3 years, 2 months and 2 days. That’s how long my breastfeeding journey (as people call it) lasted. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to be able to breastfeed my child for that long. Yet, I also could not wait for it to be over. When I started, I had no idea it would last that long. Before I had given birth, I told myself that I just had to survive nursing for six months and that would be enough.
Breastfeeding did not come smoothly for us. On our first day home with the baby, I was constantly in tears. With a wailing infant in my arms, I called our midwife and asked “How long should I keep trying to nurse until it’s time to buy formula?” Her answer was “As long as you can.” So I took that to heart and had to try until I couldn’t anymore.
It took more than six months for us to get our routine down pat. There were a lot of sleepless nights and lots of tears from the both of us. I was an insecure new mother and he probably felt my apprehensions. We did not encounter most of the problems other nursing mums get - like clogged milk ducts, cracked nipples, mastitis or biting. The challenge for me was that my son was a constant feeder. He seemed to be nursing every hour for sometimes hours at a time. That’s what got to me. I was so tired because I was the only one who could feed him. I tried to pump milk for him to take with a bottle but he never took to it. Probably because as a stay-at-home mum, we were together all the time. I had the luxury of nursing anytime. Or should I say that my baby had that luxury? He was probably thinking, “Why bother with the bottle when I can have the real thing?”
As my baby grew into a toddler, I embraced my role as a breastfeeding mum. I would feed him on demand, anywhere and everywhere - at the mall, at work, dining out, in the car, on a plane, and even at the beach. He pretty much still looked like a baby so even when we nursed in public, we would not get weird stares from strangers.
Breastfeeding a toddler did have its obstacles. For one, it can be tricky to keep covered in public with a wiggly child in your arms. Speaking of moving around, who would have thought acrobatic feeding was even possible? As much as my son wanted his milk, he was also curious about what was happening around him and would constantly position himself to get a better view. I guess he also had more energy to go around. Thankfully, the acrobatics were limited to home feedings. One of the most awkward things a breastfeeding toddler can do when you’re out is, try to pull down or go under your shirt when he’s hungry. After the first few attempts, you learn to be on your guard.
As physically and emotionally demanding as breastfeeding can be, I am happy to have been able to do it. Those countless hours of cuddling have resulted in a strong bond between me and my child. I am proud to say that I am my child’s favorite person. And when the inevitable teenage years come and he starts rebelling or answering back, I plan to use the “I nursed you for three years, so you have to do what I say” card.
Health-wise, there is nothing better. It provides nutrition in the early stages of life, when eating is mostly about exploration and experimentation and you are not sure if the child is getting adequate nourishment. I always say that breastfeeding is my gift to my child. In terms of health, his genes aren’t what we would describe as great. We have diabetes and hypertension from both sides of the family. Giving him a healthy start in life was important to us. Moreover, whenever my son was sick, whether it be a common cold or something more serious like a stomach bug, nursing would offer him comfort. When he would have no appetite for days, breast milk was an easy option. I still wish I could do this now when my four year old falls ill and refuses to eat or even drink.
I was secure in my decision to do extended breastfeeding and I had my husband’s full support. I knew there were probably people, family members and close friends included, who considered it a bit odd or unnatural. My thinking was that if it took time for other children to be weaned from a bottle then I don’t need to rush my son. He loved breastfeeding and it broke my heart to take away something that was such a big part of his life, especially when he could not understand yet.
By the time he was three, I felt we were both ready. He was eating well and could also drink milk in a sippy cup with a straw before going to bed, so I was confident he was receiving adequate nutrition. He also seemed to understand when I would tell him that he was now a big boy and no longer a baby.
We figured it would be easier for him not to ask for milk if I was out of sight, so I scheduled 2 night out-of-town trip leaving him with my mum who he is close to. I prepared him by telling him that I was going away and I would be back but while I wasn’t there, he would stay with grandma. We had this conversation for a good two weeks before the trip. When I returned, I was happily surprised to know that he did not ask for milk, not even once. Of course, when he saw me, he asked for milk again. But I decided not to give in. I simply told him that he was now a big boy and didn’t need my milk anymore. I offered to cuddle with him when it was time for bed. And it worked. I was no longer going to give him my milk, but I would always give him my love.