Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Breastfeeding at 18 months

I have been meaning to write a post about breastfeeding for some time now. Mainly because of the various reactions I see when people find out that I'm still nursing.

In the first rocky months of nursing, I got a lot of support and encouragement: keep going, don't stop, try for six months. After six months of nursing, people kept telling me, that's good but you can stop at one year. Which I thought was pretty strange - why would I reward my son with such a terrible gift for his first birthday? Then Ryan turned one, I was still nursing and suddenly I didn't get encouragement anymore, the questions became more like: isn't it difficult to keep going? Which I also found strange because things usually get easier the more you keep doing them. Now that I'm still nursing Ryan at almost 18 months, people just ask, so when are you going to stop? Usually, in order to put them at ease, I have to come up with some sort of target (maybe when he goes to school, maybe when I start planning for number 2, etc.).

I find it interesting to see all the different reactions and I suppose I'd ask the same questions if the positions were reversed. It's also interesting to listen to mummies who no longer breastfeed. Some give you a passionate explanation about why they stopped breastfeeding. Listening to these mummies, you can tell how much they loved breastfeeding and how much it hurt to give it up. Other mummies think nothing of it, they just move on.

Let me put the record straight. I am pro-breastfeeding but I am not a lactivist and I am not anti-formula. If you don't breastfeed, I'm not going to ask you why not.

Above and beyond being pro-breastfeeding, I am pro-choice. To me, breastfeeding is just one of the many choices that we make as parents and every mummy is entitled to make her own choice based on her personal circumstances. My circumstances, both at home and at work, have allowed me to nurse my baby and to continue nursing him. But if my circumstances were different, I could very well be formula-feeding my baby now. So there really isn't any point in comparing which is better, I think every mummy wants the best for her baby, be it in terms of food, education or life experiences.

Ryan is 17 and a half months now and his milk is still exclusively from the breast. During the workday, I express and pass the bottles to his nanny the next day. When Ryan is with me, I latch him on, I never use a bottle. Sometimes when he latches on one side, I will express (usually by hand) from the other breast. During the night, Ryan latches on if and when he needs to, whether for comfort or for milk.

Is it stressful? Well, yes and no.

Yes it's stressful, because I don't keep any stock in the freezer, which means I can't slack off on expressing. I don't keep any formula on standby at all and neither does his nanny. Milk supply does drop sometimes, eg. when I fall sick or when I miss pumps at work, and it is pretty stressful to have to catch up when I'm feeling sick or when I'm so swamped with work. If I have to be in the office on a weekend, I have to plan ahead and squeeze in an extra pump so that Richard can feed Ryan while I'm out.

But no, it's not stressful, because after nearly 18 months of this, I know how to deal with the issues that crop up. I don't sit around and worry and fret.

The main issue is low supply. When milk supply drops, I know the cause - I've been sick or I've not been eating/drinking enough or I've not been expressing enough, etc. - and so I know how to remedy the situation: express more frequently, eat/drink better. If supply is still low after a few days then I empty my breasts even more frequently and supply usually jumps up again. If low supply still persists, then I take fenugreek for two days and supply will also get a boost.

The other issue is getting the most out of every express. This is important because it keeps the breast in high productivity and keeps supply up. Also, I do have a busy workday and sometimes I can only get away to pump once a day so it is really vital that I make the most out of it, and so I do. I can stimulate letdown easily now, I usually do three letdowns in one session, until the breast is well and truly drained. Normally, I pump on the first letdown, then I hand express on the subsequent ones.

Disadvantages to breastfeeding at 17.5 months? Well, I'm lucky that Ryan has had no problems with breastmilk or with latching and so there are no disadvantages as far as Ryan is concerned. I believe that, at this stage, when our babies are nearly 18 months, breastfeeding is really not so much about our babies anymore. It's really more about the mummy and how she feels about it. So, all the "disadvantages" are mine, and these would be the changes that I have to make in my lifestyle. I don't have complete liberty in choosing what to wear - I always have to think about ease of latching/pumping. I have to carry my pump/bottles/milk to and from home/work/nanny. I still don't get uninterrupted sleep at night.

Still, I don't see these "disadvantages" as disadvantages. These are lifestyle changes that I made with no regrets and no complaints. There are many changes I've made since Ryan came into my life and I take breastfeeding as just one of them. If I had to choose all over again whether to breastfeed or not, I would.

So is it worth it? Well, I won't talk about the health benefits of breastmilk. Of course, breastmilk is superior but I do think that formula milk is pretty good. I honestly think that there's not a lot of difference after the first year, especially when our children can make up whatever they need from solids.

But yes, it's worth it! There are tons of "lifestyle advantages" - the main one being I don't have to use a diaper bag (and I have yet to see a nice-looking one!). More importantly, and as any mummy who has successfully nursed her baby will testify, it is an incredible bond, one that is both physical and emotional.

Of course, a mummy who does not nurse or who has stopped nursing does not necessarily have a different bond with her child. There are different ways to bond, and all are good.

Just because I choose to breastfeed, doesn't mean that I think less of formula feeding. I think there is a problem in that formula feeders don't get enough support. Of course, breastfeeders do require a lot of support and there is a lot of support for them in terms of information and support groups. But I find that this big push for breastfeeding and all this stuff about how "breast is best" give formula feeders "Bottlefeeding Guilt", and they feel like they have to justify why they don't breastfeed. I don't agree that there should be any judgment about which is better, especially when we're talking about children who are nearly 18 months old.

So, I just want to say that, inasmuch as breastfeeders are given support, formula feeders should be too. We should all bear in mind that, all that truly matters is that the baby gets fed and the mummy is happy.

If you have the interest, visit this blog: Fearless Formula Feeder. This increasingly popular blog is catching the attention of both formula-feeders and breastfeeders for its support for formula feeders, without having to pass judgment on anyone. Great reading.


Kenny Leow said...

Mdm, keep it up!!! Can I link this post to my motherhood blog? At least can encourage other mummies to keep breastfeeding.

Pinkie Pirate said...

Yeah, sure no prob!

shann said...

Tks for writing this! They are my thoughts exactly! Can I use this article in my website when it's up? Hee hee

With regards to bf at 18 mths, I usually get 2 kinds of reaction. One will look at me sympathetically and say along the lines of "wow... 18mths? Aren't u tired" and the other reaction will be "why?! You don't intend to stop?" (as though asking me for a definite time to stop. Hahaha I guess most people has a timeline for breastfeeding?

Pinkie Pirate said...


Yes, please go ahead!

Yeah, I get those questions too... it's funny, it's almost as if people think it's unnatural to bf at 18 months, haha.

The Fearless Formula Feeder said...

Wow, I'm so honored you mentioned my blog in this amazing post! You are seriously awesome, and it's people like you that do encourage others to breastfeed without making anyone feel bad about their choices. That is a very rare thing (unfortunately) and it's posts like these that give me hope that someday we can all get the support we need. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And congrats on nursing exclusively for 18 months - that is an awesome accomplishment.

Megan said...

You know what? This is awesome. It is so refreshing to see someone acknowledge that breastfeeding/bottle-feeding and breastfeeding beyond a year, these things are CHOICES. And you own your own choice, but don't expect anyone else to make the exact same one.

I personally love FFF's blog. I have found so much warmth and support there, and I'm a breastfeeding mom, myself.

I'm wanting to wean now, at 15 months, but I would never judge you or anyone else for wanting to keep going at 18 months or beyond. And, I think it's great that you wouldn't judge me for stopping.

I wish there were more people like you and the lovely women over at the Fearless Formula Feeder on the internet!

Pinkie Pirate said...


Thanks for stopping by! I've been reading your blog recently - do keep up the good work!

Pinkie Pirate said...

Megan, thank you for your kind words and congrats on breastfeeding for so long!

Unknown said...

well done mummy! gg to link this post to my bookmark! i realized by the time i was weaning off caleb at 13 months, my milk supply was decreasing... i must definitely follow up with your methods for increasing my milk supply the next time round!

my next target is still going to be 13months for this second baby, and you are absolutely right, do not judge, its a personal choice for every mother, after a while it becomes part and parcel of your life i do not think its causes any disruptions! latching on just becomes such a natural instinct too, dun you think! :)

congrats on such a wonderful accomplishment in motherhood! *big hugs*

WaWa said...

Hee, I stopped bf when Darius was 16th months old, reason for stopping was milk supply really decreased tremendously until i can only manage 1 feed per day. Am still very puzzled as I still take lots of water, do the same number of pumps, most likely I was too tired. That was when i thought I should give my body a break.

Do keep it up if you can!

Pinkie Pirate said...

WW, 16 months is an achievement too, congrats!

Kamy said...

Thanks so much for your post. It is really encouraging. I stopped bf when my boy is 13 months, and honestly I'm still feeling guilty over it, because I know I stop not because I can't, but really due to my laziness. I opted for the convenience of formula milk.
I felt comforted reading your post! Yes, breast-feeding or formula feeding, both are good. We should not judge!
Keep going mummy!

Pinkie Pirate said...

Ophe: It's safer to stop if you're pregnant, although some women do carry on. 13 months is great! Hope No.2 loves every minute of it!

Kamy: Thanks for stopping by. I think we all love our babies with all our hearts, and love can be demonstrated in countless different ways!

Sonali said...

Does bf spoil baby's teeth. I wana continue bf; my daughtr is 18 months old

Pinkie Pirate said...

Sonali, the key to good dental care is not whether you continue bf or not. Rather, it's whether your child brushes his/her teeth or not and whether your child practises good dental hygiene. My son is still taking breastmilk now (he's turning 4 in January 2013) and he has perfect teeth. :)

Anonymous said...

I just came across the post on breastfeeding at 18mths and people's reactions. I have to say I experienced that kind of responses even at 6mths and after.
I agree what you said
"every mummy is entitled to make her own choice based on her personal circumstances."
And I do hope that the people around me will respect my personal choice.

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