PARENTING | Extended Breastfeeding
Unfinished Business and Why I’m “Milking It”
Pardon the pun.
It’s been a funny few weeks for me, my boobs and Archie. We’ve been up and down like yo-yos, just like my mood. Hormones have a lot to answer for.
We went on holiday a few weeks ago where I continued breastfeeding Archie at bedtimes and when we were taking off on the plane rides. I had a vague plan in my head of stopping when we return from holiday as he’s approaching two and my milk supply was low anyway.
During the plane ride home, which was an evening flight, I changed Archie into his pyjamas and tried breastfeeding him before getting him to go to sleep.
The breastfeeding part did not go down well. He was so reluctant to take more than a few seconds of feeding that he thrashed around like he was on fire and kept unlatching to yell “NO!” at me. Stunned, I didn’t force the issue and he eventually went to sleep on my Mum’s lap instead with no milk at all.
We stumbled into our home at 2am where I decided that there was no way I was battling with him to get him into his cot at this time when we’d also just been away for a week, and brought him straight into our bed for a feed and some sleep. He fed for a few minutes before we all conked out for the night.
That was going to be my last feed. The next day I proudly announced to Kov that I would no longer be breastfeeding him. Archie was staying at my parents that night and the next anyway as we were back at work, so he wouldn’t be breastfed there anyway.
I was ok at first. Archie wasn’t around so I didn’t feel upset. I was kind of used to him not being home on Sunday and Monday nights.
Tuesday night came and he returned home, energetic as ever. I brought a cup of whole milk and his Tellytubby doll upstairs with him where we had our usual relaxing routine of getting him ready for bed. He refused most of the milk but he’d some during the day so it was ok. He asked for some of my milk unenthusiastically and I gently told him no as I didn’t have any. He didn’t put up a fight, he started falling asleep in my arms instead.
So as usual, I popped him into his cot with his bedtime water bottle where he would normally take a big drink of it and soon nod off as I leave the room.
Archie had a meltdown the moment I put him in his cot and no amount of shushing or starting his bedtime routine again would help. It got to the point where he became hysterical and wasn’t catching his breath, which is when Daddy has to take over.
Kov managed to calm him down as I cried downstairs and Archie eventually went to sleep. He slept through the night.
The same thing happened the next night. That’s when we decided that I would avoid putting Archie to bed for a few nights until he got the message that he would be going to bed with cow’s milk now. He continued refusing the cow’s milk anyway but would eventually, after a lot of screaming and tears, go to sleep through the night regardless.
Until I started trying to put him to bed again the week after which all went to pot again as soon as I put him in his cot. At this point, he not only began screaming for over an hour at bedtime but began waking in the early hours and ending up in our bed, where he’d beg (unsuccessfully) for breastmilk through the night and keep us awake. We were already so drained from the screaming match we’d dealt with at bedtimes that we couldn’t face going through it all again at 2am – we tried it on the first night and he was awake from 2 to 5am.
Last week after Archie had been wrestled into bed yet again on Tuesday night, I started typing up a new blog post. It was about saying a sad goodbye to breastfeeding and how hard it’s been.
I got quite far into the post before it struck me; I was writing about how much I wished I’d cherished our last feed that morning we got home from Tenerife as I didn’t realise it was my last feed at the time. I was crying as I wrote it. I then began writing about how well we did with our little bedtime routine while I was breastfeeding him. Those two sections of writing slapped me in the face right there and then and made me question myself – why was that my last breastfeed? What was wrong with our bedtime routine?!
I stopped crying and had a good look at myself. This may not sound like a big deal to some but to me it was enormous as a lot of emotions are involved here. My maternal instincts came flooding back in, I stopped typing and began doing some research.
“Benefits of extended breastfeeding.”
“Recommended time to stop breastfeeding.”
“Average time toddlers wean off breastfeeding.”
I learned that there were several things wrong with what I was doing.
Firstly I didn’t explain any of this to him. I just hoped he wouldn’t notice. I underestimated how much he can understand what I’m telling him at this age.
Secondly, we’d just returned from holiday, the clocks went forward shortly after we landed at the airport and then we shipped him off to my parents that same evening so we could go to work the next day. He was all over the place.
Thirdly I should have tried a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” approach when I realised that Archie was still asking for breastmilk. I was just flat out refusing instead, which I guess was cold turkey for us both.
But the MAJOR thing I was doing wrong was stopping for the wrong reason. And I feel so guilty about that.
It was because of his age.
That isn’t like me at all, to care about something so trivial. And why did 22 months suddenly seem like it was too long to be breastfeeding? Why not 12 months? What happened to make me think his time was up? I don’t actually know. Perhaps it was because many of my fellow breastfeeding friends had stopped much earlier for their own reasons, even though I am very fortunate to say that breastfeeding has always been, for the majority of the time, very easy for me. I didn’t stop through hardship.
I read all the things I already knew about why extended breastfeeding is still natural:
- We are mammals and called mammals because of our mammary glands which we use for breastfeeding our mammalian offspring IF we are able to tolerate it.
- Outside of the Western world many mothers (maybe most mothers?) who are able to breastfeed do so beyond their children reaching the age of two, because that’s how long mammals require milk for and they don’t have an alternative such as pasteurised cow’s milk or sterilised formula milk. This can sometimes continue until the child reaches the age of 4 depending on their nutritional needs.
- As a species, we’re not actually supposed to drink cow’s milk, so why I felt it would be more natural for Archie to drink it over my milk when I was still producing it I don’t know.
- Breastmilk is still beneficial to children even if they are 2 and above
- My milk supply is still enough to feed Archie; it has equated to the amount required for the few occasions I’m feeding him anyway (around 8 times per week). I thought that my milk supply was dwindling – it isn’t. I’m just now only producing as much as Archie drinks and it’s mainly a bit of fatty milk rather than lots of watery milk, as he gets water elsewhere instead.
Those small facts alone were enough to give me a kick up my insecure arse and decide to start breastfeeding again. I also had the words screaming in my head “He’s not even two yet! He’s tiny!”
So that was that. I was SO excited. I didn’t tell Kov in case he told me off, despite him being constantly supportive throughout my breastfeeding plans.
I quietly went to bed secretly planning to breastfeed Archie in the morning after Kov had gone to work, feeling like a naughty schoolgirl.
The next morning as Kov was getting ready for work I popped Archie on my lap for a cuddle and as expected he pointed to my chest and asked for “boobie“. I offered it to him and he accepted it as though we’d never even stopped breastfeeding.
It was exactly what we both needed.
It felt absolutely normal. I wasn’t overjoyed or tearful, I was relieved. It just felt right.
Archie stays at my parents for 2 nights and days a week, I work full days 4 days a week and even when he’s home, I don’t get to see him before I go to work as he’s normally still asleep. So I reconnect with him by nurturing him in a way that we both know works and that we both love doing.
And believe it or not, he’s started sleeping through again. Probably just a coincidence as he may have been going through a sleep regression around the same time, but I’m not willing to start making unnecessary changes to his routine again.
One mum on Instagram hit the nail on the head when she sent me a supportive message about it; “What’s wrong with the status quo? If it’s not broken why fix it?”
My mum told me the year Archie was born that it was just normal in the Philippines (where she is from) to see a toddler running to their mother to be breastfed. I reminded myself of that last week and it gave me the courage to go on.
So I won’t have to post the article I wrote about saying goodbye to breastfeeding. I will be able to cherish his further feeds until the day he tells me he’s ready to stop, because it won’t be far away. This is such a short period of time in our lives that I can’t afford to mess up, so I’m going to just going to enjoy “milking it” for as long as Archie wants to 🙂
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I’m a primary school teacher and I’m a mum to a beautiful, bright and bubbly six-year-old. I witness the ups and downs of wellbeing in children every day. Every parent faces the same dilemma – how to ensure the wellbeing of our children – particularly from a mental health perspective in a world that is more pressured than ever in more ways than one.
Jo Swann has 15 solid years of experience in Public Relations and runs award-winning Leeds-based PR Company – Chocolate PR after working in media, marketing and PR agencies. She has worked with companies of all sizes including the likes of Whistles, NSPCC, Marriot Hotels, Yo! Sushi to name just a few and won many awards along the way but her mission now is to help small businesses, and particularly female entrepreneurs harness the power of PR.
My mental health has had a good bashing over the years. I’ve suffered with post-natal-depression, panic attacks, addiction, anxiety and a serious lack of self love and self worth. And then of course there’s the meds and the side effects that come with them.
To support the #HaveAHeart campaign I asked the beautiful blog squad ladies some their thoughts on what wellbeing means to them, why they are supporting this campaign, who they are gifting their yellow hearts to and how they look after their own wellbeing.