PARENTING | Extended Breastfeeding – Why I’m Milking It
Unfinished Business and Why I’m ‘Milking It’
Long-term breastfeeding (extended breastfeeding) is when you continue to breastfeed your baby beyond his first year. Here’s my story…
We went on holiday when our son Archie was 22 months.
I had planned to stop breastfeeding him when we returned from holiday – he was approaching two and my milk supply was low anyway.
On the late evening flight home, I changed Archie into his pyjamas and tried breastfeeding him in hope that he would drop off. He usually does with no problems.
The breastfeeding did not go down well. A couple of seconds in, he starting thrashing around like he was on fire and kept unlatching and yelling “NO!” at me.
Stunned, I didn’t force the issue and he eventually went to sleep on my Mum’s lap with no milk at all.
We stumbled into our house at 2am – there was no way I was battling with him to get him into his cot so late at night when we’d also just been away for a week, so I brought him straight into our bed for a feed and to 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 announced to my husband Kov that I would no longer be breastfeeding our son.
That evening Archie was due to stay with my parents so he wouldn’t be breastfed there anyway.
I was ok at first. Archie wasn’t around so I didn’t feel too emotional.
Tuesday night came and my 2-year old returned home as energetic as ever as two nights at my parents.
Bedtime came and I brought Archie a cup of cow’s milk and his Tellytubby doll – part of our relaxing bedtime routine.
He refused most of the cow’s milk.
He asked for some of my milk.
I gently told him no as I didn’t have any.
He didn’t put up a fight, he drifted off in my arms instead.
So as usual, I popped him into his cot with his bedtime drink of water – he would normally take a big glug before dropping off pretty quickly and hassle-free.
OH NO! Not tonight!
Archie had a meltdown the moment I put him in his cot and nothing was going to calm him down.
He was hysterical!
My husband managed to calm him whilst I sobbed downstairs -Archie eventually went to sleep.
He slept through the night.
The same thing happened the next night…
And the next.
The following few nights I let my husband put him to bed in hope that he would settle into a new routine and get the message – bedtime comes with cow’s milk from now on!
He continued refusing the cow’s milk, but would eventually, after a lot of screaming and tears, drop off.
I was desperate to put him to bed, and after a few days, we tried again.
Well, all hell broke loose – only it got worse.
He screamed for over an hour before he eventually fell into an exhausted sleep, but then he began waking up in the middle of the night, end up in our bed with us, begging (unsuccessfully) for breastmilk, keeping us all awake.
We were so drained from the screaming match at bedtime – we couldn’t face going through it all again at 2 am – he was awake from 2 am to 5 am!
If it’s not broken don’t try and fix it
I wished with all my heart that I’d cherished our last feed when we returned from our holiday in Tenerife. I cried – a lot.
Our bedtime routine was working just fine – I started to question the reasons behind why I decided enough was enough. What was wrong with our bedtime routine? It worked. We were all happy, so what if Archie was nearly two.
I started Googling… I was questioning my motives to stop breastfeeding. Should I have stopped? No one was benefitting from it.
- “Benefits of extended breastfeeding.”
- “Recommended time to stop breastfeeding.”
- “Average time toddlers wean off breastfeeding.”
It was evident from what Google spat back at me that I was going about it the wrong way.
I never talked to Archie properly about why I was stopping. I just hoped he wouldn’t notice.
I totally underestimated how much a two-year-old can take in and understand.
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. The poor little fella was all over the damn place that was all down to us!
Another piece of sound advice was to take the ‘don’t offer, don’t refuse’ approach – when Archie was still asking for breastmilk I was just flat out refusing, which I guess was cold turkey for us both.
Finally, the biggest mistake I was making? I was stopping for all the wrong reasons. I was stopping because of his age. Because I thought I had to conform to something! WTF!
The stupid part about this is this isn’t me. I don’t conform just because society thinks we should be doing something/shouldn’t be doing something.
Why did 22 months suddenly seem like it was too long to breastfeed my child? 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 lots of articles on breastfeeding filled with information and advice – a lot of which I knew already – on why extended breastfeeding is perfectly 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.
- Beyond 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.
Well, all of this was enough to give me a massive kick up my insecure arse and I decided I was to start breastfeeding Archie again.
I also the words “He’s not even two yet! He’s tiny!” were screaming at me in my head.
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 little 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. Breastfeeding him just felt right.
Archie stays at my parents for 2 nights 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 breastfeeding him is my way of reconnecting with him – nurturing him in a way that we both know works and we both love.
His sleep went back to normal with was a huge relief too.
One mum on Instagram hit the nail on the head when she sent me a supportive message; “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. This gave me the courage to continue.
I cherishing Archie’s feeds, everyone – until the day he tells me he is ready to stop.
This period is such a short one and I’m just going to enjoy every last second breastfeeding my beautiful little boy.
There might not be all that many times left so I’m milking it for as long as Archie wants to.
Sarah K x
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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.
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