Like many mothers, I had no idea how long I’d breastfeed for.
Initially, I just hoped we’d make it through the painful initial weeks of sore nipples, engorgement, fast letdown, and an undiagnosed tongue tie. But once the tricky start was over I aimed to reach 6 months. I expected to wean my son off breastmilk alongside weaning him on to food. It didn’t happen, so I’d then sworn that at the first sign of teeth and any biting I’d definitely be stopping. Yet there was no biting and so we kept going.
Before I knew it, we were breastfeeding for two years
With his insatiable hunger and our journey going so well now I soon realised we’d likely make it to his first birthday still breastfeeding. After that I wondered if it would taper off naturally, but before I knew it another whole year passed and he was over 2 and we were only just approaching the close of our journey.
Our breastfeeding journey continued organically and in doing so it has given me a number of benefits I never knew I’d feel.
Defining my mum type
I always assumed that those who breastfed toddlers were very much the free-spirit, mother-earth, hippy-vibe mothers who were doing it because it made sense with their views on sustainability and a carefree parenting style. I had complete stereotype assumptions in my mind. So when my own breastfeeding journey stretched into its third year and I was suddenly a full-blown toddler-feeding mother, I was as shocked as anyone.
I always assumed that those who breastfed toddlers were very much the free-spirit, mother-earth, hippy-vibe mothers who were doing it because it made sense with their views on sustainability and a carefree parenting style.
I wasn’t breastfeeding past a year to prove a point. I wasn’t doing it because of the health benefits for my child or myself (although they are a fantastic bonus), and I wasn’t doing it for ethical, political or financial reasons either. Simply, I was still doing it because it hadn’t felt like it was time to stop. Continuing breastfeeding just felt right for us.
Breastfeeding was one thing I felt I was doing right
As a first-time mum, I don’t think I was really able to do much of what ‘just felt right’. In fact, breastfeeding was probably the only thing I’ve had that ‘right’ feeling about at all. I was always worrying about what I should be doing, thinking about what was being expected of us for that particular age, comparing our abilities with others, and wondering if I was doing it all wrong and if a different approach might be better.
But, after our initial difficulties, breastfeeding was something that I knew was working for us. It wasn’t embarrassing, it wasn’t difficult, and in the later months, it was only first thing in the morning and last thing at night so it wasn’t inconvenient either. I was happy, my son was happy, and I knew I didn’t need to change a thing.
I began to compare myself less and trust myself more
One of the biggest benefits of extended breastfeeding is that it’s given me confidence in my mothering. By experiencing a longer journey and feeling more and more that it was ‘right for us’ I’ve been able to embrace more things that ‘feel right’ even if they aren’t what my mum friends are doing. I’m comparing myself less, I’m trusting myself more. I’m finding and accepting the type of mum I am, which is truly a benefit I never imagined could come from breastfeeding.
Having an extended breastfeeding journey has given me confidence in my mothering.
I’m not a go-with-the-flow mother into homeschooling and plant-based diets (more of my stereotyped assumptions), but I am now a mum who has confidence in doing whatever I need or want to do for my child wherever I am. Whether that is singing and dancing in the supermarket to keep my child entertained, or breastfeeding in the middle of soft play, I am the type of mum that doesn’t care what other people think so long as what I’m doing feels right for me.
At around 10 weeks my son seemed to be more insatiable than usual. We’d be feeding for the best part of an hour before leaving the house but within 20 minutes of being out he’d be crying for yet another feed. It was because of this, and a handful of other symptoms, I contacted a lactation consultant for advice. What I learned (other than a possible tongue tie diagnosis) was that breastfeeding is demanded by a baby for a number of reasons.
Besides hunger and thirst, breastfeeding is actually how a baby deals with being hot, cold, sad, scared, tired, overwhelmed, or at times due to significant growth spurts. She even said something as simple as driving through a tunnel and the change in light to dark might unsettle him enough that he would look for comfort in the form of a feed.
It was from this conversation I realised the power of breastfeeding to problem solve. I stopped resenting the fact I was sitting for hours feeding. I stopped worrying that it was all about the amount of milk he was or wasn’t getting, and I stopped thinking that I wasn’t good enough at feeding my son.
Not just a feeding machine
Breastfeeding was the one constant I was able to offer him as he navigated all the scary ‘firsts’ in his life. I suddenly realised I wasn’t just a feeding machine, but I was his comfort and all he knew. I gave him familiarity, safety, calm and peace. I had a superpower that stopped tears, fear, and anxiety. I had one solution that fixed a multitude of problems. How lucky was I?!
I suddenly realised I wasn’t just a feeding machine, but I was his comfort and all he knew.
The real game changer for us was learning the baby Makaton sign language for ‘milk’, thanks to our local Sing and Sign mother and baby classes. We mastered it initially over the second lockdown (what else were we going to do with 6 weeks stuck at home again) when my son was around 8 months old. As he was getting older he knew more of what he wanted but still lacked the skills to communicate it without just crying.
The sign language took the guesswork out of what was wrong and what the solution was. There was less crying (from both of us), and we were both much happier with him being able to communicate what he wanted, and me communicating what I was able to offer. Being able to ask for and offer a feed made new-mum problem-solving easier.
Newfound body confidence
Seeing my son’s weight slowly go up in the first few days and weeks, seeing the rolls begin to form in his arms and legs, seeing his tummy swell as it got full, was all due to me feeding him. Feeding him A LOT, but feeding him (almost entirely) my breastmilk.
I was doing this absolutely incredible thing. I was able to sustain life with just my body. Don’t get me wrong it was not easy, it required a lot of practice and support, a range of different feeding positions, a lot of water to be drunk, (and a fair few biscuits too). But I was doing it and I’ve never felt so empowered in my life.
To celebrate a few of our breastfeeding milestones I’ve bought myself congratulatory presents here and there. For me, breastfeeding is a huge achievement and one that I am immensely proud of.
A reason to finally love my body
Because of that pride, and for all the reasons we know about the benefits it gives our child if we continue breastfeeding, it gave me a reason to love my body. Truthfully, I’ve not had an easy relationship with my body until now – whether it was from diet culture, unkind words said to me, or my inner critic being louder than reason.
I’ve never truly loved the body I’d been given. But through pregnancy, birth, and now breastfeeding I am in total awe of what it can do, what it has achieved, and how it has changed. I cannot hate it for a single moment.
I’ve never truly loved the body I’d been given. But through pregnancy, birth and now breastfeeding I am in total awe of what it can do…
Extended breastfeeding has lots of hidden benefits
I might not like the appearance of my skin, the extra lumps and bumps of my tummy, or the emptiness of my boobs now, but I don’t hate them because they have given me my son. They have grown and sustained his life. They have problem solved and given me purpose and confidence along the way. So I’m learning to eat better and exercise as a form of loving and caring for my amazing body, and not as a punishment for what it looks like currently.
I know I’m not the thinnest or strongest person in the gym. However, I’m much more confident in myself because I know what my body has been through and what it has given me – and I wouldn’t change that for all the abs in the world.
So really what my extended breastfeeding journey has shown me, and now hopefully you too, is that there are some hidden benefits that you don’t get taught in the books or classes. There are lessons you learn along the way that you never expected. Breastfeeding has changed my life and I am forever grateful for the highs and lows of my journey.
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