I can hardly believe it, but along with Reuben’s 2nd birthday at the beginning of this month, I achieved my goal of 2 years of breastfeeding! The World Health Organization recommend that children are breastfed up to the age of 2 (or beyond), hence why I aimed for this age. That said, the journey hasn’t always been easy. At times it would have been so much easier to just go and buy some formula. However, with a lot of grit and determination, we made it!
The start of our journey
I knew I wanted to breastfeed Reuben when he was just a sparkle in my eye, before I was even expecting him. I’d been heartbroken when my breastfeeding journey came to an end with Autumn when she was around 6 weeks old. I was hopeful that nothing awful would happen with Reuben’s health like it did Autumn’s and that my mental health would therefore remain good.
Pretty much as soon as he was born, we latched him on. I had lovely skin-to-skin newborn cuddles with him while he guzzled away during the golden hour. Over the next few weeks, I didn’t really have any complaints. Well, other than the expected lack of sleep! It is completely normal to be up for most of the night just feeding and feeding and feeding babies during their first few weeks. While it was tough at the time, I knew it wouldn’t last forever.
Then around the 6 week mark I suddenly started to get really sore nipples. I noticed that as well as I was helping to latch, the latch wasn’t remaining good. I also had 3 bouts of mastitis. One was particularly awful. I couldn’t stop shaking with the chills. It was impossible to keep warm, my breast hurt and I kept vomiting. When Reuben drank milk, someone literally might as well have been biting my nipple off with each suck. It was so painful that I cried each time I fed him. I just happened to mention it all to my health visitor on a routine call and she booked me into a breastfeeding clinic. The specialist was AMAZING. She found that he did have a posterior tongue tie. Apparently midwives aren’t always very good at finding those! That explained why he wasn’t able to retain a good latch.
At 8 weeks, he had his tongue tie snipped. It took a couple of weeks for feeding to settle. After that, though, it was smooth sailing until the…
When Reuben got to around 5-6 months, he went through a phase where he started biting me. Ouch! Although he didn’t have teeth when he started biting, his little gums were so hard that it was still agony. Each time he did it, I started saying “No, that hurts. Bye bye boobie” and doing my top back up. Not really understanding, he would cry and I’d give it just a few moments before letting him have more milk. Fortunately, after about a week he realised that if he bit the boob, it went away. Once he understood this, he stopped biting.
When he did get teeth, he unfortunately did bite me sometimes. However, this was completely by accident as he got used to the feel of them in his mouth, I guess. Luckily, this phase passed very quickly too (although he still does bite me by accident very very occasionally).
Getting to 6 months
6 months is the minimum recommendation for breastfeeding, before babies go onto solids. When I was struggling in the first few weeks, I kept thinking “You can do this, just get to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding” as that was the minimum goal I had in my head. I celebrated by giving Reuben a special 6 months milk bath with flowers. In the following days, I learnt how effective breast milk is in sorting out cradle cap! It hugely improved after this milk bath, then even more so as I kept applying some milk to it every day once I realised it helped. Any breastfeeding at all, or even trying to is such a huge achievement, but this milestone made me so happy!
As Reuben got bigger, he obviously started to be able to move around more. Gone were the days of trying to position him carefully in my arms for the perfect latch. He’d be laying across my lap kicking his legs. The moments where he made eye contact with me melted my heart. Even more so when he’d pause for a second to give me a cheeky smile!
As he grew into a toddler, he’d seek me out and start pulling at my clothing! Now, at 2 years old, he’s often quite happy to help himself and VERY wiggly. This has caused a few near flashing incidents and I think that there may have been some actual flashing incidents, although people have been too kind to say so. He can’t stay still while he feeds. The other day, he was upside down hanging off of the sofa feeding!
What I’ve loved about breastfeeding
I love the fact that I can still give Reuben nutritious milk tailored just to him and use it to comfort him.
It was certainly also helpful not having to carry around bottles and formula around. With Autumn I always used to worry if we had enough on us, especially if we ended up being out longer than expected. It was also a pain having to sterilise them all the time. It’s fantastic just having milk ready that’s the perfect temperature, rather than scrambling to make a bottle while being screamed at.
Although I sometimes feel a bit awkward feeding in public, I’ve enjoyed not feeling ashamed like I did when bottle feeding Autumn. There is nothing to be ashamed of, by the way. It’s brilliant that we have formula available for our babies when we can’t or don’t want to breastfeed them. ‘Informed is best’ and formula milk was definitely the best thing for us in our situation. That said, I did always feel that I was being judged for ‘not doing the best’ for my baby. I’d feel jealous seeing people who were successful breastfeeding their babies. It’s been nice not feeling like that this time. Yes, that’s a bit embarrassing, but I always try to keep honest here because it’s important.
The bonding experience we’ve shared through milk has been beautiful. Reuben still requests milk quite regularly. At this stage, I’m hoping to carry on for as long as he wants milk. I’m sure it probably won’t be long before he weans himself off. As much as it’ll be good in some ways, for example, not having to worry about only buying clothes I can get my boobs out of, I will miss it.