Before my son was born, I planned to breastfeed for a year. Maybe 18 months if we both wanted to keep going. But anything past that seemed like a long time to give up my body.
Cut to three and a half years later, and I am still breastfeeding my son. Happily.
Sometimes I ask myself how I became this “crunchy” extended-breastfeeding mom. Honestly, it happened so naturally that I barely noticed. I just kept doing what I thought was best for my son and myself.
This is my story—not a call for everyone to breastfeed into toddlerhood. I’m writing it because I think there’s power in mothers sharing their honest stories. I also want to dispel some common myths about extended breastfeeding. I hope it will encourage you whether you choose to breastfeed a month, three years, or not at all!
A Rough Start
Right after my son James was born, I started hemorrhaging. Thanks to my midwife, the bleeding was over in a matter of minutes, but it left me feeling exhausted and disconnected. When they first put James on me to breastfeed, I remember feeling like I didn’t want to do it. I was so weak, I couldn’t imagine giving anything more from my body.
After a few hours of rest, my brain finally kicked back in and reminded me that we wanted to breastfeed. We’d done the research. It was so good for babies, and moms too. So I drug my deflated, diapered body up, and I started seriously working on James’ latch.
That week, James lost almost three pounds. Thankfully he was a big baby to start with, but he still became jaundiced and skeletal. I’d been feeding him constantly, but he wasn’t latching well so he was never full. To make things worse, my milk supply plummeted. We called in the lactation-consultant, who helped me (literally) pump up my milk supply while we supplemented with formula to get James’ weight up.
After several grueling weeks of getting up to pump every two hours and also trying to breastfeed James any time he woke up, I was exhausted and ready to give up. Breastfeeding was just too hard. The only thing that kept me going was the encouragement of the women around me. I read mom blogs while I pumped in the middle of the night, and they gushed about the beauty and benefits of breastfeeding. I simultaneously hated them and was really encouraged by their stories.
I decided I would give it one last shot. Armed with movies and snacks, I vowed to stay up all night breastfeeding if that’s what it took. That night, James magically got it. He never took formula again, and we both went to sleep full and happy.
Once we got the hang of it, I realized what all the mom bloggers had been talking about. Breastfeeding made me feel deeply connected with my son and empowered as a woman. I was so proud of myself for persevering, and I was in awe of my body’s ability to sustain my now-chubby baby.
When James was four months old, we moved to France to work with a missions organization. It was a very family-friendly base, so James was often at work with me. While I loved nursing at home, breastfeeding at work made me feel like a superhero. I could literally do it all! I felt so confident, I even ditched my nursing cover in favor of (still discreet, but less hidden) nursing tanks. My colleagues soon got used to seeing me with baby attached to my body. The more relaxed I was about it, the less weird it seemed to them.
During this time, I also learned what a great parenting tool breastfeeding can be. Whether James was hungry, thirsty, tired, teething, sick, or just out of sorts, nursing always made it better. It was like a miracle cure. To this day, I’m still amazed at its ability to transform a tantrum-throwing toddler into a sweet, calm little boy. There’s no better feeling as a parent than having the perfect fix to whatever your child needs—and always on hand!
On James’ first birthday, I put a homemade apple cupcake in front of him, but all he wanted was my milk. As we nursed and giggled, I wondered how I could have ever wanted to stop breastfeeding at this age. It was only getting more and more fun.
Chronic Fatigue Mama
When James was eight months old, I started having bouts of fatigue that would last for days or sometimes weeks. At the time, I thought I was just tired from my intense work schedule, but I would later discover that I had Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Over the next year, I went from superhero mom to barely functioning.
Several people asked me if I thought breastfeeding was contributing to my fatigue. I tried to be open to the idea, but honestly I was pretty defensive about it. I felt like so much of my capacity as a mom was gone. I couldn’t bear to give up the one thing I could still do. So while my husband gradually took on the role of primary parent, I consoled myself with the knowledge that breastfeeding was still my territory. If James wanted to stop, we would. But I wasn’t going to give up—just like I hadn’t those first weeks.
James was definitely not ready to stop. In fact, the sicker I got, the more he seemed to need reassurance that I was still his mama. Breastfeeding helped so much those days. We curled up in my bed together, and all the scary unknowns faded away for a while. I was still the mama who would do anything for him, and that was all that we both needed to know.
My doctors later confirmed that breastfeeding had nothing to do with my illness. My hormone and vitamin levels were perfectly fine. I was relieved, and grateful that we hadn’t stopped out of fear.
Nursing a Three-Year-Old
We carried on like that for two years, nursing through hard CFS days and another international move. I adopted the “don’t offer, don’t refuse” method to help James gradually wean himself, and now we pretty much only nurse once first thing in the morning.
Now, our breastfeeding sessions look completely different. James talks or sings for most of it and maybe spends 1-2 minutes actually drinking milk. We treat it as a morning check-in time. I ask him about all the adventures he and Daddy will go on that day, and he chatters about his latest favorites (most recently: stick insects). Within a few minutes, he’s ready to go play and waves bye-bye so I can rest.
I assume he’ll fully wean sometime this year. When he’s having a rough day, James still asks for milk with a pitiful lip quiver. Otherwise, he’s easily distracted away from it.
I have to admit, weaning will be a little sad for me. It’s a joy to watch James grow into an independent little boy, but I will forever treasure this season of breastfeeding. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some people might think I’m a little crazy, but for our family it’s been exactly what we needed to thrive.
If you’re thinking about breastfeeding, I really encourage you to try it. Get as much education as you can beforehand and plan to have help during the first few weeks. If you decide it’s not for you, that’s fine. But also know that it does get better with time and practice. You may even grow to love it!
This post contains affiliate links, which help support this blog. I only link to products I use or would personally recommend.
Photo: © Elizabeth Steere