Thursday, December 20, 2012

On Breastfeeding Beyond the First 12 Months and Simple LIves

We're having our own little snowmageddon over here, so I'm going to try to keep this short and get back to baking cookies and staring out the window at the blowing snow.
As I wrote in my breastfeeding post, the initiation of our breastfeeding relationship was not without its struggles.  After the first two months I was able to occasionally feed without pain, but I wouldn't say that became consistent at all for at least another two or three months.
Around six months we started adding solid foods to Ellie's diet, which is the beginning of the weaning process. She was quite open to food from the beginning but it by no means reduced the amount of breastfeeding we were doing.  I had heard of mothers weaning around the six or eight month mark, but I just couldn't imagine it.  We had really just started getting good at it, so I couldn't imagine giving it up, especially only to switch to formula.  We kept on truckin, and are still going strong, so today I'd like to tell you about how our relationship has changed over these 12 months and some obstacles we've overcome along the way.  My hope is twofold: 1) to normalize toddler breastfeeding (I have only a couple friends who breastfed this long) and 2) to help share information with other moms so that they might have longer breastfeeding relationships if they so choose.

To make it this far, there were a few obstacles that we had to overcome.

    • Work.  I am working so I have still been pumping at work.  This is a choice every mother must make.  Beyond the first year many mothers choose to stop pumping at work and to give their child bottles or cups of cow milk while they're separated.  We don't routinely drink cows milk for a variety of reasons and Eleanor just wasn't interested in it when we repeatedly offered it to her.  I am very lucky to have ample time and access to a pumping room equipped with a hospital-grade pump at work, along with a freezer to store milk after I pump it.  Since it's convenient I've been able to keep up a pumping routine that addresses all of Ellie's milk needs while we are apart. 
    • Teeth.  Ellie has six teeth. I was so worried that we would have major problems when she got her first tooth around 10 months. I had heard of women weaning after the first tooth. I was especially worried given how much pain I'd been in the early days. Luckily we have never had a problem. She has lightly bitten me before but never out of meanness, usually only out of boredom.  We deal with biting by ending the session. I learned not to react in any way but to just assume that meant she didn't want to feed anymore. 
    • Other people.  Honestly this has been a non-issue but I do know some mothers have to deal with people asking why they're *still* breastfeeding their toddler. I have gotten 0 negative feedback about continuing to breastfeed Ellie so I've never had to justify what we're doing, but I'm more than prepared to.  As my friend Maggie says, the easiest thing to say is just "we do what works for us.

How she has changed.
Ellie's personality related to breastfeeding completely changed after 12 months.  (Actually the big change was a bit earlier than that.  At my yearly follow up with the midwife, she told me that she advises moms who want to wean after 12 months to wean at 11 instead.)

    • Emotional.  Breastfeeding used to be totally utilitarian for Ellie. She was not interested in sucking for comfort and I couldn't keep her at the breast unless she was going to get in a real feeding, and even then her attention span was limited.  Now Ellie's attachment to feeding is very emotional.  She needs to breastfeed when she's hungry but she also needs it when she's upset or hurt. If she has fallen down and hurt herself, she will sometimes ask to nurse (she signs "milk" for nursing).  Thankfully this isn't her only reaction to being hurt. Sometimes she just wants to cry on her own, others she wants a hug.  She almost never falls asleep while breastfeeding but when we've been out for the day and she's in her car seat, nursing will help her relax and drift off.  
      • It helps that at this age Ellie understands enough language that I can talk to her about breastfeeding. I can say "not right now" and she understands. This has reduced our public breastfeeding, which was almost at 0 anyway because she's such a distracted nurser.  
    • Physical.  If you've ever breastfed a toddler you can guess what I'm going to talk about. Getting a little person to hold still can be a challenge to say the least. Ellie still likes to be held in cradle position sometimes but often just sits on my lap and leans forward.  She does the occasional standing-while-feeding pose, but mostly we nurse before naps and bed (I'd say we nurse seven times a day or so, including some night feeding) so she's usually happy to cuddle and relax.  I am so thankful for these snuggly times. She's so busy these days that I rarely get the time to just sit and stare into her eyes. If for no other reason I'm thankful that we're still breastfeeding for these times. I will be incredibly sad when they're gone.

How I have changed.

    • Emotional.  My emotional relationship with breastfeeding has always been pretty good but it has become even more relaxed these days.  When she hit the 12 month mark I felt like a big burden was lifted off my shoulders because she would never need formula. This isn't because I think formula is evil or terrible but I set the initial goal of getting to that point and it was a victory when I did.   As I mentioned above, having such a rough beginning made nursing precious to us. I still look down at her sometimes and think "wow, we are really doing this!" with amazement. I know it will be over before we know it so I'm doing my best to enjoy every feeding, even in the middle of the night.
    • Physical.  I mentioned before that I dropped to my pre-pregnancy weight after a few months. The number on the scale was the same but I did lose a lot of muscle mass during pregnancy.  After 12 months I lost even more weight and now a lot of my clothes don't fit. I suspect that my body was holding on to some extra fat since Ellie was eating so much and has let it go now that she's eating less. My body's shape (especially my breasts...) is not the same but I've never been in a better place mentally with how I look.  Looking at this body and knowing that it carried her and continues to feed her makes it difficult to be so judgmental about how it compares to societal ideals.  I appreciate my body now more than ever.  It's important for me to keep this energy and share it with Ellie.
All in all, I am thrilled with where our breastfeeding relationship stands now.  We got here through a combination of luck and hard work and I suspect we won't be weaning any time soon, but I'm going to let Ellie tell me what to do.  Since we've has it so good so far, anything that happens from here on out is ok by me. 
Tell me, did you nurse your little one beyond a year? What was it like for you?  Mamas, do you or did you have a breastfeeding goal? 

Finally, it's time for Simple Lives!  Please be sure to link back to this post when you link up so we can pick your post for next week's featured posts.

kale soup
1. Caldo Verde (Portuguese kale soup) by I Believe in Butter. "Caldo verde is a very tasty soup, so easy to make, and also easy to turn in to your own specialty." dreamstime_3143609
2. 10 Ways to Strengthen Your Immune System by Small Footprint Family. "Considering that communicable diseases like colds and flu are highly contagious and have no cure other than to run their course, your best bet is to prevent becoming ill in the first place." Roasted-Garlic
3. How to Make Roasted Garlic by Real Food Freaks. "If you have never made roasted garlic, you are totally missing out! I love the depth and richness that roasted garlic brings to food."


Vanessa said...

She's a beautiful little girl! Our goal is to just make it through every day as it's a blessing way beyond what some others have experienced. I learn every day and hope to be able to help at least one person through all the obstacles and make their own personal goal. Love to read your posts!

Alicia said...

Vanessa, thank you for your comment! And I agree completely that every day is a gift. It's easy to take it for granted because we do it so frequently, but it's incredibly special and in the scope of their long lives, it's just a blink.
You are so right that sharing our journeys can help others, and that's why I write about mine here. Thank you again for chiming in!

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