Much emphasis is given in terms of initiating breastfeeding, getting support in the early days, and establishing a good supply of milk.
Something that is often given far less attention, in my experience but which regularly causes equal concern to breastfeeding mothers is when and how to stop.
When you are on a roll with the feeding, its easy, convenient and a free food source then you may just not notice the days flying past until one day, suddenly you’ve got a toddler attached to you that can actually ASK for their milk, with words rather than gestures and body language.
And while I like many mothers was happy to continue feeding until one day the Wee Man and Bubby D decided they didn’t want breastmilk any more, I know other mums that for a variety of reasons have decided that their breastfeeding journey is coming to an end.
Feeding a toddler is very different to feeding a newborn, for a variety of reasons. Public opinion is far more varied in terms of acceptance for a start. When your toddler is clawing at your t shirt and loudly demanding milk, you may not feel quite as confident as you were discreetly feeding your tiny baby in the earlier days (not that you should let that stop you). In reality, the likelihood of this happening is quite small if you have a toddler like the Wee Man, who by the stage of being able to wrestle with my clothing and speak his demands coherently (‘MILK BUMPS, MUMMY!’) was only really taking a feed first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
Equally, you may find that being more co-ordinated and able to ‘help themselves’, night feeds become less of a problem and although they do happen, sometimes it can be without your knowledge! (Many was the time I woke in the night to find myself being used as a snack machine). Now I think about it, its a bit of a weird concept but at the same time…I got more sleep, and I do LOVE sleep. So I can’t really think of it as a bad thing.
I found that feeds were usually a lot shorter too, because as older babies and toddlers the Wee Man and Bubby D were getting much more of their nutrients from complementary foods and didn’t require as much milk as they did previously.
My first breastfeeding journey came to an end rather abruptly, as one evening the Wee Man declared he didn’t want milk, and took himself off to bed without any fuss. This came as a bit of a shock to me, as I hadn’t envisioned the previous night’s feed being my last with him. Over the next few days I wondered if he might come back again, and wrestled with whether I would stick with no feeding, or allow him to have some milk so I could end our feeding journey more gradually. But as it happened, I never had to make this decision, as he never asked for milk again.
I actually felt quite heartbroken, for a few days. My milk supply dwindled and stopped, my nursing tops were relegated to the loft, and I suddenly experienced the freedom of nights to myself, on occasion – but I did kind of miss the snuggly bonding. I had to learn a whole new way of interacting with the Wee Man to get that bonding experience again, something I’d never really considered prior to stopping breastfeeding.
Bubby D was much more of a milk monster than the Wee Man and I envisaged us continuing breastfeeding for far longer than the 18 months that he and I had shared. She was still having several good feeds a day when suddenly, at 15 months, she was struck with a horrendous mouth infection which left her mouth full of ulcers. Abruptly she stopped feeding – she would head towards me for comfort, then rear back in fear. I kept pumping, kept offering, and hoped that when she as better we could pick up where we let off – but by then she had discovered a new independence and she wouldn’t even consider it. I tried skin to skin, co- bathing…even putting chocolate spread on my nipples in a last ditch attempt but it wasn’t to be.
I was bereft.
But she is fine, healthy and happy – and ultimately it was her decision even though circumstances initially forced it upon her.
In both cases, although I perhaps wouldn’t have chosen to stop when we did, from watching the experience of some of my friends whose children did not self wean (and in some cases still haven’t!) I think we were very lucky – there are certainly downsides to continuing on and on and making the decision to stop yourself rather than your little one leading the way.
Circus Queen talks about trust and feeding beyond age 2
Milk Machine Mum has written about the benefits of breastfeeding past one year
One of the things that I found really helped distract my little ones when they were older and being a bit more rascally as they fed was a nursing necklace. These are chunky plastic baby safe necklaces which look stylish for mums to wear, but are also interesting for babies and toddlers to look at and play with whilst they are feeding. Mine are from Mamajewels and I still wear them even now I’m not breastfeeding, because I like them so much (and the kids still love playing with them too!). Mamajewels have kindly offered two lucky readers the chance to win a Mamajewels feeding bracelet – to enter, just fill out the rafflecopter below!
And don’t forget to enter to win the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt Grand Prize too!