Not everyone is able, or willing, to breastfeed, and that's perfectly OK. Us moms know there's more than one way to feed a baby and keep him or her healthy. But for those of us who can and want to breastfeed, continuing that nursing relationship for as long as we or our baby wants is more often than not the ultimate goal. So, how can you get a baby to breastfeed longer? Every baby and every mom and every breastfeeding situation is different, but listening to how other moms reached their nursing goals can be helpful.
If I'm being honest, I have to admit that I didn’t actually get to breastfeed as long as I would have liked. My body didn't produce nearly enough milk to exclusively breastfeed due to a combination of my son’s NICU stay, having to take pain killers as a result of my birth injury, and a diagnoses of insufficient glandular tissue. In other words, the odds were stacked against me. In fact, the only reason I was able to breastfeed for as long as I did was because I had a lot of support from my family. My partner and my parents took turns watching my son so that I could sleep and pump and nurse, and since I didn't have to return to work I had the time and space to let my body heal from childbirth.
But again, every new mom, infant, and nursing situation is different, and what works for one mom doesn't always work for another. So I asked the following moms to share how they were able to reach their breastfeeding goals, or at least prolong nursing, to get a better idea of what works (and doesn't work) for a variety of moms. Here's what they had to say:
“I think my husband was the biggest support for me. Initially I wasn’t producing enough to keep up with my daughter’s demand, so we had to use donor milk from Mother’s Milk Bank. Then, when I went back to work, I was able to work my schedule around pumping. Working in [the] teaching [field] with lots of other women who had been in the same position made that whole situation as painless as possible. Pumping was still stressful, but everyone was really supportive at my school.”
“Trusting myself and my body. Staying true to my belief that breastfeeding is what is best for my son and I and nobody else’s opinion matters.”
“My husband was my biggest support. He attended the breastfeeding class with me before our first was born. The obscene cost of formula helped, too. There was no way I was going to spend that much money when I had a free option and a body that cooperated with my desires. I nursed each kid for about two years.”
“Honestly? How supportive and kind the local community is about it. People don't give me a hard time about it, if anything they congratulate us!”
“I exclusively breastfed both of my living children until the age of 3.5 respectively, when they self-weaned. I think my job was one of the biggest factors because I got the pumping breaks I needed to maintain my supply until my kids were 1, and then it was so easy to continue. Not being able to take pumping or nursing breaks at work can totally destroy your supply, especially in the earlier days. No one at work ever said anything negative about my breaks or tried to prevent me from taking them, and I had a comfortable and clean place to pump the first time. The second time I had to pump in my car, but it's because I had a driving job, and I was still able to make it work without problems."
“Number one thing was that my husband has been supportive of me nursing our son and co-sleeping so I could get rest.”
“Work that is supportive. Coming back to work, talking about the mothers room and being told, ‘You have access, no questions asked, for two years. Beyond that, just let us know.’ And so many moms I work with are supportive of it, too. Multiple women at work have said how great it is that we're going strong at 15 months. It's such a supportive environment.”
“Flexible work schedule with a supervisor supportive of my pumping breaks and a private space to pump.”
“With my first child: formula supplements! They get a bad rap, but I have no doubt that they enabled me to succeed in breastfeeding and continue breastfeeding after I went back to work and couldn’t pump enough to feed [my son] breast milk only. He was breastfed for about 16 months.
With my second: becoming a work-from-home parent. When I didn’t have the pressure of having to pump there was no added annoyance factor to prompt me to stop. I breastfed [my son] for almost two years.”
“I agree with support. My husband and family were always helpful. Making sure I had space, pillows, water, snacks, etc.”
“Connecting with a good International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and participating in support groups.”
“I think sheer will power was/is the biggest thing for me. I ended up having to exclusively pump for my first. Biggest support was/is my family (especially hubby) and understanding my desires to breastfeed and for me, personally, that was the only option.”
“My biggest support was my husband and my mom. They encouraged me every step of the way and always made me feel like I could press on. I was also just too stubborn to give up when we faced challenges! I sought help from online breastfeeding support groups, La Leche League, and a local breastfeeding support group. It takes a village for sure! I nursed my daughter for 26 months and would have continued longer if not for my own health challenges.”
“I went to an amazing breastfeeding support group!”
“I would say two things: One, my spouse and family and, two, having good information available on the benefits of breastfeeding on demand and extended breastfeeding. Having a good online community that shared and believed in those things, too!”
“Lactation support group and lactation consultant, hands down, were my lifelines for breastfeeding. I had major supply issues and stressed out big time about it. The support of an expert and others going through similar challenges was probably what made breastfeeding possible for me at all. I can thank my mom for getting online and getting consultant recs from La Leche. I was a total mess because the thing that is natural and so important to me was definitely not occurring naturally for me. I also used fenugreek on recommendation from the lactation consultation. I think it helped maintain supply once I had to go back to work and pump.”
“Being able to stay home (not going back to work).”
“I agree with the will power and cost of formula. I chose to take almost a full year off of work for lots of reasons, one of which was so I didn't have to pump! But, it meant finances were super tight and formula would have been out of the budget! Oh! And a friend's (breast)milk. From about day three to 10, my son lived off of her milk. My milk took a long time to come in, plus we had latch issues and tongue tie issues.”
“I had trouble at first, [and my] milk didn't come in right away. I realized that it was OK that to give formula until my milk came in. Fed is best! Giving myself that OK saved me from giving up. Also, my husband was incredibly supportive. We went 18 months!”
“Having a husband who was on board with whatever I decided. La Leche League was huge for me when breastfeeding my third.”
“My husband. With the first, he kind of gently suggested I stop as we approached the third birthday. With the second, he never even brought it up and I nursed for almost three and a half years. It didn't gross him out or turn him off. Also, my two best friends nursed their babies about that long. Also I'm lazy. Nursing was pretty much my one mothering technique. Hungry? Hurt, sad, lonely, tired? Suck on this. It's the only way they would even sleep until [my kids] were about 2.”
“Very supportive and flexible work environment, including telework and having daycare very close. I could go and feed baby at lunch, or pick up early/drop off late, which meant I wouldn’t have to stress about pumping a ton of ounces each day. Pumping only two bottles was OK if baby was only at daycare eight hours from start to finish, because I was there at hour nine (bottles every three hours).”
“Badass Breastfeeders of Colorado Facebook Group and this book So That's What They're For!: The Definitive Breastfeeding Guide 3rd edition. Both huge support. I was fortunate that the hospital I gave birth at had a donor milk program.”
“My son spent his first few days with a feeding tube and I had a hospital stay, which were setbacks for breastfeeding. We eventuality made it to exclusive breastfeeding with help from a new moms group, lactation consultants, and lots of emotional support from friends and family. My husband was a huge source of support in every way. When I was most discouraged (around six weeks), a friend who breastfed twins (through a NICU stay and triple feedings) gave me the pep talk I needed to make it. Still going strong at nearly two years!”
“I have three boys and breastfed all of them. The first two were only for six months. The youngest breastfed for three years. I had lots of support from family and friends with all three. My biggest obstacle was either not getting to pump often enough at work or, in the case of my second son, not being able to pump at all while at work. I became a stay at home mom for the third child and everything got way easier as far as breastfeeding goes.”
“Online support groups and family/friends who supported me. I learned so much from the [breastfeeding] groups I belong to, and I had the loving support of friends, family, and coworkers. They made it possible to keep going when I was underproducing and felt like a failure.”
“Breastfeeding support groups both on Facebook and in person, friends who nursed/are nursing, using a soft-structured carrier like a Tula really helped too because I didn't have to stop and find a place to sit and nurse. I was able to shop, cook, etc. while nursing hands free. Definitely researching beforehand about colostrum and milk etc.”
“Not caring about what stigma society has created around breastfeeding babies older than 1. My son is now 2 and still breastfed.”
“I am still currently breastfeeding my 2-year-old and I think what helped the most was the understanding and support from my husband, his family, and mine. They know not to say anything about how I should stop breastfeeding our child cause he's ‘too old’ now, because we have talked to them all about the benefits of a breastfed toddler. So not dealing with judgement from family is really helpful, because I don't feel bad or like I'm doing something wrong.”