Saturday, April 14, 2018

Breastfeeding a Toddler: Why I Continue Past the 12 Month Mark

Paul and me at 1 year and 3 months.
Here I am again.  My fourth earthly baby has reached the one year mark.  It has come so quickly that it feels like he was born a mere blink ago!  Celebrating the completion of the first year of his life comes with many exciting milestones from learning to walk, and increase in communication skills, and for many babies, weaning.
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My first born, Valene. 12/08.
When I had my first, I had so many issues nursing.  Some of my issues began as early as birth by not having proper support from my birth team and initial pediatrician (I switched her out right away).  Shortly after, there was blood from an improper latch.  Money was tight and though my husband suggested that we find a lactation consultant, I knew that we couldn't really afford it and thought that I should be able to figure it out.  It's the natural choice, right?  I didn't realize that breast feeding being "natural" didn't mean there wouldn't be a learning curve.  I began a quest of reading all of my birth materials, watching babies breastfeed and proper latch videos on YouTube.  I changed my hold, worked on latch and eventually we got the hang of it--together.  After all of this I still had hormone imbalances, fear of nursing in public, and ultimately did not reach my goal of breastfeeding for one year.

If you ever find yourself in any of these situations, don't be afraid to reach out for help!  There are so many free resources that I didn't know existed!  Ask other moms, friends, neighbors, doctors... over the years I have learned that I actually know so many birth workers that I didn't even know were birth workers!

A few days old.  Wasn't she adorable? 
Although she still grew up healthy, we missed out on nursing for a longer period of time and missed out on a lot of snuggles since I often propped her on a nursing pillow with a bottle.

Valene at 9 years old.  Look at that smile!
When my second baby was born, I was determined that this time I would meet my goal.  I donated free formula samples that were mailed to me and did not keep any baby bottles at home.  Every time I found myself in a moment of desperation and wanted to give up, I would tell myself, or my husband,

  "Don't do anything today, don't buy a bottle... If I still want to give up tomorrow, I can."

Baby Leyah!  2010
Then tomorrow came and I was ready to face my challenges again.  We never bought that bottle.

She was challenging to breastfeed in a totally different way.  She bit... a LOT.  Can you believe that a sweet face like that could enact such torture?  Well, she did... but guess what!  We made it!  We hit the 1 year mark.  Then I realized, there was no reason to stop.  She was still so dependent on me, my milk.  I was her source nourishment--both physical and emotional.

Leyah's 1st birthday, 8/2011.
There was no reason a birthday should end that.  So we continued.  She continued breastfeeding until 2, just before her baby brother was born. (I was looking for a photo of them together... anyone else need to organize digital photos???)  I followed suit with the subsequent babies.

Abraham as a baby. Family photo 2012.
So here we are now.
My little milk belly at just shy of 1 month old.
My fourth earth-side baby is now a few days shy of 16 months and we are still going strong.

Paul breastfeeding before a nap.
The health benefits are plentiful, the snuggles are revitalizing, the love and nurture are real.  There's no real reason to wean at 12 months but instead, women world-wide and through the ages have breastfed their babies through toddler-hood.

So, why do I breastfeed past a year?
  • It makes me and my baby feel happy
  • We get extra snuggle and bonding time
  • My baby gets complete nutrition at each nursing session--that's like taking probiotics and baby multi-vitamins
  • Baby gets immunity boosters from disease exposures I have or have had
  • Lowers my risk of certain cancers
  • Lowers baby's risk of certain cancers
  • Lowers baby's risk of diabetes and obesity
  • Keeps needless baby snacking (on packaged foods) to a minimum
  • Soothes baby when he is distressed, sleepy, sick, or afraid
  • Allows me to excuse ourselves from toxic people or when we just need our own space ("I need to nurse my son, see you in a bit!")  No, really...

Continuing to breastfeed reminds me that I am not my own and helps me to slow down and enjoy the little things.
Tips for Meeting Your Breastfeeding Goal:
  • Skip the bottles - Don't even keep them at home.  If you know that you will need to work, wait to buy them until after a good breastfeeding relationship has been established and only use them when baby is with a caregiver (not your spouse)
  • Pump extra milk in the beginning.  This was a game changer with my second.  I pumped every morning before she woke and every night after she finished nursing and was asleep.  This helped me establish a better milk supply and allowed me to have an emergency stash.  It also kept me from being engorged.
  • Baby wear and then learn to breastfeed in a carrier!  This is a life-saver!  Watch lots of YouTube videos for help.
  • If baby seems to spit up too much check your diet.  What we eat (especially in the first 6 weeks) can really affect baby's tummy.  I found that certain things upset all of my babies, so I give up coffee, most dairy, spicy foods, and gassy veggies (broccoli, asparagus) for the first 6 weeks.  It's a sacrifice, but so worth it.  If baby is still spitting up a lot, check in with a professional, but usually as long as baby is still gaining weight, making wet diapers and having regular bowel movements it's okay, so if they tell you baby is doing fine, don't sweat it!
  • Work with a lactation specialist.  Many are available for free through your insurance, medicaid, WIC, etc.  Ask around!
  • Don't buy or keep any formula in the house.  It's too tempting to use when feeling desperate!
  • Find a breastfeeding supportive physician!  This is SO important.  If your baby's doc says that you need to switch to formula because your baby is: too skinny, too fat, too small, too big, to smart, not smart enough, sick too frequently, not thriving... etc... GET ANOTHER OPINION!  Find another doc, STAT!
  • Take care of yourself!  Stay hydrated, eat healthy foods, take vitamins, rest! 
  • ASK FOR HELP!  Seriously... I'm incredibly stubborn and hate to give up on anything, but most people are not like that.  We need help and encouragement.  If you need to cry about the challenges, don't be afraid to do so, but cry to someone who will encourage you and support you in meeting your goal!
In case someone tries to shame you about breastfeeding, remind them that Christ Himself, God incarnate, was breastfed.
"Milk Giver" 6th century icon at Mt. Athos monastery and found in Christian churches world-wide.  

How about you, did you make breastfeeding goal before your baby arrived?  What hurdles did you face and how could others avoid them?

More Resources:
How Long Should I Breastfeed? - La Leche League 
10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding - World Health Organization
Breastfeeding Provides Immunological Protection to Child
Extended Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know - Mayo Clinic

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