It’s Black Breastfeeding Week and I wanted to share my thoughts on my breastfeeding journey and offer a few tips on breastfeeding toddlers.
As a mom of five children, I have many different experiences with feeding my babies, from exclusively pumping to even formula feeding. But it wasn’t until I had my fifth baby that I breastfed beyond the first year and I am now celebrating my 2nd year breastfeeding my toddler!
There are many misconceptions regarding breastfeeding toddlers and it is my hope my story can encourage other mamas out there who are planning to breastfeed or who are currently breastfeeding!
SPECIAL NOTE: This post was updated on 4/10/2020 to provide additional breastfeeding resources.
“Black Breastfeeding Week was created because for over 40 years there has been a gaping racial disparity in breastfeeding rates. The most recent CDC data show that 75% of white women have ever breastfed versus 58.9% of black women.”“Top Five Reasons We Need a Black Breastfeeding Week” — by Kimberly Seals Allers, co-creator of Black Breastfeeding Week
SHORT STORY VERSION OF OUR TWO-YEAR BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY
Long story short– I’m a mom of five kids and out of all five of my children, Zephaniah is the only child I have breastfed past 9 months of age.
Breastfeeding past 12 months was not my initial goal. When I was pregnant with Zephaniah, I made a personal goal to set small monthly goals with breastfeeding. I took my past breastfeeding experiences into account so I didn’t want to set the time frame too high and fall short of reaching it.
MY BREASTFEEDING JOURNEY WITH MY FIVE CHILDREN
Elijah: 4 or 5 months of breastfeeding
Zhen: 2 months of breastfeeding
Zechariah: 9 months exclusively pumped
Zephaniah: 2+ years of exclusively breastfeeding
Zephaniah is now 2-years-old and we are still going strong with breastfeeding! I was very determined to make breastfeeding work for us.
After Zephaniah was born, I had a very brief moment where I doubted myself. The day after Zephaniah’s birth he was sent to the NICU for breathing problems. Thankfully, he was only in the NICU for a day and a half!
BREASTFEEDING WAS A STRUGGLE AT FIRST
We struggled with breastfeeding for a few weeks! While he was in the NICU, Zephaniah had trouble latching. A nurse had told me she thought it could be because he was exhausted from the birth and having trouble breathing.
I pumped while Zephaniah was in the hospital, and at home, I continued to work with him on his latch. I would say it was about three weeks later Zephaniah was able to latch on and I could stop using the breast pump.
Ever since then he has been nursing like a champ! I remember reaching our 12-month milestone. I felt so happy and proud of US! It meant so much to me to reach twelve months of breastfeeding.
Once we reached 12 months, I decided to keep breastfeeding Zephaniah because he didn’t show any interest in wanting to stop. At that point, my only goal was to follow his lead and begin to wean Zephaniah from breastfeeding once he showed signs of stopping.
STILL BREASTFEEDING TWO YEARS LATER!
Zephaniah still hasn’t shown any signs of losing interest in nursing! I am really surprised, to be honest. I wasn’t expecting to be breastfeeding for this length of time.
I’m going to keep breastfeeding Zephaniah because there are too many reasons why breastfeeding works best for him. I will write a future blog post on the benefits of breastfeeding beyond 12 months.
Right now, I can only think of one reason why we should stop breastfeeding and that’s because sometimes I get tired. Ha! #TRUTH #MomLifeBeLike
NEW BREASTFEEDING GOAL: GO WITH THE FLOW (no pun intended)
I figure if the only reason why I want to stop breastfeeding is that I feel tired sometimes, then I think I can tough it out and work through those tired moments.
I don’t always feel tired– just sometimes. I know he’s not going to be on the breast forever so that gives me some motivation to keep going! LOL!
Travis asked me what am I going to do if we reach Zephaniah’s 3rd birthday and he still wants to breastfeed. I told him I’m just going to focus on the present moment and see how things go in our second year.
If we’re still breastfeeding by Zephaniah’s 3rd birthday, then continuing to breastfeed will depend on how we both feel (Zephaniah and me). I’m just following my son’s lead.
8 TIPS FOR BREASTFEEDING YOUR TODDLER
1. DO WHAT YOU FEEL IS BEST FOR YOU AND YOUR BABY.
I know there are many moms who prefer to breastfeed for 12 months and I think that’s great! I think any length of time a mom breastfeeds is a BIG help for her baby! You should do what you feel is best for YOU and YOUR BABY.
2. YOUR TODDLER WILL NURSE LESS OFTEN THAN SHE DID AS A BABY.
If you’re worried about nursing around the clock with a toddler, fear not, Mama! Toddlers do not usually nurse as often as babies. From my experience, Zephaniah likes to nurse when he wakes up, before nap time, when he’s fussy, and before bedtime. Sometimes he’ll want to nurse in-between those times. It just depends on how he’s feeling.
3. BREASTFEEDING TODDLERS HELPS SOOTHE THEM WHEN THEY ARE FUSSY.
Zephaniah doesn’t use a pacifier so when he gets fussy, he usually likes to nurse. This feeding session can last for 5 minutes or so. Breastfeeding helps him calm down and then he’s ready to get downand go play!
4. BREASTFEEDING CAN HELP YOUR TEETHING TODDLER.
I have discovered when Zephaniah’s gums are sore from an incoming tooth, breastfeeding helps him cope with the pain.
If you’re concerned about your toddler biting while nursing, the La Leche League recommends, “If baby actually bites at the breast, break the suction immediately and hand him the cold washcloth or teether as mentioned above. If he starts rooting again, offer the breast again, but do not persist if he clamps down again. Find other ways to comfort him.”
5. BREASTFEEDING HELPS YOUR TODDLER GO TO SLEEP.
Zephaniah likes to nurse before his nap and before he goes to bed a t night. The length of time for each nursing session depends on how tired he is feeling. If he’s exhausted, then he usually nurses for about 5 minutes and then he’s out like a light.
If I’m trying to get him settled so he can sleep, then it make take between 15 to 20 minutes. Just remember, every child is different so you may have a night where your little one needs to nurse a little longer because he’s restless.
6. BREASTFEEDING TODDLERS IS STILL GOOD FOR THEIR HEALTH!
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends children breastfeed for up to two years or beyond to continue “to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods.”
And according to Parent.com, “babies who breastfeed have decreased incidences of illness and lower mortality rates. The immunity benefits improve the longer a baby breastfeed.” Personally, I have noticed Zephaniah hasn’t really been sick. I think this can definitely be contributed to extended breastfeeding.
7. YOUR TODDLER MAY NOT WANT TO USE A PACIFIER.
Zephaniah is my only child who has not needed a pacifier. When he was a newborn, he used a pacifier a few times, especially when he was in the NICU. But since then, he hasn’t used one. In fact, he doesn’t even like pacifiers.
8. BREASTFEEDING YOUR TODDLER STRENGTHENS YOUR BOND.
Of course, there are many ways to strengthen your bond with your little one and extended breastfeeding is one special way to help! I love that we can have this one-on-one time just the two of us.
BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY I KNOW HOW IT FEELS TO…
…to breastfeed my babies and also feed my babies formula. I even had an experience with one of the children where I was not able to breastfeed at all! (That was hard.)
…to feel pressure to stop breastfeeding because of a job. So I quit…breastfeeding…because of my job. I was a young, single mother who was in college full time and worked part-time. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the importance of breastfeeding and how to integrate breastfeeding with my school and work schedule. (I should’ve kept breastfeeding Baby #1, but I didn’t have the knowledge or support as I do now. You CAN breastfeed AND work or go to school or do life! It’s possible, Mama!)
…to bottle feed one of my babies who has reflux for the first 12 months of her life. (Baby #2. That shit was HARD!)
…to feel frustrated because you don’t understand breastfeeding. And I kept trying and I was just so exhausted. So I decided to use formula after 2 months of breastfeeding baby #3. (Hey, that’s okay, too! We’re only human, Mama!)
…to exclusively pump for almost a year. Baby #4. He had difficulty latching. Every time I would try to help him latch and he would cry and cry. So I opted to pump. I’m proud of myself for pumping for 9 months. (I wish he could have latched on and I breastfed him for a full 12 months, but it’s okay. We did what was best for US and we made it work.)
…to (safely) co-sleep to breastfeed/bottle feed baby at night. (Co-sleeping is a personal choice that Travis and I decided to do 7 years ago. For us this looked like baby’s bassinet/crib next to my side of the bed.)
BREASTFEEDING YOUR TODDLER IS A BEAUTIFUL EXPERIENCE
My journey of motherhood with babies/toddlers and breastfeeding has been a beautiful experience, including the joys and tough times. There were joyful moments with great milestones reached and then there were trying times with stress and tears. I am grateful for ALL of the experiences because they have made me the strong mother I am today!
So to reach TWO YEARS of breastfeeding my FIFTH baby is a BIG DEAL for me! I am proud of myself. I am proud of my son. I AM PROUD OF US!
And you should be proud of you and your baby, too!
No matter if you breastfeed for a month or beyond your baby’s first year– BE PROUD OF YOURSELF!
If you’re about to begin your breastfeeding journey or if you are still trekking along with nursing your babe, YOU GOT THIS, MAMA!
12 BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONS
- Women’s Health (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services)
- La Leche League USA
- La Leche League International
- Black Mother’s Breastfeeding Association
- March of Dimes
- Kelly Mom
- WIC Breastfeeding Support
- Breastfeeding USA
- Breastmilk | Every Ounce Counts
- Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere (R.O.S.E.)
- Mocha Manual
- Normalize Breastfeeding
Here are a few Michigan-based breastfeeding organizations you may find of interest:
- Michigan Breastfeeding Network
- Beaumont Health
- St. Joseph Mercy Oakland
- Nature’s Playhouse
- Ascension Breastfeeding Support Groups
Visit www.blackbreastfeedingweek.org to learn more about its programming and services for women and children. For immediate breastfeeding support, contact the U.S. Office of Women’s Health at (800) 994-9662.
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All photographs by Jennifer Hamra for Good Life Detroit.