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.

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11 comments

  1. JD was 25 months when I stopped BF him. At 24 months, it would have felt totally wrong to stop, he clearly wasn’t ready. At 25 months, he was clearly ready to give it up and stopping was easy – only two days of slight grumpiness and it was all over. It was definitely his call. Actually all his milestones were similar – he led, I supported. I’m taking the same approach with Miss J and I’m very happy with it. Well done you for getting this far x

    1. That’s a very good point about the milestones. He walked when he wanted to (late), he slept when he wanted to (also late). He’s led all the way. As with his other milestones, I can also see that weaning may be an overnight change just like you found – when he’s ready, it will happen just like that.

  2. The obsession with milk thing is normal – I have come across so many mums who experienced the same. Isabel did it a few times but I can’t remember what ages it was at.

    I never denied a feed but I would often say “mummy is just doing X, we will have it in 5 minutes” and then in 5 minutes I’d offer. It helped maintain boundaries without restriction (I found saying no resulted in tedious tantrums… nothing has changed).

    It’s funny, I was really ready for Izz to stop, and then she did… and it really knocked me for six. Hormones all over the place and early pregnancy didn’t help! I had to learn how to parent all over again though.

    Meh, all good fun.

    1. It’s true that me saying ‘later’, or ‘at bedtime’ works much better than saying no outright. I think that stopping is such a big thing no matter how ready you are.

  3. Arlo must be of an age almost to the day with my No3. Coincidentally, I initiated stopping last week, after a gradual wind-down over a few months. My first child self-weaned at 15 months (I was pregnant, which I think contributed); my second quite happily at 25 months.
    I feel very guilty about being the one to stop, but I’ve never previously felt so restricted by feeding. It was getting to the point where I was unable to get the eldest two ready properly in the morning, and didn’t dare sit down during the day! Curiously, although he does still look for milk in the mornings, he’s fairly easy to distract and he has become a little bit less grumpy and clingy during the day. I’m sad that our breastfeeding days are over, but I think that it was definitely the right time for us.
    Thanks for posting this – there’s not enough written about feeding a toddler

    1. Thanks for your comment. You are right there is not much at all written about breastfeeding toddlers. I found one book, and it was written in the 80s! That’s why I love reading blog posts on the subject, so thought I’d write my own.

      I can completely understand the restriction that comes with having a breast-obsessed toddler, especially when you have other children and places to get to in the mornings!

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