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Extended Breastfeeding

I'm currently at a new milestone in my breastfeeding journey.

My freezer stash has finally been depleted.

Who would have thought an empty freezer could bring on so much emotion?

I was diligent in my pumping and always fit in one extra session to ensure that I could continue to feed my daughter breast milk even after I was done pumping.

I stopped pumping after 12 months and was able to fill my freezer with a stash that lasted 8 months.

We are still nursing twice a day (upon waking and before bed) but I can tell you that this journey of mine certainly isn't what I thought it would be!

We planned to stop nursing after cold and flu season just a few months after her first birthday. The hope was to protect her immune system during that time and keep her healthy. Well, then COVID-19 entered the picture and I couldn't imagine taking any immunity advantage away from my child, so we decided to continue on.

As I'm sure everyone has felt, we certainly didn't think this pandemic would last as long as is has. Now we've found ourselves in our 20th month of breastfeeding.

The question "are you still breastfeeding" has turned from general curiosity to a question laced with judgement. I completely understand the reaction because this isn't where I planned to be but I'm very confident in my choices and will always put my child first.

So my answer to that question is always full of context and empathy for that person's unintentional lack of understanding. There is nothing weird about nursing a toddler and I would consider my daughter to be just as "clingy" towards me as she is with her other loved ones.

Extended breastfeeding might be rare in the US but it's actually in written guidance by the World Health Organization (WHO) to encourage breastfeeding up to age 2 and beyond.

Read the full article here.

WHO recommends mothers worldwide to exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.

I'm not sure how or when our journey will come to a close but I do know that it has shaped me as a person. The level of sacrifice it has taken to provide for my child in this way, gives me a sense of confidence as a mother. As parents we often question our choices but this is one that I have no doubt is spot on.

How much did you think about breastfeeding before you were pregnant? I'm sure it didn't really cross your mind except for the occasional shock of a public feeding session or related meme.

Motherhood truly is an exclusive club that you can't really understand until you're "officially in". Us mom's don't want to keep anyone on the outside but it's just not something that you can explain.

Just like the ambiguity of motherhood, it's really hard to imagine where your breastfeeding journey will take you. I think a lot of mom's have good intentions prior to giving birth and have a plan in mind. You can feel extremely passionate about the benefits of breast milk and find yourself with latching or production issues. You can plan to exclusively pump in order to share responsibilities with your partner and realize how much easier it is to simply breastfeed. You might even find yourself without strong opinions to start and over time become a breastfeeding advocate!

Personally I did a lot of research while pregnant and that is what convinced me to try breastfeeding. I had both breast milk and formula users in my inner circle but that was my decision came from a health benefit standpoint.

I certainly never realized how exhausting it would be but also deeply intimate and bonding.

Here is what I've learned on my journey:

  • Learning your feeding positions before giving birth really does give you a leg up. It's one less thing to wrap your head around when baby arrives

  • Explore your pump before giving birth. YouTube will be a BIG help! You will need your pump just days after giving birth when you find yourself suddenly engorged and uncomfortable

  • Pump during those first few days and save excess colostrum for when your baby is sick. It's like a custom-made immune booster for your little one

  • Don't forget to accurately mark your frozen breast milk with dates. If you can be strategic about thawing in chronological order, you can store breast milk for quite some time after you end your pumping journey

  • The melatonin that is released during breastfeeding to both mom and baby make those night feedings incredibly draining. It's effective in helping baby sleep but the same applies to Mama (aka, prepare to feel drugged)

  • Keep a lot of towels nearby! You're going to need them when you accidentally spray baby, when baby stops drinking but you're still letting down, when you're sleeping and nearing time for a feeding and even when you spill milk after pumping (yes, you might cry over "spilled milk" in this case)

  • Location becomes important once baby starts to notice the world around them! Find yourself a quite, dim, cozy space to focus on breastfeeding and help your baby avoid distractions

  • Act with confidence. There will be a million situations where you feel self-conscious about toting your pumping bag, feeding in public, staining your shirt, etc. It might feel like all eyes are on you but just know that you have nothing to apologize for-- you are nourishing your child in the best way possible

  • If you have room, I highly recommend dedicating a deep freezer to milk storage. Add one extra pumping session per day and watch that stash build quickly! I was able to continue to give my daughter breast milk for 8 months after my last day pumping by following this method! (and that actually includes one traumatic freezer malfunction where we lots months worth of milk!)

  • Nursing covers are usually a waste of time. They aren't comfortable for anyone

  • Teeth do not = the end of your breastfeeding journey! My sweet girl has all but 2 teeth now and she knows that nursing is not the time for biting

Don't hesitate to reach out with any breastfeeding questions! I'm happy to share whatever I've learned from my experiences!

Also, although I'm clearly a big believer in the benefits of breastfeeding, I completely understand that there are many barriers and reasons that some parents might use formula. We're all just trying to do what we think is best for our little ones! No judgement here!

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