Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Rebecca Leigh Taylor, Chelmsford, Essex, UK
The term “extended” breastfeeding doesn’t offend me, but the fact that it implies something longer than the norm does sit slightly uncomfortably with me. I find it strange and disappointing that despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation that babies be breastfed exclusively for six months and breastfeeding continue (complemented by solid food) until the age of two or beyond, “extended” is still the word used for breastfeeding past a year or even beyond six months. Semantics aside, I am reflecting on my position as an “extended breastfeeding” mummy.
Ernie is 19 months old and I feel blessed to still be breastfeeding him, and privileged that he still wants my milk. He has recently become a fully-fledged toddler and the L-plates have most definitely been discarded [Brit. an “L” sign fixed to the back and front of a motor vehicle to show that a driver is a learner]. My delicate newborn is now a distant, hazy dream and a happy, vivacious, cheeky, exuberant, and fiercely independent little boy stands in his place. His energy is boundless. He never seems afraid to go to someone new or be away from me: I am well aware this could change at any moment! He wears his sunny heart on his sleeve, loving everyone he meets. So the fact that he is still breastfeeding has certainly not held him back in any way.
Don’t get me wrong, he isn’t hopping on and off all the time. He has never been a grazer anyway. His feeds were always long but they sustained him well. Nowadays the only substantial feeds from me—he has my milk from a cup throughout the day—are before his nap and at bedtime. He has a quick guzzle in the morning and around teatime, but if I weren’t there I am pretty sure he wouldn’t miss it. So I cherish the feeds. It is our time to sit down together amidst the chaos of day-to-day life to reconnect and recharge. It is my chance to enjoy a snuggle with an otherwise, busy little boy, and vice versa, I’d like to think.
Having suffered with anxiety, OCD, and depression intermittently throughout my adult life, I am aware that, for me, breastfeeding is much more than a means of feeding my child. No matter how out of control of my life I may feel at times, it is one constant I can provide for him. With milk I can nourish him, when my (often abysmal) cooking fails, comfort him when he needs to sleep, and soothe him when he is in pain. As essential as it is, it is so much more than just milk. Breastfeeding provides the consistency and stability for him that emotionally I feel I sometimes struggle to maintain.
Ernie sleeps well at night now, generally, but for the occasions when he does wake, the only thing that will pacify him is nursing. Of course there have been instances during the depths of sleep deprivation when I have wished that just for one night, someone else could settle him so that I could snuggle back down under the duvet. There are mornings when I would love to be able to dash out of the house without expressing my milk, or lunchtimes at work when I would prefer not to sit listening to the drone of the pump. But I can honestly say these moments are rare. I genuinely love to be able to do this for him (and for the babies I donate milk to). And in the grand scheme of life, 18 months is a tiny fraction of time.
Never encountering any of the problems so many women have to endure makes my attachment to breastfeeding greater still. People warned me it would be difficult, so I felt guilty when it wasn’t. Just as I did for having an emergency c-section, I felt like a fraud. In essence, I felt I hadn’t experienced the trials and tribulations I should have done. So I understand that the end of breastfeeding may for some be a release and a relief rather than a loss.
Ernie could decide at any time that he doesn’t need or want “Mimi” any longer. For me, every feed is a bonus, a blessing, a joy. Those occasional night feeds I now treasure, for in the dimmed light I hold this not-so-tiny bundle like it’s for the last time. Inside swells a powerful mixture of love, pride, and gratitude. I stare at his perfect, peaceful profile, willing time to pause just for a little while. I wish I could store these moments away for future. I never want to forget. And I won’t. But they will fade. And I realize now that this is OK because another journey, another connection will transcend it. I mustn’t allow nostalgia to fuel fear; I must embrace the present, for it is precious and fleeting.