Katie, at almost eleven months old, is still breastfed. I don't think she's actually taking more than a token few ounces a day now, and, with a horrible cold and incipient tooth dampening her enthusiasm for the whole thing, currently I'm not sure she's even getting that much. However, while it would be an exaggeration to say that we're still going strong, we are certainly still going; and I am very pleased about that.
Lately, she's been getting nursed around four times a day on the days when I'm at home (I'm not strict about scheduling, so there are probably days when it's a feed more or less than that), and given top-up bottles of formula as well as her solids to make up for the shortfall in supply resulting from months of pumping at work and the recent night weaning. On days when I'm at work, she gets formula during the day and I nurse her in the evenings before bed, topping her up with a last bottle of formula after that. (I do pump at work, but we discovered some months back that she's actually far happier on the days without me if we give her formula instead of the milk I'm expressing. We can only assume that the breast milk has a "Don't taunt me with what I can't have!" effect, and that she's happier not being reminded of me when I'm not actually present.) She also still gets one night feed on some nights, when she can't make it through without one.
What with the way her intake has dropped off in recent days, it's quite possible that the end is imminent. However, if she does pick up on the nursing again, I'm going to aim to keep going on that sort of schedule until she hits her first birthday. I do recognise that that's a bit arbitrary as a goal, but it's the goal recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which gives it a general feeling of validity, and it feels like a reasonable compromise between wanting to get as much breast milk as feasible into her while she's still so small and has so much developing to do and wanting to be done with the whole hassle of pumping at work thankyouverymuch. Given the latter consideration, I'm not planning to keep up with the daytime feeds any further past one year than it'll take for me to wind down production without putting myself at risk of mastitis (unfortunately, my working days are so long that I won't be able to give up daytime pumping without also giving up the daytime feeds on the days when I'm not with her), but, if she's happy to continue to nurse at her evening feed, I'll be happy to keep that one going for a bit longer.
Ideally, I'd like to keep going until she's around sixteen or seventeen months. That'll take her through the winter, and it seems reasonable to believe that the various immune factors in the milk will give her some extra protection against the various germs flying around during that time. (Incidentally, despite what extended breastfeeding advocates claim, this hasn't actually been proved to be the case; the study that I regularly see cited as showing lower rates of infection in nursing toddlers actually proved, when I dug it out and read it, to be a study looking at weaned toddlers. I'm coming back to correct my own post here as that originally went on 'and showing that they got infections just as often as toddlers who'd never breastfed', which is also not quite accurate – the group weren't compared to a never-breastfed group but were compared within-group to see whether duration of breastfeeding was related to rates of infection post-weaning, which it wasn't. The point is, the Gulick study isn't about breastfeeding toddlers despite being commonly cited as such, and tells us nothing about infection rates in breastfeeding toddlers compared to non-breastfeeding toddlers. Moral: Be very wary of people who claim that the science just conveniently happens to back up what they believe in, because it's truly unbelievable how things get mis-cited when an agenda comes into play. However, it does seem reasonable to believe that all those oft-touted antibodies and immune factors are doing something, and I'm quite willing to keep up that one feed a day through the winter months in the hope that it might help.) But it'll also be an age at which weaning from that last feed hopefully won't be too difficult; that's about the age Jamie was when I stopped nursing him, and, when I looked
back afterwards, I felt it had been the right time. I think that if I'd
nursed him into his third year (which was what I'd originally planned
to do) then weaning him at that time would have been much harder. I don't really want to go for child-led weaning; sixteen or seventeen months, if I do make it that long, seems like the right sort of time to stop.
So, that means that I'm likely to be all done with breastfeeding within the next six months or so at most. As things stand, I don't know whether I've currently got days, weeks, or months left as a nursing mother; but it seems fair to say that, one way or another, the days in which my breasts are of use as well as ornament are numbered.
Inevitably, I feel a pang at the prospect of closing the door on that part of my life. Breastfeeding is fun, and convenient, and has lots of advantages beyond the heavily touted health benefits – the way that it allows me to be simultaneously Doing The Best Thing For My Child and catching up on my favourite blogs (multitasking doesn't come any better than that), the comparative ease of getting out and about even when mealtimes are imminent, the lack of associated washing up. I'll miss the sense I had of doing something just that bit unusual and daring and controversial just by feeding my child in public.
Most of all, I'll miss the thrill of being able to do it, do this amazing yet everyday thing: make milk. I can make milk. My body works. I fulfil the definition of the word 'mammal' on an individual as well as a species level. If my baby and I were left together in a jungle or on a desert island I would be able to keep her alive. (At least until I starved to death myself, having not the first clue about survival in the wilderness, but my mind glosses over that detail.) On the PumpMoms mailing list, one woman had a quote in her signature that I loved: "I make milk – what's your superpower?" While I fully recognise that that doesn't stand up on the logical level (and, no, it is certainly not something I would ever put on a T-shirt), on an emotional level it perfectly captures how I feel about this ability. I make milk. My body will never be able to make me an athlete, a supermodel, or a sex goddess, but it can do a damn good job of making my baby some milk. I make milk. Is that cool or what?
And, in amongst all of this, I do feel at least a twinge of nostalgia over the thought of giving up the nursing itself. It's not an unmissable part of my life – I'm not in the camp that sees it as some sort of Amazing Mystical Indescribable Irreplaceable Bonding Experience. But it's something I've done a lot of, and enjoyed doing, and, at some point sooner or later, will have to say goodbye to ever doing again. It will be yet another part of life and parenthood that moves into the past. Already, I can't remember exactly how it felt to nurse a tiny baby; one day, all the memories of just how breastfeeding felt will have faded away.
So, for now, I try to memorise exactly what it feels like, to impress every detail on my brain. The way her head rests on my forearm and my hand curves round her back. The way her hand grips and kneads and pushes at my breast, or twists round my finger, little and strong, when I try to hold it out of the way. Sometimes, her other limbs will try to get in on the action; her leg will wave aimlessly in mid-air or I'll feel her other hand, tucked down under my arm, twisting and turning against my side. I can look down and see her jaws working away energetically, chin moving up and down, a textbook latch with her wide-open lips flanged outwards and her tongue visible over the bottom lip. The intent look in the one blue eye I can see, as she looks up at me. I notice all these things and try to store as much of them as I can in my brain. I try to remember everything I can about how it feels, about what it's like, right here and now, to be a nursing mother.