When Breastfeeding IS All About Me

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Many of you who have been blogging with me for a while now know I have continued breastfeeding my daughter, Emily, who is now three and a half.

Yes. You heard me right. I’m nursing a toddler who is really now more of a preschooler.

I always thought she would self wean around age two, like her older brother did. But two years came and went and we were still nursing quite a bit. Three years passed and she had gotten down to two nursing sessions per day– once first thing in the morning and then right before bed.

To be honest with you, I don’t mind it. To be really honest with you, I love it.

I love the stillness and connection we share during those times, which is really only a few minutes now, before she is off and running or sound asleep. I love knowing her diet is being supplemented with the best stuff nature can offer. I love that it continues to reduce my risks of feminine cancers. I love that we are continuing to share a biological connection, that I continue to nourish her as I did when she was floating inside me.  I love the way she strokes my face and looks at me with total contentment.

Don’t get me wrong–  I have been talking with her about weaning for the better part of a year, but it has been a laid back conversation between us. For example, one night we had this conversation:

“Someday, Em, you won’t need milk-kee-kees,” I said, using her special code word for booby time. “You can have milk in a cup. And you can have milk from a cow, or milk from a goat, or even milk from a coconut!”

“I sink I will have milk fwom a cow,” she said decisively and then paused to think.  I could see the wheels turning.

“What are you thinking, Emily?”

She started to laugh, “I sinkin’ about a cow dwinkin’ milk fwom a cow in a cup!”  We both cracked up over that one and then she decided she wanted her nighttime nursies so I whipped out the boob.

I never planned to be nursing this long, and I keep thinking she will wean any time now, and it will be okay.  I don’t offer her my breast any more, but I don’t refuse it if she asks, either.  She has very nice nursing manners, and she doesn’t bite.  We also had such a hard time nursing in the beginning, that I feel it is our karma to be enjoying a wonderful companionship at the breast now.

It is a nursing relationship that works for us.

For a lot of people, weaning happens naturally at a year or two.  Other women have to wean prematurely due to complications, health issues, or separations from their babies.  Then there are women like me who chose to allow the child to self wean when they are ready.  Whatever the reason, weaning is a personal choice and process that happens between mother and baby.   There should be no judgement or hard and fast rules about how a mom goes about weaning her child.

A lot of people don’t really understand “full-term” nursing.  I think part of this misunderstanding is do to lack of education on breastfeeding in general, and also to lack of exposure.  Many women who do nurse past a year, or gasp! two years, are criticized by friends and family.  I’ve heard moms say even their pediatricians have been critical and negative about nursing an older baby.  So, many women are not open about it when the breastfeed past the times that society thinks is “acceptable.”

Another stumbling block is the overtly sexual connotations breasts have in our highly sexualized culture.  Many find it weird, kinky, or disgusting if a mom choses to nurse past infancy.  This view, IMHO, is totally unfortunate.

Still others believe a child will become clingy, dependent, and socially ostracized if they breastfeed longer than a year.  This is usually not the case.  In fact, there are studies that have shown children who nurse longer are actually more independent, confident, and do just fine socially.  I can tell you for a fact this is the case with my super-strong-willed daughter.

Finally, there is the camp that states it is “all about the mother” when a woman and child nurse into toddlerhood, that it is satisfying some bizarre need the mother has to infantilize their child.  While I can see how this assumption might seem logical, I don’t think it is necessarily the truth.  A child has to be willing to nurse; it isn’t something that can be forced.  Nursing is a relationship.  It takes two to tango.

This doesn’t mean a woman won’t have pangs of mixed emotions when her child weans.  Some women are thrilled to “get their body back.”  Other women feel a sense of loss and sorrow.

For example, I submit the following for your consideration:

Tonight, for the first time ever, Emily responded to my offer to have milk in a cup instead of milk-kee-kees by choosing the cup.  I’ve been offering her this choice for months, and she never once has taken me up on it.  I was surprised when I poured out her milk, but there was a part of me that figured she would still ask for nursing once we got into her room for bedtime.

She didn’t.

And that kind of shocked me.

And it hurt.

I sat down in the rocking chair that I always sit in to nurse her, and then stay in as she falls off to sleep.  She started to climb into her bed and then she came over and hugged me, said goodnight, and covered my face with kisses.

Is this really happening?  I asked myself.  I hugged on her for an extra moment, in a state disbelief, certain she would change her mind and climb up into my lap.

She didn’t.

And then I realized I was feeling a little clingy and uncomfortable, so I let her trot off to her bed.  I knew if I offered, she would climb up on my lap and tuck in, but I also knew if I did that it would be satisfying my own need to be her mom, as opposed to her need to assert herself.

I figured I had to let her go, so as not to give her mixed messages about her ability to wean when she is ready.  Because to give her mixed messages like that would be unfair and confusing for both of us.

None of this means she won’t want to nurse tomorrow first thing in the morning, or be off the boob wagon by tomorrow night, and that’s okay.  But it does kind of make me feel we are a step closer to that weaning stop on our journey.

It took her longer than usual to fall asleep, and I sat there in the rocking chair with my feeling of sadness because three and a half years may seem like a really long time to you, but it has gone by in the blink of an eye, and change is hard.  I feel so blessed that ultimately this has been a wonderful experience, and I have given her a really positive view of breastfeeding that I pray she will carry with her throughout life.

Hopefully, as my daughter and I grow, both as individuals, and together in our relationship, we will find new and wonderful ways to feel connected and safe and special with one another.

What was weaning like for you?  

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14 responses »

  1. At 27 months, Evelyn is still nursing, and she does it a LOT. I have a feeling we may reach the 3 1/2 years old and still nursing milestone, too. Some days I am SO over it. And other days, I love it. I told myself I would let her wean in her own good time. But I have to admit: I get embarrassed now when people ask me if she’s weaned. I don’t bring nursing up in conversation any more for fear of judgement. I wish I wasn’t so insecure about it.

  2. Oh, mama. My 19 month old is nursing but we are slowly cutting back. Every step toward weaning, I turn into an emotional mess
    Hugs to you. And yes!! When people say, “it isn’t about the baby at that point. .it is about the mother” I always want to say, “So what!” What is so awful about a mother doing something for herself?!

  3. Lovely, lovely post. Takes me back to nursing my second daughter, wishing that she hadn’t self-weaned at 8 or 9 months. So long ago – now we’re planning her graduation party. Enjoy these tender moments. It sounds like you are giving her the grace she needs. Good for you!

  4. For the first time in my stint as a mom, a pediatrician told me today to let my baby wean himself when he was ready, and not to aim for a date or age. Wild that a medical professional would say anything else, right? It bothers me that social pressure for breastfeeding, something no one but the mom and baby should have a say in, exists at all, but it affects even those of us with the best intentions sometimes. Anyway… It’s the passing of a stage for you, slowly, but it’s OK to relish this time with her. Good for you. And her!

  5. With my first, I started weaning at 15 months. Then panicked! I tried to get him back, but it was too late. I was confusingly happy and sad about that. We had a tough start to it as well. It is such a wonderfully bittersweet time. To get “your body back” but loose that connection. So indicative of the forever push/pull of childhood reliance/independence. *hugs*

  6. My little one is still nursing at 28 months and seems to have no intention to cut back for the moment when we are at home. While traveling though she doesn’t nurse so often during the day anymore but catch up at nights. The first time she said “no nursing, eating” when i offered to nurse before getting off the car I was as well proud than devastated of course!
    I had a question about school: are the teachers aware that your daughter is still nursing? If yes, how do they react? My little one will attend preschool from September on and I worry a little about how to handle things so she isn’t not laugh at and/or lead to wean for the bad reasons.
    Lots of love!
    xoxoxo

  7. Thank you so much for this post. I have two toddlers. My first son was weaned at 3 years old. I had started preparing him as soon as I got pregnant with his brother so it wasn’t a shock. We had a huge third birthday party and declared he was now a little boy and not a baby who needed mommy moos. He was really good about it. His brother is now turning three and I have been talking to him about weaning too. He is down to only nursing before bed and sometimes during the night. Nothing during the day. He has fallen asleep without his mommy moo, but he still wants to nurse. Since I am not pregnant now, I may let him nurse longer. Still praying on it though. I have mixed emotions about the day he stops. It is a whole different world once the child is no longer connected on that level. Not sure I am ready for the change yet I do think about it at times. Thanks again. This is really poignant for me right now. Blessings!

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