Breastfeeding beyond 18 months, well, this is a post I never thought I’d be writing! If you’ve been following me since I had William you’ll be very much aware of the fact that he was just this teeny premature dot when he was born and that our breastfeeding journey had to be very much worked on in order to get it established due to his size, weight and tiny mouth that had to work extra hard to get what he needed. We endured tube feeding, expressing throughout the day and night, documenting how much he was taking and his weight gain/loss very carefully as well as only placing him to the breast when he had the energy to. It was an exhausting time but because we persevered and he learnt how to feed properly so quickly, he finally came home after 3 weeks in NICU.
Breastfeeding Beyond 18 Months
And just look at us now! 19 months old and he is still breastfed. Ok, so that wasn’t ever in my plan, I mean at the start I was just happy to give it all a go and try and get him to a healthy weight but as time went on, he showed me how much that milk meant to him. And you can certainly see how much it has benefited him…
He is absolute proof that a.) a premature baby CAN feed before 35 weeks, b.) That establishing breastfeeding CAN get them home sooner and c.) That it has definitely had a great effect on him.
It Hasn’t All Been Easy
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that all of this journey has been a breeze because it certainly hasn’t at all at times. From teaching him to learn how to latch with a mouth smaller than my nipple to getting his energy levels up to be able to feed solely from me, then coming home and enduring the pain in the arse that is colic and reflux which resulted in my boobs taking a real beating (my poor sore nipples, urgh). And then, of course, there’s the cluster feeds and growth spurts and comfort feeds. But I powered through it mainly because I love breastfeeding! I’m pretty sure most people would have given up and there were many times that I considered it and when people told me I should but I just wasn’t ready to break that bond. That closeness we get when I feed him, that look he gives me when he glances up mid-suckle, the smiles he whips in whilst never breaking contact and the moments when he drifts gently off to sleep because of my milk. It’s priceless and it won’t last forever.
Feeding In Public
I just wanted to quickly cover this because it is something that I get asked about a lot on social media. In all my time breastfeeding and that includes the 9 months I fed Jake, I have not had one negative comment when feeding in public. I have literally fed all over the place: benches, beach, cafes, restaurants, train, parks, walking down a path, miniature train at a country park and even queuing for a ride at Disney world! Not one bad experience and I have never covered up either, I don’t believe anyone should have to and that we need to continue to #normalisebreastfeeding.
My breastfeeding advice has always been a little limited because I honestly haven’t had many issues. I have read other people’s experiences of feeling a toe-curling pain, of having cracked nipples and bleeding, of milk not coming in, pain and so on. I have been so fortunate and only had a few of these with William and those were linked to his size and his colic. So, the only advice I can give is to follow your baby’s cues, if they need to feed a lot there is a reason for that. Do not think you are doing anything wrong, you are giving your baby what they need. They are so clever, they naturally know how to get to your nipple, they know how to alter their suckle to get to the good stuff, they know that staying on longer means the fatty milk comes down, they also know that they love that sweet taste of the foremilk! They look to you to take what their little body requires and we so often overthink all of this. Please don’t. Just go with the flow and let them do their thing, it doesn’t last forever (even though a week of cluster feeding may feel like a month) and the easiest thing for you to do is to just enjoy it. Also, do not compare your journey to anybody elses, we are all different, our babies are all different and what works for some may not work for you and vice versa. And most importantly, it does not matter if you only breastfeed for a few days or beyond 18 months, what matters is that you have given it a go, you have tried to give your baby that important first milk, you have managed to feed them even if it’s just a little. The more we talk about it, the more we support one another and the more we say breastfeeding can be an amazing thing, then the closer we are to raising our atrocious breastfeeding rates in the UK.
So, Where Are We Now?
Right now I am in a bit of a funny place with it all. I have this very active toddler who is going through that ‘fun phase’ of the world doesn’t revolve around me and so I am going to make myself heard!! Sigh. The last few weeks have been tough. He is back to waking in the night and not going back off unless I give him milk, he is clawing at my top and pulling it down where ever he sees fit and he is becoming demanding. The last couple of days I have been trying to decide whether or not our breastfeeding journey is coming to an end and it’s a really funny feeling. I still love a lot of it. All of those moments I mentioned above are still very much there but on the other hand, I have this toddler who is trying to be in control of me and it is draining.
This is all new to me because Jake weaned very easily over onto formula at 9 months (after I couldn’t take any more biting!) and I felt as though our journey was at its natural end. I wasn’t upset over it, I saw it as the next step. But with William, it is different. It’s probably because we have extended this bond beyond 18 months which is making it harder to break. It is also probably because it is not only his habit now but mine too. Plus, there is that element of if we don’t have any more children (we haven’t decided yet) then this could be the last one that I breastfeed.
So, right now I am trying a new tactic, just reducing what he has by telling him the milk is all gone and so far so good. I have fed him for a nap and bedtime and then again in the middle of the night when he was hot but other than that he seems to understand what I am saying and it is helping the process of slowly removing those unnecessary demanded feeds that are draining me.
I’m not saying I will stop altogether because I’m not sure but if he weans naturally due to his age, then I will be perfectly happy with that. For now, I am going to continue to lap up our special moments because I know there may not be many more to come.
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