Sunday, April 17, 2011

(Extended) Breastfeeding as Mothering

Welcome Carnival of Breastfeeding readers! This month's theme was extended nursing and we've got a variety of posts on nursing toddlers. Be sure to check out the links to all of our participants at the end of this post.  
Avery latched right on and nursed like a pro from the beginning. Nearly three years later, he still very much enjoys getting Mama Milk. I’ve never had an expectation around weaning. I have always figured, when it was right, I’d know. And now that I work out of the house full time, I treasure the quiet minute on the couch after work and the drowsy six a.m. pre-breakfast snack, those times right before bed. I am grateful for the rare moments he sits still and I get to play with his hair or inspect his toenails.
They don’t keep statistics on breastfeeding past the first birthday, so no one really knows how many American babies get to nurse into toddler hood. While so called extended breastfeeding is commonplace in other places and other times, it feels like a lot of American moms wean sometime around 12 months--if not well before- , because then, babies can have cow’s milk, so there’s no need to keep nursing, right?
I was on the phone with a prenatal mother and she asked about our pump loan program. I explained the requirements: exclusively breastfeeding and returning to work or school at least part time, or a medical need. How long can I keep it, she asked. As long as you need it, I replied. Unless there are special circumstances, the pumps are generally only loaned out for a year. Most moms are ready to give up pumping by then, even if they continue to nurse. “So if I want to breastfeed for two years?” “Two years! That’s great! Your milk supply will be pretty established by then-- you won’t need to pump most likely.” She went on to extol the nutritional merits of breast milk and how she would want to at least give him some in a cup along with the other milk he would get.  
I told her how I breastfed my baby after work and in the morning, and didn’t need to pump at all. “Wait. You mean he gets it from nipple! A three year old is like a little person!”
He certainly is! A person who gets breast milk three(ish!) times a day.
My client isn’t alone in valuing the product of breast milk over the act of breastfeeding. In countering the product of formula, breastfeeding advocates have spent a lot of time researching the stuff of breast milk. It is important that we know how protective and beneficial breast milk is towards growing babies. And it’s easy to do: it’s quantifiable. How do you measure the emotional benefits of gradual, easy weaning?
There are many reasons why women have so many difficulties establishing a successful and enjoyable breastfeeding relationship: hospital practices that separate the dyad, short or non-existent maternity leaves, aggressive formula marketing, ignorant or insensitive pediatricians, et al. And, I think, one of the biggest: girls don’t grow up around a lot of breastfeeding women, so they don’t know how to do it. So if it gets tough, or painful, or isolating, someone is sent to Wal-Mart for pump, and the breast milk is delivered, at least for a while, via a bottle.
It says it right there in on the can of formula: Breast milk is best.
Just like there is not an arbitrary time when the nutritional and immunological benefits of breast milk cease to be helpful to a child, there is no magical age at which the emotional connection of breastfeeding becomes inappropriate. Ten peaceful minutes on the front porch, or rocking chair, or-- and this is becoming less and less frequent-- the back seat of the car or park bench can take an overstimulated, frustrated, cranky kid and make him good humored and  co-operative. More often than not, it resets my energy, too.
I feel him beginning to wean. He almost never asks to nurse out of the house and has spent several uneventful overnights with my parents. I’m *almost* ready to do it, too.
I grew up hearing stories about my days as a nursling and the way my mother and I ended over two years of breastfeeding with just a shared and meaningful look, so it makes sense that I would be open to “extended” breastfeeding and gentle weaning. I’m hopeful that both breastfeeding initiation and duration rates will continue to climb as more hospitals ban archaic policies, and the WHO code is finally enforced, and legislation mandates comprehensive and paid maternity leave. And, even more importantly, all of Avery’s friends nursed well past 12 months, will grow up and become people who see great value in not just breast milk but also in breastfeeding past the first birthday.    

Elita @ Blacktating: The Last Time That Never Was
Diana Cassar-Uhl, IBCLC: Old enough to ask for it
Karianna @ Caffeinated Catholic Mama: A Song for Mama’s Milk
Judy @ Mommy News Blog: My Favorite Moments
Tamara Reese @ Kveller: Extended Breastfeeding
Jenny @ Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: The Highs and Lows of Nursing a Toddler
Christina @ MFOM: Natural-Term Breastfeeding
Rebekah @ Momma’s Angel: My Sleep Breakthrough
Suzi @ Attachedattheboob: Why I love nursing a toddler
Claire @ The Adventures of Lactating Girl: My Hopes for Tandem Nursing
Stephanie Precourt from Adventures in Babywearing: “Continued Breastfeeding”: straight from the mouths of babes
The Accidental Natural Mama: Nurse on, Mama
Sarah @ Reproductive Rites: Gratitude for extended breastfeeding
Nikki @ On Becoming Mommy: The Little Things
The Artsy Mama: Why Nurse a Toddler?
Christina @ The Milk Mama: The best thing about breastfeeding
TopHot @ the bee in your bonnet: From the Mouths of Babes
Callista @ Callista’s Ramblings:  Pressure To Stop Breastfeeding
Zoie @ Touchstone Z: Breastfeeding Flavors
Tanya @ Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog: Six misconceptions about extended breastfeeding
Jona ( Breastfeeding older twins
Motherlove Herbal Company: Five reasons to love nursing a toddler


  1. I wish I could hear stories of being breastfed. I was breastfed but my mom doesn't remember anything other than that, not even how long she did it for :(

  2. Love it that you use the opportunity to inspect your nursling's toenails. :) Sometimes it is the only calm sitting-still time...

  3. that is so sweet that your mother remembers when you weaned!

  4. Haha, it's funny how people don't get that for a 3-year-old it's not really about the milk. Pumping and putting breast milk in a cup would be great but your baby would still want to nurse because they get so much more from it than just milk!

  5. I love that my mother still tell me stories about my days as a nursling! it made breastfeeding something i didn't even decide to do!

  6. @blacktating: i don't respond well to a pump, so that's not even an option for me.
    p.s. one of my co-workers took the CLC as the same time as you =)

  7. This is so true. I think people can focus on the nutritional benefits of breastmilk for an older child because it keeps them from squirming about the actual *gasp* breastfeeding. There's a lot more to breastfeeding than the nutritional and immunological benefits.

    Breastmilk is worthwhile whether pumped or donated even without the breastfeeding part. I'm not knocking it any type of feeding, of course.