extended breastfeeding

I have held off from writing this post. Because I guess I felt some kind of obligation to toe the party line. I don’t want to disappoint the “extended breastfeeding is great” crowd, nor do I particularly want to suffer the “I told you so”‘s by admitting that it might have been the better move to have weaned Arlo whilst I was pregnant with Rory – when he had cut right down and really wasn’t bothered.

But, I am going to write it anyway. So that I can remember this phase, so that I can better decide what to do with Rory when the time comes to think about weaning, and so that anyone thinking of breastfeeding a child beyond toddlerhood can get another perspective on extended breastfeeding.

People talk about breastfeeding an older child as something that becomes more and more of a private thing. Something that other people never see. Something that happens only at bedtime or in the morning, behind closed doors. “People are breastfeeding beyond toddlerhood, but you would never know it”.

Well, are these children talking??

That nickname Arlo chose, once between our family, is now public knowledge. Preschool will hear about his nonnos. Everyone will hear about his nonnos.

Going away with other people? People coming to visit you at home? Yep, they will very quickly become acquainted with your breastfeeding routine, like it or not.

Persistent breast-beating tantrums whilst I am trying to hold a conversation? Sure.  The fact that Arlo is ‘still’ breastfeeding becomes immediately obvious after one of these episodes.

And with all things pregnancy, baby, and child-related, it becomes another topic that people feel they are welcome to weigh in on. Because Arlo is taking about it, it can seem that I am inviting people to talk about it. Just because I’m not comfortable with it being up for public debate, that doesn’t mean my three year old will care.

Try explaining to a three year old that most of his friends won’t understand what he means. That mostly babies breastfeed and hardly any children do, but it’s OK for children to have it if they want to. This subject is confusing for him.

At three, he can hold a very clear conversation about breastfeeding, but he is not capable of understanding why I might want to change the subject in public.

He is not capable of understanding why someone not aware of his situation would tell him that breastfeeding is just for babies.

(This actually happened a little while ago, and we had a very confused little boy for a week or two. You could quite clearly see the internal conflict he was working through – I’m not meant to be having this, but I really like to. Not only did he stop feeding, he was distressed when I mentioned breastfeeding, and he would refuse to talk about it. Choosing to make incomprehensible noises instead and bounce awkwardly up and down with tears in his eyes. We worked through this with a few carefully timed conversations with Sam and I, but this has taught me that if you breastfeed beyond toddlerhood, you need to be prepared with easily understandable words to help your child deal with this internal conflict that will inevitably crop up.)

Extended breastfeeding has affected Arlo’s life in ways I hadn’t expected. He cannot get his head around the cold milk offered at preschool. He will only have his drinks warm. And so, he doesn’t drink anything for the hours he is at preschool. In a day, he rarely even drinks more than half a beaker full of (lukewarm) water or squash at home either. He doesn’t ‘need’ it, because he is getting enough hydration through breastfeeding.

We’ve been doing boundaries and set times for breastfeeding since he was 14 months old, which was the last point that he became obsessive in his need to feed. By two, we had reached a really nice stage. It was a morning and a bedtime feed, and I really thought that self-weaning was around the corner. But things have changed again, and these days if he’s not pushing the boundaries by asking for more, he’s vocally focussing his whole day around his set times.

On an average day, I breastfeed Rory every two hours throughout the night, including two or three times in the evening before I’ve gone to bed. I breastfeed Rory during the day. He naps at the boob. I am on the sofa A LOT. And when I finally get off the sofa, then come the demands from Arlo. And the tantrums that last all day and make working impossible if I decide to see it through and fight the battle. I didn’t really plan to dedicate my whole life to breastfeeding, and it seems particularly demanding when I have a work from home job on top.

The benefits of extended breastfeeding are still much the same – it has helped ease many a transition, it has helped Arlo bond with Rory, and it definitely helped Rory establish feeding. It provides good nutrition for a very fussy eater. Recently, breastfeeding no doubt saved us from a hospital visit after six days of sickness with no other food or drink staying down. But none of these things are enough of a draw any more.

I don’t like breastfeeding Arlo at the moment. It’s too much, and with an articulate three year old, it doesn’t feel very private at all. But it would actually be impossible to wean Arlo right now. Well, OK, it wouldn’t be impossible, but it would involve a LOT of persistence, emotional turmoil, and hard work, and I feel that we haven’t come this far to have it all end on such a sad note. That wasn’t the point at all.

(I know I’ve mentioned recently about Arlo’s still frequent night wakings, so just a note for anyone thinking this might be related to breastfeeding – Arlo was completely night weaned by two and a quarter years old. And since Rory was born, I don’t even go into him. Sam deals with all his wake ups. He has not had any milk at night for eight months. And yet he still wakes. So, I doubt it’s breastfeeding related, or perhaps ever was.)

I avoided this post because I didn’t want to face the “I told you so’s”. But for every person who would say that Arlo’s behaviour is a result of breastfeeding for too long, there’s my voice of doubt countering with the thought that if he wasn’t breastfeeding, he’d be fixated on something else. That something else would lead to all the tantrums and the hard work. After all, he’s hardly the only difficult three year old, breastfeeding or not.

There is no way of telling. There is no going back. I just know that I am ready to stop when he is.

7 comments

  1. Arlo strikes me as quite… particular? Some of the pictures of his train sets that you’ve posted are extensive and meticulous in detail. I may be wrong, because obviously I only get snapshots of his life via what you share, but he seems like the sort of kid that gets wrapped up in what he’s doing and it engulfs him in that moment. Of course I could be talking out of my ass here and I’m seeing something that isn’t there (it wouldn’t be the first time :p ) but I just wondered if he has the same thing with breastfeeding. In that moment, those moments, they are everything.

    I don’t know, like I say.. probably talking out of my ass, but clearly he’s a smart kid and whatever happens he’ll figure it out and you’ll both move on and be fine. It takes a huge, HUGE amount of dedication and self-sacrifice to breastfeed beyond what is considered “the norm” and you have been simply amazing. I have my own motivation to wean at the minute and Oliver is only just 18.5 months – I couldn’t imagine him feeding at 3 because of our pain/issues (and yet Isabel I could.. oh well) so big respect for what you’ve done so far.

    Whatever happens, you can’t undo the goodness, right? 🙂

    1. Yep, that’s Arlo. He’s very particular. Gets very absorbed in play, especially with his trains and cars. Likes order and having things his way. At preschool, he hates when the toys are out of place (ie, a car mixed in with the blocks rather than with the other cars), and he has been known to have meltdowns in a card shops because the cards have all been mixed up in the racks. Hence me thinking that if it wasn’t breastfeeding, we’d be finding trouble and tantrums elsewhere. And yes, breastfeeding is about the only bit of goodness in his diet, so that’s one big positive.

  2. I am still breastfeeding my son who is nearly 3, and I have a lot of the same problems with it that you do. My son loves it so much, and there are enough tantrums and bad moments in our daily lives without me introducing another huge issue. But how are we ever going to stop? I can’t see my son ever choosing to stop on his own.

  3. A super post, so honest.
    I can’t see why people would be so against extended breastfeeding. If they don’t like it don’t do it themselves. If Mother and child are happy then all is fine – although I realise this isn’t quite the case for you.
    Stopping breastfeeding may not be as big an issue as you expect – although choosing your moment and tactic might be key here.
    Things will sort themselves out. It’s a bit like the potty training stage we think we will never see the day when you’re not dealing with your child’s poo and wee – put it comes – often without us realising it!

    1. I don’t think it’s so much that people are absolutely against it, but that they think it’s not a great idea to continue for so long due to issues like the ones I’m having with Arlo at the moment. I like your comparison to potty training, at the time that seemed like a long process and a lot of ‘going nowhere fast’, but now it’s in the past it doesn’t seem that bad.

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