A few people have asked me lately if Charlotte is still breastfeeding. Simple answer? Yep, she sure is. They usually follow up with, "how long are you going to do that for?" My answer? I honestly don't know.
When Katherine was born, I was determined to breastfeed. I overcame all the novice mom breastfeeding obstacles and went on to nurse her for 17 months. I was teaching full time back then, and pumped 3-4 times a day to provide her with enough milk. It sucked, but was worth it. She weaned herself a month after I found out I was pregnant with Will.
Breastfeeding Will was much, much easier. After nursing Katherine, I felt like a pro, and combined with my new "stay at home mom" status, I had a much better relationship with my pump. I went on to nurse Will for 23 months, however, after he turned one, very few people knew he was still going strong. Why? I am not sure if I was ashamed, or embarrassed, or wanting to avoid the obvious tough questions; probably a little of all of those. I remember having conversations with friends about how they thought once a child is old enough to ask for it, they should no longer be allowed. Will was a very verbal child, and learned to "ask for it" around 15 months. I kept quiet when these friends voiced these opinions, as I wanted to escape having to defend my choice.
Charlotte was a great nurser from day she was born. Though, when she was three days old, we sat as a pediatrician we had never met before (ours was out of town the week Charlotte was born), confirmed that yes, she did have Down syndrome and then quickly advised me to start pumping and giving her bottles because babies with Down syndrome have problems nursing. My mommy gut told me otherwise. I was thankful to have a lot of breastfeeding experience under my belt; I knew what a good latch was and Charlotte had it. I also knew she was getting enough milk (count the diapers...what goes in, must come out!), and I quietly chose to disregard the pediatrician's advice. Thank goodness I did. In the months that followed, I did have to pump and add extra calories to two of her feedings a day in order to beef Charlotte up for heart surgery, but after surgery we ditched that practice.
I breastfeed for multiple reasons; but mainly, because it works for us. Me and my babies are/were happy doing it. After Charlotte's Down syndrome diagnosis, my mission to breastfeed as long as possible was intensified.
Babies with Down syndrome are more prone to respiratory infections and ear infections.
Breast milk has immunities that can help prevent these ...though, notice I said help; a lot of it depends on the child; Will had a ton of ear infections his first year of life despite his love of boob! Charlotte, on the other hand, has never had any sort of infection in her 20 months of life. In fact, she has only been on antibiotics twice, and both of those were following surgeries to make sure she didn't get an infection. She is an extremely healthy child.
Babies with Down syndrome have low muscle tone, resulting in a weakness in many areas and delayed speech in part due to low oral muscle tone.
Breastfeeding increases oral muscle tone due to the muscles required to nurse.
Babies with Down syndrome tend to be mouth breathers, which can be one reason for tongue protrusion.
Breastfeeding teaches infants to develop a suck/swallow/breathe sequence that promotes breathing through their nose.
Individuals with Down syndrome have lower IQ's then their typical peers.
While not proven, it has been speculated that breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding (which is defined as breastfeeding past one year) can increase a person's IQ.
It is interesting to think about how I have evolved as a parent over the past six and a half years. A few years ago I was hiding my extended nursing practices in fear of being judged, and now I am typing it out for the world to read. In fact, I am now pretty dang proud of it. So, when asked how long I will nurse Charlotte, my answer is as long as both of us are still happy doing it. Fact is, she doesn't seem close to giving it up. Each morning, she grins at me from her crib and intensely signs milk with both hands and every night after tucking the big kids in, we settle in the recliner for her to nurse before bed. I'll keep you posted.
Disclaimer: Six and a half years as a mom has also taught me to be a less judgmental of others; parenting is a tricky thing and everyone has their own idea of what is right. Above is a post full of my opinions, my intent is not to judge anyone who decides to feed their babies in different ways. Notice, I stated, more than once, that the reason I breastfeed is because me and my babies are happy doing it? That is what is important. The moral of this post: Do what works for you and screw what everyone else thinks :-).