Ooops. I Forgot To Wean My Child

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The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

The international logo for nursing a toddler. . .

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.”

Sigh.

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?  

9 responses »

  1. Evelyn, at nearly 21 months, is still very much a boobie girl. She would nurse all day long if I let her. I do wonder if/when she will ever be ready to quit. I so very much want her to choose to wean on her own, but I feel like at some point she’s going to need some prodding from me to stop.

    My good friend is a Kindergarten teacher, and one of her students this year nurses every morning before class. The mom does it out on the playground, which is the only reason why my friend knew this. Of course, kindergarten here in Canada starts at age 4, so this one wasn’t couch-sized. Yet.

    • LOL, couch sized. . . I think it is cool when any parent has the tits to nurse a toddler in public. My daughter only wants at morning and at night, so it has never been an issue for me nursing a toddler in public. As outspoken as I am about it, I don’t know if I would feel comfortable doing it. Hope your little one is feeling so much better!

  2. I totally relate to your comments about wanting your first child to reach milestones more quickly, and then being more leisurely with your second child. That’s exactly how I was. Unfortunately, my second child was ready to wean before she was a year old. I’m not sure how long I would have wanted her to nurse, but I was sad she was ready to move on before I was. Funny thing is, in every other way she has been more attached, more snuggly, and more of a homebody than her older sister.

    I really enjoyed this post. Your writing style is delightful.

    • Thank you so much, Kelly. That last bit is a really wonderful compliment, and made my day. Thanks for the insight, and for stopping by. It is always awesome to hear from you!

  3. Oh I miss nursing. It’s been over a year and a half since my littlest weaned. I nursed my first until a few weeks before his 2nd birthday. He had been once a day forever and then we went on a 2 week trip to Europe and he barely nursed while we were there. When we got home I thought I’d see what he’d do if I said no and he sort of frowned and then didn’t care at all so we were done. With my little one, it was the day before he was 20 months. He had weaned down to once a day about a month before that and then he kept complaining that it was “empty.” It was not. I checked. He just didn’t want it anymore. So we were done. I liked the toddler nursing. It was easy and cozy and nice. My oldest used to say it tasted like strawberries too! That and popsicles. Enjoy it! She will be done one day.

  4. Great post! My nursing years were the best. I nursed for a total of about six and a half years and with each baby, I went longer. I think people have the idea that nursing an older baby means you’re just sitting there all day nursing! But toddlers are very busy people. For me, towards the end, it was just a little in the morning and a little at night. I miss those years. Such happy times!

    • They are busy! I love that she still loves to be close to me even for a few moments each day. Cant believe she is almost three and cherishing every moment… Thanks for popping by! Its always great to hear from you.

  5. When I saw the title of your post in my mail box I began to smile, because, guess what, I was nursing my 26 months-old daughter back from the daycare! The other day at work, my boss criticized a colleague of mine who “was still nursing her 4 month old baby that’s slavery”. I smiled gracefully and said (proud moment of affirmation here): “it is different for every one of us. Do you know that I still nurse Louise?” Blank stare. “She is what???” 2 years old. “ok, so you’re the organic hippie of the department. let’s go back to that file…”.
    My daughter is a very busy toddler, but she still nurses a lot, especially now with night terrors and colds. It depends on the days, the weather, but she is happy and confident and independent… So well, I missed this milestone along with letting her falling asleep on her own: she does it when I am away or at daycare but when I am here, well, she prefers the real stuff! I don’t know how long it will continue, but as long as it is okay for the 3 of us (my husband, her and me) why would we stop???
    Lots of love from the other side of the Atlantic!!!!

  6. Pingback: When Breastfeeding IS All About Me | momaste

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