12 Months of Breastfeeding: The Things I have Learned

12 months.

366 days (2020 was a leap year) of breastfeeding.

We’ve been quite lucky; we have had minimal struggles. The odd blocked duct here and there, a few bites when teeth have appeared and a little bit of aversion at certain times of the month, but as a whole, it has been a fairly easy journey so far, for both of us.

So far.

Now we have hit a year, the questions have started about when we are quitting and when I will be weaning her. I’ll be writing a whole separate post about that, but the answer is ‘never’. Of course, she won’t be feeding forever, but I won’t be taking steps to actively wean her. I’ll allow her to lead us and wean when she’s ready.

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I’m pretty clued up on breastfeeding, having done plenty of research to give us the best possible chances of being successful, and I breastfed Alex until he was almost two. Still, things happen now that I don’t truly expect and there are comments and thought processes that still blow me away. It really is a bit of a revelation.

No one talks about it before baby is here

While there seems to be a narrative that breastfeeding is pushed onto all expectant mums, that really does not seem to be the case. Other than being asked ‘how are you planning to feed?’, I have never had any discussion with any midwife or any health care professional before any of my babies have been born.

With both Alex and Elizabeth, I went in having researched in-depth about cluster feeding, supply, latch, feeding positions and so on. I also knew that only a tiny percentage of women are physically unable to breastfeed – with the right support and determination, it is possible for most women if they want to, and that if I struggled, I needed to fight for support. As it was, I needed help with latching Alex, and lots of asking got me that support.

Talking about this, about those first few days and weeks where it is hard, and making sure women know where to go to access support – and giving them the support – is critical for raising breastfeeding success rates. It really can be as simple as that. Making sure women know that cluster feeding doesn’t mean you aren’t producing enough milk, that if it hurts, something isn’t quite right and it is usually a case of repositioning, that after those first tricky few weeks are out of the way it really does get more comfortable is essential.

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Health professionals get it wrong – a lot

Obviously, there are exceptions to the rule – my now-retired doctor is one of them – but as a whole, health professionals are woefully uneducated when it comes to all things breastfeeding. When I was diagnosed with OCD back in January, my doctor asked me if I was breastfeeding, and when I said yes, he went straight to The Breastfeeding Network to find a medication that I could take safely while continuing to breastfeed. He knew it was important to me and encouraged me to carry on for as long as both me and baby are happy. However, I see stories every day in the many breastfeeding support groups that I am in of women either being told they can’t breastfeed, given unsafe medication or being denied certain treatments or pain relief because of it. There are also many doctors and health visitors that are confused by anyone feeding over a certain age and claim there are no health benefits – complete bullshit, of course.

I am fortunate in that I am well informed and more than happy to stand up for myself and my baby and say ‘no, I am breastfeeding, and this is not right’. However, it worries me that many women stop feeding before they and their baby are ready to because of incorrect advice and support from health professionals.

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Extended breastfeeding is normal

Breastfeeding for more than one year is normal, and probably a lot more common than most people realise.

It’s not talked about a lot – you only have to look on social media to see the stigma and horrendous comments around it to see why. Even those who claim they are all for breastfeeding often get a bit weirded out by an older baby or a toddler feeding. I suspect that a lot of mums who breastfeed for longer than a year or so don’t really talk about it for fear of judgement.

I suspect this because weaning a breastfed baby is far from easy. I briefly tried with Alex when he was about 16 months because I was suffering from pregnancy-related breastfeeding aversion. Yeah, that didn’t work. We all know how difficult it is to get a toddler to do anything they don’t want to do – weaning is one of them.

Most of my friends who have breastfed have done it until their child has self-weaned. This can be anything between 2 and 7. Many have not talked about it publicly, and when we have talked about it, it has been because of the fear of being judged or people thinking it’s weird. Stats show that very few children are breastfed until natural term, but I think that’s probably not entirely true.

For us, so far, it has been a relatively straightforward journey, and one that I hope is not ending any time soon. It is really quite easy to see why breastfeeding rates are so low though – there is so much misinformation and myths surrounding it, and so little support to overcome any issues.

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