World Breastfeeding Week 2015
Today is the last day of the world breastfeeding week 2015. This week should be used as a reminder of the benefits of breastfeeding for infants and mothers alike. Unfortunately, it often turns into a breastfeeding VS formula war, with mothers insulting each other based on their choice of what they feed their child. The internet is full of hurtful comments coming from both sides, while it is ridiculous that there are “sides” in the first place. So before I continue with my “breastfeeding a toddler” post, I want to make clear that even though I believe -based on the research I have read- that breast milk has amazing benefits, I know that breastfeeding can be tough and challenging and without a good support network it is can just be too hard for many mothers.
Therefore, instead of shaming mothers who chose not to breastfeed, it would be a great idea to look into the reasons behind this choice and IF the reasons had to do with a lack of support and education, do something about it. As for the mothers who make an informed decision not to breastfeed, I believe that they should not be judged. Everyone has their own reasons and we should respect the life and parenting choices of the people around us. The do not owe anyone an explanation.
Great. Now that we clarified those things, time for the actual post.
Breastfeeding a Toddler
As most of you who follow this blog now, I have a daughter who is now 14 months. I have been VERY lucky with breastfeeding from the start. She could latch and suck like a champion. Also, my mother was here the first month after birth, taking care of all the chores, allowing me to focus on establishing a solid breastfeeding relationship. I was thrilled when I reached the 6 weeks milestone and when I reached the 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding I was amazed by the fact that my body kept another human being alive without the need of any other food sources.
Once Loulou Maya started eating solids, her appetite for breast milk never got reduced. She did drink less during the day but made up for it during the night (fun!). And here we are, at 14 months, still a happy breastfeeding duo. Bellow I want to share with you what you can expect if you choose to breastfeed your toddler:
- Acrobatics. Oh-my-god! So many acrobatics! Loulou loves to nurse while performing downward dog or while turning around like a clock with my breast being her center.
- Bites. Some times, when they fall asleep, poor toddlers bite accidentally. Some other times, not-so-poor toddlers bite for fun, just to see your reaction, or because they are mad at you. In that case, make sure your reaction makes it clear that biting is not ok. They will get it. I chose to tell her “no! It hurts.” and cover my breasts.
- Twiddling. Some babies love to do that. And it can be super-annoying. Legend has it that if you encourage your baby to stroke their own hair or clothes, they will leave your other nipple alone. Never worked for me. I just make sure to keep Loulou’s nails short, to avoid scratches.
- Shirt pulling in public. Yup. Toddlers are not famous for their patience and if they decide they want to nurse, they will just stick their arm into your bra. Loulou loves to do that when I have a skype call with elderly relatives or my in-laws. They find it hilarious. Me? Not so much. The truth is that by this point, your baby (that is not actually a baby any more) can be a bit patient. If you are not comfortable to nurse in public, offer some water or a snack. Loulou is usually too distracted by all the discoveries and exploring, so she seldom nurses outside home any more.
- Hunger. I am not sure if all breastfeeding mothers of toddlers experience this, but I am hungry a lot. Especially when or right after Loulou nurses. I don’t mind as I love to eat and it is easy to make healthy, calorie-rich choices, such as nuts, nut butters or avocado.
- Leaking. By now, your flow is probably regulated. Well, so is mine, but Loulou loves to play that amazing game that goes like this: she sucks one breast and then the other and then the first till they both leak. Isn’t that hilarious?
I realize that what I just described doesn’t sound very inviting. However, nursing your toddler can be a great experience with multiple benefits. The bellow diagram from thealphaparent.com explains them perfectly:
Additionally, there are benefits for the mother as well:
- ovarian cancer risk reduces significantly for women that breastfeed more than 18 months (paper).
- breast cancer risk can be reduced from 12 to 29% (according to this 2015 paper).
- this study from 2015 reveals a 32% lower risk of type two diabetes for mothers that breastfeed more than 12 months.
And of course you get the added benefit of always having food on you, in case your little monster goes crazy.
Personally I do not feel there are real challengeσ involved, when breastfeeding a toddler (well, apart from the acrobatics and such…), however, I have come across many posts from women who feel judged by their family or social circle for choosing to breastfeed a child that has teeth, walks and talks. Now, I am all for diplomacy and I do not enjoy conflict, but if you try to educate the people around you about the benefits of breastfeeding older kids and they keep their ears shut, please remember that it is your child, your business. You can be gentle but firm, saying something along the lines of “I have done my research”/ “My doctor is very happy that I breastfeed” / “I am sorry but this is not up for discussion”.
When it comes to the practical challenges of keeping a toddler still, so that they can breastfeed for more than 2 seconds, lying down helps. It also helps to go to a quiet place, if you are outside. A nursing necklace or your voice can also help create a relaxing atmosphere.
How long is too long?
That is an answer only you can answer. You will see online that the average world weaning age is around 4 years and that weaning between the ages of 2 and 7 is considered normal. However, these are just numbers. Yes, mothers in African tribes might breastfeed till their kids are 7, and this is great in places where there is food and water scarcity. If you have to go back to work at 3 months and hate pumping though, does it make you a bad mother, to stop breastfeeding right there and then. I say no. Breastfeeding is a two-people business. If you suffer through it, then you might end up feeling resentment. My suggestion for people who want to breastfeed would be go on for as long as it feels good for you and if you hit a bump, don’t hesitate to contact a lactation consultant. In the majority of cases, they are great help.
I would love to hear about your breastfeeding journey in the comments here or on facebook. Happy world breastfeeding week everyone!