Disclosure: This post is part our series in observance of World Breastfeeding Week and is sponsored by Woman’s Hospital.
Extended Breastfeeding :: Why It Worked For My Family
Breastfeeding was not something I thought about much during my first pregnancy. I took a class at Woman’s Hospital and learned the basics, and I hoped I would be able to successfully nurse my son, but I knew that for many women it is a real struggle. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t beat myself up.
Thankfully, my son William took to it. He was born an IUGR (Intrauterine Growth Restriction) baby and was born very small at four pounds, fourteen ounces at 39 weeks gestation. I was extremely stressed about his weight, but from the beginning he was a wonderful nursling and he quickly shot up the growth charts. I had never been more grateful to my body, who had managed to birth a healthy, though small, child, and provide him nourishment to grow and be strong.
As a stay-at-home mom, I had the luxury of being able to nurse him on demand and straight from the tap, as it were. He was never really on a schedule and therefore nursed several times per night. For a long time, though, I really didn’t mind the broken sleep – I was just so grateful he was eating and growing and that I was able to help him do that. (Don’t think I’m some kind of saint though – those long, sleep-deprived nights definitely got old!)
Often my family members or friends would ask me how long I planned to breastfeed William. My goal was a year, and then I anticipated that we would stop. But a year came and went, and I saw no reason to wean him if he wasn’t ready. He still loved nursing, although his feedings spread out once he started solids and as he got older.
We finally weaned once I became pregnant with my second boy, Henry. William was about 15 months old, and I was thrilled we had been able to go as long as we did. Yes, there were some comments from people once we went past a year, but I had decided that as long as we were both comfortable with it, there was no reason to stop.
Breastfeeding was something I really looked forward to during my second pregnancy, since it had been such a rewarding experience the first time. At 38 weeks, we induced my second IUGR baby and he was born at 5 pounds, 8 ounces. But, just like his brother, he breastfed like a champ and his weight shot up.
Henry’s nursing journey was a lot like William’s – on demand, around the clock, and very few problems. We quickly reached one year and kept going, and I anticipated that maybe he would self-wean, and I wouldn’t have to feel as though I were forcing him to stop something he loved. But he kept on going.
18 months, I told myself. We’ll definitely stop by 18 months. But before we knew it, there we were at a year and a half and still nursing twice a day. I loved it though – it gave me a break from chasing after kids, it burned a few calories (every little bit helps, right?), and most of all, it provided incredible bonding time for my son and me. Not to mention the fact that he was likely our last baby, and I just wasn’t ready to be done yet.
Our time breastfeeding did eventually come to an end at about 20 months. If you had asked me before I had kids, I would have said that sounded way too long. However, once I experienced it, I learned that it’s such a personal thing between you and your child, and you have to decide between yourselves when to stop. I got a few raised eyebrows, mostly from people in my parents’ generation, but people were mostly very supportive. I didn’t nurse him in public at this age because he was only breastfeeding first thing in the morning and before bed, so that probably protected me from some of the hurtful comments that some “extended breastfeeders” get. (Extended breastfeeding is defined as nursing past a child’s first birthday.)
I am definitely an advocate for feeding your child in whatever way is healthiest for you and them. Breastfeeding is not for everyone, but I’m so glad it worked for me. Some of my very favorite memories of early motherhood have been sitting in a darkened room, just me and one of my sweet babies, filling up that little baby belly and studying his hands, his little ears, his fuzzy head. I wouldn’t trade that for anything!