It is 20 months and still counting for me as I continue to breastfeed Baby B in this motherhood journey without supplementing any other types of milk or formula. Every evening as I prop him up on my lap and as we both immerse in the deep bond of love through breastfeeding, I am grateful for the privilege to be able to continue nursing him into a healthy toddler.
There are many different reactions whenever someone hears of my extended nursing story and testimony. The unimpressed ones often glance down to my chest level as if determining if the two humble abodes hanging in front of me can really hold enough milk to nurture my Baby B who is quite chubby.
The doubtful ones think that I must been so overworked that I am getting senile – May be I have forgotten that I secretly mixed formula with breast milk for my 3 kids when they were a baby. The rationale is that since I am a Chinese, it’s impossible that I even have mammary glands large enough to produce sufficient milk.
But nope, I did exclusive breastfeeding even with my humble Asian-sized milk factories and raised up three kids nursing exclusively for 6 months and thereafter continued on until they turned two to two-and-a-half. A decade ago, when I was still nursing Cheeky Koko when he reached 19 months old, a distant relative told me that although she thought nursing was a good deed, I might risk raising up an overly clingy mommy’s boy.
That one can make such comment only shows how ill-informed so many people in our society are about breastfeeding. Mothers who have been in the local nursing scene spanning over the last decade like me have witnessed that sadly, breastfeeding has only just begun to catch its fire in Malaysia about 10 to 12 years ago. Ever since then there has been a mushrooming effect on online and traditional stores selling breastfeeding related merchandise. Suddenly hospitals compete in putting up posters about being breastfeeding friendly. Sweet-looking nursing room for breastfeeding moms swiftly become one of the top priorities for shopping malls.
But in overseas, the systematic approach of promoting breastfeeding from the first days well into the baby’s first year and beyond have long been established and practiced. Their healthcare authorities recognise that continued breastfeeding is good for the health and welfare of both the mother and child. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics is now encouraging mothers to breastfeed at least one year and then for as long after as the mother and baby desire. And UNICEF has long encouraged breastfeeding for two years and longer.
Breast milk is, after all, milk. If we have never questioned about parental choice of continuing to feed their baby with cow’s milk, goat’s milk, formula, oat’s milk, soya or any other types of milk, why then is there such a big hooha over a child who is still being fed with the best milk nature has intended for him?
Last weekend, such views that nursing a child in the public is somewhat ‘weird’ and that nursing a toddler beyond the first few months of life is just socially unacceptable have led to a total of 450 local mothers rally for normalising breastfeeding in Malaysia. The event was also included into The Malaysian Book of Records as having the largest gathering of mothers nursing their babies simultaneously. The breastfeeding landscape is finally shaking here in this country!
The question is why rush mothers to stop breastfeeding beyond the first year? Even after six months, breast milk still contains staple source of nutrients such as protein, fat, and other nutritionally important health elements which babies and children need. Breast milk has also been proven to contain immunologic factors that help protect the child well after he has turned two.
Some research data also shows that since children older than a year are exposed to more infections than young babies, the immune factors and compositions in breast milk will cleverly self-adjust biologically to suit the nutritional needs of an older nursing toddler. In other words, there are simply greater amounts of immune factors present in the breast milk in the second year of life. Plus, breast milk still contains special growth factors that help the immune system to mature, and which help the other organs such as the brain and gut of a child to develop and mature.
Nursing is also a source of comfort and a place of refuge from the big scary world for the child. It is the perfect cure for all sorts of emotional tantrums, growing pain, stress and potential meltdowns for the toddlers.
The health benefits of extended breastfeeding aren’t just for the wee ones either. Working moms who continue to breastfeed return to work with less needs for emergency leave to care for their little ones because their babies develop fewer illnesses and are healthier overall. Studies also show reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, diabetes, and heart disease for nursing moms, not to mention the great calorie count they continue to lose effortlessly (some 300 – 700 calorie per day) when breastfeeding beyond the first year.
The more curious ones often ask if there might even be a moment that I felt overwhelmed with the crazy combination of full time work and breastfeeding. I often say, yes I do, but really, I am just overwhelmed with the two-way love I enjoy from breastfeeding my toddler. Nursing helps me wind down after a crazy day at work, learn to slow down and focus on him alone and nothing else. Whenever I nurse Baby B cradling him in my arms, stroke his soft hair and smile into his playful eyes, I’m savoring every special moment of that motherhood that I know will be gone all too soon.
When will I ever slow down? I guess I’d be ready when he is, but for now, we are just too happy to carry on.
In conjunction with August being a Breastfeeding Awareness Month, let’s toast to better awareness and more support for extended nursing here in Malaysia!