When you began breastfeeding, did you imagine that you would breastfeed past a year?
I did! My plan was to try to make it to 2 years if possible (as recommended by the World Health Organization). My background is in public health, so the health benefits for both mom and baby from an extended breastfeeding relationship were important to me.
How has your breastfeeding relationship with your nursling evolved over the past year?
It's really incredible to me how much of a role breastfeeding has played in our parenting more generally. It's just such an ingrained part of our life that I don't even know what our day-to-day would look like without it. That is definitely not something I would have imagined pre-baby. I just figured, "Yeah, I'll breastfeed because it is healthy food for my baby." It's been so interesting to me to see how much more of a role it plays. As our son starts learning about limits and patience and impulse control, breastfeeding comes into play. "It's not time for milk right now. You can have milk in a little bit" comes up often, particularly on days where "drive by" nursing is his thing, and I'd prefer to not feed every 3.2 seconds.
What do you know now that you wish you had known at the beginning?
That it really does get easier. Breastfeeding has gotten so much easier over time. Those early days of feeding what feels like all the time can be really tough, especially if you have some feeding obstacles to overcome like we did. When baby is so dependent on mom for so much, it's really incredible to experience that as a new mom but also exhausting. I feel like pretty much anyone is willing to tell you how hard breastfeeding can be (what pregnant woman who plans to breastfeed hasn't been bombarded with stories of cracked nipples and told to "keep some formula on hand just in case"?), but no one seems to really talk about how much easier breastfeeding can make your life as your baby gets older. I feel like transitioning to solids was made so much easier with breastfeeding. It helped me not worry so much about what and how much our son was eating because I knew he'd "make up" for any additional nutritional needs with breast milk. Breast milk still provides a large amount of easily absorbed nutrients for toddlers, including healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals, not to mention all the immune-boosting components. It's also so much more than just milk. It's a respite from a busy day or overwhelming situation. It's pain relief for a hard head bonk. It's ritual as we wind down from the day and get ready for bed. It's playful as he crawls over for milk with a toy in hand, and we nurse with a doll or puzzle piece snuggled in with us.
What has the hardest part of this past year been?
The early days, weeks, months were most definitely the hardest. Dealing with tongue and lip tie issues was frustrating. But we're on the other side of that now, and it has been smooth sailing. We've had a couple things here and there to work through (like teeth and learning that they are not for biting Mom...), but overall, breastfeeding is such a breeze now, and I'm so grateful that we've gotten to this point because it's been such a wonderful part of our second year together
If you plan to have more children, would you do anything differently next time around?
Great question! I definitely will have any future children screened for tongue/lip tie very early since there is a genetic component, and I would LOVE to avoid those struggles again. Our son was also in the NICU for 3 days following birth due to some low blood glucose issues, and as a new mom just hours postpartum, it was hard for me to advocate for the help I needed to get breastfeeding on the right foot. I had pain from the very beginning but didn't know what was normal adjustment discomfort and pain due to poor latch. We never had to supplement (other than the few oz of formula nurses unnecessarily forced on him before my "mama bear" kicked in and I put a stop to that), but I think it was harder than it should have been because I didn't expect to start learning to breastfeed in the circumstances that we did. Huge shout out to moms out there who have successfully breastfed following NICU stays, especially extended stays. It is really hard to learn to nurse with a baby hooked up to all kinds of wires, not getting the rest you need and having people and machines constantly interrupting and interfering. We were fortunate to be able to stay with our son the entire time--having him skin to skin with either myself or my husband through his whole stay--which I'm sure played a large role in our ability to breastfeed successfully, but it was utterly exhausting, and the little rest we did get was not wonderful, either lying in a recliner or on a fold out hospital couch bed. My hope is we will not have to go through that again with future kiddos, but if we do, I'll be grateful that I am already experienced with breastfeeding so I won't have those hurdles to get through again.
What is your favorite part of your breastfeeding relationship?
I have to pick just one?! Again, as I said earlier, I couldn't really imagine what breastfeeding would "mean" to me pre-baby other than a healthy way to feed my baby. And I guess it is hard to explain and understand until and unless you've nursed a kiddo past infant hood and have experienced all the wonderful (and hilarious) interactions that happen while nursing a toddler. Not that we don't have all sorts of magical moments not nursing, but the physical closeness of breastfeeding just so easily lends itself to connection. The eye contact, the snuggling, the perfect proximity of that sweet warm head and those little fingers for kissing. And my husband is involved, too. Just today, we were all snuggled in bed after waking from a lovely Sunday family nap. Max was nursing while laying across me, looking up at both me and my husband as we leaned back against the headboard, and he took his hands and kept moving my face toward his dad to have us kiss over and over. It was just the sweetest moment and could have happened without nursing, I'm sure, but again, the required closeness of breastfeeding just seems to lead to these profound moments of connection for all of us.
Is weaning on your radar?
It is, and it isn't. Having a kiddo over 1 who eats a good amount of solid food these days makes me realize that the end to our nursing days will come before I realize it, but breastfeeding is going so well for us that I don't really have any kind of "end date" in mind. Until it becomes more of a chore than a positive thing for us, we'll just keep truckin' until he's ready to be done. We still generally nurse "on demand" (so no set schedule) but with limits if I'm in the middle of something or he *just* had milk or is too wound up to nurse more than a few seconds over and over. It works for us. We compromise and respect each other. It's really been quite wonderful to watch that relationship evolve.
Any advice for new nursing moms?
It gets easier, and there is help out there to assist you in meeting your personal breastfeeding goals--whatever they may be! I often laugh when Max nurses now in the strangest positions (Upside down? Downward facing dog nursing? Sure! Must have been all that prenatal yoga ;) ) because I think back to the early days of breastfeeding when all the pillows had to be arranged just so, and he had to be held in the perfect position to latch, and I had to help him get on the breast and hold everything in place to keep him there until he was done, and then start the whole process again to switch sides. I think people mean well in talking about how hard it can be (so if it doesn't come easily to you, you don't feel alone), but I think it can be discouraging and make you second-guess yourself. Culturally, breastfeeding past the first few months is still not very common in the US and is often not very visible (with the expectation that women should nurse "privately", if there are women breastfeeding older babies and toddlers, they are rarely seen doing so). I've seen multiple references to anthropological studies that have found that, globally, the range for human weaning is between the ages of 2 and 7 years old. What we consider to be the "appropriate" age for weaning is culturally constructed, not biologically driven, so I think that's important to keep in mind when considering your breastfeeding goals. I know there are many women who are very ready to be done at 6m or a year or some other "specific" time, and that is perfectly fine. Breastfeeding is a relationship, and all involved parties need to be happy with the situation. But if you want to nurse longer than the "norm", you're not a weirdo. Your kid won't be a weirdo. You won't be nursing your child as he or she goes off to college. Really. Find other moms with similar goals and support each other.