Yes, I breastfeed a big kid! So What.
(just a note to say that this is written from my perspective as a person who identifies as female and who breastfeeds, I understand this isn’t the same for everyone)
If you’d have told me, 7 years ago, before I had kids that I would be feeding a 4 year old I would’ve laughed in your face.
Things have obviously changed a lot!
Read on to find out more about my feeding journeys.
People like to have their opinions on breastfeeding generally, but especially breastfeeding older children. Like there’s a limit when breastfeeding stops being good for them.
Apples or broccoli don’t stop being nutritious when you’re 18months old, neither does human milk.
There’s so many benefits that breastfeeding brings, for both of us.
Here’s some infographics (saves me typing the facts out!)
So, when I got pregnant with Annabelle in 2013, I was going to breastfeed. I really didn’t think about the possibility of formula, I just knew I wanted to breastfeed.
During my pregnancy I received many ‘well-meaning’ pieces of advice.
“Oh don’t put too much pressure on yourself, it may not happen” and similar such bollocks!
So, off we went to the hospital with ready made formula in the bag ‘just incase’
Thankfully, even though we had a horrific birth (birth story here) she latched well straight away and I didn’t have any issues at all. I am so truly grateful for that because I didn’t know much back then at all. I probably wouldn’t have known where to go for any skilled breastfeeding help, and most likely would have reached for the formula. That would have created its own huge issues as she has a very severe milk allergy (more on that in an upcoming blog)
We continued to feed with no big issues until about 5 months when she hit a developmental leap and got really fussy at the breast. It seemed like she wasn’t getting any milk (extremely normal behaviour for a leap or growth spurt and it causes us all to doubt supply at some point)
My well meaning husband said ‘You’re obviously not giving her enough, we’ll have to give her some formula”
I remember those words and will remember them forever. They fucking hurt.
They came from a place of kindness where he wanted to help, but they made me feel like a complete failure and a useless mother.
We did give her formula, which she projectile vomited over the room - for the reasons stated above!
I don’t know what it was, but something made me pick up ‘The Wonder Weeks’ book from behind the sofa. I read it and cried tears of relief.
I wasn’t broken. My baby wasn’t broken. It was a developmental leap and growth spurt and It would end soon.
We went back to breastfeeding, got through the fussiness and carried on feeding until she was a year old.
The week of her 1st birthday she had a cold and bit me one night whilst feeding. I screamed and obviously scared her, the next morning when I got her in my bed for our morning snuggly feed - she absolutely refused to latch.
She was on a nursing strike. She never fed from me again. It was emotionally hard for me, The sudden stopping meant my hormones went haywire. I was pumping a bit to relieve engorgement, but it wasn't the same as her feeding.
This was also within the same month that my PND (read blog on that here) hit its worst, so all in all it wasn't fun!
Then in 2017 when Imogen came along, I was obviously going to breastfeed again.
Luckily I had a bit more knowledge this time around and had more friends with babies to see what was normal and what wasn’t.
By the evening on day one I was in agony. I could only brace myself to feed her from me a couple of times a day. I was hand expressing colostrum into shot glasses and cup feeding her the rest of the time.
I knew something wasn’t right. I sent a video of her to a friend who had battled with babies with tongue tie. They suggested I get it looked at.
Day 2 and the NIPE check. I asked the midwife and she agreed that it needed a referral to the tongue tie clinic. However I had no idea how long that wait would be so I started emailing private tongue tie practitioners We managed to get an appointment for a few days later and drove to Harrow to have it done on a midwife’s dining table!
It did the trick. Imogen’s latch has never looked like an optimal latch, but she managed to feed well and I was pain free.
Apart from battling eczema and multiple allergies - that’s for a separate blog another time - our feeding journey has been lovely.
She has never had a drop of formula, and I’m extremely proud of that. I worked hard to achieve that and spent money making sure that happened. It wasn’t easy and I wasn’t lucky. I sought the right specialist help and persevered.
When she was about 18m-2yrs I think, there was a phase when I had a lot of questions about when she would stop from various people. I just said that she would when she was ready and I didn’t know when that would be. I think by the time she hit 3, I was a proper 'weirdo hippie' and people haven’t asked since! I'm very happy to be a weirdo hippie by the way.
Breastfeeding an older child is all about me though right? It’s me being selfish and not wanting her to grow up.
The only people that spout that shit are the ones who have never fed a toddler. Toddlers are arseholes - they climb all over you. Stretch your nipple further than you ever thought possible. Shout “boobies” at you whenever the hell they feel like it. Every time you sit down they want milk. They want to sit next to you on the sofa and bend your boob sideways to feed so they can still watch TV. They want to lay in the most awkward positions next to you in bed whilst feeding- IT’S NOT ALWAYS FUN!
But boobies help her when she’s sad or anxious about something. When she's overwhelmed and needs some time to calm down they help. When she needs some reconnection they help, they help her go to sleep (or used to!).
I also find if I’m particularly stressed or on edge she will ask to feed and if I let her, I find it really calms me down. That reconnection and flow of oxytocin - there's almost certainly a reason she asks at those times.
All of the milk that she gets when her emotional needs are being met is hugely beneficial for her too. It’s full of immune factors and so many vitamins and nutrients for her growing body and brain.
Recently I have stopped feeding her at night because I was fed up with it. She still wakes up - it’s not a miracle cure. But at least my husband can deal with her too now.
I never started out feeding a big kid, I started feeding a baby who was minutes old. Each day she grew a little bit more. There has never been a time when it felt weird or wrong. It is just normal. It’s the biological norm (natural weaning age is anywhere between 2.5-7yrs) and It’s definitely our normal.
So when our journey will end I don’t know. She is 4 today. I imagine when Covid restrictions start to ease and we can get out more, she will ask less during the day. When she starts school in September it may be just bedtimes that she feeds, who knows.
One day she will feed for the last time, I probably won’t know it’s the last time until a few days or weeks later, but it will be her choice when it happens. Until then I will continue to enjoy the closeness, the snuggles and the oxytocin and be super proud of how far we got.
South Essex Slings