The accidental extender

It’s World Breastfeeding Week (yay boobs!) and the Irish Parenting Bloggers, of which I am a proud member, are doing a blog march in its honour. This is my contribution, and I’ll add links to everyone else’s as the week progresses.

August 1st: Wholesome Ireland and The Happy Womb
August 2nd: Office Mum and Awfully Chipper
August 3rd: Wonderful Wagon and It Begins With a Verse
August 4th: Glitter Mama Wishes and Ouch My Fanny Hurts
August 5th: Debalicious and Mind the Baby
August 6th: My Internal World, Musings and Chatterings, and Mama Courage
August 7th: The Nest, Mama.ie, At the Clothesline, My Life as a Mum, and Learner Mama

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If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you may be familiar with my breastfeeding story; indeed, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “There goes Maud with her boobs again.” If so – well, sorry about that.

When I had my first baby, my husband and I were living in southmost Texas, which is not a place that most of you have even considered might exist. I certainly hadn’t, until we spent two years there. We didn’t have any friends with young children, we didn’t associate with any babies or children, our families were an ocean away, and my babysitting years were far in the past. But we’d been married a year and I was 32 and I reckoned it was time to have a baby.

I did put some thought into it. I researched getting pregnant, and read pregnancy blogs, and checked babycare books out of the library. Pregnancy was achieved pretty much according to plan, which was wonderful, and I tried not to buy All The Stuff, because we had a small apartment and would be moving back up north when the baby was four months old.

My breastfeeding plans went like this: I wanted to, if I could. I hoped to get to three months, six if possible. Having a baby older than six months was not something I could conceive of at that point anyway, so there was no point looking any further ahead.

Perhaps I owe some of my success with breastfeeding to my midwife, who was a very down-to-earth person. As soon as I’d delivered the young master, she unceremoniously leaned over me and squeezed a nipple, hard. Somewhat to my surprise, creamy yellowy stuff came out. “You’re fine,” she announced, and observed us as I brought him gingerly to my breast and saw him latch on like a pro. I was only in the hospital for 24 hours, and I don’t remember the nurses being either helpful or a hindrance, except for the way they had to wake me up every couple of hours to tell me to try to nurse my baby. We would both have preferred to stay asleep, thank you very much.

Nursing in the first few days was difficult because the baby was still very sleepy (duh, newborn) and a bit jaundiced, and my milk had not come in. The pediatrician told us to supplement with formula and wake him to feed every two hours. I was adamant that I would not have my breastfeeding plans derailed by a doctor I didn’t particularly trust anyway, so we alternated breast and bottle, and I let my husband do the bottle feeds so the baby only ever got boob from me.

On the morning of the fifth day we were at the pediatrician’s office for a check-up. As we waited to be seen, the baby latched on – and didn’t come off for 45 minutes. Apparently my milk had come in. I was pretty relieved.

Latching on was fairly excruciating for the first weeks. I found a lactation consultant, who took a look and said the baby had a perfect latch. She sold me a nipple shield and a manual pump, both of which were more trouble than they were worth. I just decided that the people who said “If it hurts you’re doing it wrong” didn’t have my baby, or my boobs, and kept on keeping on, wincing and swearing freely at the start of each feed. Gradually the duration of the pain diminished and after about six weeks it only hurt a lot on the left side. After another week I was relatively pain-free, and from there our nursing relationship took off.

I had no support, really, from the people around me; though I had invaluable help and advice and a cheering section on the Internet. But the corollary of that is that I had no detractors either. There was nobody telling me they thought I probably couldn’t do it, that I should just use the free formula I’d been sent home from the hospital with, that my nipples were too small, or too flat, or too pink. I was already a stranger in a strange land, so I felt no urge to conform to peer pressure and do what others were doing. The rates of breastfeeding in south Texas are not good, so I assumed from the start that I was an outlier – a rebel, if you like. It was sort of liberating. In fact, I never had anything but supportive comments from those who did go out of their way to talk to me about breastfeeding.

We got to three months, moved north to Maryland, and went on gaily to six months. I became brave and then brazen about nursing in public – the mall, the park, the bus; McDonalds, poker night, the supermarket; whenever, wherever. At six months there was no question of weaning: why would I make my life more complicated, with all those bottles and warming and measuring and mixing? Starting solids was a little daunting, and Dash was never a big eater, so it was reassuring to know he was still getting plenty of good nourishment straight from the source.

Coming up to a year, I began to wonder when my baby would begin to wean himself, and how he would magically start eating all the food he’d need to replace that milk and keep growing. Gradually it dawned on me that he wasn’t in any way ready to wean yet, and that there was no need to. So we didn’t.

I never intended to be an extended breastfeeder. I certainly never intended to tandem nurse. I didn’t think I could possibly nurse through a second pregnancy. If you’d told me in those early days that my baby wouldn’t wean till he was 4 and a half years old – well, to be honest, I might not even have started. But things don’t always turn out the way you think they will. It was always easier to keep going than it would have been to stop, so we just did. I also had the support of two of my best friends, one nearby in real life and one in the computer, who also found themselves nursing preschoolers without necessarily having planned to. Feeling that I wasn’t the only crazy person in the world doing this made a huge difference.

My first baby is seven now. His little sister will turn five in November, and she still partakes of the boob first thing in the morning. It buys me a few more minutes in bed, and apart from her habit of volubly declaring her love for the boobies in front of company, the fact that I’m still, technically, a nursing mother doesn’t impinge on my life at all. Mostly, I forget that it’s even a fact, until I have to check a box on a form at the doctor’s or something. We’ll probably stop soon.

Probably.

Nursing mother and toddler
Nursing Mabel at 22 months

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If you’re interested in reading more of my breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding, and tandem nursing story as it happened, click the links in the tag cloud.

4 thoughts on “The accidental extender

  1. Office Mum

    Really nice to read all about how your extended feeding came about. I wonder was it partly linked to being a “foreigner” abroad that you were brave about feeding out and about? I am always braver abroad where nobody knows me!

    Reply
    1. Maud

      Yes, definitely, I think so. It’s much easier not to care when nobody knows you. Even the first time we were in Dublin (at 8 months) I was more circumspect and self-conscious about nursing in front of people.

      Reply
  2. Dee Six

    I was like you too. Hoped to get til a year ended up nursing my first til she was 2 1/2. She weaned 2 weeks before her brother was born although i was prepared to tandum nurse if that would have been where we were. #2 is still nursing string at 16 months and wakes up asking for his booboo.

    Reply

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