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Alexia’s Story: The Realities of Breastfeeding Beyond One Year

Alexia nursing her daughter.

Alexia DaSilva, Dartmouth, Massachusetts

Breastfeeding past the first year of life is recommended by multiple health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). While the science behind extended breastfeeding is easy to find, the realities are often not well known.

Currently, I am nursing my daughter, who will be three years old this coming June. I know that it benefits her for numerous reasons. In addition to making up for some nutrients she might be missing during her “picky (eating) phases” and helping to strengthen our bond, it also decreases my risk of breast cancer.

Yet sometimes I still feel isolated and alone. And that’s likely because I know so few other parents who are breastfeeding beyond one year. The unfortunate reality is that this is still considered taboo in many western countries, including the United States. There is incorrect information that many still believe, such as: breast milk loses its nutritional value after a certain age, lactating parents need to wean once the child begins growing teeth, and so on.

I am incredibly proud that I am still breastfeeding. Very few in my family have breastfed. Due to my own struggles (my daughter had an undiagnosed lip-tie, poor hospital support, top-up traps*, returning to work at eight weeks postpartum, working full time while also finishing my undergraduate degree, and becoming a single mother almost immediately), I never thought I would make it six months, much less more than two years. Now I am trying to wait until my daughter is ready to self-wean.

Despite my pride and ability to overcome adversity, I still feel uncomfortable nursing my daughter publicly. It’s not because I feel that I am doing something wrong, but I see the staring and uncomfortable glances projected on me, slowly removing my confidence to feed in public. Why is it considered normal to give children a carton of milk from another species, but weird to give them milk that is biologically created for them?

It is also often difficult to receive empathy and support. Whenever I complain about my weight gain, discomfort, nipple pain, or overall sheer parenting exhaustion, I am met with, “You should really wean her. Isn’t she old enough for cows’ milk?” There are some who ignore what is medically recommended and instead project their own ignorance and bias. This directly hurts lactating parents and toddlers, by indirectly forcing them to wean prematurely. And it furthers my feelings of isolation.

But at the end of the day, it is 100% worth it. Nothing is nicer than watching my sweet girl look up at me, holding my hand and smiling while she nurses first thing in the morning. There is a special joy about listening to a child directly tell you about nursing, validating your assumptions that it is their comfort and safe space, in addition to a valid form of nourishment. Watching my toddler grow as she continues to nurse is almost as satisfying as watching her fat rolls form in infancy. The thought that there is something I can provide her with that no one else can, that psychologically and physiologically links us in the most magical way, brings me immense joy.

I will continue to nurse for her emotional and nutritional/health needs until she is ready to wean, but I admit that I will be devastated when she eventually weans. In the meantime, I am still in awe of the sheer magic that is breastfeeding (it helps get her to sleep, calms her down during an emotional moment, fills the gaps in nutrition when she is picky, and helps keep her healthy when ill). Seeing the joy that it brings her brings me so much hope and happiness.

*Top-up trap refers to “topping up” a feeding by supplementing at the end of the feed.

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