Monday, 23 May 2011

Ten Reasons to Keep Breastfeeding Beyond One

My baby girl is one later this week.  We are still nursing, first thing in the morning, last thing at night, and two or three times, sometimes more, sometimes less, during the day.  And despite the fact that she was a great sleeper for her first few months, right now she wakes up every few hours in the night and I nurse her back to sleep.

Even though she will soon be walking, I don't have any plans to stop breastfeeding.  I know this puts me in a massive statistical minority, and that this choice is not for everyone.  However, for those of you who might be considering continuing to breastfeed your baby past six months, or even longer, here are my top ten reasons to keep your nursing bra when all around you others are losing theirs...
  1. It's Normal - it doesn't always feel this way, as it's unusual to see anyone breastfeeding a newborn in our culture, let alone a toddler.  But start asking around and you'll be surprised how many mothers are quietly nursing their older babies, at home, and often in bed, where nobody else can see.  And even though these mothers are relatively rare in the UK, worldwide there are and have always been plenty of women who choose to nurse a long way past babyhood.  Globally many women breastfeed to three or older, and the World Health Organisation recommends we nurse our babies to the age of two or beyond.
  2. It's Natural - it's likely that your baby doesn't want to stop just because you have turned over a new page of the calendar.  If you are already breastfeeding, chances are you are already a fan of Mother Nature, so you may struggle to find a rational reason to completely wean.  As long as breastfeeding feels a positive experience for both you and your baby, it is perfectly natural to continue.  Studies of primates and other mammals suggest that a natural age of weaning for humans is at least 2.5, and may be much higher.
  3. It's Easy - if you've managed to get breastfeeding started and maintain it for a few months, you've done the hard bit.  The longer you nurse for, the easier it gets.  Once you are really up and running, you are unlikely to suffer from soreness, engorgement, mastitis, and other nasties from the early days.  In fact, after about six months, your breasts settle down so much that some women mistakenly think their supply has dried up.  And, with an older nurser, feeding is usually much less frequent.  The pressure is off, you can have more control over when and where you feed your baby, and even drop down to just a nighttime snuggle up if this feels right for you both.
  4. It's Nutritional - your under one might be chomping happily away on any food you put in front of them right now, but trust me, pretty soon they are going to grow something new and scary - a mind of their own.  Once they develop this - look out - they may well cotton on to your attempts to ply them with vegetation and amaze you by fuelling their limitless energy with a diet consisting only of crackers and snot.  On those days when all you've managed to persuade them to eat is two raisins and a breadstick, you can enjoy giving them a boob packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and proven to boost immunity.
  5. It's Good for Mum - there are a wealth of health benefits to breastfeeding for mothers as well as children, including the reduced risk of several forms of cancer, and also osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis.  We can assume, although further research is needed, that these benefits continue for as long as breastfeeding continues.  And, in the unlikely event that your body has not sprung back to its former size ten glory (what have you been doing all year, couldn't you have joined a gym?), then your nursing toddler may well help you shift those last few pounds with their Dyson-like suck.
  6. It's Comforting - comfort is often so very under-rated.  And yet giving comfort, and in doing so helping your child to tolerate their own distress, is probably the single most important thing you can do as a parent.  For the rest of their life this gift will just keep on giving, as your child will be able to cope better when times are hard, and draw on the inner resources that you have helped them to build.   The breast has been a place of comfort for your baby, and can continue to be so, helping your child to find calm and to reduce their stress levels in the chaotic and sometimes scary new world they are exploring.
  7. It's Helpful - for those moments when you need to calm and reconnect with your child after a tantrum, a disappointment, or a falling out, and for the many knocks, bangs and bruises of toddlerhood, the boob is your secret weapon.  You can instantly soothe and quieten your baby, and this can be invaluable, not only simply to ease your child's pain, but also for those situations where a screaming toddler is less than desirable for all concerned!  (I'm thinking of a plane flight, but there are plenty of other examples!)  Nursing is also invaluable if your child is ill; they might stop eating and drinking but they're unlikely to refuse the breast, allowing you to keep them hydrated and also feeling nurtured and reassured.
  8. It's Connecting - if they are not already, your precious baby will be walking soon, and mostly away from you.  You may even be increasing your time apart in the day for work or other reasons.  Sharing a nursing session is a wonderful way of connecting with your little explorer and allowing them to return 'home' to you for comfort and reassurance.  
  9. It's Rewarding - when you breastfeed an older child, you start to see more and more just how important the nursing time is to them.  They may begin to stroke or pat you while they feed, or sometimes look up spontaneously and smile.  They may develop a sound or word for your breast, and use it lovingly in a way that melts your heart.  They may literally thank you, or, as my first daughter did for a while, take to feeding you back while they nurse.  Whatever they do, it is bound to make you feel good when you see how grateful they are for your efforts.
  10. It's Loved - your child is devoted to their time at your breast; you can see it in their eyes, feel it in their snuggly little body, and hear it in their sighs of contentment as they drift off to sleep.  These are blissful moments, and eventually, they will wean, and these days will come to an end.  For now, you can see they love to breastfeed, and, admit it, you love it too, so why stop?



with thanks to La Leche League, and kellymom






28 comments:

  1. Aaron's 11 months and we still breastfeed for all of the reasons above x

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  2. that's so great liska. i hope you keep going for as long as you both enjoy it! x

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  3. John is 12.5 months and will only wean when he is ready. I hope we make the WHO proud!
    I only wish I knew about extended nursing with my older breastfed children. I gently weaned them around 12-15 months and felt like the only woman to BF that long. We really need to RE-normalize breastfeeding!!

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  4. i so agree! and i guess that being honest in this blog is my small attempt to normalize...!
    thanks very much for reading and good luck with your extended breastfeeding x

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  5. It is such a shame BF is seen as an exception. I'd add it is 'green' and 'cheap' too. (That makes me sound terribly unfluffy, you know I am really). x

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  6. yes, number 11 should have been 'it's free'! x

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  7. Add a number 11 now - it's not too late :-)
    xxxx

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  8. I love your list.Number 10 is worthwhile keeping up breasfteeding :)

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  9. you are right isil, you can't over-rate love and snuggling! perhaps it should have been number one! x

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  10. you have said everything that i think. i feel people look at me as a bit odd to be still feeding my son at 18 months but i'm going to carry on.

    it's so convenient, and if i forget to take a snack or a drink out - easy!

    i get the secret smiles to, and baby winks. so gorgeous.

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  11. that is so great. we really need to get the message across that feeding older babies is perfectly normal! do send me a picture if you like for the breastfeeding beyond one gallery? x

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  12. I love this list. My baby is 15 months old, my fourth child, and my longest go at nursing yet. :) It is very different nursing a toddler, and I'm loving how our relationship is evolving.

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  13. that's great raisincookies! feel free to email a photo for the BF beyond one photo gallery. thanks for reading x

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  14. Ooooo, a blog of this sort by a uk mummy! Very pleased to find you! Both my older boys were bf till 2.5years (weaned cos i just couldnt stand the pain whilst pregnant) and now boy number 3 is here and as he will be the last baba i feel exicted that there will be no rush to wean so we can carry on longer - hopefully through the trials and tribulations of age 3 which i find way tougher than 2!

    I feel so thankful to the internet and mums like yourself who blog about such topics which gave me the reassurance and courage to keep feeding my first as long as we wanted despite the social pressure to stop. And after you've done it once, people dont bother you so much with number 2! lol!!

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  15. oh thanks anon!
    i'm tandem nursing my 3.5 year old and 1 year old!
    i didn't plan to do this, it just kind of happened!
    it is always so reassuring to find others who feed beyond babyhood, so thank YOU for your comment. do please send me a photo for either of my BF 'galleries' if you have any?
    best for now x

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  16. ps address for photos is
    mamamule@hotmail.co.uk
    xxx

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  17. Nice article, I enjoyed it. I hope "extended breastfeeding" becomes more and more popular, even amongst those who are not "hippies" and "earth-mothers" and all those things we get called. Or the women I know who breastfeed over the age of 2 do, anyway.

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  18. thanks laura, glad you liked it!
    i think there are lots of women who BF past 2, it's just that the hippies and earth mothers are the only ones who will admit to it! ;-) x

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  19. I love this.
    I'm still breastfeeding my 16month old and my husband has just started putting pressure on me to wean her. This has further convinced me to continue breastfeeding until my daughter chooses to wean.
    Thank you

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  20. thank YOU anon!
    good luck with your nursing. and do send in an image if you would like it to be included in my gallery of breastfed over ones! xxx

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  21. Thank you so much for writing this. I am still breastfeeding my 18 month old and have had many comments, looks of sympathy and suggestions of how to stop from people I know. My health visitor told me when my son turned 1 that my milk had "no nutritional value" and that I should try and get him to drink formula/cows milk!!! This made me feel pretty down for a while and as though him feeding was not doing him any good. So ironic given the huge push the HV have on getting mother's to breastfeed to start with. I struggled to find much information out there about this to reassure me but I am so glad I have carried on.

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    1. Thanks Naomi! I think it's funny the way that sometimes so much emphasis is placed on the 'nutritional value' of breast milk, when it is about SO much more than that! Sometimes people use the phrase, 'just for comfort', as if comfort is not important, when in fact it is so hugely vital for our babies and small children!
      If you have a photo you might like to send it to me for my gallery of breastfed toddlers?
      Meanwhile, best wishes to you and your family x

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  22. Thanks, Stella is two 25 months old - i'm still breastfeeding, but there is everywhere around us a big social pressure to stop. At home there's no problem, but when we go out to visit somebody and the child asks for the nursing I feel sort of ashamed, I don't know where to hide with her. Thanks to your post I became once more reassured to continue breastfeeding.

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    1. Thanks Luiza...I'm glad this has helped...
      My four year old has just stopped, and I know what you mean, I think it gets harder and harder to nurse in public with an older child. But actually I think it is more common than we realise, and there are a lot of other people doing similar things, and all of us are keeping a low profile about it! So...some of us need to be the pioneers, the flag placers!
      The way I reassure myself, I say, my child is not ashamed, so I will not be ashamed, for her, and I'd do anything for her, and I only really care what SHE thinks, so that always helps.
      Good luck to you and send in a photo for the gallery if you would like to...
      xxx

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  23. I love your blogs!! I weaned my just turned 4yo son @ 3years.
    Sole reason being I was drying up, at times he tells me there is nothing coming out :(
    Also he was transiting to his individual room. *We were initially co-sleeping until he decided to do kick-boxing in his dreams*.
    So I simply told him, I ran out of milk. He didn't believe, he suckled, nothing and turned around saying OK Mummy! Good Night.

    No screaming, whining. Just lots of hugs in replacement of boobs. I am missing the moment everyday and I can't wait to experience milking all over again this coming June when I deliver his sibling :)

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  24. I have three children,two older ones aged 21 and 19 and a baby aged 9 months,I have breastfed them all but feel much much empowered and encouraged to continue this time,back when i had my first two mothers were encouraged to wean babies at 4 months and cut out feeds early on....I fed my son at night till he was just past one and only stopped because I was pregnant,when my 1st daughter was 9 months old she had started waking at night and I was told by my hv to stop giving her milk at night as she didnt need it,I so regret doing this as the benefits to her would have far outweighed a few sleepless nights but I was younger and didnt have enough confidence or support to carry on....when my 2nd daughter was born I was really looking forward to feeding her myself and didnt forsee any problems and indeed every midwife or hv who asked me said well you've done it before it wont be a problem,the shock of how difficult I found it was staggering,I struggled to get her to latch on,when she did she wouldnt stay on and if I hadnt had a very supportive midwife I think I would have given up,she stayed for hours to help me express milk for her and help her latch on and even offered her private mobile number for me to call anytime if I couldnt cope.....Im glad I persevered with it for my daughters sake but theres no denying I have found feeding on demand much harder this time round......had to stop to feed her lol....Im hoping to feed her for as long as I can,she still feeds a lot even though she is on three meals a day so I was wondering should I be dropping feeds in the day as many books seem to recommend or keep on feeding her on demand,at present she feeds in the morning,afternoon and evening and has a 'drink' off me before each meal.

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  25. I breast fed my twin girls til they were 2 and a quarter - I loved it! So did they! oooxxx

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