When Well Rounded asked me to share my extended breastfeeding story, I wasn’t totally sure where to start. While I’m starting to share more about #momlife on my Instagram account, it’s not my first area of expertise (that would be diet, digestion and all things healthy eating and living). But the more I thought back on my experience the last 2.5 years, the more I remembered how little information there is available on breastfeeding, especially extended breastfeeding.
I’m fortunate enough that I didn’t have any major trouble breastfeeding my child. I immediately stepped into the role as chief milk producer and took care of my boobs like it was my JOB (because it was!), and here I am more than two years later, still going strong.
So today I’m sharing 5 things I wish I had known about nursing and extended breastfeeding. I hope that my reflections and tips prove useful to you, or at the very least inspire and empower you do this in a way that feels good for your body, your beliefs and your life.
1. Breastfeeding can be whatever it looks like for you. If there’s anything I’ve learned being a mom, it’s that you truly have to do what works for you and your child in the moment, and that may change from month to month, or day to day. Maybe most days you’re super on top of making homemade meals with all organic ingredients, but then your little one has you up all night, 10 nights in a row AND your hubby picks a fight AND something awful happens in the world… so you give into the chocolate (or screen time, or whatever else) because you just can’t fight any more.
The same thing goes for breastfeeding. Maybe you plan to do it for a certain amount of time and in a certain way, but then that doesn’t work and you have to pivot. You’re not comfortable whipping out your boobs in public for a 2 year old? That’s okay - I’m not really either. Or do you really HATE pumping? Ugh, same! Or maybe the way you’ve been going about it simply doesn’t feel supportive anymore? At the end of the day, you have to just do you.
2. You can set rules and limits. When I was researching breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding, there was a lot of talk about it being all or nothing -- that if you decided to go for extended breastfeeding, you wouldn’t be able to set boundaries with your child, and that your little one would be tugging at your boobs 24/7.
I learned that this it definitely not the case. At about 13 months my daughter Navy did understand that it was YES sometimes, NO other times. My husband and I loosely follow the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) method of parenting, so I’d talk to her about it: I see you want milk now, we’re not going to have it now because we’re in the middle of a store, we will have it when we get back home later this afternoon. Again, you can do what works for you!
3. It provides nutrients and boost the immune system. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to breastfeed my child as long as it felt right, but my goal was at least two years. A friend of mine, who also happens to be a doctor and who leans towards the holistic side of things, told me that between two and three years of age is when children’s immune and digestive systems are more fully developed. So if you can make it that long, great; if not, that’s okay too!
It’s helpful on the days she won’t touch a vegetable - I’m assured that at least she’s getting quality nutrients via breastmilk.
4. It’s okay if you do this for you. I was planning on weaning her a few months ago, but I read that my hormones could potentially go a little wackadoodle. At the time, I had a bunch of events and trips planned, and I couldn’t afford that possibility. So we kept going.
Plus, my husband and I (and now Navy!) travel a lot. We have a busy schedule and often are switching time zones and routines. It’s convenient to have something that soothes her (that just so happens to be attached to me) in between all the things. Not everyone who does extended breastfeeding is so altruistic - it can be about you and your needs too.
5. You will feel like a superhero. I can’t believe what I’ve done and how long I’ve done it. I get to know that forever. It’s cool. I feel like a real life superhero. And even on the days when I am tired and frustrated and feel far from supermom, I’m proud of this time I’ve spent feeding my child in this particular way. And no matter how long you choose to breastfeed your babe or whatever way you choose to nourish their growing tummies, I want you to be proud of you too. Parenting is quite the “job” they told me, I just didn’t know my boobs would be such a huge part of it.
Robyn Youkilis is speaker, health coach, TV Host and #1 Bestselling Author of the books Go with Your Gut and Thin From Within.
Photography by Stylish & Hip Kids.