Reflections on Extended Breastfeeding {One Mother’s Journey}

by Mama Bice on May 27, 2013

Today I was struck by the beauty of my breastfeeding relationship with my son. The light filtered through the window after our nap, the new crisp white sheets I had just put on the bed felt heavenly and looked so pure. My son’s hair – a golden blond – was moving in the breeze from the window and shining like a halo. The moment was perfect. Peaceful.

Then my 2 and 1/2 year old decided the moment was too calm. He blew “raspberries” on me, pushed himself off like a diver, and proceeded to totally rip apart the freshly made bed by playing a mixture of peek-a-boo and “ghost”.

And the moment was still perfect.

When I was pregnant with my son, the first dream I had was about breastfeeding. In the dream, I looked down at the child at my breast and said, “I love you son.” When we eventually had the 20 week scan and found out the sex of our baby, they didn’t even have to tell me – I knew I had a son inside my womb. That dream was too clear and perfect to be wrong.

If that dream being my first – and recurrent – dream is any indication then it should be easy to see that I was looking forward to breastfeeding. I knew that my mother had breastfed me. It was just what I was going to do and there was no question in my mind. Thank goodness my husband also totally accepted this reality – he was breastfed and viewed it as normal. And so, we prepared for the journey. Bought books, breast pump, lanolin, nursing pads and bras.

The start of our breastfeeding relationship was tough. Mastitis, thrush, tongue tie, bad latch, a very small baby and very large breast, overactive letdown, and Raynaud’s Syndrome/vasospasms. It was an adventure! Some days I wanted to give up – I think we all have those moments. I set a goal – six months. Six months and I would see how I felt. By six months it was a no-brainer and things were now easy and I didn’t have to think about breastfeeding. I was pumping to donate and had more than enough for my son. I set my next goal – a year.

9 Months

As the one year mark approached things were still easy and my son was still nursing often. I was not sure how I would feel about nursing past a year – after all, wasn’t that “weird?” Yet when my son turned one I realized that nothing changed. He was still the same kid, still my baby. He still obviously needed – and wanted – to breastfeed. It was our cure-all. Bumped heads, upset tummy, teething, picky eater days – anything and everything was cured by the “boob”.

As my son approached his second birthday, we moved cross country. My husband had already moved to our new state several months before and we finally got to follow behind in our moving truck – just me and the kiddo on a three day drive. Needless to say, the upheaval of those 6+ months was made much easier by having the home base of breastfeeding. My son felt safe there. It was the one constant in his life. Cuddles, breastmilk, quiet.

21 Months

Suddenly my son was two years old, I was pregnant with our second child, and he was still nursing. Without thinking about it I had been on the journey of “extended breastfeeding” – though I now think of it as full-term breastfeeding. It feels too natural to consider it an extension of a deadline.

We nursed through the worst of my second HG (hyperemesis gravidarum) pregnancy. The nursing connection helped my son and I feel a little better about the fact that I was basically on bed rest for months. I may not have been able to get up and play with him the way he wanted me to, but he could crawl into bed and watch a movie and nurse. It brought peace to the hell that was HG.

Now I am starting to feel much better, and it seems that my son’s need for connection in that way grows less as I am able to do more with him again. He now only nurses every few days, usually in the morning or after a particularly bad bump or fall. I never know if “this time” will be the last time. There is something bittersweet about knowing that he will be the one to end this phase of our mother/child relationship. But also something joyful is there – a job well done, a road that was traveled to the very end.

Today in the beauty of that peaceful moment in the crisp white bed with a spring breeze blowing in, I reflected. I reflected on my first dream and thoughts about nursing – “I love you son.” I reflected on the hard days. The days and nights with tears running down my cheeks from the pain of vasospasms in my nipples. The mastitis and thrush. I reflected on the moments when I was at my breaking point with toddler antics and suddenly he crawled into my lap and signed “milk” (his way of asking to nurse since about 10 months).

I reflected on the essence of mothering that nursing has represented to my son and I.

You see, I can defend our choice to continue breastfeeding all day long. I can point you to scientific evidence and studies. I can point you to the statements of major health organizations stating that there are no ill effects – physical or psychological – to extended breastfeeding. I could go on and on about the benefits.

But here are my thoughts at the end of the day:

This relationship has become an integral part of my mothering skill set. It has helped give me confidence when the going was tough and I was not sure I was cut out to be a mom. It has helped my son through upheaval and sickness. It has given him – and continues to give – a “home base” that never changes. The roof over our head may have changed many times in his two years of life, but his physical and emotional home remained the same.

This is not just about the nutrients and scientific studies. This is about the emotions as well. I am not supposed to admit that nursing is about me too. But it is. It is about both people and it is a relationship. It has give and take. It has ups and downs. It is the first place that a child learns patience and manners. It is a place that a mother can learn confidence and peace. For me, it completes a circle РI grew this life within me and I continue to grow it outside of me.

One day, soon most likely, it will be the last time he ever nurses. I won’t know until a week or more later. Then I will suddenly think about it one morning and try to count the days since he was last at the breast. And I won’t be able to. It will simply be done. No fan fare. No weaning needed. It will simply¬† be the end of one chapter that rolled into the next, like a great book you can not put down.

***A few weeks after writing this piece, my son totally weaned. He just turned 3 and is a wonderfully well adjusted and bright little boy. He now insists that I feed his new little brother all the time, any time he cries or makes a funny face. He still knows that nursing is the cure for everything! Thank you for all the kind comments on this story – it means the world to me that my words were able to touch on the emotions and intentions of others.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Jess May 27, 2013 at 11:20 am

What a beautiful story. My son just turned 14mo and I hope we can wean just how you are describing, whenever he is ready. Thankfully we have no end in sight. This gave me more confidence in our path, our bond, and our journey. I love nursing so much. Thank you for sharing!

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Katie J May 27, 2013 at 2:45 pm

How wonderfully worded! I’m so glad I read this. Both my girls quit breastfeeding at 10 mo, and I could never breastfeed my son because he had a lip tie, so I had to pump his entire first year. Now, I’m pregnant with number four, and I’m hoping and praying that with my determination and knowledge, we can have a long and healthy breastfeeding relationship. My goals have always been one year. I will of course try for that again, but am really hoping for at least two years! Stories like this are such an inspiration. Thank you for your encouragement.

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Kristin May 27, 2013 at 3:37 pm

I love this! I am nursing my 17 month old down for his nap and crying as I read this. I always knew I would nurse past a year, but 18 months was was good in my mind. We are quickly coming up to that and I can’t see either of us ready to be done any time soon. I do get asked when I will stop and I just keep saying “we’ll see” because it is too hard to imagine him not wanting to or me forcing him to stop. I may have to have my family read this!

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Jana May 27, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Oh the difficulties of nursing with big boobs and a small baby. I wish more mamas talked about it, because it was one more thing to juggle when we were learning to nurse.

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Mama Bice May 27, 2013 at 4:06 pm

The cross-cradle hold was the only thing that worked for us until we got down side-lying nursing. It enabled me to hold my breast up for supporting the latch. It is definitely something that takes some working around.

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emma May 27, 2013 at 4:02 pm

tears to my eyes. :)
my daughter is 8 months and as I look back I can’t believe we’re here and still going, I used to want to quit and now I dread the day she will stop. I do know a tiny part of my heart will break but also be so proud because she’s growing up.
I hope I get the opportunity to feed her as long as you have (and continue to) feed your son.

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Claire May 27, 2013 at 4:27 pm

My daughter (when she finally got to at 3 days old) latched and nursed with no problem, other than yes, big boobs and a small baby, and we had a wonderful experience for the short time it lasted. She weaned herself at 11 months, and has had no need for the ‘boob’ since then. And yes, it was bittersweet, but I am glad I was able to give her what she needed, wanted, for as long as she wanted. She is now 21 months! So glad we can share and converse on what should be one of the norms of child rearing. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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Jessica May 27, 2013 at 5:08 pm

I was wondering what you did to relieve the pain of vasospasms? I had them quite a few times and because of other difficulties I had to stop after 2 mo. Because of other stories and yours I am more determined next time around to keep trying. However I haven’t found many people with vasospasms to ask how they helped relieved the pain. Love your story!

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Mama Bice May 27, 2013 at 5:39 pm

Jessica – prevention and learning to muscle through it. Prevention for me was a lot of “warming”. I had to keep my breast warm and avoid sudden cold air or water. After my son would unlatch (and the cold air hit my nipple) was when it was the worst. I learned to quickly cover my breast with my warm hand and then put my bra and shirt back up. In the early days when it was the worst, keeping a warm rice pack or one of those gel nursing packs that you can heat helped a lot. The other part was “muscling through it”…just sort of gritting my teeth and ignoring it as much as I could. By six months the spasms were gone.

They start (for me) in pregnancy, so I already have them again right now (I am 26 weeks with our second child), but they hit randomly and are not related to nursing my son. So I just have to grit my teeth through those spasms if they happen away from the house where I can’t put heat on it quickly.

Have faith that you can nurse longer next time! Support and education are key. Since you have experience now and know what issues you had last time, that will help a lot. ((Hugs))

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Stephanie May 27, 2013 at 5:16 pm

Such a beautiful and touching story. Oh how I miss that sweet relationship. My “baby” is now 7.5 and nursed for the last time nearly 6 years ago (in Aug.). I nursed all 4, getting longer with each one. I wish I’d had the strength and perseverance to continue with my oldest. I’d had a horrible labor followed by c/s, followed by latch issues etc. We made it 2.5 weeks before I gave in. I look back now and wish I hadn’t, but lots of lessons learned. #2 weaned at 11-ish months, he was too busy following his big brother around to bother. #3, we made it to 19 months and I gently weaned him when I was pregnant with #4 because I couldn’t bear the sensitive nipples. Then sweet baby girl, 21 months of a beautiful nursing relationship. I treasure it all.

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Jessie - Rabid Little Hippy May 27, 2013 at 8:07 pm

I too am breastfeeding a little blonde man and he’s nearly 22 months old. My first I fed for 3 months and not knowing better we “bunged him on a bottle” to help him sleep through, just to top him up and the bottle was easier than the breast which was the end of that. Our daughter I fed for 8 months although I had supply issues which I fought against but after a traumatic labour and 2 bouts of gastro I ran out of milk. Our 3rd has been my healing baby in every way. Extended breastfeeding, easy homebirth labour after 2 opiate hospital births, 2 rounds of severe ante-natal depression and 2 bouts of extended post partum depression. Our 3rd was born with no meds, I suffered no antenatal or post partum depression and although my supply is dwindling and he has some bottles (I was proud to make it to 12 months exclusive breastmilk) we are still breastfeeding for all the same reasons as you. It’s a wonderful gift to us both and one I, like you am in no hurry to give up. When he weans there will be rejoicing at having my body back to myself but sadness too that the one and only thing that only I could give our son is finished.

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Cady May 28, 2013 at 11:07 am

This had me in tears. :’) I enjoy my breastfeeding relationship with my daughter SO much! I’ve had people tell me I really shouldn’t nurse her as often as I do (Since she was about 2 months old people have been telling me to cut back…she’s nine months old now)…and I would think…Well why?! She likes it. I like it. We bond, and it makes the hard times worth it to look down at my precious little girl and think: Oh! So worth it! =] To look in her eyes and see her smack her little lips is so near and dear to my heart. It’s like she’s saying: You’re a good momma. You’re my momma. And I love you. <3

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Casey Beck May 30, 2013 at 10:40 pm

Oh my goodness! Why would anyone tell you that? Cut back at two months? Blasphemy. Only she or you can say when to cut back or wean. Its interesting to me how people think their opinion on the matter should carry any weight at all with anyone but themselves. Best of luck to you. I’m currently 39 weeks pregnant with my second and am still nursing my 21month old.

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Erica May 28, 2013 at 11:07 am

Beautiful. I think this is the best piece I have ever read about breastfeeding.

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Tami May 28, 2013 at 11:16 am

You penned my feelings exactly. Thanks for that. I nursed 7 babies, some weaned themselves earlier then others, some nursed until past 2 years and our final baby nursed until after she turned 3. I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything. It bonded us all, and fulfilled a place in my heart I could never explain to another. Enjoy those moments yourself, a treasure for a lifetime!

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ethel lijoi May 28, 2013 at 11:29 am

I needed a tissue :-) Still nursing at 16 months and wonder when he will decide he is done. Some days I think it is getting close, then a day later I am reminded how much he needs our time. Its hard to believe how fast the time does go and before you know it your lap looks little as your child grows. I <3 nursing!!!

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June Trieb May 28, 2013 at 11:44 am

This was beautifully written. Kudos to you, for following your heart, and not giving a care to what others might think. I had no plans, whatsoever, regarding how long we would nurse. I do remember trying to get my 16 month-old to fall asleep without nursing, as I thought that perhaps it was time to gently start weaning him. After an exhausting hour and a half of reading, singing lullabies, and rocking, I gave up, and nursed him to sleep. It was so easy! Nursing went on for months and months after that. Twenty, to be exact. When he was a toddler, it was mostly upon waking up, at nap time, and before bed. When my daughter came along, she was not a high-need baby, as my son had been. I probably could have weaned her sooner, but I didn’t want to deny her the same emotional benefits that I had given my son, so we stretched it out as well. I even put a date on the calender (July 4th–her day of independence!). She would ask me how many days until the 4th, and so it went, until that day, and she happily “gave it up”. (Hopefully they will not see this post. There is a fair amount of denial about how long they nursed. They are pretty convinced that I have my dates all wrong ;) )

Thanks for sharing your beautiful story!

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Kaley May 28, 2013 at 1:43 pm

Wow, wow, wow! So beautifully written. I feel you described my heart and attitude toward my nursing relationship with all of my babies in a way I cant. Thank you for sharing!!!

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Dina May 28, 2013 at 4:17 pm

I didnt get to nurse my first. With my second we are hapily breast feeding and i refuse to force him to stop. Many people do consider one year to be the max amount of time. However, every child is different and i will allow my boy to nurse as long as he needs to. I am even ok with him nursing randomly when he is older and sees a younger sibling nursing if that is what he needs. We are only at 6 months and i am so happy to be a breast feeding mommy! Good for you for going all the way to the end!

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Kory May 30, 2013 at 1:20 am

Beautiful, thank you for sharing. I am now nursing two sweet little ones as my middle child is not ready to give up her boob yet :) She is 22m and my little man is nearly 2m. I was only ale to nurse my oldest part time due to serious supply issues, but we nursed pt until she was 5m. It made me so sad that she was done so early and I’ve been really grateful for the ability to exclusively breastfeed the other two.

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Heather May 30, 2013 at 10:17 am

Beautiful post! I like what you said about six month goals – that is how it is for me at almost a year now. Just taking it one step at a time. It is also my solution for when he hurts himself!

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Mama Bice May 31, 2013 at 12:38 am

Thank you to everyone for the kind comments. I am touched that this post touched so many of you.

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Marissa Roth May 31, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Thanks for writing this. I am still breastfeeding my 18 month old daughter and sometimes feel as though I’m ready to stop, but then a moment like this takes place, when I feel an intense peace while she is at my breast, and I pray that I can hold onto that feeling forever….

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Eliza June 4, 2013 at 10:43 am

Wonderful story! I really don’t hear many advocates for long term breast feeding, which is a bit of a shame.
My mother breast fed myself and both my younger sisters (both births I was present at, the youngest a home birth). Both of my sisters weaned themselves around 2, but I was a steady nurser until 3. My mom says she thinks it’s one of the reasons we’re so close, and always have been even through the teenage years and blue hair lol. I may be taller than my mom by a few good inches, but I still feel as safe in her arms now as I remember feeling as a young child. I think breast feeding was definitely a part of creating our bond and am very much looking forward to breast feeding my own children one day.

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Lesli Mitchell November 9, 2013 at 8:59 pm

Hi! I just wanted to share my new book with you/your group as it is now available on Amazon in the bookstore and also on Kindle. I night weaned my daughter at 18 months and then day weaned her at around 3 years old. I wrote this book to have a gentle way to wean her and to help her understand why I needed to wean (need for sleep) and also what some of the hard parts and benefits might be for her. It is a colorful book and I am happy to contribute it to the extended breastfeeding community. Thanks!
Lesli Mitchell, MSW, (LCSW)-inactive stay at home mom

http://www.amazon.com/Sally-Weans-Night-Nursing-Mitchell/dp/1483933830

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Dejah Danger November 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

Such a beautiful story. It’s funny, but my first dream of my baby, and all the dreams after, were of me breastfeeding him; looking down at his tiny face and feeling such peace and joy. I breastfed my oldest child for a mere three weeks. Complications, PPD, and being too young, too alone, contributed it to the untimely end of our breastfeeding relationship. I took that discouragement to my next child, and didn’t even try to breastfeed. Six years later, when my second son was born, I was so much more ready, so prepared, and all the dreams I had of breastfeeding this little life inside me made it so easy to step right into that role when he was born.

Your tale is exactly what I want. We love breastfeeding, and I’m happy to admit that it’s extremely beneficial to me as well as my baby boy. Thank you for sharing your beautiful story. It was a joy to read and it made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside; it even brought a tear. XOXO

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lilmamabear November 10, 2013 at 8:29 pm

Wow. What a touching read. Thank you for expressing just how I feel when I breast feed. Your words are truly genuine and inspiring. I hope I can breast feed my angel for as long as possible. Its such an emotionally bonding experience. The expression in her eyes as she gazes up at me, I feel like I am so honoured to be sharing this with her.

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Carrie November 11, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Beautiful! Thank you for sharing. I am often asked how long I will breastfeed my daughter, and I feel protective of that information. Seeing it as the journey you describe helps me through those times, pain, and sleepless nights. Many thanks!

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