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Reflections on Extended Breastfeeding {One Mother’s Journey}

Reflections on Extended Breastfeeding {One Mother’s Journey}

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 – I 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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