It's a controversial thing in some circles. It can be an elephant in a room. It can be painful, frustrating, exhausting. It can be alienating.
It can also be beautiful, it can be perfect, it can be sweet, it can be innocent, it can be everything your child (and you!) need.
I'm still doing it.
I feel that, in the beginning of every article or blog about breastfeeding, or sometimes even every comment, there is a disclaimer to start, so let's begin there. I have nursed my child for almost 15 months now. But, I have mama friends who have nursed longer, have tandem nursed, have nursed shorter, have tried it and hated it, have tried it, stopped sooner than they wanted, and regretted it, and some who have not tried it at all and are completely happy with that decision. This post isn't about putting down any of those women. Because, as women, we'd do better to lift each other up than constantly pull each other down.
Which brings me to my next point. Most people who know that I still nurse my child have either been very quiet about it, or have been outspoken as to why I shouldn't still be doing it. There are really only a few women who have voiced their opinions kindly of it, and not just kindly, but have given me support and encouragement to continue, with no judgement: a few very good friends, my amazing doula/now-midwife, and several ladies I've spoken with from la leche league. Having these few people in my life be supportive, even though I don't even personally know the LLL ladies, has been astronomically beneficial to me.
To be honest, I wasn't planning on nursing until I got pregnant. It wasn't until I researched the benefits that I wanted to try. I used to be one of those people, who didn't know, and made no bones about voicing my (rather uneducated) opinions. At one point, I had a college professor lecture to our class while nursing her baby in a sling. Back then, I was horrified, and I'm pretty sure I was rude about it. Now, I am embarrassed at my reaction and envious of her comfort level with nursing in public. It wasn't until I really started reading up on nursing that I finally got it. This was something our bodies were made to do. Sure, it is a choice, almost everything in this life is a choice, but as women, there is no denying that this is what our bodies were made to do.
This also isn't to say that nursing my child was easy. At first, it wasn't. Those initial few weeks/months were really hard. In addition to trying to figure out how to be a parent, I held sole responsibility for nourishing our child. The emotional toll of being unsure you're doing it right can be staggering. (Again, I'm thanking whichever god I believe in this week for having our doula to bounce questions off of in the beginning!) And while DH was really supportive and in the beginning woke every time with the baby and I, to change the diaper and then bring him back to me, when he went back to work, it was all me, only me, all night long, every night. I also had many, many, many clogged ducts (due to pumping for work and an oversupply) and eventually had mastitis as well.
There were several times, and DH can agree, that I said to him, "If ______ happens one more time, I'm done with this, we're switching to formula!" But I never did. Not because going through some of the things I did weren't fun, not because I was losing patience, not because I desperately wanted to save the money I knew formula would take away from our family.
I didn't quit because I told myself it wasn't about me,
it was about him.
He needed me, I was supposed to be his provider, his comfort, his solace. So, I set myself really small goals. Some days, it was a week. I'd say, just get to the weekend. Some days, it was a month, some days it was just trying to get to the end of the day. And, I always did. And it got easier.
When we hit a few months in, it got really easy, and I was so thankful for it. He started sleeping better and I actually enjoyed being the one to go to him in the night at times. Those quiet moments in which we sat and rocked and he nursed in the middle of the night are some of my favorite memories of my child being so small and precious. I can honestly say I really think it helped us to form the connection that we have.
As he got older, we didn't stop nursing. There was no reason. He still enjoyed it, I still enjoyed it, it worked for us, so we didn't stop. It was still easy, it was still comfort for him, it was still free.
And then we got to one year. I feel like that may have been the turning point where if people hadn't been side-eyeing me before, they started then. We honestly did cut back on nursing quite a bit, down from 3-4 sessions per day to at one point only once per day. And it was hard, for both of us. I missed that time where my active, mobile toddler would come cuddle in my arms, just like he would as a baby. He missed the comfort and began to show it, not only by exhibiting some of the typical toddler tendencies of always needing a hand or foot or elbow touching me while we sat to read or play, but also by crawling up to me throughout the day and tugging at my shirt and opening his mouth like a little bird, and sometimes crying when I wouldn't comply. That seriously was breaking my heart.
So, we started to nurse more again. And, while I'm sure some of you are wanting to click out of this page right about now, it works for us. I'm not going to link you the World Health Organization's recommendations about how long you should nurse your baby or why the United States is sadly so far behind many other countries in providing this perfect nutrition to our children, if you wanted to read that, you can quickly google it. But it works for us. It is still healthy for him. It is still necessary for us.
I will say one thing though. Stop the hate. There is so much love between a mother and her child, and this is just one of the many ways that I choose to show mine to my child. It isn't gross. It doesn't have an expiration date or a deadline of when it is no longer okay. You all likely drink breastmilk every day, only it comes from a cow, but is made in the exact way to how human mothers express their milk! The act of feeding our own children is a selfless, beautiful thing. And it shouldn't ever be hated upon or discriminated against. Not in our own homes, not in public, not with an older child. To any person who disagrees, I'd tell you then, come on over to my house, and try putting my child back to sleep if he wakes in the night. It takes me about 5-10 minutes to nurse him back to sleep. You'll be up with him for about three hours if you choose any other avenue.
Good luck with that.
Good luck with that.