Extended Breastfeeding

In an age when often our first experience of breastfeeding is our own child at the breast, something that’s ‘natural’ isn’t always easy. In the western world we frequently grow up without the first hand opportunity to observe breastfeeding and learn. We don’t tend to walk around with our nipples bared, so the first onslaught to the breast from a newborn can be a little arduous to that soft tissue! If the newborn has trouble latching on (possibly through being ‘tongue-tied‘) or through incorrect positioning, then problems can rapidly escalate with the result of an anguished mother and hungry baby.

Couple the roughness of a babies tongue with the rigid roof of the mouth and if the nipple isn’t far enough back in the newborn’s mouth a sandpaper affect is brought to bear upon the nipple, resulting in the pain of cracked and bleeding nipples.

Thankfully, there is a plethora of information and support for new mother’s today. Books, the Internet, message boards (a quick Google search ‘breastfeeding message boards’ brings up a host of online support groups), hospital support and the professional expertise of lactation consultants (I had never heard of this vocation until I was in dire need of one!) can help turn a difficult start into a success story.

Though having formula to fall back upon is a relief, it isn’t something to be rushed into without a little perseverance with breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend ‘infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.’

I was personally fortunate to have an extremely supportive husband and midwife to thank for my ability to persevere through tears and excruciating pain to successfully breastfeed my first daughter. I recall the emotional and physical pain of feeling unable to feed my child. After a couple of weeks of cracked and bleeding nipples, with my daughter latched on for feeds lasting in excess of an hour to increase my milk supply, I was ready to call it quits. She wasn’t gaining weight, but there were plenty of ‘wet and dirty’ nappies and she had a good birth weight to allow for a little loss, but she wasn’t happy and neither was I.

A visit to a lactation consultant turned everything around. My nipples were given a little time to heal, were gaining ‘flexibility’ and my baby was improving her coordination (breastfeeding is definitely a team effort between mother and child!). Some slight repositioning and lashings of ‘Lansinoh‘ had us working like a well-oiled machine at the six week mark.

I never imagined I’d still be breastfeeding my child on her 2nd Birthday and before entering the realm of motherhood I didn’t even realise this was possible, or indeed of any value. Indeed extended breastfeeding is a very natural and normal thing to do. Even though a toddler gets most of their nutritional requirements from solid food, breast milk still provides calories, valuable immunities, vitamins, and enzymes. In fact, studies have shown that breastfeeding toddlers get sick less often than their peers and this has certainly been my experience with Charlotte and now her sister, Sophie.

Charlotte self-weaned soon after her second Birthday. I was twenty weeks pregnant with Sophie and my milk had probably diminished and changed taste. I didn’t really want to be breastfeeding a newborn and a toddler, but I did invest in ‘Adventures in Tandem Nursing’ by Hilary Flower (kellymom website is an excellent source of information too), just in case that situation eventuated! It was beautiful to read of the bond that siblings felt through nursing and the comfort it brought to the older sibling at a sensitive period in their little lives.

Prior to Charlotte self-weaning I had created a little book about what a big girl she was becoming and how she didn’t have to have ‘baaboo’ (her word for nursing) anymore. I vividly remember the last few feeds, which she spaced out over a couple of weeks. Instead of having a feed she’d give me a little kiss and that was it! So beautifully simple and no tears involved.

So here I am on the journey again. Sophie is approaching eighteen month’s old and nurses around midday and before bed. She sleeps in nature’s crib (Mummy’s arms) for some of the night and wakes to view her room completely, without the obstruction of bars. She sleeps on a futon, from where she can view the entire room and there is no risk of ‘bumps’ in the night. No hard bars to bang her soft limbs on. Everyone comments on how happy and healthy she is. Her eyes laugh like a happy Buddha.

There is so much pressure for our young ones to grow up too fast. These early years are so precious and I feel very fortunate to have had such wonderful support to enable me to cherish this time. I don’t know when my breastfeeding journey with Sophie will end, but we’ll both know when the time is right.