To 3 and beyond: An interview with Janell Robisch on breastfeeding

to three and beyond coverI received a copy of To Three and Beyond: Stories of Breastfed Children and the Mothers Who Love Them at a critical point in my parenting journey.

At the time, I was breastfeeding my third child at 2-1/2 years old. The longest I had breastfed my other two children was 9 months, and my original goal with my third baby was 1 year. I was thrilled to make it to 1 year, and so changed my goal to 18 months. My breastfeeding journeys with my daughters had always been rocky, a struggle to make it month by month it seemed. So I was unsure how long my good luck would last with my third, my son.

At 18 months, I changed my goal to 2 years. And at 2 years, I made a firm decision in favor of child-led weaning. But about 6 months later, I was surprised by my feelings of feeling touched-out and tied-down. I felt ready to wean, but at the same time, I was very sad at the thought. It was evident that my son was not ready to wean. I never thought, in a million years, that I would be struggling with these feelings.

And then the book, To Three and Beyond, arrived in my mailbox. It was sent from Praeclarus Press, owned by Kathleen Kendall Tackett, member of API’s Resource Advisory Council and co-editor of API’s 2013 Journal of Attachment Parenting. What a Godsend! The book is a collection of stories by mothers who breastfed children to 3 years old and beyond, choosing to allow their children the full benefit of extended breastfeeding and child-led weaning.

The book was my main source of support and comfort during the rest of my breastfeeding journey with my third child. It was my “support group” on paper.

(Photo credit: Allison Profeta)Today, I share my interview with To Three and Beyond‘s editor, Janell Robisch, whose own breastfeeding story graces the pages of the book. A former La Leche League Leader, Janell breastfed her 3 children to the ages of 5, 4-1/2 and 3-1/2 years.

API: Janell, I do so love your book! Please begin by telling me what inspired you to write To Three and Beyond. How do you want your book to benefit families?

JANELL: My own experiences with breastfeeding a young child and the lack of resources for mothers nursing a child beyond toddlerhood inspired me to create such a resource.

During the writer’s process, which was fairly long — about 10 years — at least one other book on the topic was released, but I wanted something more personal, a book that mothers could curl up with and be able to empathize and connect with. I see this book as kind of a La Leche League group meeting for long-term breastfeeding mothers. It is a collection of stories, and there are all kinds of mothers with all kinds of experiences. They are ready to share their experiences and give their support to the reader through their words.

This book will give mothers a sense of belonging to a greater group of mothers doing what they feel is right for their families and maybe an idea of how things might go along their own journeys. It also provides some resources for getting more support and evidence about what science has to say about natural-term nursing.

API: How do you offer support to mothers breastfeeding a toddler or older child who feel isolated and unsupported in their choices, and who may be reconsidering those choices?

JANELL: Remember why you have made the choice to continue breastfeeding.

You are not alone, not by far. I feel comfortable saying that at this moment, there are thousands — if not more — mothers nursing beyond infancy and even toddlerhood.

One of the most important things to do is to find support. It means the world, even if it is only online or from one friend or family member in your life.

There is a list of resources in the back of To Three and Beyond, but parents can also join the “Breastfeeding to Three and Beyond” online discussion group on Facebook. It is a closed group that started out about the book but is now mostly a discussion group for mothers with questions, stories and things to share about nursing older children and breastfeeding in general.

API: How does your book fit within the mission statement and vision of Attachment Parenting International (API)? What are your views of API?

JANELL: I am happy that such an organization exists, and I believe that API’s tenets of parenting reflect a safe, nurturing and loving way for preparing for parenthood and raising our children.

The website is full of great resources for parents, especially those looking for ways to approach parenting in a way that respects not only their feelings and needs but their children’s feelings, needs and development.

While no two mothers’ experiences are the same, one of the main threads running through the stories in this book is that of individual mothers carefully considering their children and their families and making decisions about breastfeeding and parenting based on the family’s needs as a whole and the children’s needs in particular. There is compassion and respect here for children’s needs, even when they contrast with what society presents as the “right” way to do things, and there is balance as well.

API: Thank you, Janell, so much for you time and insights. Is there anything else you’d like to share?

JANELL: I just want to give a shout out to all the brave mamas out there who fly in the face of tradition, not to rebel but to parent in the best way they know how, those who are brave enough to question parenting practices that ignore the needs and developmental stages of children and do what feels right for their children and families.

(Photo credit: Allison Profeta)

Morning cuddles: a story of child-led weaning

Editor’s note: At some point in every breastfeeding relationship, the question of when and how to wean presents itself. Many parents breastfeed into the toddler years and beyond, choosing child-led weaning. Janell Robisch shares her weaning story below.

to three and beyond coverAttachment Parenting International (API) thanks Praeclarus Press for giving permission to reprint this except from To Three and Beyond: Stories of Breastfeeding Children and the Mothers Who Love Them, edited by Janell E. Robisch, published by Praeclarus Press, Used with permission. Read more about the book through an upcoming API interview with Janell.

So, when I was feeling touched-out or just ready to quit nursing, I would test the waters, cut back a little or talk to [my son] A.J. about it, and see how he reacted. I felt that since I was the adult, I could be patient when I needed to. If his reaction was intense, I knew that he wasn’t ready, like the many short-lived occasions when I tried night weaning. If, however, he went on about his business without much reaction to what I was doing — or not doing — I knew that we could move forward.

The following excerpt from my personal journal, written in 2006, tells the rest of the story:

“When my son finally weaned in January 2006 at age 5 years 3 months, of course part of me wondered if I had done the right thing in nudging him along. I had been ready to end nursing for a while but was contented to let him continue to nurse until he was really ready to stop. To me, ‘ready to stop’ meant that he would not be traumatized by weaning and that, as a mother and child, we would be able to easily meet his needs in other ways.

About 4 months before he actually weaned, A.J. set a date for weaning. During the interval before that date, he continued to nurse in the same pattern, in the morning and before bed and sometimes in between. However, when the date actually came, he said that he was going to stop nursing for that day only. I smiled and waited a while longer to bring up the subject again. About a month later, he stopped nursing for six days but then went back to it.

It was the end of November when we talked about it again. He had just turned 5 in October. I suggested that it might be easier for him if he got used to the idea of weaning by slowing down a little at a time. He was amenable to the idea and set yet another date. This time, however, he did slow his nursing down right away; he suddenly went days without any nursies and showed no ill effects. In addition, prospects for a weaning party were suddenly more important than having milk.

The last day of nursies — January 1 — came and went, and we even took pictures of his last nurse. As things went, he came down with a stomach bug a few weeks later, and he did nurse one more time around January 18.

Now, as I write this, 5 months later in May 2006, I am confident that we did okay. He has not asked to nurse again since that day and has not shown any ill effects of weaning. We still have plenty of close cuddle time, especially every morning when he wakes up. If I am not nearby when he wakes, he seeks me out as he still likes to start his day with some close time with Mommy. Our bond is still there, still strong, even though our nursing relationship is over. I will be ever grateful for the bond that it created and am happy that we had that special time together.”

It has been 8 years since I wrote that journal entry. A.J. is now 13 years old and is still incredibly smart and exacting. He is not incredibly “touchy” with most people, but he always makes time for a hug for me when he first wakes up and before he goes to bed. Our relationship, like any mother-child relationship, is not perfect, but I feel that nursing — more than anything — laid down a foundation of love and connection for us that will last a lifetime.

Editor’s note: Thank you to the photographer, Allison Profeta, for the image of Janell E. Robisch included in this article.

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