Breastfeeding beyond one is not “just” for mum

The toddler walked up to his mother, climbed into her lap and asked for milk. She lifted her shirt, latched him on and continued to chat with us. “How old is he?” I asked. Two. That seemed too old to me a few years ago.

I thought breastfeeding beyond one year was weird and pointless. It was a thing some mothers did but why? I couldn’t tell. To be honest, I wasn’t too keen on the way breastfeeding seemed to attach children to their mothers to begin with. It seemed so limiting for women. They couldn’t go anywhere. Why would you prolong this?

Then I got pregnant. As my baby grew I realised that attachment was in our biology. We were meant to be close from the beginning. Of course I would breastfeed her. I went to an NCT antenatal course and came away with a flyer on the benefits of breastfeeding. To two years. You mean, a recognised body had cause to call “extended” breastfeeding normal?

Then I had the baby and though breastfeeding was difficult, it felt right. Breastfeeding for a year made emotional and logical sense. Then breastfeeding got really, really, really complicated and I desperately wanted to do it. At least for three months. At least for six months. At least until next month. Oh if we could only get to a year.

Breast milk – still good stuff after the first year

By this time I’d also started reading about breast milk and breastfeeding. I found out that it offers scientifically proven benefits which continue beyond the first year: cancer-killing protein, repairing stem cells, lots of help for an immune system which does not mature until much later than the age of one. Illness, fussy eating or days of distraction? Breastfeeding still packs a calorific punch for that toddler.

As (or possibly more) importantly, I began to meet mothers who were breastfeeding their two, three and four-year-olds. I began to see them breastfeeding their “older” children. I began to read about natural self-weaning. A mental transition took place. It made me the kind of person who doesn’t understand why people make a big deal out of a magazine cover with a three-year-old being breastfed.

I began to hope we would be able to breastfeed beyond a year, that she would wean because she was ready and not because of my milk supply or because I allowed other people to make me feel uncomfortable.

To wean or not to wean

Then we approached a year and I realised that it wasn’t a case of deciding to continue breastfeeding. All I was doing was just letting things happen. In fact I would have to make a conscious effort and instigate a plan of action to stop breastfeeding her.

I couldn’t think of why I would. Actually, I’m sitting here trying to think of a single reason why I would stop breastfeeding her now which doesn’t seem forced and arbitrary. Of course, things may happen that lead me to choose to wean but right now I don’t have any reason to and if it is to be mother-led, I hope we can do it slowly and gently.

Obviously, everyone is different and you may have reasons to wean. Perhaps you just don’t like breastfeeding anymore or you have to take some kind of breastfeeding-unfriendly medication. Maybe your baby is having a nursing strike which looks like self-weaning but isn’t. If you want to continue, get some support. It’s not just for younger babies. For that matter, if you want to stop, get some support.

I don’t know. I don’t know you or your situation. I’m just sharing the information I’ve found and what I feel about my own experience.

Unconvinced by the arguments

Where I am in my experience means that the reasons for stopping are just irrelevant to us. Also, despite people saying that full term breastfeeding mums are self-indulging, I couldn’t think of a reason I’d stop that would be for her benefit. These are the ones I’ve been hearing.

I want my body and my boobs back. Sometimes I feel touched out, especially if Talitha is teething and also wants to be held all the time. Sometimes I want my space when she’s going through a developmental spurt and wants to be latched on all night. Most of the time, though, I like our closeness. I enjoy how breastfeeding reconnects us when we’ve been apart. I like that it makes me sit down quietly with my baby at nap times. At any rate, even if I stopped breastfeeding her, her needs wouldn’t disappear. She’d still have her clingy times during teething, illness or whatever else. At least breastfeeding gives me an easy way to meet her needs when she’s like that. Ditto the She needs to grow up and become independent argument. That doesn’t happen overnight.

We don’t do that in the UK. One, that’s not an argument in itself. Especially not for me. I’m not from ’round here. Two, lots of women do, we just don’t see them enough. Three, the World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding to two years and beyond so, really, shouldn’t that be a standard UK guideline too? Yes we may have better solid foods available to us than some other countries do but as far as I know rice doesn’t contain lymphocytes. It seems bizarre that a “first world” country carries a culture in which offering children a uniquely potent brain and body building food as long as possible is frowned upon.

I want to be able to leave her. Actually, I can and do leave her. If I leave her for a few hours we tend to both be fine. Longer than that and she’s fine but I need to express. She needs me at night, though, and I’ve decided not to leave her overnight again until she’s night weaned. I also hate expressing in the middle of the night. I’m too lazy. So yes, it does tie us together to some degree but you know what? That’s fine by me. This time will pass. She’s only little once and if I think about it, though she needs everything, she really doesn’t need much.