Well, we did it! One whole year of breastfeeding. It was always my aim since I became pregnant with Alex to try my best to breastfeed him for his first year and I’ve only gone and done it. It’s not always been easy, we had latch issues and I experienced a lot of pain during those first couple of weeks but I feel so proud that we pushed through and our feeding journey is still going strong 12 months on. With the rise of the mummy blogger there seems to be a lot more honest advice and stories online about what breastfeeding a newborn is like, which makes a nice change from the very impersonal approach most nhs leaflets and antenatal classes seem to take. I’ve written all about it myself in previous breastfeeding diary posts and have even written a guest blog for The Bshirt all about how to breastfeed with confidence. When it comes to the realities of feeding an older baby though the stories from other mums on their feeding experiences start to thin out. Just as breastfeeding a newborn comes with it’s own challenges, breastfeeding an older baby is not as easy as you may think either. So, as Alex and I have smashed our feeding goals and are still going, I thought I would share with you what it’s really like breastfeeding a one year old, in case you too decide to keep feeding your little one into toddlerhood.
Breastfeeding diary – The reality of breastfeeding a one year old
1. Feeds are unpredictable – When your baby is first born you can pretty much guarantee that if they are crying they want one of three things: sleep, burping or food. It takes a little while to fall into a feeding routine with a breasted baby but you soon learn around about how often your little one is going to one a feed. For months Alex wanted to be fed every two hours, I could almost set my watch by him his hunger became so predictable. As your baby gets bigger and they start eating solids and taking more of an interest in the world around them, they start to drop feeds and your feeding schedule suddenly becomes no more. At 12 months old, I have no idea when Alex wants milk during the day until he starts crying and pulling my top down. He always has it in first thing in the morning and then last thing before bed but when he wants some milk during the day is completely random. Some days he wants it at nap time and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he wants it after his lunch and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he will bump his head and want a feed for comfort and sometimes he will be teething and just want be attached to me all day. This can be a bit annoying at times as I could just be about to cook tea or play a game with my eldest and all hell breaks loose because Alex randomly wants feeding again. Other mums might be able to tell you their one year old still sticks to a feeding schedule but mine definitely does not.
2. Feeding acrobatics – While Alex will still sit in my arms and let me feed him in the ‘cradle hold’ that was common place when he was younger, sometimes he likes to try and feed from all kinds of crazy angles. He might be snuggled into my shoulder one minute and decide he wants some milk and try and go upside down to get to it, or he could be feeding and then start trying to get his feet down on the floor, like he wishes it were possible for him to just crawl around while feeding at the same time! I am grateful that, for the most part, Alex is still happy to just lie in my arms and feed because it’s not exactly comfortable when he’s wriggling all over the place with my boob in his mouth.
3. You still have to wear breastfeeding friendly clothes – While I did eventually ditch the nursing bras when Alex was about 8months old, I am still unable to go back to my pre-breastfeeding wardrobe as Alex still wants to feed in the daytime. While I am confident breastfeeding in public, I find it so much easier when wearing feeding friendly clothes and, even at a year old, wearing clothes with easy boob access makes feeding so much easier. One day I will be able to wear that gorgeous jumper dress again and not have to no worry about the fact the only way I could possibly feed in it would to just go completely topless.
4. They understand ‘milk’ – If Alex is getting grumpy and whiney and I say to him ‘do you want some milk?’ , he immediately starts headbutting my chest and trying to pull my top down. It amazes me that he understands what I am saying but I’ve learnt my lesson the hard way: do not ask a toddler if they want milk unless you are able to sit and feed them immediately. Alex has lost the plot a couple of times lately because I’ve been stupid enough to mention the ‘m’ word when we’ve been in a situation that has meant I couldn’t actually feed him right away.
5. A new type of mum guilt – I know many mums suffer with guilt when it comes to the subject of breastfeeding. Some feel guilty that they stopped when they did and some feel guilty for not doing it at all or that they think they didn’t try hard enough to make it work. Mum guilt is a bitch and all of us (breast or bottle feeders) need to try our best to ignore it as it can really knock your confidence as a mum. Saying that, I need to practice what I preach! I feel so many good things about mine and Alex’s breastfeeding journey so far but, and it’s a big but, I do still feel a shed load of mum guilt. I am so worried that I am going to want to stop feeding Alex before he is ready. While I love the idea of self weaning, I can’t honestly say I want to be breastfeeding him when he’s 3 or even older. This might be for you and I totally respect you’re decision, but I personally can’t see me wanting to do it much longer than for about 18 months. This acceptance that breastfeeding is very likely to finish because I want it to makes me feel incredibly guilty. Alex friggin loves the boob, it would be like just taking his dummy away before he’s ready, something he needs to soothe and comfort him. In his own little way (shrieking and chest headbutting), Alex lets me know when he wants feeding and I can’t imagine ever saying no to him. If I were to refuse him a feed, it is very likely he would scream the place down and is there anything worse as a parent than causing your baby upset when, really, it could all just be avoided? I need to stop worrying about what will or won’t happen I think and instead just focus on the now and if I decide I want to stop before Alex is ready then I will have to deal with all these feelings then. If you are feeling this particular form of mum guilt too, I know exactly how you feel mama.
6. They rarely get ‘milk drunk’ – The days of being able to breastfeed your baby to the point they fall asleep in your arms for hours, hammered on the good stuff, are gone. It is so hard to feed Alex to sleep now he is older, some evenings he has both sides and there’s not so much as a slow blink and a yawn to indicate he’s on his way into a milk coma. Sometimes I find myself missing the days where I could feed him for hours and he would flop his head away, a little milk on his cheek and he would just sleep in my arms all warm and snuggly with rosy cheeks. 12 months of breastfeeding has hardened Alex to the sleepy power of breastmilk and very rarely do I look down during a feed and he’s asleep.
7. It can still hurt – Don’t worry, it’s not agony like it was in those newborn days but the above mentioned feeding acrobatics with a mouthful of little teeth can hurt a little bit sometimes. I love Alex has only ever bitten me once and that was when he was in teething hell and I am so glad it has not happened since! Sometimes though, even though he doesn’t bite I can still feel his teeth if he’s being lazy and not quite latched on properly.
8. Bonding time – Alex is always on the go now, crawling and climbing everywhere and when he crawls over for a feed it is nice to just have a cuddle with him and a moment of calm before he starts demolishing the house again. If he is upset then a quick feed will soothe him and sometimes he just wants a feed because he loves being close to mummy. I find breastfeeding now so easy and I think it really helps Alex and I to reconnect, especially on days when Leo is home and everything is just a bit crazy.
Do you breastfeed? How are you finding the experience so far, are you intending on feeding your baby past their first birthday? Maybe you are feeding a toddler, how do you find it feeding an older baby? I would love to hear all about your breastfeeding experiences.