Initially, Wendy's goal was to breastfeed her son, Hunter, for six months. But now he's 2 years old and they're still going, says the 43-year-old, full-time working mom from New Hampshire. In the next installment in The Breastfeeding Chronicles, Wendy explains why breastfeeding her son for far longer than she'd initially thought has been right for her family, and talks about how the support of other moms has been crucial to her success.
A Slow Start
I knew I wanted to breastfeed, but I had no idea how long I'd be able to do it, or if I'd be able to do it, because I know a lot of women who've had problems. And we did have trouble getting started. Hunter wasn't premature by due date -- he was due on July 31, and I was induced on the 30th, because I was having medical issues -- but he was relatively small (6 pounds, 11 ounces). We saw a lactation consultant at the hospital, but it turns out that what I thought was nursing wasn't, really. He was just kind of fumbling around for a while.
They recalled us to the hospital after a day and a half, because Hunter was jaundiced and he had gone down to 6 pounds, 1 ounce. They thought he wasn't getting enough food. I spent some more time with the lactation consultant, and she showed me how to pump. I laughed out loud the first time she hooked me up, because I just felt like a big ol' cow. We got some milk out, but not enough, so we supplemented with formula, which I hadn't wanted to do. It made me feel like a failure. But I also knew my baby needed to gain weight, and they were telling me that's what we needed to do to make it happen, so supplementing's what we did.
Building My Confidence
You hear everywhere that babies are supposed to be back at their birth weight at 2 weeks. At that point, the doctor had me coming in for visits every day or two to do another weigh-in, and I was basically thinking, "My baby is starving and it's all my fault. I'm a horrible person." At around 3 weeks, I found this wonderful baby boutique near me in Bedford, New Hampshire, where they ran group support classes and had lactation consultants on staff. I never thought I'd go to anything like that, but I forced myself, and they were really the ones who gave me the confidence to keep going. I was sitting there, crying, because I felt so guilty that my baby wasn't gaining enough weight, and one of the lactation consultants looked around the room and said, "How many of your babies were not back to birth weight at 2 weeks?" Virtually every woman in the room raised her hand.
Hunter ended up being supplemented until he was about 8 weeks old. At that point, I gained the confidence I needed to say, "You know what? My breasts are producing what they need to."
A Moving Target
When we got to 6 months, which is when I'd initially thought I might stop, I didn't even think about it. I thought, "Ok, let's see if we can make it to a year." And then he just didn't want to stop. For me, 2 years was kind of like my "Ok, you're cut off, dude" deadline. But he just turned 2, and we're still going -- we're down to just a morning feeding.
I know it skeeves people out sometimes when they see older children nursing, but no one's seeing it. I didn't consciously stop nursing in public. For the last six months, he's no longer nursed during the day, so I didn't really have to decide one way or another. It's in my own home, and it makes him feel better, and I haven't had any reason really to tell him no.
New England is very traditional, but if anyone asks, I'll say, "Yes, I'm still nursing." The baby store near me has become so much a part of my life, and there are so many women there in the groups who I know who are still breastfeeding at 20, 21 months, 22 months. They're very open about it. So I don't "advertise" the fact that I'm still breastfeeding, but I don't deny it either.
Why We Do It
I love the comfort that breastfeeding provides, especially during that teething stage from 12 months to 18 months. I'm so impressed by mothers who don't breastfeed at that point. How did they make it through the night?! When Hunter would wake up, I'd basically stick a boob in his mouth and we'd go back to sleep. I love that he hasn't been sick very often, and I think that's partially my doing. I love that it's allowed me to comfort him. I love that it's part of his relationship with me, that he can be nursing and look up into my eyes ... you don't get that with anything, or anybody else but your child. There's nothing wrong with bottles, and he had bottles for a long time. But there's that personal connection that's made it special for us.
Now, it's more out of routine than any real need. You nurse to go to bed, and you nurse to wake up. He's still getting some nutritional benefits -- some immunity -- so that's great. But the big thing is that it makes him happy, and it's something that I can do, so I haven't felt any need to cut it off yet.
How We Do It
Hunter came out a very little baby, and he's now a 30-pound toddler, so it's definitely different. What one of the lactation consultants showed me is that for daytime nursing, he could sit on my lap and basically nurse sitting up. It looks funny, and it felt funny the first few times, but it helped with some of the blisters I was getting as he got older. But because we're just doing morning and nighttime feedings now, I just lie down on my side, like we've been doing from the beginning.
Coming To The End
I think I'm ready. I joke that I've been weaning him for a year. But there's not a specific reason. I mean, I'd love to have my boobs go back down to where they should be. I went from a D cup to almost an F, but that's not why. I just kind of think 2 years is enough, and he just turned 2. But I'm also winging it. The whole time he's been breastfeeding, I've just been kind of winging it. I used to say that by the time he could ask for it, I'd cut him off. But it didn't feel like the right time for us.
My husband has been supportive. Initially, I think he was a little uncomfortable with breastfeeding, but he's become a lot more laid back. He's kind of like, "Yeah, you know, he's 2, but he'll be 2 for a while, so don't rush [to wean]." I don't know that I'd go so far as to say that he's screamingly supportive for women's breastfeeding rights, but he's happy we're doing it.
I think it's just so important for women to find support, not just for breastfeeding, but for raising a baby. I never thought I'd go to mom's groups, but they saved me. It's so important to find a network that will support you no matter what, because this whole raising a baby thing, it's not easy.
In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), HuffPost Parents participated in "I Support You," an initiative to collect photos and messages from mothers to each other that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children. Find out more here.