It has been 5 days since my 2-year-old had his last feed, and it is slowly sinking in that after 4 years, 1 month and 23 days, my breastfeeding journey has come to an end. Last night at bedtime, he didn’t even ask for his “mummy milk.” I’m grateful that Max is ready to move on, but a little piece of me is crying on the inside knowing that I will never breastfeed again.
I have been blessed on so many levels to have breastfed for this length of time. There are many women who, for various reasons, are unable to breastfeed for as long as they had hoped, or not at all. I am deeply grateful to have shared this journey with both of my children.
Pre babies, I thought that you breastfed for maybe 6 months-ish. I really knew next to nothing, as I hadn’t been around many breastfeeding mothers. But a few weeks into my first pregnancy, I began educating myself and what I learnt absolutely blew my mind! Breastmilk is liquid gold! Now, here I am at the end of a 1,515 consecutive day breastfeeding journey.
Since the first day I became a mum, breastfeeding has been a major part of my life. It became so natural to me and I was devoted to feeding on demand for the first two years and beyond (as recommended by The World Health Organisation). But how I reached the 2-year mark with my first born was not how I first envisioned!
When my husband and I were ready to try for our second child, Harrison was 14 months old and still breastfeeding on demand night and day. I had heard conflicting information about conceiving while breastfeeding, but I chose to believe that we would fall pregnant without weaning… and we did! Even without the return of my period – so if you’re trying for another baby but still breastfeeding, I can say from personal experience that it is possible.
When it came to breastfeeding through pregnancy, I followed my intuition and listened to my body. Harrison was in no way ready to wean and my body was still producing milk (albeit, not much), so I happily continued. One of my most treasured memories of that time was snuggling on the couch with Harrison while he was having a feed, his little hand rubbing my enormously full, pregnant tummy. It was as though he was connecting with his baby brother or sister before they were even born.
At 18months we chose to night wean Harrison. He was still feeding about every 2 hours and I couldn’t imagine having to feed a toddler and a newborn through the night! We weren’t weaning him completely though, and as we were nearing my due date, I was hearing how difficult and exhausting it can be to tandem feed – I started to worry. But the thought of weaning Harrison when he really wasn’t ready broke my heart. And worrying about what would happen when our baby arrived was only causing unnecessary stress. So, I decided that we would just go with the flow. We would figure it out, and we’d make it work. I continued to feed Harrison right up to Max’s birth, and I am so grateful that I did.
Moments after I caught Max in the birthing pool, he was already looking for a feed. I was so used to feeding a toddler that having this tiny newborn suckling felt really strange! In a way, I had to re-learn how to breastfeed. But we both learnt very quickly, and the next day I was feeding both boys.
Tandem feeding was exhausting but incredibly beautiful as well. And for Harrison it made the adjustment to having a new baby brother so much easier for him. Even though he wasn’t feeding every time Max did, he still had the close connection to mummy that he was used to. It also helped him bond with his baby brother. I will never forget feeding the two of them and seeing Harrison stroke Max’s hair, or Max reach over to touch Harrison’s face, or the two of them holding hands as they had their mummy milk. And with the three of us snuggled together, it was quiet… peaceful! (and peaceful times when you have a newborn and a toddler are times to cherish!)
Having your milk-drunk baby drift off to sleep on you with a contented grin, milk dribbling down their chin is one of the sweetest things in the world. And nursing your baby when they are sick, knowing that your breastmilk is producing the antibodies that they need is a blessing. I have so many heart-warming memories like that. But in February 2019, I also experienced breastfeeding my child through trauma.
When Harrison was just 2yrs old, he had an horrific accident. While in the tearoom at a hospital in Perth, after saying our final goodbyes to his grandfather in palliative care, a piece of physio equipment the size of a small bookshelf fell on top of him, splitting his forehead open. While holding Max, I ran to Harrison as the equipment fell and lifted it off of him… I felt like I’d slipped into a nightmare.
He needed plastic surgery the following morning – 16 external stitches, plus more internal. It was the most traumatic experience of my life. But being able to comfort Harrison and ease his pain with breastmilk helped me feel a little less helpless. Especially in casualty when my sweet little boy’s head was wrapped in a bloody bandage, saying “oh dear… oh dear!” When I asked if he’d like some mummy milk he whimpered “yes please,” and clung to me until he fell asleep.
Upon waking after his surgery, he was distressed and immediately looking for the comfort of mummy milk, which I gave straight away. Admittedly, part of me was worrying about what the nurses might think… it’s not often that you see a 2-year-old being breastfed in public. When one of the nurses said, “You’re still breastfeeding? YES! That’s wonderful!” I almost cried with relief.
Before the accident I was thinking of beginning the weaning process, but over those next few days I fed him as much as he needed. A month or so later he started talking about his accident. I never brought it up, but would always chat about it whenever he wanted. He mentioned falling and being sad. Then said to me with a smile, “and you made me feel better with mummy milk!” My heart melted in that moment.
After six and half months of tandem feeding I was feeling pretty exhausted and weaned Harrison completely. I did it as gradually as I could, but I had started to experience an aversion to him feeding, so had to move on quicker than I would have liked. But he adapted and then instead of sharing mummy milk, he always wanted to ‘help’ Max… although I’m not sure Max was overly happy with his big brother’s ‘help.’ Max’s weaning process has been very gradual and gentle. And although I was ready a couple of months ago, it was important to me to wait until he was ready. And now, he has happily and comfortably moved on.
Having been on this journey for so long, there have been countless beautiful moments but many challenging ones too – vasospasm, nipple aversion, mastitis (many times!), nursing a 4 month old whilst recovering from an emergency appendectomy, major sleep deprivation and exhaustion – and I’m not sure how I would have gone if I was doing this on my own. In my second trimester I became a member of ‘The Australian Breastfeeding Association,‘ (something I encourage any ‘mum to be’ to do!) and the support and guidance I received from my ABA community was invaluable. There were many times that I would have been lost without them. My family and friends were also wonderfully supportive, but none more so than my husband. He had to live through the hard times with me and I am eternally grateful for his unwavering love, compassion, understanding and support.
I’ve heard it said that the feeling of love is a heavenly state and therefore impossible to describe in words… and that’s how I feel right now. I’m at a loss to articulate exactly how I feel. Mixed emotions are swirling through me and I’m riding a wave of gratitude, pride, love, sadness and joy. I may not ever breastfeed again, but precious memories are already flooding into my mind, and these I will hold in my heart forever.
Much love and gratitude,