I'm writing this post in a hotel room, a Medela breastpump attached to my right breast as I try to relieve myself of the pressure of a full day of not breastfeeding. I have spent the past two days away from my 18month old son. This is the first time I have properly been away from him and the first time I've really ever used a breast pump also. I am counting down the hours until I get to scoop him up in my arms, kiss, cuddle him and reconnect with breastfeeding.
If you have been a reader of my blog for a while you will know that for the first few months of Wilf's life I found breastfeeding a torturous and heartbreaking experience. I struggled though mastitis, working on technique, gritting teeth and from around three months something clicked and by six months there was no way I could even consider stopping. The shock of first time motherhood, the extreme exhaustion, the adjustment to your new life and all it brings can sometimes leave you feeling a little down. I found breastfeeding in those days not only helped me slow down and connect with my baby but it gave me what my friends I would describe as 'motherhood MDNA' there is really no feeling quite like it.
Knowing at six months that there was no way either Wilf or I were ready to stop breastfeeding I decided that there was no need to put a limit on the amount of time we would carry on until but simply see how long we both were happy with the situation. 18 months on and it is still such a privilege to be connecting with my child in this way.
I told some of my readers I would be taking part in the 'Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt' and asked if they had any questions on what it was like to breastfeed beyond a year. My friend Ashley came up with some great questions that I thought I would address here, these are only my opinions on the situation though of course.
What does he drink during meals? - Water, pure and simple
How do you maintain your supply? - I found this a perplexing question, I have never worried about maintaining my supply. Perhaps due to the fact I was one of those women with the milk cannon boobs in the early days of breastfeeding but in reality it's not something I've ever thought about or even heard any one talk about. Wilf will sometimes go through phases of breastfeeding only twice a day or he will breastfeed ten time a day, my body is a clever clogs and produces exactly the amount he needs for what he needs. I was amazed to hear that your milk will even change according to the weather, if it is a hot day you will have watery milk to keep your child refreshed! It is a common mistake to think you have a low supply because your breasts feel empty, they may feel empty but production is constantly occurring. Amazing right?
How many times a day do you feed him? - Completely depends on the day, no day is the same. Somedays he may need some more reassurance perhaps and we bond over nursing. It is no longer about sustenance so much rather than an emotional bond for us both. That being said of course there are still huge health benefits to continuing to breastfeed for an 'extended' time.
What if you have to leave him for a weekend? - This will be the first time in 18 months that I have left Wilf over night (and two nights too boot!) I have borrowed my friends electric pump, however the days have felt very uncomfortable in parts. I am not used to not having a toddler around to drain them! I also feel like two nights were a little too long to be separated from him, although this of course changes with the individual.
Do you pump? - I tried to pump a couple of times in the first 6 months or so but I could never produce more than 2 oz, again this is why pumping can seem very misleading in terms of supply worry (as asked in the above questions). I am not very good a pumping but I know I have a huge amount of milk. We never found this an issue as we simply took Wilf everywhere we went. After six months or so (when he was mobile!) we left him a couple of times for maybe two or three hours and since a year I have of course left him with Tom for an afternoon with no issue.
Has wilf stayed interested on his own or do you have to go in a dark room with no distractions? - Wilf has certainly gone through phases of being distracted. Around 5 months or so and then again perhaps at nine months. During this time I would have to try not to engage in conversation for the 5 minutes or so that he was nursing but nothing to the extent of having to leave the room. I think babies/toddlers tend to go through phases like this during developmental stages but it does not mean they are no longer interested in nursing. In terms of staying interested he certainly asks for 'boo boo' more than it is offered but for example if he had hurt himself or had a bad dream I would offer him a feed for comfort.
Breastfeeding a toddler is not without its hurdles however, at 18 months we are experiencing our first case of 'separation anxiety' because of which his feeds have upped massively. I am starting to feel like some boundaries need to be drawn to ensure it is an enjoyable experience for us both and also discovering that perhaps it does not need to be the answer for all things. I often find Wilf asking to nurse when he has gotten bored of whatever activity we are perusing, which is fine as long as its not every half hour! This I think is the first tricky experience i've encountered in our breastfeeding journey since he was three months old. We are learning together how to create a situation we are mutually comfortable with!
The times in which both myself and Tom have been thankful for breastfeeding are when Wilf is sick, albeit we have been hugely lucky in that these times have been few and far between. When Wilf had a 24 sickness bug it was such a relief to know that through nursing he was replenishing all his vitamins and keeping re hydrated. Again when we have been out for longer than expected or in a situation where snacks are not immediately available it is incredibly handy to have a mobile food source (me!) to hand to make sure he is never left hungry. It is a fact of course that breastfeeding offers many health benefits but that is not why I/we continue to do so. We do so because we both still find it an enjoyable experience, with any big change (Wilf has just started two days at nursery) it is a fantastic way to connect.