Today is Bastian’s third birthday and I stopped to think why I still breastfeed my three year old. I never imagined I’d be nursing a three year old one day but looking at our journey it’s understandable.
NB this blog contains details of birth and blood; please don’t read it if you think it would upset you
After a traumatic breastfeeding experience with our eldest daughter, Ayla, I worried that my surgery-damaged breasts just weren’t able to manage. We’d lost a baby in the January and I was pregnant with Bastian in the July so I decided to do as much prep as I could for this little rainbow. By the time he was born I had a chest freezer full of donated milk and several supply line supplementers (the LactAid and SNS). I’d been antenatally expressing breastmilk in late pregnancy and even though we settled on a repeat c-section I planned everything meticulously. I even wrote a feeding plan to accompany the birth plan.
Bastian’s birth went beautifully and with delayed cord clamping and skin to skin in the theatre I couldn’t wait to try breastfeeding him. The doctors struggled to get my placenta out and blood splashed across the ceiling and one of their faces so I passed Bastian to The Viking, and he held his new son while I was stitched up. In recovery the strong little boy, born 8lb9oz, took hold and started feeding greedily. I knew he’d be great at it and tried to have confidence in my body. At home, the midwife visited us and was delighted by our progress but a few days later he’d lost 9% of his body weight and I agreed to being re-admitted again to monitor him.
The pediatrician was a bit concerned about jaundice and bloods confirmed he was dehydrated. So I began to supplement him with my antenatally expressed colostrum. After a few weeks he was taking lots of donor milk and I started to feel like a failure. He had tongue tie, but an IBCLC snipped it the same day. My best friend, Lorna, would come round and nurse him but I was beginning to use up our stash of milk in the freezer. I started drinking heavily but started AA to cope with it. Feeling sober and wanting to regain control I went to a La Leche League meeting and the counsillor helped me devise a plan.
My mum came to stay to help me with Ayla, who’d just turned two, so Sebastian and I could have a babymoon. That’s where we went to bed to spend every minute skin to skin and he had free access to my breasts. Every day I gave him less and less donor milk and could feel my supply increasing. In nine days, we went from supplementing 16oz a day to nothing. I was exclusively breastfeeding my son.
The past three years have gone so quickly. I started making breastmilk jewellery not long after stopping the donor milk and started selling charms, necklaces and breastmilk rings.
Bastian has always loved breastfeeding and even now it’s what he asks for as soon as he sees me. I’ve suffered mastitis and vasospasms but recovered. Mostly it’s been an easy journey. We cosleep most nights and he feeds on demand. If I’m working I tell him the “nuhnuhs” are asleep and he’ll go off and play, but asks later for more. He’ll stay at Grandmum’s for up to a week at a time but as soon as we’re reunited he climbs on my lap and pulls at my top.
Why I Still Breastfeed My Three Year Old
When people ask why I still breastfeed my three year old, the only real answer I have is that there’s no need to stop. It provides both of us with comfort and grounding. I feel a rush of oxytocin (the “love hormone”) and you can see from the relaxed and beautiful smile on his face how much he loves it. There aren’t any studies on the benefits of natural term nursing in developed countries but The World Health Organisation and UNICEF both recommend nursing alongside solid food for at least the first two years of a child’s life. This NPR article on sustained breastfeeding explains in much better detail than I can why it’s the biological norm, even if not culturally.
I grew up seeing breastfeeding an older child as the norm as my piano teacher nursed her seven year old, and I have several friends who do including Denise Sumpter whose daughter nursed until she was nine, here’s a lovely article about their family.
Breastfeeding is a bond that transcends culture, but at the same time is absolutely affected and influenced by culture.
Support and shared experiences are infinitely important – Denise Sumpter
So for me, that’s the cultural norm. I don’t care one iota what people say, and anyone who suggests it’s sexual or a form of child abuse should have more sensitivity. As a survivor of incestual sexual abuse I can categorically say that this is totally different and in no way sexual. For me, my body is sexual when I’m with my husband and not when I’m nursing, I’m a parent. I’ll stop nursing Bastian when the time’s right for both of us, maybe when his adult teeth come in. But for now, there’s no reason to stop and The Viking is supportive along with the rest of our family.
I think the reason we’ve been so successful breastfeeding this time around is due to the amazing support I’ve had from friends and peers, breastfeeding councillors, IBCLC’s and my family. I educated myself about normal nursing this time around and made it clear that we’d do it that nobody dared tell me I couldn’t. Here’s to whatever time we have left having nuhnuhs and happy birthday to our gorgeous, happy, vivacious and sensitive child.
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