Arlo breastfed until he was nearly four years old.
During this time, I had several pregnancies, before going on to have Rory, and then tandem feed for over a year (though rarely feeding both at the same time).
When the time was right, Arlo weaned happily, whilst Rory continued to breastfeed. And that brings us to today – Rory is close to three years old, breastfeeding, and I am pregnant again.
I have been breastfeeding without a pause since Arlo was born in 2010. I have experienced breastfeeding more than one toddler, through more than one pregnancy.
I wrote a lot about breastfeeding a toddler when it was Arlo, but I haven’t really written too much about breastfeeding Rory as a toddler. The experiences have differed quite a bit, mainly due to the boys having rather different personality types. I can safely say that there definitely isn’t a one-size fits all approach to breastfeeding a toddler, even between siblings.
Breastfeeding a toddler
Rory was breastfed on demand until around 18 months or thereabouts (I can’t quite remember!) At some point, I decided he was ready (and I was definitely ready) to introduce some boundaries and to not always say yes when he asked. I’d offer a snack or a distraction instead, only say yes to a feed in certain places in the house (so he slowly began to stop assuming that it was OK everywhere and anywhere all the time) Soon, he had reduced to a mid-morning and mid-afternoon feed.
A little earlier than this, I’d already put a stop to feeding him to sleep at naps and bedtime. The alternative was more labour-intensive: I’d have to pace up and down the bedroom with him, sometimes for an hour, until he fell asleep in my arms and could be successfully transferred to his bed. But I was keen to establish a new routine whilst he was young enough to forget fairly quickly, because in my experience, the feed-to-sleep habit can prove one of the most stubborn breastfeeds to drop.
After Rory turned two, I night-weaned him (I wrote about that in detail here), and also started encouraging him to fall asleep in his bed, rather than in my arms walking around the room. These two changes were something that only worked when Rory decided he was ready, earlier attempts had not gone so well.
That brings us to today and our current breastfeeding routine. At almost three, Rory no longer feeds in the night at all. He has just one feed during the day, I’m not too strict on when this happens, I wait for him to ask me. Usually it’s early afternoon, but there are sometimes days where we are out all day or he forgets to ask me.
I don’t feed Rory in public. I stopped that with both boys at around 18 months of age. The only way you would know that they still breastfed was if you were round our house at feed time, or if the boys started talking to you about their favourite things.
Breastfeeding during pregnancy
To be honest, I don’t have too much to write about breastfeeding during pregnancy. I think I am very used to the feelings of being “touched out” that come with breastfeeding a toddler, that I am not overly phased when it happens during pregnancy. Or perhaps for me, the feelings aren’t heightened. I’ve had moments of nipple tenderness, but nothing too uncomfortable and I find it tends to just be one day here or there rather than constantly. It was the same when I was pregnant with Rory and breastfeeding a toddler Arlo. On the whole, breastfeeding during pregnancy has very much felt like life as normal with a breastfeeding toddler.
How long do I think I will keep breastfeeding Rory?
With Arlo I didn’t have a plan of when to stop, and it’s kind of the same with Rory. Arlo was MUCH more attached to the routine of having my milk. Rory enjoys it, and usually remembers to request his one feed of the day. But sometimes he is having too much fun to ask (unheard of with Arlo, AKA Mr Routine). I think when the time comes to wean Rory completely, I wouldn’t be surprised if he accepted it with no upset at all.
If it weren’t for the fact that I’m pregnant again, I’d be maybe thinking about weaning Rory now. But after seeing the benefit of having a breastfeeding child once a new baby arrives, both bonding/attachment/security-wise and for the already established milk supply ready and waiting for a new baby, I would like to keep Rory’s feed in place for now and maybe reassess once I am out of the fourth trimester with our new arrival.
Do I mind breastfeeding for so long?
I have mixed feelings, I guess. I would hate the faff of bottles in the early months enough not to be bothered trying to wean at that stage (and neither of mine have been at all interested in having a go on one despite the many times we tried!). So, it’s unlikely that I’d ever wean a child before they were around the one year mark, eating lots of solids and being able to drink formula or other milk from a beaker. But, this is the same point that breastfeeding becomes a lot less of a responsibility and much less maintenance as part of daily life, so I think I’d always be tempted to just carry on, gradually cutting down, and see where it goes.
My ‘extended’ breastfeeding started with Arlo, when I discovered that he was badly allergic to cow’s milk protein and I couldn’t get a GP to prescribe him hypo-allergenic formula, let alone listen to me at all about his CMPA. So, a dairy-free diet and breastfeeding were my only way forward. My original plan had been to get him on to bottles as soon as, and wean from the breast after six months.
With Rory, I realised it wasn’t as big a commitment as I once thought it to be, and so I’ve done the same with him. It’s now just what I know, it is a huge part of my parenting and I think I’d feel a bit lost doing it any other way.
I must admit to having the occasional pangs of longing and fascination when I think about bottle-fed young babies, in a “you can go out all day/evening/overnight if you want or need to, and your baby will probably develop better sleep habits much earlier” sort of sense. In my years of being a mum, I know in the grand scheme of things that breastfeeding can sometimes feel like a slog, especially the sleep thing (because let’s face it there’s no denying that there is a link between breastfeeding and sleep behaviour) but over the years I’ve become a lot less bothered by the commitment – it doesn’t seem that much time to wait until those options become available to me once more too, and I guess I’m now used to the long breastfeeding relationships I’ve had with my children. When Arlo was a baby, the thought of breastfeeding for the WHO recommended two years seemed AGES away. With Rory, I barely noted the duration of our time breastfeeding at all, and before I knew it he was almost three.
With baby number three on the way, I am looking at yet another couple of years of breastfeeding, taking it up to a potential 8+ years of breastfeeding without a pause. These seem like big numbers on paper, but in reality it doesn’t phase me. It’s now just normal life for me.
I know from past experience that there will be periods of time where I get incredibly frustrated with our sleep and breastfeeding routine (garantueed to happen between 9 months and two years old – I find the second year particularly difficult, because my expectations of their sleep increase but in reality they become more demanding than a newborn with feeding, night feeds in particular).
Then all of a sudden, we are able to get some balance back. They start sleeping (slightly) better at night, and they are open to the idea of cutting down on feeds. I get some space and some rest. The hard days that felt like they were never going to change are in the past. Everyone is happy and it all feels easy and manageable again. So much so, that I start contemplating more babies.
For our family, we usually reach this stage at around two years old. Knowing this, with the hindsight of the experiences I’ve had with my first two children, it gives me a good idea of what to expect with baby number three. In fact, it gives me the confidence to happily have NO expectations.
I know to trust that no matter how sleep-deprived I get, no matter how many times I wish I wasn’t the only person who could settle our child to sleep, no matter how many times I feel guilty for staying out late, knowing that my child is keeping Sam awake, stubbornly waiting for me to return home so they can get their milk (woe betide the thought of actually falling back to sleep without it), I know that one day, slowly, this will all get easier and the hard times will feel well and truly a thing of the past.
The frustration does not last forever, certainly not long enough for me to wish to change one thing about breastfeeding as an integral part of my parenting relationship.