The theme for today in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt is “Breastfeeding Beyond a Year”. I still remember the feeling when Andrew, my eldest son, got to his first birthday and was still breastfeeding. At the time I wrote a blog post on it called the not-so-crazy world of toddler breastfeeding. After all the struggles we’d had in the early weeks and months (as I explained in my last KBBF post, I have IGT – insufficient glandular tissue – so can’t exclusively breastfeed a baby), I could hardly believe that we’d got to 12 weeks let alone 12 months. But he was still keen to feed, or nurse would be a better term as it really wasn’t about the food anymore but about the comfort and routine. And I always said that I wanted him to decide when to wean and it wouldn’t be me who would initiate the weaning process. So we carried on beyond the time that most mums I knew were breastfeeding.
Apart from his lack of interest in weaning, there are other good reasons to have carried on nursing a toddler (and now preschooler). I think that it’s helped in the fact that he’s still hardly ever been ill. Nursing has been fundamental in his daily bedtime routine for a long time, along with a bath and reading books. He likes to have that routine and I think it has helped him know that it’s bedtime before he could understand properly what was going on. Nursing has also helped when he’s been upset or tired over the years, to calm him down, though these days he only really has some milk before bed.
When Andrew was around 13 months old, I found I was pregnant again. This brought with it all sorts of thoughts and feelings about breastfeeding, for example: I had bad vomiting and nausea throughout the pregnancy and wondered if I had the energy to carry on and how I should initiative weaning in that case; I wondered if Andrew would self-wean anyway, as many do during the pregnancy of a sibling; I wondered if/how it would work out with tandem nursing if he did want to carry on. I wrote about these thoughts at various times in my weekly pregnancy diary blog posts, such as this one.
Well we both made it with the breastfeeding through pregnancy thing, and when Joel was born, we became a tandem nursing family. I had lots of support from my local LLL group, and one leader in particular had gone out of her way to help put me in contact with another LLL leader from elsewhere in the country who had tandem nursed with IGT. She made the good point that the toddler is an excellent breast pump substitute in terms of giving the breasts extra stimulation after the newborn feeds (of course you can’t get the milk back from the toddler though, like you can from a bottle of pumped milk, and give it to the baby, but I never got much from a pump anyway.)
As Andrew was basically down to just having one feed before bedtime, I made sure that Joel had had good feeds himself up to that point, and then he had time with Daddy whilst Andrew and I had milk time. He probably was getting very little actual milk by that point in the day, but as he’d nursed through pregnancy, when milk supply drops naturally even in mums without IGT, he was used to that. He just liked the time with me, and I think the tandem nursing helped him accept Joel into the family, although he was young enough to not really care that much anyway. Sometimes Andrew would ask for milk while I was sitting feeding Joel in the day – an increased interest in nursing can happen with older siblings, even if already weaned, so he wasn’t unusual in this, and would usually be happy with a few sucks from the other side, just to mark his ground more than anything I think. There weren’t many times that I would actually have one feeding from each side at the same time – tandem nursing refers to breastfeeding 2 (or more) children in the same time period, not necessarily precisely simultaneously.
Joel seemed to get more breast milk than Andrew did at the same age – I could tell partly from the fact that he needed less formula supplementation and partly because his poos looked so much more breastfed than Andrew’s ever did pre-solids! Many mums, with and without IGT, report increased milk supply with subsequent children. So even if Andrew was taking a little of the shared supply when Joel was a baby, I was happy that over the span of their nursing years, they were getting their own fair share.
Before I knew it, we somehow managed to get to a whole year of tandem nursing; it dawned on me that I was tandem nursing 2 toddlers, and nowadays a toddler and a preschooler. Neither of them nurse for very long these days, but both of them still enjoy Mummy milk before bed. I think Andrew is slowly on the stopping straight because he doesn’t ask for it every day now, but I’ve heard that this is how self-weaning at this age can happen – a slow process that you look back on and can’t pin point an exact time that they stopped, the breastfeeds just go down from once a day to once a week to once a month etc. We often joke that at this rate, Joel will stop before Andrew, because he’s probably less interested in it than Andrew was at this age, but who knows! (Only they know.)
I look back now and can’t quite believe that I’m sitting here writing this, given our shaky start in the world of breastfeeding. But I’m glad that we persevered through the hard times to get to this point. When I think about how much breast milk that my boys have had over their nursing lives, it’s probably similar to how much some babies had who were exclusively breastfed for the 6 months that is seen as the ‘standard’ amount of time to breastfeed for. Some people may think that breastfeeding or nursing toddlers is weird, and pre-schoolers even weirder, but it works for us and I’m happy to carry on for as long as they require, which may turn out to be not much longer.
Others who are writing about breastfeeding beyond a year today include….. (please go and visit their blogs too).
And another WAHM like myself taking part in the hunt is