When my son was born I found those early
days weeks nothing short of agonising. Cracked, bleeding nipples, engorgement... I remember I would grit my teeth and curl my toes and count to thirty slowly at the beginning of each feed. I thought of all the people who said that if it hurt you were doing it wrong and I wanted to stab them with a fork. In the eye.
As the weeks went by though the pain began to ease. By six weeks we were pretty good at it. I was proud of myself for having persisted when there were times that I just wanted to give it up.
I know now how lucky I was that we managed it at all, and am thankful for the support I had from family and friends.
As the months passed my goal was to make it to three months, then six, then two years as that was the World Health Organisation recommendation. I never would have imagined that I would feed through a pregnancy, then tandem feed, and finally he would wean at three years old.
As he got older I became more and more aware that our continued breastfeeding relationship was not the norm. The older he was, the weirder it became to other people. I remember feeding him at around 15 months old in a food court, heavily pregnant, and an older gentleman recoiling in what can only be described as horror. In fairness we must have been a sight to see.
He did of course wean eventually. No boob over the school fence for him. My daughter fed until she was five years old which kind of surprises even me. She chose to give it up in her own time and I am grateful for that now.
The thing is, people seem to assume when you talk about breastfeeding toddlers and older children that it means they are on you and grabbing a boob all the time. For me that was not the case by a long shot. As each of my kids have hit toddlerhood they've lost interest in feeding when we are out and about. The world is out there to explore! Why sit with Mum? Even my little mate who has autism and seeks the comfort of my arms more than the others ever did is more likely to have a cuddle and scope out the crowd than anything else. For many 'extended' breastfeeders the later years involve a feed to sleep or before bed and that's about it.
In my life before children I was a teacher. There were 30 ten year olds in the class I taught before leaving to have my baby. Of those 30 I could not tell you who was breastfed for how long, who had a bottle from birth, who was born via ceasarean or who still shared sleep space with their parents. It did not matter, and it should not matter.
Like all parents we make decisions based on what we feel is best for our own family. Like all parents we are sometimes made to feel bad for those decisions. We are sometimes made to feel great for them.
If you choose to breastfeed for a long time, good for you. If you choose not to breastfeed, good for you too. How wonderful that there is a safe and reliable alternative available in this day and age.
Whatever you choose know this. Your child will benefit from your love and attention. As they get older no one will be able to tell the difference. Only you will know. Only you will care. And that is as it should be.