So you’ve reached that holy grail of breastfeeding your baby beyond six months. As a fellow breastfeeder, I applaud you. Considering the obstacles to getting started, not to mention the issues we face for the duration, it’s an almighty achievement. So long as it doesn’t tip over into arrogant smugness, a little recognition and congratulation is deserved.
But answer me this: How prepared were you for the journey? Did you have any preconceptions that you’ve had to challenge? Have you battled any personal demons, or clashed with any peers or professionals? Because honestly, breastfeeding is an enigma until you do it. There are many hurdles not spoken about – and therefore not known – until you’re in it. So I’m going to smash those wide open, not least because I’ve had no choice but to reevaluate my own feelings about breastfeeding again and again. Essentially, I’ve been a hypocrite reformed.
Not Enough Discussion Before the Baby Arrives
People don’t talk enough before the baby arrives about how hard it is to breastfeed. Among my peers at least, there was an expectation that because it’s natural, it should also be easy. And if it’s not, then it must mean there’s a physical barrier to successful breastfeeding. I’ve done a lot of research on the subject and now hold the potentially controversial belief that the vast majority of women could nurse – with the right support and – critically – with enough determination. (I’ve since written a comprehensive post about the subject and have even released an ebook too!)
Health Professionals Sometimes Get it Wrong
Some health professionals are incredible when it comes to breastfeeding support. But others are uneducated and give incorrect advice, which can ultimately lead to women’s breastfeeding journeys ending prematurely. I find this incredibly sad but I know it’s a fact.
My Embarrassment Quickly Dissipated
I’m an intensely private person, particularly about my body. Yet over time, I have become less and less bothered about feeding my daughter in public (until more recently at least – see shock 10). My breasts are not ‘boobs’, for the time being they’re my daughter’s feeding vessel – functional, not sexy. If that offends someone, it says more about them than it does about me.
I am discreet, so if anybody is offended or turned on, they must be flat out staring. And that’s weirder and ruder than me breastfeeding.
Gobbing on the floor offends me, so guess what? I avert my eyes.
Extended Breastfeeding Offended My Greatest Champions
Some people I expected to fully support my pro-breastfeeding-beyond-6-months choice (based on their initial stance), have been nigh-on outraged that we’re still going strong. It’s sometimes hurtful and always ignorant, in my opinion.
Weaning (Off the Breast) Can be a Battle in Itself
Weaning is not simple. In my pre-educated oblivion, I thought it would be a smooth transition from nursing at every meal, to combined feeding, to fully weaned. Aha. Ha. HA.
Which brings us nicely on to:
Some Babies Are Averse to Weaning (Onto Food)
Breastfeeding is to (some) babies as cake is to (some) mummies. Or, in other words, they can’t seem to regulate themselves. In the same way that we sleep-deprived zombies subsist on caffeine (minimal – we’re breastfeeding) and sugar (maximal – we’re breastfeeding), our babies (mine at least) would exist solely on mummy’s nectar if allowed to do so. #breastfeedingfatigue
Breastfeeding Aversion is a ‘thing’. It’s barely happened to me, but sometimes when I am sore and cracked, I’ve found an understanding of it. Or, you know, when she’s woken up for the sixth time in the night and only a dummy nipple will do. Yes, I ‘get it’ then too.
Breastfeeding is Your Ticket to Solitude
And that doesn’t necessarily mean loneliness – it can be the most precious time.
It’s something nobody else will ever experience with your baby. And it’s your trump card for every challenging situation: the ready-made excuse for those hectic family visits when you just need five minutes peace; the method for quieting your hysterical baby like nothing else can; a way to reinforce the bond between you when you’re losing your patience; even a technique for reasserting yourself as the primary caregiver when necessary. #onlymummywilldo
Extended Breastfeeding Just Happens Sometimes
I somehow never quite expected to reach the six month milestone, but I blinked and it was upon us: time to consider weaning options. I’d given little thought to how long I’d nurse, with ‘for as long as it feels right’ being my stock answer to the impertinent question. It is still my stock answer because the truth is ‘I don’t know’.
I once thought I’d never go beyond 12 months; it’s been 14 already.
Breastfeeding a Toddler is Quite Different to Breastfeeding a Baby
Extended feeding in public is difficult – my daughter doesn’t believe in modesty for feeding implements. In fairness, I’m quite blatant about using a glass or a fork in public so I don’t really blame her. We have an ongoing battle between my choice of discretion versus her forced exhibitionism. She usually wins, so I try to avoid feeding during the day now.
Weaning is Tough on Mum Too…
Trying to cut back or stop altogether is tough. It’s natural to comfort our babies and breastfeeding is the king of comforting. It feels cruel to refuse them, particularly when they’re too young to understand and simply feel rejected.
But it’s Important to Know When Your Baby Needs to Wean
And yet, I have to acknowledge that to a degree, I am also guilty of holding on to this marvel, not quite ready to give it up.
Alas, as the mother I must ascertain who most needs it – me or her.
And when I determined that my daughter was ready to be weaned, I knew I must force the issue.
The Final Shock?
So I’ve begun the process. Having bought into the ‘Breast is Best’ school of thought so intently, the realisation that my daughter was ready dawned slowly.
Having been so defensive of nursing her while she still seeks me out, it’s been a humbling experience – I had to re-evaluate our circumstances: seeking me out was not in itself indication that she still needed to be breastfed.
At twelve months old, her sleep was at about its worst ever. She was waking after a maximum of 90 minutes at a time and we were both exhausted. She was clingy, she had no interest in food, and she was miserable. Something had to change.
Though she is undeniably ready (proven, I believe, by what follows), she doesn’t know or understand it well enough to instigate the necessary measures of her own accord. As with all things, she relies upon me to guide her. And of course, I must step up.
I do not advocate cry it out, so I knew it would be incredibly tough. Suffice to say, we have not looked back. It’s a work in progress, but – It. Is. Working.
As parents, exercising tough love is an inevitability we will face time and again; unfortunately, it’s one of the not-so-nice aspects of the job. I just didn’t expect it so soon – I was confident I was safe until I had to leave her at the school gate.
I am still humbled by the realisation that while nursing your infant can be the best possible start for them in life, there does come a time when it is no longer the pinnacle – and intervention may become necessary. It may not be the natural transition we hope for, and it’s essential that we recognise and implement the required changes. Breastfeeding is for their good, not ours.
Have you experienced any shocking breastfeeding revelations? Please comment below!
For more breastfeeding posts, head over to Breastfeeding – Help, Advice, Support.