Before I had my babies I had very definite ideas about breastfeeding. I believed that breast was unquestionably best, but that breastfeeding was something I would have to try and potentially fail at, as I knew many people who had started off breastfeeding and had turned to bottles after a few weeks, despite being wracked by guilt. They just hadn’t managed to make it work, so I knew that it was quite possible it wouldn’t work for me either. (Quite what I thought happened to babies before formula existed I’m not sure; maybe I just thought a lot more babies must have died with so many mothers unable to breastfeed.) I expected I would breastfeed (if it worked in the first place) for around 6 months to a year. I thought that breastfeeding any longer than that was “weird” and that breastfeeding once a baby had teeth or was old enough to “ask for it” was even weirder. (I’m not quite sure when I thought babies got teeth!)
So I started breastfeeding when the girls were born, without having taken a class or really with any idea of the potential pitfalls. Luckily, Claudia took to it so well that I built up a good supply, which meant that Imogen was able to feed too, despite not seeming to latch as easily. I know now how lucky I was that Claudia took to the boob the way she did, understanding with 20:20 hindsight that all my friends who tore themselves up with guilt over having to stop through supply issues or agonising pain were in fact failed by the system and could have probably had very successful breastfeeding relationships if helped out by a qualified lactation consultant.
Upon leaving hospital after the birth, we were given a whole load of bumph by the midwives. It covered a whole range of things from safe sleeping to feeding and contained the fact that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. It took me a while to actually understand this. It means that for the first six months of life, infants should have breast milk and only breast milk – no formula, no baby rice, no purees. I initially thought it meant that you could stop breastfeeding after 6 months and couldn’t work out what you were supposed to do between 6 months and a year as babies are not allowed cow’s milk as a main drink until 12 months. It didn’t seem right that the only option was to put them on formula until they were old enough for cow’s milk.
So I looked into it a bit more and realised that the recommendation was for exclusive breastfeeding until 6 months, discovering that the WHO also recommends sustained breastfeeding until two years as part of a mixed diet.
TWO YEARS! How many people do you know who still breastfeed their two year old? And how many people do you know who would think it was weird (and maybe even a little bit wrong) to breastfeed a two year old? A lot, right? Most of them? Yeah, I was one of them.
So the girls turned one a couple of weeks ago and, with no clear plan in place for how long we will continue, I am currently still breastfeeding. Since about ten or eleven months they have been very aware of me feeding the other one. If I am in a room with both of them and pick one up to feed, the other one will make it very clear they do not want to be left out. Having retired my tandem feeding cushion months ago, when they were old enough to have a feed in five minutes or so and I realised I could do so quickly without needing to feed both at the same time, we are now back to tandem feeding more often than not. I lift them both up onto the sofa (or sit on the floor with them), place one either side of me and, basically, let them at it. They sit or squat or kneel beside me and have their milk, often trying to poke the other one in the eye at the time. Most of my energy is spent trying to stop them from poking their sister in the eye.
Immie’s favourite trick is to wait until Claudie comes up for air or to change position and then clap her hand across my other nipple – the one Claudia was feeding from.
They are both now capable of “asking” for their milk. Immie will stand in front of me making a high pitched “eh-uh” noise. If she is in my arms she will pull my top down and reach inside my bra because waiting for me to get my boob out obviously just isn’t quick enough. Claudia has learned the sign for milk and I know when she wants it as she will be opening and closing both fists with some urgency. (The sign for milk is starting with an open palm and then making a fist as you bring your hand down, as if you were milking an imaginary cow.)
When they turned one, we decided that although we had no plans to actually try and force weaning, we would introduce a policy of “never offer, never refuse”. Whilst I had been back at work – and having to reintroduce the use of breast pads as I realised on the first day that I couldn’t last all day without becoming engorged and leaking (luckily I had a cardigan I could use to conceal this from children and colleagues!) – the girls had gone all day from their morning feed until I got back from work around 6pm without any milk. They were eleven months and eating a varied and healthy diet of solids so I figured they would be okay without milk during the day (I have never managed to get much from pumping and a school isn’t really the ideal environment for regular pumping either). I thought that this would then mean that, once I was home with them again, they probably wouldn’t want or need much milk during the day and that my “never offer, never refuse” policy would mean they were pretty much weaned other than maybe mornings and evenings, with a feed or two for Claudia in the night. Ironically, it feels like they are asking for milk more often than they were having it before I instigated NONR, but I’m not bothered by it (I might be a little bothered by Immie trying to get my boobs out in public) and plan to just see how it all pans out. I hope they will both self-wean before we decide that we want them to, because I feel like the act of forced weaning is not going to be much fun for anyone.
I am certainly more cautious about feeding them in public now they are older (and looking more like toddlers than babies), because I don’t particularly want to attract any remarks, but I do also feel like I have a bit of a duty to normalise breastfeeding of toddlers in the eyes of our Western society who think it is more appropriate to have a topless model on page three of a national newspaper than to see a toddler being fed milk specifically designed for them direct from the source.
Imogen was (and is) still having a bottle of formula in the evening. We were giving both girls formula before bed, but at probably around 9 months, Claudia started refusing the bottle, so I went back to breastfeeding her to sleep in the evenings. We decided to stop formula altogether at 12 months, because it’s not “needed”. Immie can have cow’s milk or – even better – breast milk and it’s not good for babies’ teeth to either drink milk out of a bottle or drink it after brushing their teeth. The only reason we haven’t phased the formula out quite yet is because we knew it would mean a bit of a change of bedtime routine and we didn’t want to mess with that just before going on holiday. So the plan is to get rid of the post-bath bottle once we are back from Dorset and work on a bedtime routine that involves cuddles and stories rather than a bottle of milk.
Did you know it’s World Breastfeeding Week? Find out more here.