Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Some comments on milk

I've been meaning to post about breastfeeding for a while. I actually have several posts to do on this. The mothers out there know what a rocky road it is. Today's topic is extended breastfeeding, something that's usually reserved for snide whispers. In this country its considered a bit weird, and I admit to having a mental stereotype of people who do it, something I had a little internal struggle with when we hit the 12 month mark.
The AMA recommends breastfeeding exclusive for the 1st 6 months, and continuing for "atleast" the first year. The WHO recommends 2 years. Why the discrepancy? Well, I think this country is struggling to overcome its midcentury belief that "only poor people breastfeed", "its gross", and "formula is best". After that PR nightmare (did the formula companies use the same ad agency as cigarettes? seriously!) 12 months may be a stretch goal. The WHO on the otherhand is trying to make sure that children in the undeveloped world get one of the few advantages mother's can afford. It's also the best tool they have to stave off waterborn illnness, a major cause of infant death, since there's no need to mix it with water.
Most American mothers try to breastfeed in the hospital, more than half don't make it 2 months. The ones who make it through say "whew" at the 12 month mark and swiftly switch to cow's milk. There is a small minority that keeps going. As a new mother, I had a goal of 6 months, and then see what happens. (After the first few days and weeks, that seemed like an impossible achievement--but that's another post). I read up a bit on the recommendations, and started prying open my own mind on the idea of extended nursing. Apparently, there's scant scientific evidence of the benefits of toddler nursing in the US, but numerous studies have tried to find the negatives (science to support public opinion?) and they didn't come up with any.
About a year ago, I saw my doctor for my 6 month post partum check-up. We were talking about breastfeeding, and she casually said how things would go...and then we'd be toddler nursing, night and morning... What-What!? I heard the electronic rewind screech in my mind when she said it.
At 12 months, we were still breastfeeding. Jackson loved it. The descriptives, "alactrity", "enthusiasm", and "gusto" are inadequate to convey his excitement for nursing, or the sense of urgency he puts into it. I'm away from my baby 9 hours a day, so I wasn't about to deny him something that is clearly so important to him.
I did decide to break him from the all night feeding. This was really hard! I tried to use a gradual method to stop it. I set up some rules. 1--Jackson had to sleep in his own bed (right next to mine) until 5am. 2--No picking up screaming child (and he screamed!!) 3--I would give him milk when he asked for it, but only from a bottle. 4--After a few weeks, I would start diluting the milk with water until it was just water. Amazingly, the strategy worked. The first few nights were brutal, but after a week, Jackson agreed to go back to sleep in his own bed, and within 6 weeks, he was sleeping without sustenance from 7:30-5:00 (sometimes 4:30) when he woke for milk, and went back to sleep for an hour. (Such a relief after over a year of hourly interrupted sleep).
This method meant that I still had to pack my pump to and from work, and keep my timeslot in the overpacked lactation room so that I would have milk for overnight. There was another woman with a child the same age as Jack. On his 1st birthday, she [smugly] posted a note regarding her freedom from the milk machine. I was feeling like the weird woman who was still breastfeeding--How old is that child!? Then I checked in on my friend in my old lactation room, and she was still feeding her son. I asked a few more people and found out that there are actually a bunch of us quietly continuing past the first year. Many of us are professionals, surprisingly continuing to put in the extra effort.
Jackson was already weaned during the day since he was driven to vampirism early. (see Milk, soap, and cheese.) That's not the case for everyone. I saw my friend this summer who has extended breastfed all of her children. I was impressed at her patience--she spent 1/2 hour exposed in the kitchen while her 14 month old suckled and napped intermittently.
We're now at 18 months, and continuing to nurse for some indeterminate length of time. Jack's enthusiasm has not waned. We've had a cold this weekend, and Jackson hasn't been able to breath and suck at the same time. The other night, he threw an absolute fit when he couldn't suckle. He was writhing around and bawling. Luckily Jason was home, and able to sit with him while I dug my pump out of the closet. I put the milk in a sippy cup, and Jackson bawled louder, refusing to take it. He was relieved when I put in into a bottle. I wasn't able to pump much milk, and the wailing resumed when it was gone. Fortunatley, I still have stock in the freezer.
There are studies that show that antibody levels in toddler breast milk are even higher than in milk produced for young babies. I noticed my milk looks thicker than it used to, and I'm glad I can offer it.
I don't see myself as someone who fits the typical stereotype of a la leche leaguer. I think I'm as close as an engaged parent gets to the opposite of that. I'm not someone who gushes about the bonding that comes from nursing. I don't experience that personally, although I think Jackson does. I nurse because I know it offers advantages in immunity, allergy prevention, IQ, and development. I'm skeptical about the food industry (apparently with good reason--so glad I'm not in China!), and I don't believe they can adequately synthesize a food that has evolved over millenia. I want to make sure my child has the advantages that are within my means to provide.
I hope reading my story widened your awareness a bit. I'm not going to tell anyone how to raise their children, but I want other mother's to know that its OK either way, and I'd like to dissipate some of the whispers uttered at the expense of those of us who take "atleast 12 months" to mean something besides "exactly 12 months".


  1. I'm trying to figure out how people get a huge stock of milk in the freezer!!! How do you do that? The most I could get was five bags, and that is now gone. We've had to sneak in an ounce of formula here and there because I simply ran out and wasn't able to pump more. I even tried setting my alarm in the middle of the night so I could pump more. Still working on the supply and demand thing--I guess I need to pump more at work, but I'm only there 4 hours and don't want to spend 30 minutes of that pumping.

    Just had to share.
    Thanks for sharing your insights on your experience.

  2. I've never been able to pump a ton either, so my kids end up not taking a bottle and only wanting me. I don't mind so much.
    That was a great post about breastfeeding. I love love love it! For me, I would rather breastfeed than be pregnant, but I know some women who would have it the other way around.
    I know many women who nurse past 12 months. My lactation consultant said that kids who nurse until 2 get an extra burst of immunities. :D My kids have always self-weened once they hit 12-13 months. Too busy to snuggle with their mommy, I guess.

  3. Thanks for posting this, Sheree. I feel like you do - I'm not a typical "la leche" type-person, but my goal is to go for 12 months at least. I would like to try to go a bit longer, provided Penny is still down with it and provided I can still produce. I do feel like my supply has taken a hit since I've gone back to work, so I'm dealing with that...

    That's interesting about the antibodies in toddler milk, I hadn't heard that before. I do have a question - do you get really engorged during the day, or are you able to produce just enough for morning and night feedings?

  4. No engorgement during the day. We did it very gradually. I used to pump 2X at work (10 and 2), then I went down to 1X (12:00), then I stopped pumping. If for some reason, we don't get the bedtime feeding in, I will be feeling a little full in the morning.

    I did get engorged in the early months if I missed a feeding.

  5. I nursed Millie for nearly a year and a half and Laney for 1 year. So I haven't nursed in over a year, but I still have milk! Just a tiny bit, but it's there. I don't miss being pregnant, but I think I will always miss nursing.