A study published this week shows 21% of mothers are still breastfeeding or offering breastmilk at one year. I am in that 21%.
I thought that breastfeeding would be hard. The first question the nurse asked me in my first OB visit - and I mean the FIRST question quite literally - was "do you plan to breast or formula feed?". I stuttered "I'm going to try to breast feed. I think." Her reply was "that's a good way to put it. 'Try'."
I read everything I could get my hands on. I had a plan. As soon as my last push delivered my girl, she was to be put on my naked chest. I would try to nurse her immediately. They could clean her up on me, they didn't need to take her anywhere. The skin-to-skin contact and the offering of the breast as soon as possible would help us bond and establish our breastfeeding relationship.
Then I went in the hospital on bedrest for pre-eclampsia/PIH and HELLP syndrome. I was told that they could "probably" still induce me if I made it to 37 weeks. Except she was breech, so a surgical delivery was scheduled.
I was devastated. What was this going to do for breastfeeding? I wanted her on my tummy. I wanted to nurse her as soon as possible. I had read magazine blurbs that said studies show that women who deliver by C-section are less bonded to their babies and let them cry more than women who deliver vaginally. This was the end of bonding and breastfeeding as I had planned it.
It all worked out. As they wheeled me into delivery I figured out how to get past the maze of wires from my surgery, and I nursed her for 10 minutes on one breast and 30 minutes on the other breast before she happily fell asleep in my arms. I can't imagine being more bonded to her than I am - and she's pretty bonded to me too. We have nursed on demand, including all night most nights, for more than a year now. I have schlepped my trusty breast pump to work with me day in and day out since August.
Yes, breastfeeding has its ups and downs. For us, the process of breastfeeding wasn't difficult. She came out knowing how to nurse, and I had an excellent education by a wonderful lactation consultant that should be canonized. I have only used lanolin twice in a year, and I had so much milk in the beginning that it went bad in the freezer and had to be thrown away.
Going back to work was a major obstacle, since she had been fed on demand and didn't have much of a schedule. Also, since she refused every kind of bottle known to man and every woman in my family was practically (and literally) reduced to tears trying to get her to take milk in a bottle. At 5 months she started on a sippy cup, since that was about the only thing that would work.
For other mothers, breastfeeding is not nearly as easy, and I offer them all the props in the world for trying, sticking it out, and making the decisions that are best for them. I count my blessings every day that I have a baby who is a good nurser and that our trials were the ones they were.
And now that baby is a year old.
And the game changes.
My world is now the site of collision of timelines, opinions, and societal pressures. She is One Year. The Time that most mothers wean. Why? Because That Is What You Do when your wee one is One Year. Except that now there is a large group of lactivists that promote extended breastfeeding, who don't want you to believe That Is What You Do when your wee one is One Year.
I am a scientist, and am looking for data. Information. This is how I make decisions. Let me tell you ladies, there isn't much.
The aformentioned study looks at when most mothers wean, but not why. (And there is NOTHING on HOW, which is the part that scares me the most). A visit with her doctor today didn't help much. He said continuing to breastfeed would be okay if that's what I want to do, some parents choose to breastfeed to 18 months or two years. Then he went on to talk about cow's milk, so I think while "some parents" choose extended breastfeeding, his recommendation is to get on the milk. Now.
I asked how to go about weaning, and his answer included the words "cold turkey" which sent shudders up my spine. Save the nursing for when you want to calm her down, like nighttime.
When the nursing was going well and we were still going strong at 9 and 10 months, I thought about continuing to nurse her until 18 months. But then, summer might be a good time to start some weaning processes, because I'll be off work and can spend time with her, and she won't need the nursing as much for closeness, and I can teach her more about cuddling ... and have more than one beer on the patio without worrying that she'll wake up before the two hours that I'm supposed to wait. Then I feel guilty that I want to wean her so I can have another beer. Selfish Mommie.
So I'm trying to figure out what I think and when I want to do, and I don't feel like I have much information. Is there harm by giving her breastmilk for 6 more months and not cow's milk? What can a cow make that is better in milk than ME? I'm still taking the DHA and those damn prenatal vitamins. I take echinacea and goldenseal (which doesn't seem to help a damn because she's gotten another sinus infection from daycare).
Other cultures breastfeed for longer. But is that because they have lack of access to other options? I have very easy access to cow's milk at the Kroger down the street. Does that make it a better choice? How can I find out what is "best" for her at this stage?
I emailed a blogger that advocates for breastfeeding. She recommended I let my little one tell me when she's ready for a transition from breastfeeding. Um, my guess is her answer will be "Never. Or when I'm 30. Maybe when I'm married. But you'll have to go on the honeymoon so you can nurse me to sleep."
Another blogger I follow religiously has had to wean cold turkey so she can take a medication she needs. I read a tweet where her daughter was giving her boobs the stink eye. I could never do cold turkey, even less after reading her (humorous) recounting of her experience.
So I'm on an information crusade. I read and prepared in order to begin breastfeeding successfully. Now I need to find some information in order to figure out where I want to go from here. I have the following in mind. Feel free to suggest others.
1. I am going to order the book "Baby-Led Weaning". It gets recommended all the time on the Breastfeeding and Introducing Solids discussion boards on Diaperswappers, so as soon as I'm done blogging about ordering it, I'm going to order it.
2. There are local La Leche League meetings around here, so I think I might turn up at one. See if they have anything good to suggest.
3. My saint of a lactation consultant works where I used to live. Which is 2 hours away. I'm going to try to get her on the phone. If I need to, I may drive up there next Friday. See if she has any thoughts or suggestions.
My specific questions are:
1. What are the benefits, if any, to extended breastfeeding over cow's milk?
2. If I do opt for extended breastfeeding, about how many feedings a day? I have always fed her "on demand", so we can't just "drop a feeding" since the number of feedings we have always varies. Days she is at daycare she only nurses in the evening and at night since she has alot of solids during the day. Days she is with me she wants to nurse before naps too. How many times should I be nursing her?
3. Is there any harm in a "both" option? Can I have her drink breast milk, but mix cow's milk with cereal and other foods? Or give her one cup of cow's milk a day and then nurse her too?
4. Less important, but still a concern, how do I deal with nosy people giving me the stink eye if I am breastfeeding a one-year-old in public? In a polite way, because I know I can do it in an impolite way :)
5. Is there a gentle way to wean when that time comes?
Until then, we'll just do what we've been doing. Solids as much as possible during the day. Nursing at bedtime and at night so mommie can sleep, and whenever she's insistent during the day. Until I figure out the next step.