her then. (We don’t tend to have alcohol at these meetings.And the most important thing to know about feeding a walking, talking, eating child is that it removes a whole big burden of stress of your shoulders:
- A fussy eater still gets vital nutrients and nourishment, especially when you’re tandem feeding with a baby.
- A fever, a sickness, or anything else that prevents your child from eating or drinking normally can be fixed by a helping of the good stuff.
- A scrape, a fall, a finger caught – all can be healed by a sip of magic milk. Generally it’s probably more about the closeness, but still, the milk does no harm.
- Ear infections, gloopy eyes and blocked noses – a squirt or two of milk brings about incredibly quick healing.
- Time apart just melts away as you sink into a reconnecting nursing session. Anyone remember the story of Habiba last year? The woman who was separated from her baby by the Spanish government? After about a week apart (I think) when she was allowed to see her daughter again, the first thing the little girl wanted was to nurse. I’m sure it wasn’t because she was being starved, but rather because she wanted that close contact and personal reconnection with the mama she knew and loved.
Some days are hard. I won’t lie to you. But when I was a project manager for a living, there were hard days, despite how much I loved it. While I love teaching baby massage, there are days I don’t want to do it. Some days, doing what we set out to do is simply… challenging. Parenting, motherhood and breastfeeding are no exceptions.
The rewards, however, are worth every moment of determined perseverance.
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