The WHO norm - breastfeeding for 2 years

It's been a few weeks now that Beertje turned two. That's not only a milestone for this little boy but also for the breastfeeding between the 2 of us.

Yes, I'm breastfeeding Beertje for over 2 years now.   And I'm so glad and proud that I've made this milestone which is recommended by the Worlth Health Organisation (WHO) , the American Association of PediatricsThe American Association of Family Physicians, ...

The importance of role models
But I'll be honest: if you predicted me 5 years ago that I'd breastfeed a toddler, I would have told you I wasn't a freak. So I don't blame you if you think of me as such.  In our society you never see mothers feeding toddlers:
- because they are a minority ,
- because they feel awkward doing it in public (hey, self-fulfilling prophecy!! this seems to be a spiral)
- because the frequency of feeding toddlers is lower so there is less chance to see it
- because we constantly see tv adds that praise mom's for giving "a good start" to their baby by breastfeeding but now that the child is 6 months they can switch to  milk number 2 with new additives etc.  (and the existence of a "number 2" formula milk has nothing to do with the changing needs of your child but because of international laws that prohibit advertising "number 1" formula. So in order to be able to advertise something, suppliers are obliged to start at the earliest at the age of 6 months...and therefore claim that something has changed which is bullshit) ( they do add a shocking level of sugar btw).

So we hardly see these role models of mothers feeding an older child and as a result, most of us don't associate breastfeeding spontaneously with older babies and toddlers. And we see it, we feel uneasy because we are not used to it. 

When Kabouter was born, I intended to breastfeed for 2 months, then wean him and be stopped by 3 months when I went back to work. In my mind, that was the perfect model, that was how it should be done.  Now I cringe at such a belief.

Changing my mind when the alternative didn't make sense anymore
Starting to breastfeed was a lot harder than I anticipated and just by week 4-6, I really started to get the hang of it and it started to be fun and easy. In the mean time I had been reading a lot more about it, and I had learnt about all the advantages for the baby but also for the mother (hey...if you had a possibility to reduce your chance of breast cancer, wouldn't you take it????, hey if you are pre-diabetic and you could decrease your higher risk of diabetes, wouldn't you take it??) , I had got to know a lot of mothers online that were breastfeeding their babies for more than 6 months so I got new role models that got me used to the idea, I had learned about the WHO recommendation, etc...

I started to think how silly it would be to stop something that we both enjoyed, which was free, sufficient in supply and always available at the right temperature, healthy, cosy, without packaging/dish washing/....    to replace by an alternative that was costly, that could run out of stock, with less health benefits, not cosy, with industrial packaging/ requiring dish washing and other logistics and equipment etc... All  of a sudden it totally didn't make sense to stop in order to switch to bottles. Why?  If breastfeeding works out and feels comfortable for mother and child  (those are important ifs...I am not judging other people as I don't know how these conditions work out for them!!), why would you stop because you reach a specific age? It's quite accepted that toddlers still drink milk on a daily basis, so why not provide it to them yourself if your supply is still there?

Because really, when you are feeding your child , don't wake up the next day thinking "wow, ok, now you are too old all of a sudden, geez, this is totally different now, now you have to drink a bottle as opposed to yesterday".  The next day is just the same as the day before.

Our reality
Since I was in between jobs with Kabouter, I didn't wean him at 2 months. I continued instead.  Then I found so unexpectedly quickly a job, that I started pumping milk at work. And the pumping milk worked out fine, so I continued to breastfeed him until all of a sudden my production stopped because of my new pregnancy when Kabouter was 22 months old. It was so sudden that both of us had a couple of weeks a really hard time. Honestly, I've been sitting crying at my desk at work.   The mourning of the lost breastfeeding (and the visible sad confusion for Kabouter) mixed with the pregnancy, what a rollercoaster. I get emotional again when thinking about that Summer period again. I was sad to not have made the WHO recommendation but we were almost there and it was for a good reason that Kabouter all of a sudden had to stop drinking.

For Beertje, I set the wish immediately to breastfeed him for a long time and so we do. Of course it's not the same anymore as in the start:  Most days he drinks only once a day just before bedtime (and when I'm not home at bedtime, he doesn't drink milk).  The frequence has slowly and naturally decreased between the age of 1 and 2. At the breakfast table he drinks cow's milk in a cup. I notice he asks for breastfeeding when he gets tired and hungry or feels miserable for a reason because it provides a lot of comfort and security for a child. Nevertheless I refuse to feed him in public anymore and in general I almost always refuse during daytime and offer him hugging and some food and other drinks instead. But until now we keep our little comfort moment together before bedtime and in case that he awakes during the night, I also feed him as it is the best guarantee that both of us fall asleep again within 10-15 minutes. Hurray for those natural sleepy hormones ;).

So now what?
Just as 5 years ago I thought breastfeeding a child older than 6 months was for freaks...I still share that feeling for breastfeeding children older than 3. Your feeling of "normal" only gradually moves along with your own experiences.  I have no intention to abruptly wean Beertje at this moment, because neither him or myself are ready for that and I don't want to go through a similar mourning period again. I hope that it'll continue to slowly and gradually decrease in frequency until we both realise with hindsight that we have in fact stopped (hopefully before the natural weaning age of 4-7 years old!). We'll see what the future brings and how we evolve together.


Marsha said…
Een dag per keer, en je ziet wel waar je eindigt he. Al doende verleg je je borstvoedingsdoelen, is mijn ervaring.
En die rollercoaster van die ene zomer, die staat ook in mijn geheugen gegrift ;-)
Jij doet dat heel mooi, dat ‘moederen’ met jouw twee jongens! Je verhalen brengen me ook vaak terug naar de tijd dat mijn twee oudsten die leeftijd hadden, heel herkenbaar!

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