I’m not one of those lactivists, but I might turn into one someday. However, I do have a number of years nursing under my proverbial belt. We are on an extremely tight food budget ($200/mo. for 6 people and a pit bull), plus we need some type of cushion so we can help my mother-in-law when she is out of food, be gracious hosts to the hungry friends my teenage and college-aged kids bring home and for life’s other unforeseen events (power outages that cause all the perishables to spoil; needing to bring food to a church or school event, last-minute). All that being said, I find that nursing my fourteen month old is a great way to stretch our food budget. My body will continue to make milk for her even if the only things left for me to eat are sardines, lettuce, beans, rice, condiments and cranberry sauce.
Some of you will, no doubt, take issue with my choice, but it’s just that, my choice (oh, and my husband and older kids love that the little one is still nursing). Others of you will suggest we increase the amount we spend on food, which is easier said than done, with three kids in college, me a SAHM and my husband having been disabled by a heart attack and a stroke. And still others of you will suggest we get rid of the dog; she saved my husband’s life when he had a heart attack, so she is not going anywhere. Yes, it takes time to nurse a toddler (or any wee one, for that matter), but I have some of that readily available, what I don’t have is more money to spend at the grocery store. I expressed to you when I began this blog that living frugally involves choices, usually between time and money.
With my older children, I tandem nursed all three at once and pumped. For the middle two, I rented an awesome Medela hospital grade pump that I cannot rave about enough; the medical supply company went out of business and we got to keep the pump. When I was finished, I passed it on to a girlfriend at work, who, of course, got her own tubing and flanges. This time around, I got the Medela personal double pump covered by my health insurance; I don’t recommend it. We were willing to pay for the upgrade, but our insurance company’s rules didn’t allow it. I struggled through the first six months pumping just enough for her to eat while I was away and never building a storehouse like I was able to do with the older children. My husband could not understand why I did not want to pump if we would all be going together somewhere, like church, where there is a perfectly nice nursery, equipped with a beautiful glider and matching ottoman. He thought that if we were in public, she should have a bottle of breast milk so that no one could see my breasts. Little nursling, however, decided at six months that she did not like bottles (we had tried several different kinds and, in the end, Tommee Tippee is the one that felt most like a boob to her) and she would just prefer to wait until I returned home. This reminded me of when I was an undergrad, nursing her eldest sibling. I would dutifully pump and freeze in Playtex nurser bags (now vintage, no longer available, although you can still buy the bottles they lined on eBay) but he would scream the whole time I was at class and refuse the bottle. He, too, preferred the real thing.
One Easter long weekend, we went to introduce baby girl #1 (now first year in college) to her paternal grandparents. Her dad dropped her, her two older brothers and I off at the hotel and went somewhere (I can’t remember now; it was almost twenty years ago). He got into an accident and the rental car was totalled (don’t ever purchase that extra coverage they offer when renting a car; it’s not worth it). Now I was stuck, in a hotel, with three kids under 5. I had only brought one bag of groceries; we had planned on eating at all of the relative’s houses which we would be required to visit over the holiday weekend. I’ll tell you, it’s a good thing that they were all still nursing because that one bag of groceries did not last long. Cell phones were not what they are today and there was no place within walking distance to buy more food. I don’t do room service: I think it is enormously overpriced and I think I’ve had it only once in my life on New Year’s Eve when I was expecting the aforementioned college freshwoman. I say these things because I know some of you are thinking, “Why didn’t she just order room service?” or “Why didn’t she just go to a restaurant or a grocery?” Because the car seats, strollers, etc. were all in the crashed car, I couldn’t navigate farther than down the hotel hall with the three little ones in tow.
Back to the topic at hand, my intake of food and subsequent manufacture of breast milk is far more efficient than the multiple times a day I feed Miss Nursling Cheerios, vegetables, fruit, cheese, yogurt, water and eggs/peanut butter/fish or chicken. Toddlers are messy, even when they try to be neat. She also likes to sneak food to the dog. No matter what bib size (long-sleeved to drool) I try, she always manages to come out of the high chair with crumbs in her lap. I am also trying to get away from spoon-feeding her by allowing her to finger feed or use toddler utensils to feed herself non-finger foods, which results in more mess (and when I see mess, I see wasted food). “Doggie, come here and lick this up.” What a great vacuum! Tee Hee! In the second year of life, breastmilk accounts for up to half of a baby’s caloric intake. No, we are not depriving our baby. Anytime she is hungry, we feed her, except for caffeine/sugar/salt because we believe those things are not healthy for her. Most times, she nurses then eats, but sometimes she surprises us and eats what we think is a lot for a wee one and then still wants to nurse. Her growth has always been right on track at her well-baby visits. In fact, she is at the 72nd percentile. She has beautiful skin tone, bright eyes, has only been sick once and is very curious. She has that trademark fat toddler tummy and those beautiful rolls on her thighs.
Her eldest brother weaned at five and still has fond memories of feeling safe and warm when nursing. Her next oldest brother weaned at three and her oldest sister weaned at eighteen months. I think this was because of substantial interference from her maternal grandparents and the fact that at that time, I was going to graduate school, working full-time in a public school, offering private tutoring afterschool and working overnight at Walgreens. People make horrible faces and rude comments when they ask you how long you plan to breastfeed and you respond with an answer which indicates longer than the first three to six months. Also, people believe a whole bunch of absolute nonsense when it comes to breastfeeding. Having done this a few times, I will tell you that I firmly believe that my eldest daughter’s struggle with weight in her middle childhood and tween years and her unrelenting allergies and asthma are directly related to the fact that she was weaned prematurely. It also affected our mother-daughter relationship; she thinks I love her the least. Oh, (tears welling up) if she only knew. Now, she is a tall, model-beautiful (and no, I am not the only one saying that), svelte teenager who tries very hard to eat in a health-conscious way and never drinks soda – how many college freshman can you say that about?!
Full-term breastfeeding provides up to a third of your baby’s calories in their third year of life. We in the U.S. think this is only important in underdeveloped 3rd, 4th and 5th world countries, where the risk of starvation is real and rampant. However, we are probably the most overfed and undernourished country on the planet. Our subsidies for things such as soy and corn make non-nutritive food choices that are high in calories cheap at the grocery store but very expensive on long-term health because they are highly processed, full of sugar and unhealthy fats, along with gmos. Given that you want what is best for your baby/toddler/preschooler/primary child, why would you wean before they were ready? Especially when, in our area of the country, I could have a dinner of chicken, broccoli and cheese for approximately $1.55/serving and out of that, also feed my nursling? The alternatives are toddler formula, processed toddler foods or feeding her the same food as the family (which we do for dinner, or we allow her to pick off our plates). We don’t need the new toddler formulas, because we have readily available breast milk. This also means we don’t have to experiment with trial and error finding a toddler formula that she could tolerate, since both sides of the family has food allergies, including anaphylaxis. We don’t need any more bottles or nipples. No more sterilizing! Yeah! That means I have time to do something else. I think toddler formulas are Enfamil’s way of trying to mimic the over 300 nutrients that a breastfed toddler is still getting, without admitting that formula is not good for anyone. I used Enfamil’s price estimator (KellyMom has one also) to see how much it would cost us to have her drink toddler formula from now until 30 months and the cost came to over $3,000 and does not include the first year, which would be an additional $1,700-2,700 for formula. There are so many things that breastmilk can do which formula will never be able to, but that is a topic for another post. For me to have a year’s worth of chicken/broccoli and cheddar dinners made at home, which I can then turn into breast milk would cost one sixth of that! Some of you will say, “But you need special clothes, or a Boppy or (fill in the blank).” Truth be told, no, you don’t. I have nursing clothes because I enjoy my special status as a breastfeeding mom and my husband rather likes them, but I bought them either secondhand or with a coupon, stacked with free shipping, on top of a rebate, on sale, with rewardsbucks. After having and nursing all of these children, I could totally breastfeed without nursing clothes or my Brestfriend pillow (I hate Boppy – reasons why in another post). Even my nursing bras are sometimes a bigger hinderance than a help and I find that my nursing tanks put a lot of pressure on my shoulders. If you want nursing clothes and can’t afford them right now, look at some of the hacks for making them I have on my Pinterest Breastfeeding board or go on Craigslist or Freecycle and post for some.
One of the fallacies which people choose to believe is that there is no benefit to the baby if she is breastfed longer than a year. NOT true: human milk is the only substance perfectly balanced in carbs/fats/proteins and this does not change as the baby ages. Human milk has remarkable healing properties. The nutritionist at WIC told my husband and I that if we felt we were coming down with the flu, I should express some breastmilk for us to consume and it would help us fight off influenza (which kills people every year). A one year old’s immune system is not fully developed and by continuing to breastfeed, that baby is offered some protection against germs.
Another way breastfeeding saves you thousands (pure cash layout and efficiency being two ways) is that your toddler/baby/preschooler/primary child is far less likely to fall ill. It is the dead of winter here and, at fourteen months, my nursling has never needed Tylenol, Pediacare, Pedialyte, gas drops, gripe water or topical creams. I have Tylenol if she ever needed it and Pediatyte that was given to us and even cortisone cream leftover from pregnancy, but I doubt I’ll ever need any of it and I definitely won’t need any of the other medicines I listed. Did you know that if your baby has a rash, you can make a salve from your milk? More money saved, not only because you didn’t have to purchase an ointment at the store, but you also didn’t have the travel/shipping expenses and taxes associated with such a purchase and you don’t need to find storage containers to store all that junk, either. Breast milk is the best hydrating agent ever; no need for Pedialyte or Gatorade. You will also save money on laundry: breast milk doesn’t stain, so you won’t have clothes ruined (yours or theirs) by spit up or poop, plus you won’t need Dreft or Shout to get the breast milk out of the dirty clothes.
If developmental and monetary reasons are not enough to motivate you, consider that the AAP, AAFP, WHO and UNICEF all recommend breastfeeding beyond a year. The Huffington Post ran an article on this. For me, it is all of the health, fiduciary, developmental, environmental and emotional benefits that tip the scale in favor of nursing my toddler until she is ready to self-wean.