My daughter has just turned 3 and I am still breastfeeding her—no, not 3 months, 3 years old.
I get mixed reactions to this fact. Some pat me on the back and say well done, a few smile awkwardly, not quite sure what to do with the news, some end up staring at my chest and then there are those who shake an accusatory finger at me for the supposed harm I am causing my child.
But you know what, the negative comments just roll off my back because I know that what I am doing is neither wrong nor going to cause any long-term damage to my child’s development. On the contrary, I have read up a lot about the benefits of extended breastfeeding and understand that it is generally accepted in many cultures.
The looks of surprise and horror
There are people out there who just don’t understand and are not willing to listen. Here are just some of the reactions I’ve gotten:
They say: “You’re spoiling her!”
I say: How so? By listening to her needs, giving her a sense of security, and comforting her? No, I am just loving her.
They say: “After 6 months, breastmilk has no nutritional value.”
I say: That’s not true. I am not producing just plain water; my breastmilk still benefits my child’s immunity to a certain degree and she gets most of her nutrients from her daily meals, so I doubt I am doing any harm to my daughter’s health by giving her just a bit more sustenance with my breastmilk.
They say: “Do you breastfeed because you can’t afford formula milk?”
I say: I do not understand where this theory comes from and why modern society feels that breastfeeding is primitive and reserved only for those from developing countries or low-income households. It is the most natural thing a mother could do to bond with and nourish her child at the same time. I choose to breastfeed because I can afford to.
Judged by fellow mums
It saddens me to hear these comments, more so because a lot of them come from other mothers. I would have expected them of all people, to show more support and understanding.
I would like to remind all mums out there, motherhood is not a competition; we should respect each other’s parenting choices and understand that, despite those varying choices, one commonality remains: that we’re all just trying to do the best we can for our children.
Although I practice extended breastfeeding — my journey did not get off to a good start. In fact it was a pretty rocky one.
Read on to find out more about my early struggles to breastfeed my child.
When your body simply won’t cooperate
Contrary to what many may think, my breastfeeding journey did not have an easy start. My body was not producing enough milk initially. I’d sometimes nurse for up to 2 hours but still not be able to satisfy my newborn’s appetite; even when I tried to pump milk, there was barely enough collected to feed a mouse.
I was exhausted and frustrated, and felt like my body was conspiring against my desire to be the picture-perfect mother I had in mind ever since I first dreamt of starting my own family. So after some persuasion from my anxious husband and equally concerned mother, I gave in and supplemented with formula milk. I was heartbroken.
Baby’s ultimatum works a magic
But six months later, during a trip to Thailand, my little daughter suddenly flat out refused to drink any formula milk. We had just started to introduce her to solid foods and her digestive system was still trying to adapt to the new diet, which made her slightly constipated, so her natural instinct was to drink more breastmilk.
My family was worried, but something inside me gave a warm sense of assurance that my body would be able to live up to this challenge. So I let her latch on at every feeding and after two days, to everyone’s surprise, I was producing more than enough milk to satisfy her needs.
Maybe being on holiday was what I needed to ease my mind and let my body relax? Perhaps the rich Thai diet I was constantly being fed by eager relatives helped? Did my body finally get the hang of things after 6 frustrating months? Or did the dearth of options to soothe my ailing child make my maternal instincts snap into overdrive, boosting my milk supply?
No matter what the answer was, I just felt thrilled to see that I could finally satisfy my baby’s appetite.
Amazed by this sudden turnaround, my husband read up more about the benefits of breastfeeding and was impressed by his newly discovered knowledge (he finds it amusing how I want to treat almost every ailment with breastmilk, yet does not deny its healing properties either). It touches my heart hearing him proudly tell everyone that our child’s positive attributes are all thanks to being breastfed.
Although I believe that breast is best, I realise not all mothers can breastfeed due to various reasons, and they don’t need to justify their decision.
I was once in a position where I had to turn to formula milk—sometimes we just have to do whatever is right for our child given the options available to us at any given situation. I am thankful that my body somehow made up for those initial lost months—and then some—letting me bond with my child in the most natural way my body was designed to do.
I know that one day, inevitably, my daughter will stop nuzzling under my arm, requesting for “noot.” But until that day comes, I will continue to enjoy nourishing her with pure love through my milk.
Did you practice extended breastfeeding and received strange looks from those around you too? Share your extended breastfeeding stories with us in the comments section below.