It’s hard to believe that I’ve been breastfeeding for four straight years. As I prepared for my daughter’s birth four and a half years ago, I never would have guessed this would be the particular breastfeeding journey I was signing up for. And yet, here I am, still breastfeeding four years later.
While I believe breastmilk is the best option, I know it’s not for everyone. This post isn’t meant to pressure anyone into doing it. I’m not trying to shame anyone who has had trouble breastfeeding, uses formula, exclusively pumps or for whom breastfeeding simply wasn’t an option. I’m just sharing some of what I’ve experienced, in hopes that it might benefit another mom.
Let me start with sharing that I do not breastfeed my four-year-old. I also don’t make my family’s clothing from a weave of our own recycled hair. For some, breastfeeding past the toddler years is totally normal. We just happen to not be in that particular group.
With no real science to back it up, here is what has really worked for me in breastfeeding:
I took a breastfeeding class.
It was super awkward at first. It’s like being three years old and signing up for a class to learn how to wipe your bottom. I mean sure, you probably can sort of figure this thing out for yourself, but that might not work out so well for a while. And what little kid wants an itchy butt until she can figure out exactly what she’s doing? Or what mama wants a screaming newborn until that mama through trial and error can figure out the latch? Still, you’re in a room with a bunch mamas-to-be and you all feel a little silly for being there. The beginning awkwardness was totally worth it. The lactation consultant who I met was awesome. She gave so much good information and really built up my confidence.
While I was still in the hospital, I worked with the lactation consultant to correct my hold and get a good latch.
Even with my son (my second child), I didn’t really remember what had worked for my daughter when she was a newborn. The lactation consultant taught me that if it hurts, it’s probably the latch because a proper latch shouldn’t hurt. I’m sure that this is not true for every single person, but she’s been coaching mamas for almost 20 years, so I believe she’s probably on to something.
In the beginning, I did a little pumping just before each feeding.
It took a little bit of effort to get the whole “let down” thing to happen. When my babies were newborns, they didn’t want to wait for this. I kept a hand pump with me and would pump for a couple of minutes, or until the milk let down before I put the baby on the boob.
I ordered an electric breast pump.
If I had it to do over, I would have ordered prior to giving birth. Using this pump wasn’t central to my breastfeeding life, but when I needed it, I REALLY needed it. It came in handy for the times that I needed the relief of the pump. It helped me build up a storage of milk for the times that I needed to be away from the kids for more than a small window of time. Also, it’s covered by most insurances.
I wore clothes that were easy to hike up or hike down so I could breastfeed at almost any given time.
Layering tank tops were my favorite option. I would hike the top one up, and the bottom one down. This still gave me coverage on my mid area. I also didn’t mind a comfy t-shirt that I would just pull up. I was never much into breastfeeding-specific clothing. That stuff wasn’t well-designed and was often hideous. It wasn’t that hard to find a way to be inconspicuous even in normal clothes. The only thing I wasn’t crazy about was having what felt like oversized love handles out in the open air right after having a baby.
I breastfed my daughter through my pregnancy with my son.
My OBGYN was very clear that there was no problem breastfeeding through pregnancy. I actually believe this really helped my milk to come in faster after giving birth to my son. Once he was on the scene, breastfeeding changed for my daughter into more of an emotional rollercoaster. She had only been getting mama’s milk once a day at bedtime, and now she was having to see him get it all the time. After just a few weeks of sharing milk with him, she decided she was done and has happily not breastfed since.
I allowed my kids to partially ween after the first year of breastfeeding.
Around six months old, babies start eating some version of regular food. After about a month of introducing foods, my kids were getting about fifty percent of their calories from breastmilk and about fifty percent from solid foods. By one-year-old, they were getting about 90% from solid foods and about 10% from breastmilk. From one year to one and a half years, they only breastfed for about ten minutes first thing in the morning, and as the last thing before going to bed. After one and a half years, it was down to just once a day for ten minutes or less before bedtime at night. Three months ago, my son turned two. He breastfeeds for maybe five minutes before I put him to bed at night. And on the nights I am not there, he goes to bed fine.
At this point, breastfeeding for my two-year-old is all about the comfort, the nurturing. I know he doesn’t need it for nourishment, and I’m confident he doesn’t really need it to feel securely bonded with me either. It’s more of a habit for him. We are now actively encouraging him to be done with it.
If I had to guess, we are in the last month or two of this breastfeeding journey. And while four years of breastfeeding and counting might sound exhausting, I’m happy to share that it hasn’t been bad. The intensity of the beginning didn’t last. After a while, it became just another part of the daily routine. While I may miss it a little when it’s finally done, I know I’m going to be content to have my boobs back to myself (and my husband).