Monday, September 15, 2008

Extended Breastfeeding

I was going to write about my first unmedicated birth today, but Sherry had some questions about extended breastfeeding. Rather than list it under the "comments," I decided I would write a post about it.

Extended breastfeeding is an interesting topic. Often, when I mention breastfeeding in class, I can see some people (usually men, but not always) squirm in their seat a bit. I am not shy about this topic and certainly do not beat around the bush. I even do a live demonstration in class on nursing without a blanket. A great tool for this is a nursing bra/tank made by Glamourmom. Everything is covered and mom is confident and baby is happy. If you buy anything from them, I ask that you use my code: DORY49. I can earn free bras/tanks to hand out to my students. Thanks.

It is one thing to get everyone comfortable with the topic of breastfeeding, but then I throw them a curve ball when I talk about extended breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for at least one year; exclusive (no formula or solid foods) breastfeeding for the first 6 months. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for at least 2 years. The sad truth is that only about 20% of babies are exclusively breastfeed at 6 months.

If you are one of the very few that have nursed your baby till his/her 1st birthday, congratulations! Now, keep going! Let's talk about why:

For those of you who don't already read Mothering magazine, it is an excellent resource on loads of topics. I highly recommend it. Last year there was an article titled "8 Reasons to Nurse Your Toddler." The first four deal with the baby:
 1) Complete nutrition. A friend recently told me about her baby that wouldn't eat solid food (he was about 14 mos.) and she felt so bad, knowing he wasn't getting anything from breast milk anymore. Don't let anyone tell you that breastfeeding looses nutrients, fats, and energy! Just the opposite is true. 2) Breastfed toddlers are physically healthier. They continue receiving immunities that help them stay healthy and fight off illness. Fewer visits to the doctor's office -- yea! Money in your pocket.
3) Emotional health. Your baby knows that you are there for him and independence is not forced before they are ready. He can climb into your lap to "reconnect" and be on his way again. You are actually giving him confidence in you and himself.  
4) Smarter people! Breastfeeding promotes a higher IQ. It's brain food -- literally!

Now mom's turn:  
1) Promotes your emotional well-being. Prolactin, the hormone that makes you (and baby) relax is released when you breastfeed. I miss this hormone now that my breastfeeding days are over! I can't imagine trying to parent an infant (and especially a toddler!) without this hormone.
2) Reduces your risk of disease. Lowers the risk of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers. It also reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

I was in a bathroom at a midwives office several years ago and there was this big poster behind the door. The information on it was so powerful, it should have been in the waiting room. I asked for a copy of it and they went and copied it in all these different sections. It was pretty funny. Really, it should be a brochure, but I've never seen it anywhere else. This is part of what it said:

"Women who breastfeed lower their risk of breast cancer. Nursing for a lifetime total of: 2 years lowers the risk before menopause by 40%, 6 years lowers the risk before menopause by 66%, 7 years lowers the risk of breast cancer throughout a woman's lifetime to almost zero."

I have spent 7 years and 2 months of my life breastfeeding!

3)Acts as a natural birth control. I feel so strongly about babies having their time to be the baby. If number 2, 3, 4, whatever, comes so close behind, they are forced to grow up, likely, before they are ready. You are less likely to start a period if you are exclusively breastfeeding, day and night. 4)Makes parenting easier. Who can argue with that?


April said...

I, too, miss breastfeeding. I never thought I would be an "extended breastfeeder" until I noticed one day, that Noah was almost 2 and still nursing. It was so natural and worked so well for us, why would I stop? He eventually weaned around 2 - when it was right for him.

Donna Ryan said...

Exactly! No one, mom or baby, should be in pain (physical or emotional) when the breastfeeding relationship is over. That's how you know when it is time.

Alisa said...

Hmmm-I have always had happy and sad feelings when nursing is over with.
Each and every time.
Happy to be done, and that they don't need me so much.
Sad that I am done, and that they don't need me so much.
This last time, I took photos of the last time- he had not nursed in a few days and I specifically sat down to nurse and thought, this might be it. And he kind of just sat there.
That was it.
And I felt a little bit of mourning that this, the breastfeeding relationship that I had been on for the last 10+ years of my life, might really be done. If this was my last child, my nursing days were truly coming to an end. Thinking of how hard I had worked to provide breastmilk for EACH of my children, all the infections, getting up in the middle of the night to pump, and continue doing so around the clock.
Then thinking of all the snuggle times, the nursing to sleep times. Their milky breath, nursing after one of them had broken their arm. Nursing first thing in the morning.
It really was sad to see it all end.
Happy sad all rolled into one big emotion.
Hmmm, maybe that is called nostalgia.

Donna Ryan said...

I am posting this from an email I received from a friend of mine in UT. I hope it help someone:

I've been keeping up on your blog and I have some info to share that I have learned from my 3 experiences of nursing. If you already know this and you already tell your students AWESOME, but it is something I didnt' know until I had Jovi and was nursing her and kept getting mastitis. I had mastitis 3 times with Halen, and 4 times with boston...AAAAAHHHH. The sad thing is that Mastitis is so miserable that it is the reason why many women stop doctors tell them to stop. But here is what I learned. My awesome pediatrician who is actually a N.P. told me that in Europe they treat mastitis with...PINEAPPLE. Yep he said just start eating tons of pineapple, fresh or canned. I started trying to eat a can a day especially if I suspected I might be getting it. Unfortunately I didn't know about this until Jovi was a year old but the next time I felt it coming on, I did it, I ate tons of pineapple and my mastitis went away without me having to call my dr. and get a prescription! When I get mastitis it starts with the sore spot and then the fever chills and aches (AWFUL!) but I massaged the sore area several times a day with a hot rag and ate pineapple like crazy and then I didn't have to be on antibiotics my babies whole life!!

The other thing I realized (way too late!) is that nursing women, especially those who may have a tendency for getting mastitis, should check their breasts every day in the shower or sometime like that for sore spots. Usually you dont' realize its sore until too late when you happen to bump it or something, but if I had been checking every day I know I could have prevented several of those cases of mastitis.

THIS IS what I wish I had known when I first started nursing!!!

We are most likely not having any more kids and mastitis is one of the reasons why.....I can't even tell you how miserable it is!

So I dont' claim to be an expert on anything, but after having mastitis 12 times, I know about mastitis.

Let me know you thoughts on this! I just really wanted to share this because if it would help even one mom not be as miserable as me then I'm happy!
Thanks jenni

Donna Ryan said...

Oh Alisa, you have such a way with capturing the exact emotions of the end of breastfeeding. Especially when it is the end forever. I had forgotten about the "milky breath," as you called it. I caught myself smiling when I read that. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane. And yes, this is what they call nostalgia.

David & Sherry said...

Thanks so much for that info. I never knew that there are people out there encouraging extended breastfeeding. At the very best I thought there were just those who said, "Don't worry about it."

When M was a year & 1/2 I read a book that said every month you nurse past 12 mos makes the child more dependent and harder to wean. I weaned him that very day because I was so scared I'd never be able wean him if I didn't stop nursing immediately.

Since then, as my babies have approached their first b-days I've felt so much stress knowing I had to wean them. Additionally, it made me so sad.

I'm so happy I'm not going to worry about it this time.

Thank you and also April for your perspectives.

Sarah said...

I have set out to "wean" when both my children and I are ready. Strangely enough though, they were finished a little before I really was, at a little over a year. On the one hand, it was fine with me: being kicked from the outside while also being kicked from the inside was no picnic, but on the other hand, I really treasure that forced one-on-one special time. What breastfeeding mom who, at a gathering where everyone wants to hold baby, doesn't sigh with relief when it's feeding time. There's no one else to do it, and you get your baby back without having to insist, "No. That's okay, I'LL do it!"
As to one of your last points, I must put in a word for mothers who have an early onset of their cycle despite breastfeeding. I breastfeed exclusively (no bottles, no pacifiers, and my last one just recently started sucking her thumb, but otherwise, no thumb-sucking), I demand-feed (the debate about schedule/demand I find ironic, since for me, we just end up falling into a "schedule" anyway), and so far, this is the longest I've gone without my cycle returning (Haley's almost 4 mo and I'm not entirely sure my cycle hasn't returned). After the 1st baby, 5 1/2 weeks later, I was back on the ovulation train, and w/the 2nd, it was only 4 wks. God is gracious to keep me from getting pregnant THAT soon, though! I just wanted to bring that up, since it is rarely seen as a possibility with exclusive breastfeeding. I know women who exclusively formula-feed who don't have theirs return for 9 months! Is something wrong with me?

Shawnie said...

Please be careful about promoting breastfeeding as "birth control." Paul and Erica are only 16 1/2 months apart, and I was breastfeeding Paul. If you really need to control spacing, don't count on breastfeeding to do it.

Donna Ryan said...

Shawnie, thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right. If you really don't want to be pregnant, use something else! Something else I've noticed, a lot of women seem to go longer before starting their period again with the first baby than the rest. Each baby, I'd start sooner, even though I was breastfeeding later babies even more than the first ones. And some women, no matter what they do (like Sarah), will start again just weeks after the birth. So take it with a grain of salt! Generally, however, you are less likely (emphasized) to get pregnant while nursing, but there are no guarantees.

Christina Pond said...

Ok, I am really hard core hitting Breastfeeding studying right now.

I don't understand why anyone would purposefully choose to not breastfeed. More women need to be educated about breastfeeding, and encouraged and supported!!! SO many women are being robbed of an amazing experience!

First of all, look at the science! Then look at formula. You make milk, after you give birth, so naturally it makes sense to give your baby an appropriate source of nutrition, but formula, gives the baby food from another animal, which is not designed or engineered to fit the appropriate needs of an infant!

The physical benefits to baby and Mamma, are INTENSE! The emotional rewards are incredible. The breast is a very SMART part of us!! It is utterly incredible how it works to satisfy our husbands and our babies!!!