Breastfeeding: Why I Did It For As Long As I Did
“You're still breastfeeding?”
“I don't know how you do it!”
“Don't you think he's a little too old to be nursing?”
“Don't you want some freedom?”
These are some of the things that have been said to me by well-meaning friends and family when they found out I was breastfeeding my oldest until he was 18 months and my second for 22 months. I understand that it is difficult for people who have never breastfed (for example, men or women who do not have children) to comprehend why one would willingly nurse for longer than a few months or a year.
I am not a crunchy mama. I do not claim to subscribe to theory or practices of attachment parenting, though I have co-slept, worn my baby around my body, and breastfed exclusively for an extended period of time. All that I've done with both my children does not come from a place of belief in any one parenting style. It comes from a simple philosophy that I apply to all aspects of my life: I do the best that I can within circumstances (or within parenting) that I am given.
My firstborn was very good at nursing. He latched with no problems, and I had no milk-supply issues. It just happened as naturally and simply as one could wish for. He rejected the bottle outright and repeatedly. A lot of pumped milk was wasted because he hated bottle-feeding. I tried different bottle nipples, different places in the house, various family members tried feeding him in my stead—every attempt failed. Even starting solids at 6 months did not deter his enthusiasm for breastfeeding. To my son, breast was indeed best.
Ironically, weaning him at 18 months was a more painful process for me than him, both emotionally and physically. I'd long given up the hope that he would both breast and bottle feed. I decided to go with the flow and let him take the lead in weaning. He did not. I had to make a decision when our co-sleeping and breastfeeding (these two things did go hand in hand with us, especially in the middle of the night) resulted in him waking up every 90 minutes, and me, barely surviving on tiny pockets of sleep, nothing more than an hour at a time for months on end. The decision to wean him and move him to his own bed had to happen simultaneously. Within a week, he had stopped nursing and was sleeping through the night on his own. The relief of sleep was palpable for both of us.
My second child loved breastfeeding, too, though he slept in his crib. For him, it was the emotional and physical attachment. He came to me (and my boobs) for comfort when he was upset. When you're 1, that happens a lot. He was walking, talking, and running by 18 months. He was eating well, and he was sleeping through the night, yet he still wanted to nurse. It was of nutritional value mostly to his soul. How could I say no? But I had to when he was nearly 2. His dependence was bordering on unreasonable, because by then, he was able to regulate his emotions better—he didn't really need my breasts to comfort him. I could hold him, talk to him, and hug him to make him feel better. He knew that, and I did, too. Thus began a three-day weaning process that saw tantrums of epic proportions on day one, negotiations on day two, and a totally calm day the next. We were done. He was done.
I got my boobs back.
So why did I breastfeed for so long? Because it was necessary for us, easier for me, and because we could. I do not wish that time away.
How long did you breastfeed for?