Monday, September 27, 2010
Controversial Monday: Extended Breastfeeding
For 26 months I breastfed my daughter and loved it. I didn't at first but over the months and years that I breastfed my daughter I grew to treasure that time that we had together; all the happy oxytocin flowing, the snuggling, plus the knowledge that even after the first year of breastfeeding I was still providing my child with nourishment and antibodies, and helping to prevent allergies and even diabetes.
In addition to the benefits for the child, extended breastfeeding also benefits the mother. Numerous studies have indicated that by breastfeeding past the first year women can help decrease their risk of contracting breast, uterine, ovarian and endometrial cancers. Not to mention it also protects against osteoporosis and decreases the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
My daughter weaned herself during the first few months of my last pregnancy because according to her my pregnancy breast milk tasted "yucky." There is a reason that it is called "weaning milk." After I lost the pregnancy I missed being able to breastfeed my daughter. I am grateful for the time we did have nursing when I remember all the struggles that I had with breastfeeding her. Ravenna was born with a weak suck which required weeks of pumping and "suck" training and a half-dozen visits with lactation consultants BUT after three weeks we got it! Then at 6 months, my milk dried up due to my insulin resistance. Thanks to the Leche League I was able to reestablish my supply using fenugreek, pumping, and switching breasts constantly during feedings. There were numerous other small challenges along the way including biting, but I was able to persevere because I knew where to find good information, had knowledgeable support, and I think most importantly, I had made a goal while I was pregnant that I would breastfeed for at least 18 months.
People were often surprised to see me breastfeeding a toddler, but most of the time Ravenna only nursed 1-2 times a day. Some days she wanted to nurse more, for comfort mainly, and that was fine by me. I will admit that it is hard, having experienced so many hardships in my own breastfeeding experience, to see mom's who never breastfeed or who give up whenever a challenge arises. It isn't hard because I feel like they are harming their babies irrevocably or being selfish; it is hard because I do not feel that our society is supportive enough of women who breastfeed. It is difficult for many women to get good information and formula is often advertised as being equal to breast milk when it clearly is not.
I have heard numerous examples of women, including myself, being told by their pediatricians that their milk isn't good enough because their baby isn't gaining weight according to the charts. This problem, if indeed it is a problem, is rare and easily corrected through the mother's diet. Information on how to solve nearly all breastfeeding issues is readily available online on such websites as Kellymom and La Leche League. I think that a lot of these misconceptions could be cleared up if pediatricians were more thoroughly educated in lactation; mothers trust their advice, even if it is incorrect.
My advice during a breastfeeding crisis? Persevere. Keep trying to breastfeed, search for information, and use formula only as a last resort. A wise woman once suggested that if you are wanting to give up on breastfeeding, as most women are at some point, keep trying for another week and try to solve the problem. If it still isn't working after a week and you don't feel like you can continue, then, and only then, think about weaning.