I calculated the other day how many months I have breastfed my three children collectively....I came up with forty seven months total so far. That breaks down to three years and eleven months of breastfeeding. Someone asked me the other day if I was still breastfeeding. I said, “Yes, I am still breastfeeding.” Their question jarred me. Why should I have to answer if I am “still breastfeeding?” I have found that many people think that once you hit the year mark your child should be weaned from the breast. Perhaps it is how some interpret the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) recommendation that children are to be breastfed at least up to the first twelve months of life. It doesn't specify a weaning point. The World Health Organization recommends that children be breastfed to at least two years old and encourages breastfeeding even longer. It is quite an achievement that I have breastfed to this point. Prior to having my children I never envisioned breastfeeding at all. I became a mother at the age of twenty two. Growing up I didn't see anyone breastfed their child. Most everyone around me family or friends alike used formula. When I gave birth to my oldest son he was immediately given a bottle of formula in the hospital. I was not asked if I planned to breastfeed him. I wanted to breastfeed but he wouldn't latch correctly after his first feeding with the bottle of formula. When he was a day old I remember holding his tiny body close to mine. I could smell his sweet fragrant dark brown hair. He was snuggled up to my chest. I remember tears in my ears as he eagerly tried to latch and while clumsily we nursed. I heard breastfeeding is an instinct for both mother and child. While part of this is true you really have to learn together. We tried our best. I nursed him off and on for six weeks. He was mostly formula fed with me supplementing with my breast milk. We both got really frustrated because it was painful, exhausting, and he suffered from extreme reflux. When I asked for help about it from our pediatrician she suggested we stop breastfeeding and go to formula solely. So I let my milk dry up. I never feel like I didn't breastfed him. I did. The duration just wasn't as long as I had wanted it to be. I still treasure those few moments nursing my beautiful boy. He is now a sensitive, compassionate, and gifted ten year old. Almost four years later and armed with knowledge, I vowed to myself that I was going to breastfeed for ONE year. I was going to do everything in my power to make it happen. I read every book I could get my hands on. I asked those who I knew breastfed questions to gain knowledge. I was also inspired by my childhood best friend who was doing extended nursing with her second child. I thought as long as my baby is skin to skin breastfeeding after birth and I tell the maternity nurses that I am breastfeeding then all should go well. In mid May I gave birth to a very big beautiful blonde baby boy with a perfect latch and strong suckle! I was offered formula to supplement since my son had “a hearty appetite” as one nurse put it. I confidently told her no thank you. I knew the more he nursed the more my supply would build! The first few weeks were difficult. I had cracked nipples, suspected thrush, and a cross country move to get through. Once we were settled in our new home I knew I needed help. I asked local friends on Facebook to point me in a direction. I was getting frustrated again but for much different issues I had not experienced with my first son. This son was thriving and happy but my nipples were cracked, bleeding, and itchy. I went to the doctor who misdiagnosed me with mastitis. Despite having no fever, no clogged milk ducts, and no red hot areas on my breast. I knew we had something else due to the unbearable itchiness and pins and needles inside my breast every time my son would nurse. Along with one wicked diaper rash, I suspected thrush. I was not going to give up after all I had put into establishing my supply for my baby. I found a local Le Leche Group through friends on Facebook. In one meeting the leader who also was a lactation consultant helped me with some natural ways to treat what we had. As I suspected it was thrush. I had it confirmed by our doctor and we were able to clear it up rather quickly. We had a few bumps along the way but I learned from them. My son grew steadily until six months old when I had introduced solids as recommended. He growth slowed on the charts. When you saw my baby he had rolls on his thighs and round belly. He had no physical signs of anything wrong. He was healthy, happy, and meeting all his developmental milestones. He was tested for any medical causes for his slowed growth. Despite not finding any medical or environmental causes for this he was diagnosed as FTT or Failure To Thrive. We met with an educated nutritionist who followed the WHO's recommendation that we breastfeed to at least two years old. She said it would be beneficial to his health and continued growth. After meeting with us she concluded that my son like my previous son who was very petite like both my husband and I that it was genetics. Once my son reached fifteen months old he was no longer considered FTT. After that my son and I happily nursed until he was twenty two months old. I remember people would say things to me about breastfeeding my toddler but I never took it to heart. I remember the one time I was asked by a friend, “Why are you still breastfeeding?! I don't get it.” They also mentioned holding an intervention like I am some addict. All while laughing. I rattled off all the knowledge I had absorbed from reading, knowledge I gained from the lactation consultant, and the nutritionist's opinion that I continue to breastfeed my son past a year old. I answered, “Yes, I am still breastfeeding.” Their words made me feel upset. Perhaps they found it to be a light hearted moment but I felt so unsupported. This was what I considered my very close friend who knew some of my struggles in the past on my journey as a breastfeeding mother. Although hurt that my friend questioned my parenting choice. I chose to focus on those who supported me. Both my husband and our family physician supported and encouraged us. I knew I was giving my child my best for his health and mine. I knew it was right for us. I am a firm believer in child led weaning and he did just that. One day he nursed for five minutes and never did again. My first extended nurser is now an adventurous, enthusiastic, and cheerful six year old. Again almost four years later I gave birth to my blue eyed beautiful daughter. I remembered my experience with the last nursling and I felt empowered being a “seasoned pro”. I never expected I would go through so many new challenges with her. A high palate, un-diagnosed lip tie, colic, and extreme stress from parenting alone while my husband was away at work did a number on my supply. I called a friend bawling and asking her if should just give my daughter formula. I won't ever forget her support and words. She said I could but she knew how I felt about breastfeeding and that I would be really upset that I gave in just because that moment was difficult. She told me keep going. So I did. One friend came over and helped me with her latch since her having a high palate made it difficult for her to latch deep enough. I had amazing supportive friends who came by with food, encouraging words, and hands on support. I breastfed through the first few months with high stress. I was pumping every other hour in between feedings to keep my supply up until I had discovered her lip tie at five weeks old.. This made some difference. Her latch improved after the revision and her colic stopped. At six months old her growth stalled just like her brother. Physicians tested her for many different medical conditions that could cause her growth to slow down. They could not find any medical or environmental cause to her slowed growth. Just like my last one. While she was very petite she too looked healthy and was meeting her milestones. She was still given a failure to thrive FTT diagnosis. I just fed her the foods that our nutritionist recommended with my son and supplemented with my own breast milk in a sippy cup. A sense of triumph over came me by her first birthday. We made it. Sister Girl and I really made it to one year. She is now two years old and she continues to nurse when she wants. Which becomes less and less each week. even talk about it because it isn't something that unique. In fact most of my friends with children her age are STILL nursing their children. I don't hear the phrase as often, “Why are you STILL breastfeeding?” so perhaps the tide is turning. Extended breastfeeding not only benefits your child but also the mother. By breastfeeding for forty seven months I have lowered my risk of breast cancer by 50% and ovarian cancer by 90%. I also have lowered my risk for osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. I feel empowered that I nourished all three of my babies with my milk. Even if it was only the beginning with my first and currently with my third. The key to my success was knowledge, support, and willpower. It has been beneficial to their physical and emotional health as mine. I feel peace with my choices especially with extended breastfeeding. So if anyone is still wondering...yes....I am STILL breastfeeding.
Natasha has 18 years of experience working with birthing and postpartum mothers. She is well versed and rounded with experience in holistic wellness and integrative medicine. Natasha focus is to treat the body as whole instead of a symptom.