Extended Breastfeeding

Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Never in a million years did I think I would be one of those mothers who breastfed her toddler. I was always a little weirded out by children who could walk right up to their mother and ask to breastfeed. No way would that be me.

Fast forward a couple of years and my dear second daughter, Abigail, is a few weeks shy of turning two and I am still nursing her. In my defense, I don't think nursing a two year old is quite the same as nursing a four year old, but I know some people are weirded out by the fact that she and I still have that nursing relationship. I do get a lot of questions from well meaning friends and family who ask "just how long do you plan to breastfeed her?" or "oh, that is still going on?" Their questions are more out of curiosity than disgust, fortunately.

The funny thing is that I am not a huge proponent of extended breastfeeding (breastfeeding past one year) or some lactation activist (yes, that is actually a phrase), it's just this is what has worked for Abby and me. Before she was born, I planned to try to nurse Abby for a year, that's always the goal with each of my babies. With Hannah I didn't even make it to a year. She self-weaned at 11 months when I was pregnant with Abby and it was no big thang. 

But Miss Abigail was an entirely different baby than Hannah. She could never take a pacifier or a bottle (I'm praying to God that Baby #3 can at least take a pacifier). A pacifier or a bottle would just make her gag or she would simply spit it out. Thus, the only way to feed, pacify, comfort, put her to sleep, etc. was to nurse her.

She nursed exclusively until she was eight months old. We tried and tried to introduce solid foods when she was 5 months and 6 months and then 7 months old. She wasn't having it. She knew what she wanted and she wasn't settling for less. 

So, our nursing continued.

Plus, with her additional medical needs--surgeries, helmet therapy, and such, our nursing relationship provided a lot of emotional comfort through some challenging times. I was especially happy that I could nurse her through her "big" surgery back in October when she was in the hospital for a week. Being able to comfort her in that way, especially when she couldn't see me because her eyes were swollen shut, meant a lot to me.

A year and a half ago, I made a promise to myself to nurse Abby through all her surgeries. Abby has one more surgery tomorrow morning. This time her eyes are being operated on to fix what is best described as a type of strabismus or "lazy eye." If you could remember to say a quick prayer for her tomorrow, I'd appreciate it. After tomorrow, the bulk of her serious surgeries are done. Alleluia! 

As difficult as it has been at times to continue with extended breastfeeding, I'm really glad we have. The benefits to nursing for so long far outweight the challenges. Dr. Sears, a well known pediatrician, writes a lot about the physical, emotional and social benefits to breastfeeding. He notes that children who are nursed in terms of years rather than months tend to exhibit a lot of similar traits, among them are: better lifelong health, high intelligence,greater independence (usually people think the opposite is true, but studies have shown...), easier to discipline (I don't know if this is true, not exactly our experience, but hey), empathetic, and the list goes on. This is not to say that if you don't breastfeed your child for an extended amount of time or even at all that your child won't have any of these traits, I don't believe that at all. He just notes what he has observed in his pediatric practice over 30 years. It may be anecdotal, but a lot of how he describes these kids fits with Abby.

These past few months, I've noticed Abby beginning to self-wean more and more. We are down to about one nursing session a day, sometimes two. Obviously, I think the fact that I'm pregnant and probably have like zero milk supply helps a ton. But I also think our relationship is changing too. She's not such a baby anymore and she doesn't depend on me in that way as much. Truth be told, that makes me a little sad. But I also know it's for the best and that I'll have another little one to nurse soon enough.

I don't know what our next child will be like, if he or she will be another nursing fiend or "high-needs" type baby, but if I've learned anything in these last few years of mothering it's that a lot of being a mom means "just going with it." For Abby, that meant nursing her in terms of years rather than months. For the next baby, I don't know, time will tell.

2 comments:

  1. Good for you! I'm still nursing Lucia at 17 (almost 18!) months and it works for us. Some super busy days when I work and have something going on in the evening we don't nurse at all, but my milk supply is still there (although I'm guessing there isn't really much there) and she still seems to enjoy it. That is so cool you can nurse her through her surgeries! What a great way to mother her during those hard times!

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  2. Praying for the surgery today! Please,let us know how it goes!

    And i think it's great you are still nursing. Each kid needs something different, and on the whole of a kid's life, it actually a really short time.

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