I breastfed my son until he was 2 years and 8 months. I would have breastfed him for longer, but it just didn’t happen that way. Stopping was a decision we both made, and not without reluctance, but now we are 2 months off the boob and things are going well.
I always intended to tandem feed two children. I imagined I might have an age gap of up to two years or so. As it happened, when I got pregnant in February, I was still breastfeeding Caspar and continued until the pregnancy ended at 12 weeks, and beyond. I felt very grateful that I had been able to get pregnant without having to stop breastfeeding, because I didn’t want to force Caspar off the breast. I was in constant turmoil before getting pregnant; desperate for another baby yet not wanting to cut off my son’s source of constant comfort. What if I stopped breastfeeding Caspar before he was ready, got pregnant and then managed to breastfeed his sibling ‘natural term’ – until they chose to finish – but hadn’t given Caspar that choice? The guilt of the mother is complex, but that something I struggled with very intensely. I was grateful to fall pregnant and not to have to make that choice.
I breastfed Caspar in the hospital room I was in while I was miscarrying. It was a comfort. By that stage the uncomfortable tenderness of nursing whilst pregnant had worn off (due to the pregnancy hormones decreasing) and I was just glad to be there for my beautiful two year-old baby.
My reservations around breastfeeding an older toddler, or indeed child, were eliminated the moment we cracked breastfeeding when Caspar was about 6 weeks old. And when I say “cracked” I include my nipples in this statement. It suddenly became easy. Ironically, it suddenly felt natural! I was finally able to do the whipping-out-of-the-boob-when-they’re-hungry thing they tout as one of the reasons it is convenient to breastfeed (without the horizontal-breastmilk-fountain-across-the-cafe-table thing I had been unintentionally and embarrassingly perfecting). Over the months my confidence grew. My logic was, why stop when we’re just so darn good at this? He might have gotten to 6 months old and starting to be weaned onto very grown-up foods like avocados and humous but it took so long to find my breastfeeding mojo – I wasn’t ready to give it up yet, and Caspar certainly wasn’t!
Before I had him, I hadn’t given much thought to breastfeeding. I knew it was how babies were fed, I knew it was good for them and I knew it may prevent me from having to arse around with sterilisers and bottles every time he needed a feed.
I hadn’t, however, realised that newborn babies feed every two hours, generally. That’s if they aren’t feeding constantly. I assumed it would be as easy (ha!) as giving birth. It’s biology, after all.
It wasn’t easy. I didn’t cope well. My milk came in late and and I remember on the fourth night of Caspar’s life calling up the midwives at the hospital at 2am because he had been crying and trying to feed non-stop since 7pm and we were scared he was starving and my colostrum wasn’t satisfying him. The midwife I spoke to told me not to be around my baby because he could smell the milk and it was making him cry. Leave him with his dad. Maybe give him some formula.
I didn’t want to give him formula. Bang! The guilt of the mother begins. Yet at 7am, when still none of us had slept, I sent Julian out to get a can of formula. We sterilised a bottle (that we found in a bag of baby gumpf that had been kindly donated to us – it hadn’t even occurred to me to buy bottles “just in case”) in a saucepan. Julian weighed out and mixed the formula and Caspar slept soundly for the first time since he was born. So did we. It was horrible, guilty bliss.
My milk came in later that morning. Continuing attempting to breastfeed wasn’t easy. It was the most excruciating pain I had ever felt, much worse than giving birth to him, but I steadfastly cracked on. I knew that I could feed him formula and that wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, such was the pain of trying to breastfeed him, when he was about 10 days old I dragged him and Julian to Asda and bought £100 worth of bottles, sterilising equipment, bottle warmers, bottle carriers, formula, you name it, I bought it. I was ready to formula feed my baby and I didn’t have an issue with that. I knew in my mind that happy, pain-free mummy = happy, fed baby and that was good enough for me.
But my heart was telling me something else – as per bloody usual. Somehow the formula feeding paraphernalia was left untouched. I just couldn’t stop giving it “one last shot”. The turning point for me was getting mastitis when Caspar was about 2 weeks old. It hurt, I was feverish and ill, I wanted to cut my boobs off, not feed an infant with them – but the only thing that helped (apart from antibiotics and painkillers and attaching myself to a radiator) was breastfeeding. I didn’t respond well to expressing, so I literally HAD to feed Caspar. Despite it hurting at first, it started to soothe my burning boobs and the mastitis cleared up quickly and without complication. My tiny son had cured me. He had soothed my pain.
And that was that. Somehow I exclusively breastfed him until he had his first taste of food at 5 months when we accidentally fed him some Brie because we were a bit merry. Oops!
Taking a break from our wedding reception to breastfeed in the armoury, as you do
Caspar was not a food fan. He got most of his nutrition from breast milk until he was about 13 months old. But he was a total boob fiend. I remember when he was 18 months old being convinced that we weren’t normal; he wanted to feed as often as a newborn DESPITE eating a fantastic, nutritious and varied diet. Normal, apparently. I tried to relax about the whole situation – as much as one can relax when they are being used as a nocturnal snack bar. But the feeds became less often. I became pregnant. Everything was exactly what I’d hoped for.
Towards the end of our breastfeeding relationship, Caspar started to arse around A LOT at the breast. It was worse than teething, worse than that charming phase of distraction at 8 months or so where they start turning their heads 360 degrees Exorcist-style with a nipple still in their mouth, and definitely more uncomfortable than feeding whilst pregnant. It was downright fucking painful. I knew something had to give.
I attempted to gently wean Caspar from the breast a few times from when he was 2-and-a-half, but somehow, one day, it just stuck. The previous times I had tried he had bawled his eyes out. It always made me realise he wasn’t ready and nor was I.
The last time was different. It was the day after we had been to a local community event (Picnic in the Park, St Werburgh’s, which was fabulous, in case anyone cares!). The day of the event was the final time he breastfed al fresco. It was unusual because I hadn’t fed him out and about for about a year (and because he had his face painted like a tiger) but he was enjoying the music and the bustle of the little festival so much I allowed him to feed when he asked for it, wrapped in a blanket with mummy while we sat on the grass listening to music as the sun went down.
The following day we finished breastfeeding. I simply asked him to stop. He was messing about. It was uncomfortable. He said “ok mummy” and asked to wear his watch. His watch is yellow. It is awesome. He is awesome. Perhaps his life’s aim was to breastfeed in the local park disguised as a tiger. Who knows? But it was time. He was ready.
After that, I told him milky was finished and he would say, a bit heavy-hearted, “ohhh, ok”, but he never cried. If he had I’d have shoved a nipple in his mouth quite frankly, despite how I felt. It was important to me that I didn’t take the option of breastfeeding away from him before he was ready.
He was accepting, mature and gracious about the fact that we were no longer breastfeeding. I could barely believe this was my son; just a month ago he’d have screamed the house down if I’d tried a stunt like that.
But he didn’t. Somehow he knew it was time. Time for that part of our relationship to end, and for him to move onto strangling me – sorry! – cuddling me for comfort. He gives good cuddles. That’s what we do before bed instead of breastfeeding. He is easier to settle to sleep now (not least because his dad can do it too) and he is less anxious if we leave him with his grandparents or auntie.
I believe that we stopped breastfeeding when it was right for us and I am glad we didn’t listen to any of the well-meaning advice we’d had thrown at us over the two-and-two-thirds years we’d been at it (you know the sort I mean, the gems of wisdom from parents of a different generation whose babies slept through the night from a day old because formula filled them up so much better than “that” breastmilk). Because after all, it made him so happy. And it made me happy too. I am glad to have shared that bond with him, and I’m glad we did it our way.
(The purpose of this post is not to be smug about using my boobs for their prime function; I just wanted to reflect back on mine and Caspar’s breastfeeding relationship and commit it to words. As we all know, I do love to navel-gaze past my shrivelled old udders. Actually, shh, I’ll let you into a little secret – they haven’t changed a bit since stopping feeding. This may well be because they were always a bit lacklustre but it was one of the things I felt marginally concerned about in regards to stopping. I can confirm, they’re still ok!)