Friday, January 24, 2014

Thoughts on extended breastfeeding

A year has come and gone, and as of tomorrow, our little man will be 14 months old.
I don't know how it happened, but in the blink of an eye he went from chunky 10-pounder to a lanky, completely mobile toddler.

And now Graham and I are at a place I was never at with my other two: 
still breastfeeding.

{As I am sure most of you know, Bailey never could nurse due to her cleft. 
And Avery quit at 11 months and some change, mostly because of her love of table food, but my pregnancy with Graham probably contributed as well. Either way nursing was a thing of the past by this stage of the game.}

It's an interesting thing nursing past a year...
In our culture here in the United States, a year seems to be the gold standard for breastfeeding. It's the ideal you hear talked about, the goal doctors mention as "best for baby." You nurse to a year and you've made it. You hit the target so you're done, right?
Not necessarily.

My goal with each breastfed kid has been a year.
But now I have reached that goal. And it isn't like the day before his birthday he is able to happily nurse away and the next he is cut off because he reached the year mark.
I haven't ever been one of those people who expressed a true desire to nurse past a year, it just kinda happened. And now that I am here, I am fine with it.

Nothing really changed for Graham and I. 
Yes, now that he is over a year, he eats more table foods. He doesn't nurse as often or for as long. (At this age he is a pro at sucking down a milky snack very quickly.) Once in a while he resorts to "acrobatic nursing" - which basically means he likes to try and nurse from every conceivable position: upside down, standing, you name it. (The kid is creative.) He will take a bottle or sippy cup with some of my freezer-stock pumped milk without protest. I can go quite a long time between feedings.

But it seems like the year mark changes things in some people's minds. 
I know many people think it is "weird." Like I will still be nursing him at age 10 if I don't stop right now. I think some worry that if I don't cut it off right here and now, I will become one of "those moms" that people -especially other mothers - tend to talk about. The ones who are breastfeeding their 5 year-old on a park bench. (No worries, that isn't my thing, but more power to those mamas!)

I get very annoyed with the suggestion that I am still breastfeeding in order to "keep him a baby" for longer. Believe me, if he didn't want to keep doing it, he wouldn't. Avery is a prime example of that. And I think all moms, especially those of us on our last baby, have a bit of a desire to savor these last "baby" moments. But that is not my reasoning for extended breastfeeding.

Even people who have been supportive in the past tend to get awkward and give off the "please tell me you're quitting soon" vibe. 
Have I thought about it? Yes. 
Would I like the freedom of not having to worry about nursing at all? Sure.
Am I excited at the thought of burning every piece of nursing-friendly clothing? Absolutely. 
Does that mean I am going to stop right now? Probably not
Breast milk still serves a purpose. It is good for him. And it is working for Graham and me and our family, and that is what counts. 

So when it comes down to it, 
how long will I continue to nurse?

Truthfully, I am not 100% sure. 
I am hoping he will self-wean, meaning he will just taper off naturally and decide for himself when he is done. From what I have read, many babies will do this by 15-18 months. By that stage, some kids will just nurse in the morning and/or at night. So it's not like this huge commitment I shudder to contemplate. 
If he wants to continue, I might let him up to 2 years old. Who's to say how I will feel in a few months? I might really, really be over it. Or I might feel fine continuing with 1 or 2 times a day. 

No matter what, it is a personal parenting choice. 
(Which usually means that everyone and their mom has their own opinions and feels the need to let you know what you "should" be doing...)
But when it comes down to it, I will be fine either way. 
Although a little self-weaning might enable me to burn those dreaded nursing tanks sooner than anticipated... :)

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