In the company of an old friend, I happened to mention I am still breastfeeding. My daughter, Emily, is nearly three years old, and she still enjoys nursing twice a day- first thing in the morning, and right before bed.
It’s just something we do; the cozy and quiet bookends of days which are otherwise noisy, busy, and hectic.
Nursing a toddler is not a matter I give much thought, until it comes up, and then it usually makes others go “hmmmm,” which is what happened in this case. The subject came up with my childless pal, and she looked at me with wide eyes, her jaw hanging, and gasped, “Why?!”
Nonplussed, I smiled and shrugged. “I dunno. She still likes it, I guess.”
“But don’t you have to wean?” my friend asked. In some circles this sort of response might make me uncomfortable, or even annoyed, but because she never bore or breastfed children, and had no knowledge on the subject, it didn’t really bother me.
“Moms and babies don’t ‘have’ to wean until they are both ready,” I explained. “At this point, if I just stopped cold-turkey, it would be traumatic for both of us.”
“But your boobs are still enormous!” My friend exclaimed,” Are you saying they are still full of momma-milk?”
I laughed and explained a.) the science behind the supply-and-demand nature of breastfeeding, and b.) that my boobs have always been big, have gotten even bigger with nursing my children, and are likely to stay big beyond weaning. That’s just my anatomy.
We left it at that. My friends accept me for being a rather crunchy gal, and I’m sure they chalk my “extended” breastfeeding relationship with Emily up to that. It isn’t something about which I am ashamed, and I don’t really care if it raises an eyebrow or causes chatter behind my back. I’m always happy to add a few lines of knowledge to someone’s understanding of breastfeeding, or to normalize it in our society.
While I wasn’t hurt or offended, it did make me question why I was still nursing this toddler. I nursed my son, Jack, until he was 23 months, and figured Emily would follow suit and wean herself around the same time. I never really expected to be breastfeeding for this long, yet, here we are.
I sorta’ just forgot to wean her, or more accurately, I just never got around to it.
I’ve written before about nursing a toddler, and usually, somewhere within those posts, I write, “I know our nursing days are numbered. . .” A few times when Emily didn’t seem interested in nursing, and I thought we were naturally at the end of our nursing relationship. Well, it has been nearly three years and now I am wondering if our nursing days will ever end.
According to the page about weaning on Kellymom.com, the traditional definition of “weaning” is when your baby begins to eat any food other than breast milk. In American society, however, “weaning” means packing away the boobs for good and not nursing anymore. It seems there may be other parts of the world where extended breastfeeding, or nursing beyond one or two years of age, are more accepted. But it seems like it is generally misunderstood.
Many think breast milk loses its nutritional benefits after a certain point. This is simply not true. According to Kellymom.com: It’s a myth that the benefits of breastmilk stop at a certain point. Instead, they continue and are more significant and longer-lasting for both you and your child the longer breastfeeding continues. In fact, the antibodies in human milk are more concentrated the lesser the frequency of breastfeeding is (say with a toddler or older child). If you nurse on into your child’s toddler years he won’t even need cow’s milk as long as he receives other foods rich in protein, calcium, and fats, and nurses at least a couple of times a day.
In other words, there is still a nutritional benefit to Emily tanking up on mama juice a couple times a day, which may be why she is rarely sick, and why when she does get sick she is usually over it quickly.
It isn’t something we are just doing to be weird, alternative, or because there is a secondary gain of mutual enjoyment from it.
And how about that mutual enjoyment? I’m not going to lie, I like nursing Emily. There are times when I feel like maybe I am ready to get my body back, but most of the time I love that my daughter is bonding with me in such a special way, and that she is getting a daily dose of health straight from the tap. It has not impaired either of us socially. She is not clingy or dependent on me, in fact, she is a confident youngster with an fiery independent spirit.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “There is no upper limit to the duration of breastfeeding and no evidence of psychologic or developmental harm from breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer. . . There is no evidence that extended breastfeeding is harmful to mother or child.” It has been noted that the natural age for weaning among humans is between two and seven years.
Wait, SEVEN years old?! Ok, I’m not that girl who will nurse a child big enough to take up an entire couch. I’m confident Emily will wean when she doesn’t feel the need for nursing any more.
I have set boundaries around our nursing relationship. For example, she does not have an unlimited-around-the-clock-milk-buffet at her disposal. Toddlers are naturally distractible creatures, and for a while, Emily was wanting to nurse, get up, wander around, play, and then nurse again. It was driving me crazy. So, I made a rule that if she gets up, “the milk center is closed.” It works for us, although there are times I’ve had to be firm about it.
Emily has always had impeccable nursing manners. She doesn’t grab at me or beg for boobs when we are out in public. She doesn’t bite. Every once in a while she will ask to nurse in the middle of the day, but she is understanding and accepts it when I tell her there is no milk in there at those times. Her proper nursing etiquette is one reason I’ve been able to tolerate nursing this long.
With my son, who was our first child, I was eager to meet all milestones early. I couldn’t wait for him to walk, talk, eat solids, use the potty. He was a quick study, but stubborn. He taught me that it would all eventually fall into place, but it might not be on my timeline, and that was okay. As a society, we tend to be very fast paced, to rush things, and to focus on the product or the destination, rather than the process or the journey.
This time around, with Emily, I’ve taken a more relaxed approach to parenting. In some ways, I am still a huge, stressy mess, but in other ways, I’ve been able to savor a bit more of the journey. Even when it seems like it is taking forever, when I look behind me, I am always amazed at what a rapid blur it’s all been.
I’ve started talking to her about weaning, letting her know that eventually, she will be a bigger girl who won’t want to nurse.
Her reply: “No. I yittle. I do milk with mama. It taste yike stwabewee tot take. It dee best in dee whooole wold.”
It looks like for now we will continue our twice a day pattern, oblivious to the big social clock that is ticking away, and judging us on not doing things quicker.
I know for a fact she will not go to kindergarten wanting to nurse. I have confidence in this fact in the same way I am confident ALL children learn to use the potty and sleep through the night eventually. Some kids are swifter than others with their developmental milestones, and others take their sweet time, but they all get there sooner or later.
Are there any milestones you forgot to “do” with your child? When did you wean? What factors influenced your decision to wean?