The nursing relationship that I share with my 19-month-old son is precious to my family. Growing up in a rather conservative mid-western environment, I saw women breastfeed their young babies until about six months, but I mostly remember babies being fed with bottles of formula or with cow's milk, not their own mother's expressed milk. From talking with my mom now, this was really a sign of the times. My mom remembers our pediatrician telling her that her breastmilk stopped being nutritious and beneficial after six months. Also, pumping or expressing her own milk was not something that she or other women in her circle did, or were made aware of. Cows milk with a little Karo (a brand name corn syrup) syrup was what she transitioned us off of the breast with in the 1960s and 70s when my brothers, sister and I were born.
I had only one example of extended breastfeeding (EB) in my younger years; I am unsure when that mother's babies were weaned or if she let them initiate the weaning processes. I do know that she was joked about by other women, whether she was to her face or not, she must have felt on some level that she was not supported in her mothering choices by some of the women in her life. And knowing what I do now about mothering, breastfeeding and community support, I consider this particular mother a person of great courage and someone who must have had an incredible sense of self to do what she knew was right, even when it was uncommon in her immediate community.
Unfortunately, the jokes and unfavorable opinion about extended nursing are what stuck with me throughout my childhood and 20s. I held onto these judgements as if they were my own until women my own age (in our 30s) began having babies. I watched my friends as they transformed into these educated, self-empowered mothers who made their breasts available to their little ones in a deeply mothering way that I had not seen before. Their breast-fed babies were settled quickly when they cried and they fell asleep peacefully at the breast. In fact, after being with these mothers and now being a mother myself, bottles seem to be the more challenging job and without the closeness and intimacy that a mother and baby need to flourish in their respective places within their families. Watching this new generation of mothers and babies showed me how perfectly designed we are as women to give our babies in this incredibly nurturing way. It set me right in my thinking. And in watching them, I knew in my bones that this is what I wanted for my own family if I was going to be blessed with a child.
My son was born in December 2010 and we were blessed that he was a solid nurser from the start. He went immediately to my breast after birth and over the first week, our home-birth midwife taught me many tricks during our in-home visits and care appointments. She taught me how to help him latch properly for his efficiency and to also keep my nipples free from hot spots and soreness. She shared not to use soaps in the beginning because even the mildest soaps will dry skin that was even more delicate now from changing hormones and a hungry little mouth. I followed other mothering friends' advice too; like applying lanolin before showering to keep chapping at bay. (My son nursed easily even with lanolin on, so do not be put off by the smell.) And as always, being proactive with careful steps means staying healthy and well so that you can mother your baby with more easiness, comfort and joy. I was thrilled when we made it through our first six months with no setbacks and my son was bright, alert and constantly gaining weight. His skin was clear and healthy, his body was strong and gorgeously round.
I know some women would prefer to teach themselves to breastfeed, noting what works and what doesn't and adapting from there. I tend to fall into this category myself for most things, but learning to breastfeed with other mothers (my midwife and my momma friends) was ideal for me for many reasons. As new mothers, we need community and loving support more than ever before. Our hearts being wide open so that we may bond with our child is an incredible gift that needs to be honored with respect and tender loving care. I have seen mothers who had given up nursing (some with heartbreaking reluctance) after meeting with a challenging start, so I wanted the best start possible for me and my son in the hopes that we wean when we were both ready, and not before.
If you feel like extended breastfeeding and nursing is the right choice for you and your child, I encourage you to build a community around you who will support you in that choice. Seek out other mothers who are already doing it in your own community, be it immediate or online. I feel like I have learned so much about "breastfeeding" and the natural progression to "nursing" that happened for me and my son early on. (That might be a future blog topic right there: Nursing, Breastfeed and How We Relate to Both.)
Because I had some of my own conditioned obstacles I was working with, and because I was concerned that I would get push back about nursing my son longer than many do, I initially loaded up on "facts" and studies and statistics on why what I was doing was important and medically supported. I want to encourage others to not let themselves get too fixed or harden in this. I have a degree in integrative physiology/pre-med, so I understand how much stock others put into statistics and studies, even in poorly executed or biased studies. Many people want numbers or another person to tell them what is right for themselves. I understand this position because I came from this position, but I no longer share this. Instead I look to what is working for me and family and follow this. I also trust in and let my son's natural state of wellness lead the way, and I seek professional care (our pediatric MD, our licensed midwife, etc.) when I come up against a stubborn obstacle.
I have softened quite a bit over the last year because I realized that being geared up to educate or defend the benefits of EB was actually taking away from the joy and benefit of EBing with my son. I do still have one educational come-back lined up just in case I am in the mood; and that is that the World Health Organization (WHO)
position that "exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond." WHO also recommends that children are breastfeed until two years or longer in developing countries. But for the rest of it, that has completely given way to a joyful satisfaction in my son and my own mothering. I let the praise that others offer my husband and me on our son's health and his friendly, happy nature speak for what we do together as a family.
Look for support in your immediate community: through friends and family, mothering groups who gather together (and nurse together), and to your local Le Leche League
. If you are need of supportive online resources, I like these that are on Facebook:
You Can Breastfeed Here
The Leaky B@@B
and of course, our very own,Boba Facebook page