Monday, February 20, 2012

Extended Breastfeeding

My little man will be 18 months this month and I'm still breastfeeding him twice a day- first thing in the morning and at bedtime.

A variety of things have influenced this decision, but I don't have a lot of people I talk to about it so I thought I'd write about it.

Reasons for Extended Breastfeeding

  1. You like it. Breastfeeding has been a great experience for me. Granted, it took a heck of a lot of power pumping sessions at first to build up my milk supply, the worry of him not gaining enough weight and a visit to a local lactation consultant to get us to where breastfeeding was working and then a few more months until it was enjoyable. I was convinced I was going to breastfeed and I worked my butt off to do so. It did not come easy for me. It hurt like crazy, plus I was starting my first year as a PhD student the week after he was born and wasn't around the house full-time. I wanted to do it and I made myself like it. I thought I'd be done at 6 months, but then I kept going. I then thought I'd be done at 12 months and kept going. He's now 18 months and I'm debating weaning, but we'll see what happens. Breastfeeding has been a wonderful experience since I'm gone 10-20 hours a week with school and work. It means I get special quiet time with my boy every day!
  2. Your baby likes it.  Since Aidan was in the NICU with tubes for a couple weeks, it took a while for him to figure out how to draw the milk back and swallow, but once he figured it out, he loved it. He'd go through stages where he wouldn't take a bottle because he liked breastfeeding so much. It was a compliment at times and at other times I just wanted to get out of the house and go on a date and know he'd drink out of the bottle. Aidan doesn't ask for mama's milk or tug at my shirt or anything so it's been a good system for us. It's so awesome to be feeding him and have him look up at me with his big blue eyes. I also love that when he's sick or really upset, I know I can rely on him wanting to breastfeeding even if he doesn't want anything else.
  3. Your husband is supportive. My husband has been absolutely amazing in supporting me breastfeeding. His take was "Duh, wouldn't we want to do what's best for our baby? I'll help you however I can." There were times that I wanted to give up. I was exhausted from doing most of the feedings. I felt like the odd one out with my friends since most had stopped breastfeeding before their baby was one and most used formula. I felt like I wasn't sexy anymore. This has taken time to get used to, but I honestly now believe that he thinks I'm sexy and likes my breasts just as much as he did before I was using them to feed our baby boy. He has been so great in cheering me on! He always says the best things about breastfeeding, does his own research and is willing to support whatever I want.
  4. The research supports extended breastfeeding.
  • "In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides: 29% of energy requirements, 43% of protein requirements, 36% of calcium requirements, 75% of vitamin A requirements, 76% of folate requirements, 94% of vitamin B12 requirements,60% of vitamin C requirements" (Dewey, 2001)
  • Some doctors may feel that nursing will interfere with a child's appetite for other foods. Yet there has been no documentation that nursing children are more likely than weaned children to refuse supplementary foods. In fact, most researchers in Third World countries, where a malnourished toddler's appetite may be of critical importance, recommend continued nursing for even the severely malnourished (Briend et al, 1988; Rhode, 1988; Shattock and Stephens, 1975; Whitehead, 1985). Most suggest helping the malnourished older nursing child not by weaning but by supplementing the mother's diet to improve the nutritional quality of her milk (Ahn and MacLean. 1980; Jelliffe and Jelliffe, 1978) and by offering the child more varied and more palatable foods to improve his or her appetite (Rohde, 1988; Tangermann, 1988; Underwood, 1985).
  • "Antibodies are abundant in human milk throughout lactation" (Nutrition During Lactation 1991; p. 134). In fact, some of the immune factors in breastmilk increase in concentration during the second year and also during the weaning process. (Goldman 1983, Goldman & Goldblum 1983, Institute of Medicine 1991).
  • Breastfeeding can be helpful for preventing allergy by:
    • reducing exposure to potential allergens (the later baby is exposed, the less likely that there will be an allergic reaction),
    • speeding maturation of the protective intestinal barrier in baby's gut,
    • coating the gut and providing a barrier to potentially allergenic molecules,
    • providing anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the risk of infections (which can act as allergy triggers).
  • Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest.
  • "Research reports on the psychological aspects of nursing are scarce. One study that dealt specifically with babies nursed longer than a year showed a significant link between the duration of nursing and mothers' and teachers' ratings of social adjustment in six- to eight-year-old children (Ferguson et al, 1987). In the words of the researchers, 'There are statistically significant tendencies for conduct disorder scores to decline with increasing duration of breastfeeding.'"
  • "Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child... Increased duration of breastfeeding confers significant health and developmental benefits for the child and the mother... There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer." (AAP 2005)"
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer,  and rheumatoid arthritis in mothers.
  • Breastfeeding protects against osteoporosis. During lactation a mother may experience decreases of bone mineral. A nursing mom's bone mineral density may be reduced in the whole body by 1 to 2 percent while she is still nursing. This is gained back, and bone mineral density may actually increase, when the baby is weaned from the breast. This is not dependent on additional calcium supplementation in the mother's diet.
  • Breastmilk has some awesome abilities


  1. Have a good support system. It's not easy to breastfeed if you're hanging out with people who are anti or think it's disgusting or think you're crazy for continuing to breastfeeding. Find people you can talk to about it and be encouraging.
  2. Find things to make breastfeeding comfortable. For me this includes, my ipod touch,  My Brest Friend Pillow, comfortable and supportive nursing bra and a comfortable rocking chair.
  3. Set your own goals. Determine how long you want to breastfeed, when and how etc.
  4. Teach your toddler eating manners. Teaching your baby sign language for milk might be helpful. Talk to him/her about keeping you covered while feeding in public, not playing with your breasts etc.

Some Common Questions I Get
Q. Doesn't it hurt to breastfeed since he has so many teeth?!
A. If your baby is latched correctly, his tongue covers his teeth and no biting should occur. Aidan has actually bitten me twice. Once, he drew blood. It was not cool. I realized that I was forcing him to eat when he wasn't actually hungry and learned. Here are some tips if your baby bites.

Q. Does he ask to be fed and lift up your shirt?
A. He's never actually done that. I have no idea if I just got lucky or what. I always feed him in the same chair and he knows if I sit down there and grab the nursing pillow that he is going to be fed and will run over happily, but even then he doesn't pull on my shirt. At that point he will ask for milk sometimes, though. He takes a bottle or sippy cup really well so if we're out in public I just give him that and he's fine.

Q. Don't you lose your milk if you're only feeding twice a day?
A. Nope. Basically, the system of breastfeeding is supply and demand. Your body will make what your baby is eating. If you're breastfeeding twice a day, you'll make enough for those two feedings. The key is to not skip a ton. You can skip a bit here and there but if you consistently skip (e.g. no night feedings 3 days in a row) then you'll probably start to lose milk for that feeding.

Feel free to ask questions. 
I'd love to hear from other moms that are breastfeeding. I love building that social support- even if it's just through your comments.

UPDATE: He was fully weaned around 21-22 months. I just followed his lead. Some nights, he'd ask for a bottle and didn't want to nurse. It slowly dwindled and then he was done. No pain as he was weaned. My breasts just adjusted with supply and demand. I was a bit sad, but we still have our cuddle and reading time before bed. Plus, we started trying to get pregnant around the time he was 22 months so it worked out.. Also sad I couldn't keep eating extra calories. I'm looking forward to breastfeeding our next kid again (after the initial pain). I hope she can get it down and enjoy it.

Please don't take offense to anything I've said. We should all be able to talk about our own experiences with feeding. We each do the best we can as mothers.


Gloria said...

I loved your post Lauren! I nursed McKennan til he was just over 20 months and I found myself just not telling anyone I still nursed because I didn't want to hear their negative reactions or "disgust" but I really enjoyd that time together. He never pulled at my shirt or anything either, we just nursed twice a day at home in the same chair too. I worked his whole first year and pumped too so then when I was at home with him at 12 months I don't think either of us were ready to wean. But anyway loved all your thoughts and comments.

Jessica Bryan said...

Love what you have to say! Funny that you posted this today... yesterday I stumbled upon way too many "anti breast feeding" blogs and posts... I feel that every mother and every child need to figure out what works for them. Laura wasn't a huge fan of nursing... so at 12 months she was pretty happy to be done... but Lillian loves to nurse... I don't know if it'll change, but so far it looks like she will nurse longer than Laura did... Being a Mom is hard enough as it is... people should not judge each other, that's the last thing a Mom needs... I think it's amazing that you do what you do. You amaze me every day!

Janet said...

I love that you posted this. My daughter is 18 months and my hubby has been bugging me to wean her since she turned one. I have been looking for information to help support my theory to self led weaning and I think this will help. The info you provided has been awesome! Thanks again!!!!