If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be one of those mums who would be practising extended breastfeeding, I’d probably have laughed in your face. It’s not that I had a plan to wean off the boob at a certain age, it’s just that I never pictured myself as a mum who would be breastfeeding a toddler. Back then, in my head, mums who did extended breastfeeding were all muesli munching yoghurt knitters who only wore clothes made from hemp. Yeah, I guess I was pretty judgemental (secretly, of course).
And then I found myself carrying my baby around in a sling, co-sleeping and doing pretty much every Attachment Parenting technique in the book. None of this was planned either, it’s just that at the time these seemed like the easy choices. The sling meant my hands were free to carry book bags and drinks bottles on the school run while co-sleeping was the only way I could get more than twenty seconds sleep. In fact, my baby would have slept sellotaped to my face if she’d been given the chance. It’s fair to say I was an accidental attachment parent.
Fast-forward two years and here we are, no longer co-sleeping but still as committed to the boob as ever. When Frog was 13 months old she weaned naturally onto a cup and straw, losing all interest in the breast. But her sister is a very different kettle of fish. Not only is she showing no signs of losing interest but now that she’s starting to speak she’s becoming more vocal of her love of “boobie” than ever.
On the one hand I’m relaxed about it. I tell myself that she won’t still be breastfeeding aged 30, and that she’ll stop when she’s ready – and to do it at her pace will be far less of a headache for everyone. But on the other hand I find breastfeeding a toddler a pain in the arse on regular occasions. Some days I don’t want to be climbed all over while I have my nipples tweaked and little hands ferreting around my top. Some days I just want my personal space – you know?
Plus, when I look at this adorable, cheeky and ever so slightly knowing face, I catch myself realising she is definitely no longer a baby. To breastfeed a child this big seems kind of, odd…
Yet here we are. Still going strong with the boob and still with no plan to stop. And I guess the thing that it keeps coming back to is that it just doesn’t feel right to go cold turkey and force her off it if she’s not ready. Truth be told, I’m probably not ready either. There’s a high chance this is my last baby and these puppies won’t see any action (not of that kind anyway) ever again once Baby Girl packs them away for good. So as much as I gently moot the idea of “giving up boobie”, I know that somewhere deep down I may be a little bit sad when it does eventually come to an end.
More than that though, it’s about convenience. I never had that magic tantrum pill when Frog was this age, because she had long given up the boob. Whereas now, with breastfeeding, I have an instant answer to alleviate the trickiest of tantrums. People often remark that she must be “really clingy” because she’s still breastfed, but the truth is, she’s not. In fact, she’s far more secure and confident than Frog was (and still is). She’s a different child and knows no fear. She’ll happily walk into a room full of strangers without so much as a backwards glance at her mother.
Every day is different and – as I said before – I have no plan. Some days Baby Girl will ask for boob during the day and it’s simply not convenient, so I’ll tell her no and give her a bottle of cow’s milk instead (which she’s happy with). Some days she’ll be upset and really need the comfort of breastfeeding. We always feed first thing in the morning and last thing at night, although when she stays with my parents she doesn’t even think to ask for it – she’s happy with a bottle.
There’s no rhyme or reason to it all, and I’ve long come to accept that’s OK. Parenting isn’t a rigid one-size-fits-all thing. You don’t need to pick a camp and stay with it. I’m not an attachment parent but I’m not a Gina Ford mum either. Every day brings a new set of challenges and a new way of overcoming them.
And so I find myself doing yet another thing I swore I’d never do pre-motherhood (just like using the iPad or the TV as an occasional babysitter).
I’ve vlogged about this very subject over on my YouTube channel this week, if you fancy a watch or want to jump in with any comments.
And I blogged about it for BabyCentre too recently – along with a gallery showing some of the benefits of extended breastfeeding (some of them are quite surprising actually).
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