16 May 2012

Extended Breastfeeding - A Personal Perspective

By: Laura Trotta (BEng(Environmental), MSc(Environmental Chemistry))  

The decision by TIME Magazine to picture a mother breastfeeding her three year old son on the cover of their latest issue has resulted in increased public discussion around the topic of attachment parenting, and particularly extended breastfeeding, with many differing opinions being aired.

The period of time that signifies the start of extended breastfeeding in Australia is unclear and no doubt varies across social-economic groups. It could well refer to breastfeeding beyond six weeks, six months, 12 months, as soon as the baby can walk, talk, gets teeth or after the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended breastfeeding period of two years. I’d like to think it was the latter but know this isn’t the case in our modern culture.

Rather than provide just another analysis on the media frenzy surrounding the TIME cover, I’d like to share my personal experience with breastfeeding my son into his third year, in the hope that it helps in some small way to normalise extended breastfeeding.

Like many first time mothers, I never pictured myself breastfeeding a toddler when I gave birth to my son in late 2009. My initial aim was to get breastfeeding established and then exclusively breastfeed my son for six months. Once we reached six months I aimed to make it to 12 months. After that my thinking was if we get to the WHO recommended period of two years I’ll be wrapped but if he chooses to wean in the meantime, I’ll be just as happy with how our journey has gone.

My son self-weaned in March this year at the age of 27 months. I was 28 weeks pregnant with my second child at the time. Although sad that our breastfeeding relationship had drawn to a natural conclusion, I also welcomed the three month “break” before starting again with bub no.2.

While our breastfeeding journey can be classified as a success story in a period where breastfeeding, not to mention extended breastfeeding, rates are still relatively low in this country, it wasn’t without a rocky start. I gave birth to a sleepy breech baby via c-section. He was a slow gentle feeder that would take his time and fall asleep before his feed was finished….not a great scenario to bring in a decent milk supply.

I was discharged from hospital before my milk had come in with a midwife putting formula in my bag along with the advice “Don’t be too stubborn not to use this. Your baby will need it.” Well, I was stubborn and determined enough to prove her wrong. On the day of discharge my hubby went out on a search mission for a decent breast pump and I started an intense expressing regime around the clock with his and my mother’s support and belief that we could get breastfeeding working.

Our first breastfeed - not quite what I had expected!

For days I’d breastfeed my baby for an hour, hand bub over to my husband or mother for a top up feed, express for twenty minutes each side, get about 45 minutes of sleep, and then start all over again around the clock….all while recovering from a caesarean. I was ecstatic when my son’s formula top ups were replaced with expressed breast milk (EMB) top ups at ten days old.  Not long afterwards, my milk came in with great gusto and we ditched the top ups altogether.

I made the mistake of stopping the expressing too quickly though rather than opting for a gradual decline (the lure of sleep was too great and my knowledge on pumping was still in its infancy). I paid the price with a dose of mastitis but luckily caught this in its early stages so avoided hospitalisation.

The first few months of breastfeeding were tough at times. Feeding in an Outback Australian summer with weeks of temperatures over forty degrees and clocking up to 12 feeds each day was hard work. I longed for a feed off, an uninterrupted night sleep where I could let Dad take over, or even a weekend break. At the same time though I was gaining immense satisfaction from seeing my son grow and knowing he was surviving purely on my milk. I was enjoying our close bond and knew that things would get easier with time.

And they did get easier. Very soon the number of feeds a day reduced and time between feeds increased. He started eating solids, sleeping longer through the night. I started to reclaim a little bit of time here and there for myself and felt so much more energised.

Over time breastfeeding became so much more than nourishment. It was me and me alone he wanted when he was sick, with him often feeding all morning for comfort and nutrition. I’ll never forget his peaceful happy face during painful teething bouts in the wee hours of the morning after soothing himself to sleep on my breast. And of course, as a toddler I’ll always cherish the memories of him gazing at me, smiling, playing with my hair and even joking during his feeds.

The earlier tough times were no comparison against the benefits and enjoyment of the beautiful breastfeeding relationship my son and I shared for over two years. I am not embarrassed to have fed him into his third year, despite only feeding him in private at home for the last 12 months with a morning and/or evening feed. Rather, I am very proud. I have no doubt that the nutritional and emotional benefits of breastfeeding have helped him grow in to the very healthy, happy and secure two year old he is today.

Back to that “controversial” cover of TIME magazine……given the natural human age of weaning is around 2.5 years and WHO recommend breastfeeding to two years and beyond, I am surprised and disheartened that breastfeeding a toddler or young child can create such debate in this country. Extended breastfeeding is normal and instinctive and something we should be supporting mothers to achieve, not ridicule them. I know I will be doing my best to ensure my second child and I enjoy an extended breastfeeding relationship until, like their older brother, they too decide they are ready to wean naturally.

I welcome your thoughts, experiences and opinions on extended breastfeeding below.

About the Author: Laura Trotta is an eco mum, environmental engineer and founder of Sustainababy. She lives in regional South Australia with her husband Paul and son Matthew and is expecting her second child in June 2012.

CATEGORY: extended breastfeeding, TIME Magazine, child, breastfeeding | POSTED BY: Meg Supel |