Described by Shazzie as a world class body percussionist, singer, and songwriter, Victoria
Leith is the beautiful mind behind MamaBabaDo.com where she writes articles and recipes on how to bring health and happiness to families. She also concocts the most delicious delicacies and
treats in her own kitchen, and even has an eCourse to teach them how to make them too!
Passionate about life, healthy foods and raising children naturally, Victoria tells us more about breastfeeding her little girl Maya through toddlerhood despite unexpected challenges.
Joanna Steven: Breastfeeding for longer than 6 months is, in our culture, considered to be “extended breastfeeding” rather than “full term”. But, when the decision to wean is left to the child, breastfeeding can, and often does, continue for years. Before having Maya, did you fully expect to breastfeed for longer than a year? What was your reasoning behind wanting to breastfeed her for as long as she desired?
Victoria Leith: Before I had Maya, I knew I was excited about breast-feeding – I’d even have dreams about it! It felt so wonderful and natural and I was looking forward to this part of motherhood more than anything. When she was born, my whole body was overwhelmed and flooded with love for this little thing in my arms. I knew that I was lucky in many ways to feel like this as I know it’s not a given that all women had that hormonal release of oxytocin!
My boobs were massive and ready to feed Maya – and then the initial struggles started! At first it wasn’t painful at all – then I got cracked nipples which was excruciating and then on top of that, had three bouts of mastitis! The last bout turned into an very painful abscess which just rocked my body and my mind. I still felt hopelessly in love with my daughter but was crying at every feed at the intense pain. My left breast was being poked and prodded and syringed by health professionals and then the word ‘surgery’ was mentioned, which one nurse warned me would affect feeding as they’d have to cut through the mammary glands. I was devastated. Meanwhile, Maya continued suckling happily on the right breast but totally rejected the infected one. And from six weeks old she never suckled that one again!
I think in some ways, having this tumultuous start to breasffeeding spurred me on to continue for longer than I originally thought I would feed for. After about 12 weeks, all pain vanished (so did the abscess after four failed antibiotic attempts and then finally eating a whole-food diet!!) I just enjoyed it so much and at one point, when Maya was about ten months I figured that we’d probably stop when she was one.
Her first birthday came and went and there was not stopping either of us! Why would I stop giving my daughter this amazing life-force and optimum nutrition, just to put her onto another animal’s milk? She was thriving, health-wise and was also at this time drinking daily green smoothies with avocado and leaves plus steamed veggies.
Each year that went past, I just felt like it wasn’t time. I considered the option and it never made sense to me to give her milk that wasn’t my own. Even though she was only still feeding from one breast, it was enough for her (I had supplemented in her early months) with all the food she was eating too.
It came to a time of course when Maya’s feeding style changed. She would have a long drink in the morning at around six, whilst she was still dozing and then milk if she wanted it in the day (but she stopped asking for a while unless she’d a bump then ‘boo boo’ would always becalled upon!) She would also have a little drink before bed and then through the night, as we share a bed, she’d just help herself.
Over time, this became less and less and when she finally reached her fifth birthday, I felt that as every mammal has a total weaning process at some time, we needed to get to this point too. I never thought I would have fed and nourished her for this long and I am really glad I did.
We stopped the feeding in public years ago – it was something that happened in the privacy of our own home and we had a few raised eyebrows from friends when they asked every now and then ‘are you still feeding?’ and then finally people stopped asking and Maya continued to thrive with life and health.
Joanna Steven: Nursing a toddler is sometimes frowned upon. What reactions did you encounter as your breastfed your little girl when she was past the age of 2? How did you handle any negative reactions?
Victoria Leith: When Maya was three months, I overheard a young mum say to her friend how she thought it was disgusting that mothers feed their babies past three months! This really shocked me – I didn’t realise how much we have lost the art of educating our girls and women about nourishing our babes! I was also ‘told off’ at a new friend’s house when Maya was two.
She asked about feeding and I just mentioned it in passing. Her reaction was not severe but very judgmental and she told me point blank that I should stop. People don’t consider to think why, though? I find it quite bemusing and also heartbreaking if I am honest that mothers will wean their children off milk (as they see it as unnatural to feed beyond one year) then give their babies caffeinated drinks like tea in their baby bottles with sugar in, and fizzy drinks! And
I am the weird one?! In fairness, no one has ever called me weird- in fact a couple of mums who I thought would really react sounded surprised but also a little envious that they weren’t still feeding their own! I didn’t go round advertising the fact I was still giving my daughter milk but I would always answer any questions (and try not to sound defensive! It’s a bit of a challenge to enable people to see that when something is good and helping your child, and nourishing and calming it, it’s OK!!
Joanna Steven: It would seem that on average, children will self-wean around the age of 3. This is not a rule however, and many continue to breastfeed for a few years after that. Did you ever feel that breastfeeding for several years was “too much”? What would you tell a new mother who is afraid that breastfeeding might get in the way of “having a life” (a common belief in mainstream circles)?
Victoria Leith: I know so many mothers and all have had their own journeys. I don’t think you can tell beforehand – I feel that you can have an idea but if you allow yourself to be open to the possibility of longer term feeding then you won’t feel like it’s too much. If I was advising a new mother, I would say to make your baby and feeding it a part of your life and not to see it as an inconvenience.
It’s an incredible miracle what us humans (and animals!) can do! I see the whole package of conception, pregnancy, birth and child-raising as something that is fascinating and not to be hurried or rushed. I have managed to write books, articles, music and recipes whilst still breasfeeding.
One thing that I had that some people don’t was a very supportive partner in the form of my husband Tom. He always stood by my decision to breast feed long term and he would go the extra mile to ensure we were comfortable and giving me extra time to rest and recharge my batteries. I was very grateful to my friend Shazzie who also long-term fed her daughter. She was full of good advice and support so all new mums who want to breastfeed – get support! Know yourself and what you want to do. Don’t listen to the negatives as these people are coming from different places and often, uneducated places.
I am a pretty normal, intelligent woman who is artistic and holds a Teaching Degree – I also chose to feed my babe long term. End of!
Joanna Steven: Breastfeeding certainly requires more calories and nutrition than what is normally required of a woman – even during pregnancy! Which foods did you feel were the most beneficial in helping you stay nourished, active and happy?
Victoria Leith: Green smoothies every day! A little raw chocolate and nuts and seeds… lovely soups and tonnes of steamed broccoli and cauliflower! Coconut water in abundance… and more green smoothies!
Victoria Leith is a mama to two girls, one baby and one 8 year old. She runs MamaBabaDo which is a positive parenting venture, as well as her healthy cake crafting courses online. She blogs on Huffington Post and is the author of the app 97 Parenting Tips.