Written by Angela Kelly
I have breastfed for 61 months of my life. No, I don’t have twelve children, and I am not breastfeeding a five-year-old (which is normal in many parts of the world). I have three beautiful children ages seven, four & 22 months. I breastfed my oldest son until he was fifteen months, and I would have happily nursed him longer, but I listened to family who voiced their concerns that it was “time to stop.” The continual questioning led me to feel self-conscious and stop breastfeeding.
I loved the connection with my son and the quiet time together while he nursed. When he was six months old he would look up at me, run his baby hand up and down my side like he was petting me, telling me that I was a good mama. Even as he grew older, he would wake often and want to be put back to sleep by nursing; when I stopped nursing him, it broke his little heart. I remember crying as I held him and rubbed his back, telling him, “No num nums, night-night.” I loved the time I spent nursing him, it came easily to us, and if I had been more secure in myself, I would have breastfed him longer. My daughter was also an easy nursling, and I gladly breastfed her until she was two. After we weaned, she would still ask to nurse whenever she would watch me change, yelling, “Niiiii! Niiii! Niiiiii!”
My youngest (and final) baby also loves to nurse, but we have had many breastfeeding challenges. He developed a C. diff infection during a family-wide endemic outbreak of the superbug Clostridium difficile. While fighting C. diff, I found myself losing my milk supply, supplementing, pumping, drinking fenugreek tea, and struggling to keep myself alive while also trying to breastfeed my infant son. We also breastfeed through mastitis and a couple of significant baby bites (ouch). Many would say “Why not stop?” Well, here are five of the reasons I am “extended” breastfeeding my (big) baby:
- Breastfeeding helps support his immune system in fighting the never-ending siege of germs brought home by his big brother and sister. Breastmilk also provides him with a significant amount of nutrients and fats, even as a toddler.
- Babies who are breastfed are significantly less likely to be colonized by C. diff.
- Breast milk Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) are prebiotics; they provide food for good gut bacteria, which help to keep us healthy.
- HMOs bind to C. diff toxins.
- Nursing helps to reduce stress both for my little big guy and me—which leads to a healthier, more diverse microbiome for both of us!
Read more from Angela Kelly at www.gutsymother.com.