Between four and thirteen months, things were very easy. My supply was well established, Arlo had set himself more of a feeding routine (although nights were always unpredictable), and his latch was now fine. Breastfeeding became something I could do with very little effort, it required no concentration to ‘get it right’.
I knew so little about breastfeeding before I had Arlo that I can’t really say I had much of an opinion on it. I didn’t start out determined to breastfeed, although by the time he was born I was pretty determined to overcome the issues we had and would have been disappointed if it hadn’t worked out. I didn’t have any opinion on extended breastfeeding, although I thought breastfeeding an older child was a bit odd. I didn’t give any thought to the fact that many toddlers are breastfed, I assumed it was for babies.
One assumption that I did have about breastfeeding was that it doesn’t last more than six months. If I had sat down and actually though about it, I’m sure I would have quickly realised that it’s not as simple as breastfeeding just ‘ending’ at six months. But I didn’t give it much thought at all until Arlo was a few months old and I realised that it was highly unlikely that we would be stopping at six months.
Call it what you will, natural instinct or a lazy propensity to take the easiest option (the latter was definitely my motivation), breastfeeding became my main parenting weapon. Crying? Put him on the boob. Won’t fall asleep? Put him on the boob. Won’t stay asleep? Put him on the boob again. Poorly? Boob.
I struggled for a long, long time with the guilt that I had done it wrong. The reason he slept so poorly was because I’d encouraged him to rely on the boob and now he was incapable of self-settling. It’s taken me a year and a half of getting to know Arlo’s growing personality to realise that it wasn’t me. He is what some people would describe as ‘high needs’, and there was just no way he was going to be happy to settle himself until he was ready. And I did give him opportunities and tried to gently encourage him.
Back on to the subject of breastfeeding…Somewhere down the line, I realised that I had become extremely passionate about breastfeeding being the right thing for Arlo and me. Not only was it such an integral part of my parenting, but I just did not want to give him formula, especially in light of his cow’s milk intolerance.
I discovered that Arlo was being affected by certain allergens that were passing into my milk from food I’d eaten. For six months (from when Arlo was three months old to nine months), I cut out all dairy, soy and egg products from my diet. I was about to write that it was difficult to adapt at first, especially for someone who has a very sweet tooth. But it wasn’t difficult at all, I knew it was the best thing for Arlo and therefore I wasn’t remotely tempted to stray from my new diet.
Arlo flat-out refused to drink from a bottle until he was around seven or eight months old and suddenly decided that he quite liked bottles. Before this point, every feed was down to me and I couldn’t leave him for more than a couple of hours. Although this sounds like an inconvenience, not much changed after the bottle discovery because expressing was a pain and I didn’t really want to leave him for more than a few hours. (But it was nice to have the option of going out for longer periods of time and a new sense of freedom and possibility.)
There were a couple of nursing strikes. Notably, the one that occurred around the time of his first birthday after he’d been poorly that I almost mistook for self-weaning. I was really sad to think that this might be the end of our breastfeeding time (and by this point I had hoped he would be receiving the benefits of my milk until he was at least two years old), but I was encouraged by statistics that said it was very rare for a child to truly self-wean until much later. I expressed to keep my supply up and after a week Arlo was back to his normal habits.
I feel like I’m focusing too much on the bad points of my breastfeeding experience. But it’s only because otherwise this post would simply read: Breastfeeding between four and thirteen months? Big thumbs up.
Click to read my earlier post: Breastfeeding – The Early Days