Well the first thing to say about it is that it doesn’t usually hurt as much as you would expect. Feeding a toddler with most of their teeth is the same as feeding a baby with none (though I reserve the right to amend this soon as the fangs are coming through!). The only time those gnashers come into contact with flesh is when the little bugger falls asleep hehe! Poppy is now 17 months old and shows no sign of quitting the boobie feed. Daily, nightly and ever so rightly, if I am there then so is she!
I never planned nor intended to keep going for this long. I am not a mummy who feels the bond will be broken when I give up this “special time in our lives”. In fact I feel more awkward about feeding at this age out in public than I ever did when I first began breastfeeding way back when my eldest, Izzy, was born (her first public feed was in a church as my Godson was Christened). There has been so much publicity surrounding extended breastfeeding of late that I feel if I whip one out and pop Poppy on I may be hunted down with torches and pitchforks by baying villagers. Baby feeding seems to be the new witch hunt… switch to formula too early (or, God forbid, skip breastfeeding althogether) and you obviously don’t care about your baby’s health and wellbeing. Quit breastfeeding too late and you are “hanging on” to the baby days, stunting your childs emotional independence and obviously don’t care about your child’s health and wellbeing. I can’t comment too much on formula feeding partially because I don’t feel strongly about it either way – we combination fed Izzy after a few weeks so she had one bottle a day that my husband gave her for daddy bonding time and the rest of the time was breastfeeding. That’s been the extent of our experience with formula as Poppy would never touch it. Even when I was away from her at four months old, taking a few hours a week to learn dressmaking, she turned her nose up at daddy’s bottle and screamed until I returned. We tried giving it to her from a beaker. A cup. A straw. Nothing worked. Then we tried cows milk and still nothing. However if I expressed she would have a little from any of the drinking paraphernalia aforementioned (mainly because my body doesn’t seem to express well unless she is feeding off the other side simultaneously so a little was all I could ever manage). I can comment on her emotional independence though – if she is midway through a feed she has demanded and something more interesting catches her eye, she is up and off like a shot. Children, dogs, cats, adults – anyone who looks interesting can persuade her to bugger off and leave me there, boob hanging out and dripping like a coffee machine. Her independence, emotional or other, remains intact and flourishing.
My main reason for carrying on is that, quite simply, she isn’t ready to quit. If you were sat at the pub and the barstaff whipped your pint or glass of wine (or something stronger) away you wouldn’t be best pleased. If you were thirsty and hadn’t had anything to drink for a while and someone sanctimoniously said “No you can’t have what you have ordered” without satisfactory explanation you would request to speak to the manager or simply leave and go somewhere you could get the drink you wanted. And quite rightly so -we are given the opportunity to choose as adults and whether we choose what is good for us or something naughty is down to us entirely. As children we have choices thrust upon us. “You have to wear a cardigan because it’s chilly”. This is probably true uif you are a grown up sitting at a desk but if you’re three, running around a classroom crowded with other hyperactive three year olds all kicking out body heat it is probably pretty tropical. But we grown ups know best. “Eat your carrots, you can’t say you don’t like then until you have tried them 15 times” (or whatever the books are saying this year). “Um, no. I have tried them mum and I really truly DON’T like them. Feel free to try my lukewarm pureed spinach 15 times before you tell me you don’t like it though.” Well breastfeeding is no different. Young Poppy here has a choice. Milk from an animal in a field run through a process of heat treatment and cooling, bottling and transportation to a coldstore until put out on a shelf in an openfronted fridge. Or she can have powdered milk that you add boiled water to then wait patiently to cool to the correct temperature (a bit like a pot noodle for kids). Or she can have what she has known since birth – fresh milk on demand, untouched even by fresh air, at a perfect temperature, in a variety of flavours if mummy’s had something nice for dinner. All this and it comes with a free cuddle. I was going to say the second reason was her aversion to any other kind of milk but actually having read my own breakdown of the main reason I suddenly don’t give a crap about that second reason anymore.
So breast it is. Not because I have an attachment issue. Not because I am bohemian or hippyish. Not even because it’s ‘best’ (the jury is still firmly out on the nutritional benefits of extended feeding in the western world with our ‘superior’ diet – coz I reckon a Macdonalds is packed with nutrients). Simply because Poppy has voted with her tastebuds and her tummy and it turns out she thinks it’s best for her. And that makes it best for me too (even if my back hurts as she grows heavier, my sleep is STILL seriously disturbed by a little gannet in the middle of the night and I warily eye the fangs poking through her little pink gums).
So am an advocate of extended breastfeeding? No, not at all. If your toddler will happily leave you to partake in your first alcoholic beverage since that pregnancy test, let you take stronger painkillers for the migraine brought on by too many high pitched voices on kids tv or wear that gorgeous but high-cut dress with absolutely no boobie access without stripping – do it! Run for the hills while patting yourself on the back for breastfeeding through the socially acceptable period and quitting before your boobs hit the deck. But if you can’t… if you feel your child isn’t in that space yet and you are ok with carrying on for the timebeing at least… then settle down for that cuddle, use the excuse to request your other half to bring you a cuppa while you sit on your bum doing what only mummy can. And if you get nipped or pulled or your back begins to ache, don’t feel guilty for thinking “God I thought we’d be done by now”. But do try to remember why you’re not done. Because to your toddler you are awesome. You’re warm, possibly a bit squishy still (damn baby weight!), you’re a perfect fit for their ever growing body and they love you more than they have ever loved anything in their whole entire busy little lives.
Love you, my beautiful chunky monkey and gorgeous little princess.