What They Don’t Tell You About Extended Breastfeeding
Jack and Alice are three. It was their birthday last Sunday. I decided that three years of breastfeeding was enough for me and I fed them to sleep for the last time on their birthday. I’m feeling very emotional about the whole thing – about them not being babies anymore, about our breastfeeding journey being over, about knowing that I’ll never breastfeed again… and maybe, when my emotions have settled a bit, I’ll write a bit more about those things. But today, I want to talk about
What They Don’t Tell You About Extended Breastfeeding
Let’s be honest, extended breastfeeding isn’t often talked about at all, is it? The problem is that a lot people don’t feel like they can talk about breastfeeding at all. You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.
People who don’t breastfeed (for whatever reason) feel like they can’t say that out loud, for fear of being judged by people who do breastfeed. And people who do breastfeed feel like they can’t say that out loud either, for fear of being branded the “breastfeeding police” or whatever fancy/offensive name people are using at the moment.
And people who breastfeed toddlers definitely feel like they can’t say that out loud, for fear of being judged by everyone. Because it often feels like even people who are pro-breastfeeding are a little bit less supportive when it comes to extended breastfeeding.
I don’t care how you feed your baby
Let’s just make that clear straight away. I am very pro-informed choice. I don’t think mums get enough support, regardless of how they choose to feed. And it seems like it doesn’t matter what choice you make, because someone will find a reason to judge you and make you feel like poop for it! Welcome to parenthood! So although I chose to breastfeed the twins, I won’t judge you for not making the same decision. Not my boobies, not my business, right? If both you and your baby are happy, I don’t care whether you breastfeed or not. We’re all just trying to be the best parents that we can – what that means is not necessarily the same for everyone, and the world would be a better place if everyone just minded their own business a bit more.
That being said, extended breastfeeding has been one of my favourite parenting decisions. But here’s a few things I wish I knew before I made that decision…
Sometimes, it’s actually not a “choice” at all
I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed any children that I had. And I’m stubborn, so when I was told that breastfeeding twins would be too difficult and that I shouldn’t put pressure on myself (that bit is true), I was even more determined to make it work.
But extended breastfeeding wasn’t always part of the plan. I thought I’d aim for 2 years (in line with NHS and WHO guidelines), but I would have been happy with a year. When I realised that breastfeeding wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be (I cried through most feeds for the first 8 weeks), I decided I’d be happy if I made it to 6 months.
What I never once thought about was breastfeeding after the age of 2. I always thought that, if I made it to 2 years, I’d wean the twins shortly afterwards. But when we got to that point, the twins weren’t ready and I wasn’t ready to force the issue. I night weaned and stopped feeding them during the day, but for the last year, we were still feeding at bedtime and first thing in the morning. It wasn’t a choice, not really. Two years just somehow turned into three.
It’s OK to hate breastfeeding sometimes
I thought I would love breastfeeding. I had images of lovely sleepy cuddles, milk drunk babies, that lovely bond people talk about… and, it turns out, breastfeeding is all those things! And I did love it! But, I also hated it. Because there was also nipple thrush, tongue ties, mastitis, super sharp baby nails pinching me, even sharper toddler teeth biting me, stubborn toddlers asking for milk when I was trying to do other things, interrupted sleep, grabby hands when I was feeling touched out… the list goes on, but I’ll stop there.
There were days when I hated breastfeeding. Days when I wanted to stop right then and never breastfeed again. But, ultimately, I loved it more than I hated it, which it why I carried on. It’s OK to acknowledge that breastfeeding is not always wonderful, even if you’ve chosen to continue breastfeeding past the point that society seems to think is “normal”.
You’ll be surprised by how many people will judge you
People (not all, but some) who openly support your choice to breastfeed your baby, may not be so supportive when you continue to breastfeed your toddler. People who told me how wonderful it was that I was feeding my twins when they were 6 months old, began suggesting that it was time to stop around their first birthday. And they assumed that “surely I’d stop now!” after their second birthday.
I’ll never understand why people think it’s any of their business how another mum feeds their child. The people saying I should stop breastfeeding were in no way affected by the twins still having milk at bedtime. It didn’t affect them, and yet they thought it was OK to have an opinion. I eventually gave up trying to justify myself – there’s no need. If extended breastfeeding is the right choice for you and your child, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.
You’ll be surprised by how many people support you
After the twins’ 2nd birthday, I cut down their feeds to first thing in the morning and bedtime. Since they weren’t feeding during the day, it wasn’t really something that came up in conversation very often. I think most people assumed that I wasn’t breastfeeding anymore. But on the rare occasion that it did come up, I was always surprised when people responded positively. I always expected people to judge me or ask when I was going to stop breastfeeding, or pull that face that polite people make when they don’t really agree with you, but don’t want to come out and say it. But more people will be supportive than you think. And I think it’s important not to hide extended breastfeeding, because if we don’t talk about it, it will never become “normal”.
Weaning isn’t easy
And I don’t just mean the twins. Sure, some toddlers will put up more of a fight than others once they’re old enough to actually talk about it, and maybe it is easier to wean when they’re younger (I wouldn’t know… I never tried it). But you know who has found weaning the hardest? Me. I started talking to the twins about it a few weeks before their birthday, so that they wouldn’t be surprised. Stupidly, I thought that I’d be OK, because I made the decision to wean. I wasn’t prepared to be so devastated by it.
We’ve had a few tears from Alice. Jack has been surprisingly OK. He’s gone from taking 5 minutes to feed to sleep, to taking 15 – 20minutes to fall asleep after a story and a cuddle. If he starts to ask for milk, he reminds himself that there “isn’t any left” before I have to say anything. But Alice has been harder to convince. Hearing that she “needs” milk has been hard for me, because I feel like I’m not meeting her needs. But, my supply has been low for a long time, and she’s obviously eating a full diet of regular food, so it’s comfort that she needs, more than the nutrition, and I can comfort her in other ways. She’s adjusting to the idea of no milk much better than I thought she would.
It’s OK to be sad about weaning
I just didn’t expect to be the one who needed to be comforted. It’s been less than a week and I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve cried, because I miss the quiet moments while they fed before they slept, or the sleepy cuddles while they had their morning feed. I will never breastfeed again, and that’s a difficult thing to accept. After all, breastfeeding has been a big part of my life for 3 years and it’s hard to accept that it’s over. Post weaning depression is something that I’ve read a lot about recently, and I’m just trying to be kind to myself.
I wish someone had warned me how hard it would be to end our breastfeeding journey. Maybe then, I would have been better prepared.