Finally got round to writing the last instalment of my breastfeeding story….
At 13 months old, Arlo became very vocal about his milk, as well as demanding to breastfeed every five minutes (no exaggeration).
Even though by 11 months old he didn’t need to feed so much, he always wanted to feed when we were out at baby groups. I think he was nervous and feeding made him more comfortable. By 13 months, it was getting a little ridiculous to have him feeding constantly for an hour and a half at a baby group, or stand up swaying him. That or tears. Plus, I didn’t really feel that comfortable feeding him in public any more. Partly because the only other people feeding or rocking their babies were mums with 3 month olds. I thought Arlo needed some gentle encouragement to show him that it was OK to be comfortable in busy group situations. So, we stopped feeding. It took a little while, but he got the idea and stopped asking in public. Breastfeeding became only for home.
And breastfeeding started to happen a lot at home. I heard it was bad to refuse. I never set any boundaries. I had a busy half-year where I was looking for work every spare minute and then trying to build my business, and we ended up in a situation where it was easier and quicker to let Arlo have free reign of my boobs while I sat on the sofa at my computer.
Now he thinks it’s fine to hop on and off every ten minutes and snack whenever he wants. That’s literally it, just a snack. Sometimes he doesn’t even stay on one long enough to activate a let down. He likes move back and forth from one to the other, spending about 10 seconds at each one. I am a snack bar.
I don’t know much about breastfeeding toddlers. I only have mine to go by. All I can say is that I wasn’t quite prepared for this crazy and sudden toddler infatuation with my milk. I asked my 3 friends with breastfeeding toddlers, they didn’t have this problem. Their toddlers could take or leave breastfeeding, and as a result of this, most of them have since weaned – with no tears on the child’s side. So, exactly as when I realised Arlo wasn’t sleeping like the other babies we knew, the guilt and panic set in. Is this not normal? Have I done something wrong? Should I have gone about things differently?
I have heard that you are not meant to deny milk, but I think there are perhaps better ways to parent him than with boob every 10 minutes whilst my attention is divided. Of course, it’s a nice comfort to him, but my gut feeling is that he was craving attention. I think it’s my fault that he started doing this, because his mum was too busy for him. And I let him feed whilst I was trying to work because I felt guilty, I was wary of denying, and I didn’t know what else to do.
I don’t know whether it was my actions or Arlo’s personality that led him to start being such a boob-monster. The logical answer is that it is probably a mixture of the two. But I have heard that it can be a typical toddler thing, depending on their personality.
For a while, I found Arlo’s demands so intense. I have always wanted for Arlo to self-wean, but there have been times when I wished otherwise. We continue for him, most definitely not for me. I could never wean him as it is, because to do so would be doing it purely for myself, blatantly putting my needs above his. He clearly doesn’t want to stop.
His demands have become better. He understands that he cannot always have milk when I am on the sofa at my computer. I created zones where he is allowed to feed, and zones where he isn’t, to make things a bit less confusing for his toddler mind. Despite this, he still chances his luck and asks, but we are down to maybe one request an hour (none if he is suitably distracted). And I am significantly less ‘touched out’ than I was a few months ago.
Becoming touched out (fed up of not having your own personal space) is the most difficult part of breastfeeding a toddler for me. Actually, it’s the only difficult part, as the rest of it is so easy. I’ve been doing this breastfeeding gig for 21 months now. 21 months of nursing bras. 21 months of never going more than a few hours without someone attaching themselves to me. 21 months of wriggly, hair-pulling, nipple-tugging, scratching, poking, toothy child pawing my body. And I know I have a lot more months ahead of me.
I think it’s laughable that there is a preconception that mothers who continue to breastfeed are doing it for themselves, to fill some kind of psychological need. If I were to stop breastfeeding Arlo now, it would have a devastating emotional effect on him. He is clearly not ready, and how I feel about breastfeeding doesn’t really matter, because I know I don’t have a say in it. I read a really great post on Radical Ramblings about breastfeeding a demanding toddler, who sounds very similar to Arlo in many ways.
I’m in danger of making breastfeeding a toddler sound very scary, so I want to mention some of the brilliant parts.
I’m never overly worried about his nutrition or hunger when he refuses to eat lunch and dinner (which happens all too frequently these days.)
It is nothing short of miraculous during a tummy bug. During a particularly bad bout at the beginning of this year, breastmilk was the only thing he would consume for 6 whole days, and it stayed down for the latter 4 of those days. Without it, I’m sure we would have had a very dehydrated boy on our hands.
It is still the most effective way of getting him sleepy/asleep. If he wakes at 4.30 in the morning, I stand a fighting chance of getting him back to sleep. Without breastfeeding, I fail every time.
I find comfort in the fact that it’s natural. My body has created this milk especially for him. It’s good for his immune system, I believe it’s no coincidence that the natural age of self-weaning usually happens when the immune system reaches maturity. I can’t think of better nutrition for him.
This post brings us up to date. Arlo will be 22 months in a few weeks. I don’t really think about breastfeeding, how long we are going to do it for, what happens next, etc. Taking Arlo’s lead on this has become second nature. It doesn’t impact on my life – I drink, I go out, I sleep through the night (sometimes!), Arlo can stay somewhere else overnight (not that we’ve done this yet as he’s only just started sleeping through). It’s not a hassle, it doesn’t involve any thought, it’s all really very simple at this stage.
With three children and a camera never far away, Chloe Bridge is the author of family lifestyle and travel blog, Sorry About The Mess. Chloe writes and creates video about her experiences of motherhood and life with young children.