No matter how supportive people are of breastfeeding, you are bound to come across a very unexpected comment from that particular person whom you felt was 100% behind you and your breastfeeding efforts. My mother is the perfect example of this. When my first son was born (over ten years ago, wow how time flies!) she was my number one supporter. She answer all of my questions, shared her personal experiences of when she breastfed my sister and I and sat their talking with me and observing my early breastfeeds with my son. She brought me to my first mother to mother support group, The Australian Breastfeeding Association (since she came to visit me in Australia) and then La Leche League when we moved back to the USA. Then things changed a bit…
Although she breastfed me until I was two, she did not co-sleep, did not breastfeed me frequently during the day (she went back to work when I was nine months old) and did not breastfeed me through the night. When she saw that I was breastfeeding frequently at night even when he was over the age of one, feeding very frequently during the day as a toddler and bed sharing, she started to make little comments here and there…”are you sure you should breastfeed him so much?” or “He can’t be hungry! He just ate some peas” or “you just fed him!”…even those who are really supportive at the start, will still offer up some advice or observations about how you are feeding, that you are really not interested in hearing.
The World Health Organization states, “Review of evidence has shown that, on a population basis, exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.” You can find this here on their website. But what does this mean for us? If you are currently breastfeeding a newborn baby you might wonder, “will I really want to breastfeed for two years? That seems so long!” for others who are breastfeeding a three year old do you feel “weird” or self conscious when breastfeeding in front of people? What is the biological norm?
1. The most important thing to remember? Continue to breastfeed for as long as you and your child are happy to do so. For some this will mean five minutes, for others it will mean five years. We, as breastfeeding folks, can only support each other if we literally support each other no matter what the time frame of someone’s breastfeeding experience!
2. Katherine Dettwyler, PhD has done extensive research in the area of, “life-history variables (such as length of gestation, birth weight, growth rate, age at sexual maturity, age at eruption of teeth, life span, etc.) in non-human primates and then looked at how these variables correlate with age at weaning in these animals.” She has come to the conclusion that, “the minimum predicted age for a natural age of weaning in humans is 2.5 years, with a maximum of 7.0 years.“1 So what does this mean for us? Do we have to breastfeed for a minimum of 2.5 years to have breastfed for “long enough”? I feel strongly that it is really about how you feel about your breastfeeding relationship and if it is working for you or not. Breastmilk continues to be extremely important for your child as long as you breastfeed them for. It does not stop being important for them once they reach toddlerhood. I recently shared this poster with my picture and quote which has been shared over 250 times! This shows just how important this topic is to people! It talks about how important it is to continue breastfeeding for as long as you can…
3. There are things you can do to help you reach your breastfeeding goals and continue to feed your baby, they include:
*delay returning to work as long as you can. Women who head back to work when their babies are older statistically have a higher chance of continuing to breastfeed.
*find support! Mother to mother support groups are key! La Leche League is around the world for mums and The Australian Breastfeeding Association is within Australia.
*stop comparing yourself to other mums! So your neighbor breastfeeds her four year old ten times a day still while you struggle to keep your supply up while working and juggling three other children…we all do the best we can with the resources we have!
*Seek help from an IBCLC if you are feeling frustrated or have questions…you do not have to walk this road alone. There are millions of us out there breastfeeding just like you! Sometimes we feel overwhelmed and annoyed too.
4. Let’s take a look at some of the positive things about breastfeeding past babyhood…
*you do not have to worry as much about their solid food intake as breastmilk continues to be the main source of their nutrition up until the age of twelve months and continues to be a very important source of vitamins, minerals and enzymes for the entire time they breastfeed.
*it can literally stop a tantrum right in it’s tracks! Last night my Mini The Milk (19 months old) was FLIPPING OUT…screaming, thrashing around, completely 100% lost in his tantrum. He immediately stopped crying when I got him into the breastfeeding position, latched on for about one minute and then sat up, smiled and was literally a different person! Amazing!
*you always have a comforter no matter where you go and will often times put them to sleep for a nap and bedtime. No need to sing or pat their backs, just boob them to sleep. 😀
*if your baby is sick you do not have to worry about liquids, electrolytes, immune buidling foods etc…you have all of that on tap!
5. It’s great to start with a goal and then reassess once you reach that point. My original goal with my first born was to get to twelve months. Once I reached this point I realized, I’m happy…he is happy…why stop?!
6. Natural weaning happens gradually over time. If you would like to wean your child, consider dropping some feeds here or there slowly over time rather than abruptly. This way it will be much less upsetting for your child.
gradually over time
usually the minimum age this happens (when child led) is when your child is nearing the two year mark
A Nursing Strike happens…
abruptly without warning
usually between the ages of nine-twelve months old
A nursing strike usually happens as a result of your baby being scared or startled while breastfeeding, when they are in a different place, house, country etc. and become a bit unsettled, or it can happen for no known reason! If you suspect your baby is going through a strike, keep pumping every 2-3 hours during the day and at least once per night to keep up your supply and continue to offer your baby your breast every day. Let them “hang out” with your boobs, be skin to skin with them, carry them, sleep with them and eventually they will latch on again! You can feed your baby your expressed milk with a cup. Click here for more tips on keeping up your supply and encouraging your baby to breastfeed…
It is not a competition how long we breastfeed for! There is no “magical” age when your breastmilk stops being important for your child and there is no “magical” age that you must breastfeed them to…it all comes down to what works for you, your child and your family.
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