Heather Gallagher is a documentary photographer often behind the photos you see here on Love Child. One of the first conversations we had when we met during a shoot was about breastfeeding. I was new to the breastfeeding game and she was more than willing to share some advice. It was during this time, nearly two years ago, that she mentioned she was still breastfeeding her son who was 2 at the time. Fast forward two years to 2018, my breastfeeding journey ended at 13 months (about to start round 2 with new baby next month) but Heather has continued her journey, allowing it to slow and eventually stop when her four year old son is ready to self-wean. While extended breastfeeding is normal in so many other countries, it is met with differing views here in the US. Like everything having to do with breastfeeding, we continue our fight to normalize it and accept that the journey is different for every family. Heather stopped by to share her experience with extended breastfeeding, the benefits she has noticed, and how she plans to allow her son to self-wean, today on Love Child. Photography by Kayla Gonzales of Austin Birth Photos 

Tell us a little about yourself and family. 

My husband, Tim and I have been together for 11 years, married for just under 9. We moved to Austin in 2011 from NYC where we met and together we have a four year old son, Lee (short for Levon). We both own and run our own businesses that focus on community, St Elmo Brewing Company and Heather Gallagher Photography

Did breastfeeding come easy for you?

Yes and no. He latched right away after birth and my milk came in fast and furious so supply was never an issue but I think it’s also the reason I got mastitis FOUR times within the first 6 months. I just had so much milk that I felt like I couldn’t keep up! I was leaking all the time (even at 2 years pp) and since Lee hardly ever took a bottle, I felt like I never got a break. As tough as it was physically and logistically at times, I think that it took more of an emotional toll than anything else.
I felt trapped by dependency and by my own body. I also know now that I had postpartum depression but at the time, I thought I was going crazy and would feel this way forever. Hormones are no joke.

Did you ever feel the need to hide your choice to practice extended breastfeeding from your family or friends? 

Never. And I know how fortunate I am to say that.
My mother breastfed both my brother and I until we were three and my husband, father and brother are so supportive. My extended family, in laws and friends have never made me feel uncomfortable, even when I would visit back east and publicly nurse Lee at family functions or while out to dinner or in the middle of a museum. My friends and family represent a lot ofverydifferent lifestyles and beliefs so it’s pretty amazing that I never heard a peep to be honest. Maybe it’s because they know that I wouldn’t stand for anyone weighing in on our choice and biting their tongue would be better than engaging with me on the topic but whatever their reasons, I’ve had a very supportive breastfeeding experience that I’m grateful for. 

Have you faced any criticism for your choice to continue breastfeeding beyond infancy/toddlerhood? 

Only via social media! I’ve been called a “creepy mom” and other similar ridiculous names when I’ve shared images of Lee, now 4 and I breastfeeding and I just find it so silly!  Overall, I have been overwhelmingly supported in this journey both online and IRL.

Critics say there is potential for “emotional dependency”. Have you witnessed this with your child? 

What’s the gauge on what’s “normal” emotional dependency for a four year old, you know? I never set any expectations on myself or on him when it came to breast feeding or co-sleeping (which we also still do) or when it comes to how he expresses himself thru his interests or clothing, for example. I surrendered to the fact that I am making this all up as I go a long time ago and I’ve mostly been following his lead. So far we’re doing pretty well. He’s a kind, thoughtful and smart kid. He has friends and playdates and goes to school full time with no issues. When he’s upset or hurt or can’t sleep, he finds comfort in me and oftentimes my milk, too. I think that’s great.

Were there points in your breastfeeding journey that you or your son began to wean? 

Around 2 years in, I was feeling totally over it. I was “touched out” as they say and found myself getting really short tempered and impatient when he would try to nurse. I started putting bandaids on my nipples and telling him I had boo boo’s. A friend of mine said she had done this to wean and while I thought it sounded kind of silly, I was desperate. Turns out it totally worked and he started giving me space and asking less and less for “mommy milk”. After almost a whole day of him not nursing, I realized I wasn’t ready to stop so I took the and aids off and told him I was all better. It was like nothing changed. Oy!

How often do you breastfeed your son?

At this point, twice a day (morning and night) and only in bed.

Let’s talk about your supply. How much milk do you think you still produce? Has it always been consistent? 

Oh gosh, now? Not much, probably a few ounces. My supply has been on the steady decline for the past 9 months or so. Before then, I was consistently producing a lot. I don’t know exactly how much but I do know that about 90% of it went only to my right breast. 

What benefits have you seen from extended breastfeeding?

That’s hard to say because he’s my only child and this is our only experience. I don’t have anything to compare  or rather contrast it it to, especially because I breastfed for so long as a child, too. I don’t claim that he has the most amazing immune system or that he’sthesmartest kid around. I don’t think there’s a magic bullet for anything. I do love our relationship though. We are very affectionate and we talk openly about our bodies and our feelings. He knows the anatomical words for body parts and he knows about bodily autonomy. This isn’t to say that those who don’t share our breastfeeding journey don’t know and feel all these things, too.

When and how do you plan to wean?

We’re letting nature take its course. He’s showing less and less interest and my supply is dwindling. It’s classic supply and demand. I can feel this chapter coming to a close and as much as I’ve had my moments of wanting it to be over, now that I know it is soon coming to an actual end, it’s bittersweet.

Heather Gallagher was voted Austin’s best maternity photographer and top 3 birth & family photographer of 2017 by the Austin Birth Awards. Follow her work on instagram