Breastfeeding can be tough, but extended breastfeeding is in a class of its own! My journey with my three children has been crazy, yet fulfilling. New guidelines recommend breastfeeding for two years or more. Here’s how I navigated the waters of extended breastfeeding.
When our first child was born, I had grand ideas about what kind of mom I wanted to be. I wanted to pour into every small detail of parenting that would shape her little life. I wanted to experience a natural labor to give her the best entrance into the world, to have immediate skin-to-skin to form a lasting bond and of course, I wanted to breastfeed. Breast is best was the motto, at the time, and I became determined to breastfeed for as long as possible.
As a first-time mom, I naively had no reservations about the how I would “of course” be able to breastfeed. The engineer in me lead me to research everything I possibly could. I love having lots of “data” when figuring out what to do next. But, with so much information floating around the internet, in books, and advice from experienced (and not so experienced) moms, it could have quickly become overwhelming.
What is Extended Breastfeeding?
So, I decided to start with the basics, what do the experts recommend? At the time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended breastfeeding for at least six months when complimentary foods are introduced and then for and up to one year. Data shows that for children who are breastfed, many chronic pediatric disorders occur less frequently. Extended breastfeeding is the continuation of breastfeeding after the first year.
According to the World Health Organization, “Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life. “
New guidelines have doubled, with recommendations now extending to two years of breastfeeding and beyond. So great, two years, extended breastfeeding would be a breeze.
Starting My Breastfeeding Journey
With all the pressure I put on myself to breastfeed, I was so grateful that our little lady latched on right away and nursed skin-to-skin during our first moments together. I think I was more emotional about her latch than about the labor and delivery. We were happy to have found a hospital that was very supportive of breastfeeding and provided lactation consultants and other resources to help us get started.
Over the next few months, we were able to continue our breastfeeding journey with her nursing for 30-45minutes each feed and growing in leaps and bounds. There were a few bumps though. Those first few weeks are a wild ride with frequent feeds and a steep learning curve while I tried my best to keep both our baby and my breast happy. If it hadn’t been for copious amounts of nipple cream, after EVERY SINGLE FEED (and pumping session), I don’t we would have made it.
Extended Breastfeeding Challenges
By six months we were finally ready for her first “meal” of avocados mixed with, you got it, breastmilk. I know Hubby and I probably enjoyed the moment more than she did. It felt good to have stuck it out and reached an important milestone. I had grown to really appreciate our little bonding moments and I believed she would be healthier in the long run.
Even with all of the excitement about food, this was the phase that stressed me out the most. Pumping!
Now, I tell you one thing I DO NOT like about breastfeeding is having to pump. When I had gone back to work at 4.5 months, I was regularly pumping during the day to keep up with her daycare supply.
My major issue with pumping was finding a good pump for my big ‘ole lopsided boobies. While breastfeeding our daughter, I never found one and ended up resorting to hand expressing … for the next year. I still feel the backaches from being hunched over in a locked conference room or nursing room with my sore hands and wrists frantically squeezing out just enough milk to supply my daughter for the next day.
However, pumping became even more stressful as we introduced foods. Our little lady loved to eat and drink milk! So, I was always playing catch-up. At times, I had 4-5 pumping sessions throughout the day and still nursed a few times in the morning and evenings and on-demand on the weekends. Couple that with me trying to start a workout and healthy eating routine, and my milk supply dropped like a hot potato.
Boosting My Milk Supply
I freaked out and tried everything you could think of to boost my supply again. You name it, I tried it. Lactation cookies, gallons of water, supplements, smoothies, and teas were all on the menu.
Eventually some those methods along with me backing off my weight loss journey, got us back on track. I vowed that I would never again put so much pressure on myself to do all of the things at the same time. Just for a time, I would fully commit to giving of my body to provide for my baby. It was really tough, but I was willing to sacrifice my snatch-back for a little bit.
At one years old, we finally hit the extended breastfeeding milestone. I stopped “pumping”, or as I came to call it, milking myself like a cow. She began drinking various plant-based milks, eating lots of new foods. We continued to nurse mornings and evenings and got into a new groove, which my back and hands appreciated. We also nursed through the night for a long time as we ended up co-sleeping, but that’s a whole other story.
Weaning After Extended Breastfeeding
When my extended breastfeeding journey with our daughter came to an end just after 18 months, I cried. She cried. We cried together. If I could go back, I may have continued a little longer, but I was pregnant with our second child, and I was starting to dry up. She was distraught for a few weeks as she lost her best friends, the boobies. I felt guilty that I was depriving her. Eventually, she became disinterested when I told her her new little brother would be breastfeeding. She decided it was “baby stuff” and she was happy to let him take over.
With our second child, or oldest son, we darn near copied and pasted the same breastfeeding journey. Only this time we kept going past two years and into my pregnancy with our third. This time around, I think our son was a lot more accepting of the transition which made me a little sad, but our bond is still great to this day, so I’m glad we persevered.
Third Time’s a Charm
Our third and youngest, is now approaching the two-year mark and we are still going strong. Maybe a little too strong. He has had the benefit of mom being within an arm’s length most of his life. He was born in 2020 and our lifestyle has dramatically shifted from what it was when our oldest two were nursing.
The earliest parts of nursing him were similar to my experience with his older siblings. The biggest change is in the breast pump that I found, which was a lifesaver. The Willow pump is absolutely amazing! While I did return to work full-time for a while, once the pandemic hit, I was able to be home a lot more often. This time, however, pumping wasn’t as horrible as it had previously been. Though, I was grateful that I knew how to hand express, if the need ever arose.
Now that I work virtually, I am home full-time. Lucky for him, he’s now able to nurse pretty much on-demand. He comes to me when he’s hungry, hurt, tired or just wants to be close. If my chest is nearby, he’ll come by to grab a drink of milk.
While I am loving the fact that he still enjoys breastfeeding, his “awesome” twos have hit us full force and his sweet requests to nurse can turn into complete tantrum meltdowns, if he can’t get to me right away. I like that he still has the benefit of breastmilk, but it is definitely time to reinforce boundaries.
When will we stop extended breastfeeding?
I am starting to feel like I am a crutch for his budding independence. He still is a very picky eater. If he doesn’t like what is presented at dinner (unless there are noodles), he can rely on boobie milk to save the day.
Our journey together has been great, but I want him to become a little less reliant on nursing for everything. The boobies may be going away, but I’ll always be here for the cuddles.
I am grateful for having had such a long extended breastfeeding journey with each of our littles. Breastfeeding can be extremely difficult. The pressure to exclusively breastfeed was a lot to put on myself. I am glad I kept going, but we have a lot to consider in the next few months.
So, this is where I currently leave our extended breastfeeding journey. Our youngest of three is two years old and I think we (and by we, I mean me) are ready to start to wean. I think this will be the most difficult weaning processes we’ve had yet, because of how long it’s been and the frequency of our feedings.
Here we are with baby number three, as I still find myself in uncharted waters.
Wish us luck! I’ll be sure to share how the weaning s going. Should we go cold turkey or take it slow?
What’s the longest you’ve breastfed? Let us know what you did in the comments below. Thanks for hanging out!
Extended Breastfeeding Resources
Here are some resources for mamas looking for more information on extended breastfeeding: