Feeling wiped? Mom-of-three Anna Rodney hasn’t slept through the night since 2009—the year she started breastfeeding. (Her youngest, two years old, is still nursing and has yet to stop.) We caught up with the Founder of Chicago Family Doulas for an honest take on what it’s like to nurse a five-year-old (in public, to boot), how nursing on demand impacts her daily life, and why she’s still making milk, nine years in.
Can you take us through a timeline of your breastfeeding journey? I started breastfeeding in 2009 after my first daughter was born. My goal was to breastfeed her for a full year—and that goal came and went. I found out I was pregnant with my second when Jules, my first, was one year old. I breastfed throughout pregnancy and she lost interest towards the end and mostly only nursed at nighttime. Angie, my second child, nursed the longest so far—I breastfed her until she was almost 5 years old and I went to the hospital to have my third. I told her throughout my pregnancy that I would not nurse her once the new baby arrived. (Angie was not the sharing type so I knew that it would be a problem if I didn’t have this clear boundary.) My third was born in May 2016, and is still nursing multiple times a day and multiple times a night.
How has your supply changed over the years? I am sure my flow and supply has changed many times. I was never a big producer with the pump and I think I was always making rich milk, but not too much of it. My third is the only baby I have never pumped with so I’m not sure how much milk Theresa is getting, but it seems like she is still getting lots.
What are the main reasons you’ve committed to breastfeeding your littles for extended periods of time? My goal with breastfeeding was a year. That came and went and it seemed weird to stop based on that arbitrary time, rather than readiness. My one year old was still nursing quite a bit and I saw no need to stop. For my second, it was already so easy and part of my everyday life that I never thought much about it. Birthdays came and went and next thing I knew my baby was 4 and still nursing. My third doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. It’s funny, because I never imagined this is what I would be doing, but it happened. I enjoy all of it the bonding, the health benefits and the trust.
What’s it like to breastfeed a toddler? Nursing toddlers and bigger kids is different than nursing a small baby. In many ways it’s easier because they know how to nurse and I have two hands free. My toddlers ask for it, they call it ‘nini,’ and they are silly and make up songs about it, too. Sometimes they nurse for a few minutes and become more interested by a toy or sometimes they nurse for 45 minutes or so. We have always nursed on demand with no schedule so sometimes it is 4 times a day and sometimes 10. My two year old nurses when she is upset, tired, bored, hungry and throughout the night.
What’s the best position for nursing a toddler? Every toddler is different, but for me I use the cradle position and side lying.
What’s it like to breastfeed in public past the baby stage? I do nurse in public at all stages, but it does become more of a scene the older they are. Usually the toddler is more obvious and people do have more opinions. I have had a few people, including a couple of dads, tell me that it is awesome that I feed my toddler/baby in public and that their wife did as well. I have had a few negative situations where uniformed people told me it wasn’t allowed to or that I needed to cover up. I had one woman at the airport tell me I was selfish and doing it for myself while I ran to catch the plane with my nursing 2-year-old and two children. Haha—that was certainly not selfish or enjoyable.
What challenges have you run into? There are certainly challenges with long term breastfeeding—the biggest is that I can’t leave for more than a work day and I am the main source of comfort. The other for me is also sleep. I most likely won’t sleep through the night until my two-year-old is weaned. (We bed share and she still wakes up and asks for it.) So I have not slept through the night since 2009.
What’s have you learned about the body through your breastfeeding journey? It’s amazing that I can be such a strong source of health and comfort for my babies and children. It is a huge investment of time, sleep, energy, and freedom, but it is so worth it. The sense of closeness and safety that it has brought to me and my girls is priceless. It is worth it. It is a journey and a relationship so it takes time and learning, but the reward is amazing.