I sucked my thumb when I was a little girl. Well I actually sucked my thumb until I was 26!!
I only stopped because I was pregnant and knew it would just be wrong for me to still be doing it with my own children.
The reason I carried on for so long was because it was my most favourite thing in the world.
I think knowing how much I loved sucking my thumb has really helped me to understand why my babies have loved breastfeeding so much. My boob gives them that same comforting feeling. Yes it fed / feeds them but it is also SO much more than that.
I don’t think I realised until actually having children that breastfeeding was about so much more than providing your child with milk for them to grow. It becomes apparent within a few weeks of breastfeeding a newborn that they don’t just feed for hunger. They feed for everything and understandably it can be quite a shock when you were expecting them to follow the kind of feeding routine that bottle-fed babies have.
I breastfed Cherry for 18 months and I’m still breastfeeding Tiger now at nearly ten months. I’ve never had a feeding routine for either of them and both of them fed / feed as often as they like. I’m not going to lie, of course there are days where I feel touched out but those days really are the minority in what has been one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, I totally get that, but for me it just worked and if I’m honest it hasn’t just been because I felt like I was doing the best thing for my children. I also felt like I was doing the best thing for me.
Breastfeeding it really hard work for the first six months. Your boobs leak all the time, they feel engorged, you are more likely to end up with mastitis or blocked ducts, your baby can stay awake feeding for seems like the entire night sometimes, you have to spend hours on the sofa while they are having growth spurts, your baby can take a long time to feed meaning that you feel like ALL you do is feed them, you have to pull over on the side of the road during car journeys because they are screaming for the boob, you have to master feeding in public, your baby might have colic or trapped wind, they cluster feed all evening and you dream of being able to have a bath. It’s hard work and no-one can deny that.
But then after six months, in my opinion, it no longer feels like work at all, it feels easy and it becomes the most useful parenting aid out there. Here’s why:
It’s usually after six months that teeth start cutting through the gums at a rapid rate. If you had breastfed up until that point then stopped and your baby had never took a dummy then I can imagine trying to comfort them would be fairly difficult. Tiger is cutting three of his top teeth at the moment and as a result is spending a lot of time on the boob, it helps him to fall back to sleep when he’s woken up from his nap early in pain and it helps him to smile when he would otherwise be crying.
It’s also usually after six months that babies start to catch sickness bugs and other horrible virus’, breastfeeding then becomes a lifesaver. Neither of my kids have ever refused the boob and not only does it provide them with essential fluids, it helps them rest, sleep and feel comforted.
Feeds become much quicker, Tiger can drain a boob in a few minutes. This makes night-feeds easier and it also means if you are walking through Ikea and your baby decides they want some milk then a quick sit down on a tiny chair in the kids section while your toddler plays and you can be back en route to the cushion section in minutes. Yes that was me at the start of the week!
Your boobs don’t get that full feeling, unless you dramatically cut down on feeds, and after six months I no longer needed to use breast pads as my boobs stopped leaking. Leaking boobs isn’t fun so this is such a big plus point for me.
You can play games whilst feeding. Cherry loves to join in too, she will come and say funny things to Tiger while he is on the boob and he finds it hilarious. Of course we do that when he’s not on the boob too but I love the fact that he is laughing whilst doing something he loves at the same time.
Your baby can go for hours without a feed if he has to. This gives you back a bit of the freedom that you might be starting to crave. The older they get, the easier this gets as they will also be drinking from cups and eating food meaning you can even go out all day. It also means no more car stops on the side of a road or even no more feeding in public if you don’t feel confident enough to do it.
You witness very funny moments, like your baby starting to pull up your top to find your boobs. It can feel like your baby is obsessed with boobs, because they are. That’s why dummies were created, as boob replacements.
If they fall over or hurt themselves then it can comfort them in an instant.
It is a cure for EVERYTHING.
So Dr Christian Jessen. Breastfeeding beyond six months is more than just ‘fine if you are eating a healthy diet’. Breastfeeding past six months is your reward for making it that far. For all the reasons above (that have nothing to do with nutrition) it is anything but pointless but then you wouldn’t know that because you are a man who doesn’t have any children.