This fall, my son turns five years old. It also marks an altogether different anniversary in our household. Aside from an eight-month reprieve while pregnant with my daughter, it also marks the fifth anniversary of my nursing relationship between my two children.
This week happens to be World Breastfeeding Awareness Week.
I’m not going to tout the medical/health benefits of breastfeeding. I’m the product of formula-feeding, and I don’t suspect any of my health issues (or seasonal allergies) to be a byproduct of formula. Furthermore, I take the reports about brain functioning and formula-fed vs. breast-fed babies with a grain of salt… although, I do acknowledge my husband (breast-fed) is smarter than I in most areas.
I am not going to touch the “you bond better with your baby” argument. Simply, having lived through dozens of newborn foster children in my home growing up, I have seen first hand the intense, major bond a bottle-fed baby can build with his or her caregiver.
Honestly, I breastfeed the first year of life because I don’t want to pay the exorbitant price for formula. It’s cheaper for my family to have me nurse the first year of life.
Which brings me to my Gratitude Project this week, about a topic I didn’t anticipate writing on, simply because I don’t typically discuss my “extended breastfeeding” lifestyle.
I was recently asked when I would stop nursing my now-nineteen month old daughter. I found myself giving this person a brief reminder – that breastfeeding is about more than nourishment. After a certain age for children, it ceases being about nourishment (although the World Health Organization promotes “breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond”) and becomes a source of comfort and reassurance for the child. While not the only effective way, it does provide another avenue to build attachment and form bonds.
I’ve never written about breastfeeding my children, and I pray (literally) my daughter weans before she enters PreK. But, in honor of World Breastfeeding Awareness Week, I felt compelled to address this topic.
The more I contemplate breastfeeding, the more I realize just how smoothly my family runs with breastfeeding being our family norm.
I don’t lose weight when I breastfeed. At least, not at the rate that others seem to lose.
I don’t sleep solidly through the night. At least, not at the rate formula-fed parents seem to claim.
I don’t particularly get to wear the cutest outfits. At least, not the ones I would like, because I have to make sure I’ve got easy access for my children.
I also choose to not drink. at. all. At least, not while pregnant or nursing, even though I know technically, there are safe ways to drink. [Side note: I have had a glass of red wine once (thank you, dearly, to the friends who took us under their wings when my husband was deployed… before our daughter was even a twinkle in our eyes) in almost five years. One.]
However, the days are long, but the years are short.
My son weaned the morning after his dad returned from deployment. On his own choice, at 31 months. I thought for sure my daughter would wean at a year, simply because she acted like she was finished… until she wasn’t. I have officially entered “extended breastfeeding” now for two children. Because of that, I have had the opportunity to really identify what is most beneficial for me during the breastfeeding journey.
I am most grateful for the world of support… the information available from the World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. And, for the group at Infant Risk, a place where you can call, free of charge, no matter where you are in the country, to check to make sure how medications interact with breastfeeding and breastfeeding babies.
I am most grateful for my friends who have breastfed, many of of whom recognize the added component that, “it isn’t just about the nutrition.” They have been an immense source of support from practical to emotional support.
I am most grateful for those friends who were friends first, but turned out to be lactation consultants as well. I have yet to meet with any lactation consultant at a military treatment facility – they always seem to have days off when I am in the hospital having my children. The friends in this category have stepped in, one in particular throughout dental procedures the past three years, to reassure me when I am hesitant about getting a procedure done while still breastfeeding.
I most recently breastfed my daughter on airplane trips – both United Airlines and Delta. I had forgotten my cover because, I haven’t needed to breastfeed in public for so long, I’ve stopped carrying the cover and don’t know where it is. I worried about having someone approach me, the way the news likes to shout about; thankfully, there was nothing mentioned – I’m not even entirely sure anybody else noticed. I am grateful to have been able to fly under the radar.
I am grateful for all the work other women and men have done to support awareness of breastfeeding – and, more importantly, extended breastfeeding. It is always nice to know I am not alone in the sleepy haze of motherhood, and in the choice to allow my children to choose the time in which they are most comfortable ending that particular phase of life.
I am grateful for my husband’s support in this journey. We were once told by a lactation consultant who was like a second mother to him while growing up, that most women stop breastfeeding due to lack of support. And, I can truly say without my husband’s support, I wouldn’t be breastfeeding today.
You will never hear me say breastfeeding is the “end all, be all.” Frankly, a fed, nourished, cared for, and loved baby is the end all, be all.
But, I am grateful for all the support in my life, on this particular road – this particular choice – in a motherhood full of decisions to be made.
The support does not go unnoticed.
What are you most grateful for this week?
Until next week, dear reader…