Friday, July 29, 2011

Breastfeeding a toddler

As A's second birthday approaches, I'm well aware that I'm entering a small camp of Moms who breastfeed their toddlers. I don't know the exact statistics (unless you want to look at stats from over 10 years ago), but the number is certainly low. Out of all my friends, I know of only one or two who continue to breastfeed past two years of age.

I can remember my own opinion (before I became a Mom), that if a child can ask for milk, then they shouldn't be getting it! Ah, how silly and judgemental I was back then. This perhaps explains why I feel apologetic when I explain to people that she's still breastfeeding. It's because I feel judged - my own ignorant remarks are coming back to bite me in the bum.

Kids ask for milk all the time, but usually they're asking for milk from a jug in the fridge. And that seems to be OK with us. But asking for milk from a boobie?! What a shocker!!! I wonder how parents would feel if their child asked to suck on a cow's teat?

I like this quote from Jack Newman's Guide to Breastfeeding:

"Some mothers are told they are breastfeeding for their own gratification. I must say, this argument makes me very angry. There are few, if any, women who breastfeed just for their own gratification. This is once again taking breastfeeding as some sort of sexual activity, in a society that does not understand that the primary purpose of breasts is to nurture children."

Because really, deep down, this is all about sex, isn't it? - unless your argument is that breastfeeding past one year will lead to an overindulged/dependent child (and these are usually the people who put the same argument forth for parents who co-sleep). When I ask people why they feel breastfeeding a toddler is "wrong," they usually just give me an uncomfortable look, as if to say - but it's your BREASTS!

Sex, nurturing, love, tenderness....all of these things are connected to each other, and there's no real way to separate them. Am I breastfeeding to have a sexual experience? No! I am breastfeeding because my child enjoys it, it provides me with a stronger connection to her, we both find it relaxing and it is an expression of our love (and just because you don't breastfeed your toddler doesn't mean that you can't express your love in other ways - just don't judge me for doing it my way).

But the main reason I have kept up breastfeeding is that I find it to be so easy. I spent the first 3 months in tears because of breastfeeding - being exhausted all the time, having sore/cracked nipples, and never having time to "get away" made our breastfeeding relationship difficult. Once I hit 9 months, things had become significantly easier, and I finally started to enjoy breastfeeding. So why the heck would I want to give it up? As well, A is not showing any signs that she's ready to give it up, so I've decided to continue on until we both come to a mutual agreement.

Down the road, if I am tired of breastfeeding and want to give it up, I may find ways to gently wean A. People tell me that I need to set a "deadline." That if I don't, I may be breastfeeding a 5 year old. I strongly disagree, and even if A hangs on for longer than I hope she does, there are ways to gently encourage her to give it up. Just like we need to gently encourage our children to give up their pacifiers or thumbs.

I'll never forget this hilarious story one Mom told about her breastfeeding toddler:

"We had been trying to gently wean our 3.5 year old, but each time we suggested it, she would burst into tears. She had been nursing less and less, but still needed Mommy's boobs on occasion. One day while nursing, she stopped, looked at me and asked "Mommy makes juice?" And I said, "no honey, Mommy only makes milk." She took my hand, led me to the fridge and asked for juice! She was weaned after that day."

If you're not yet a parent, be very careful in your judgements of other breastfeeding Moms. You will never truly know what it's like until you experience it. You may be VERY happy to wean at one year, or you may be quite happy to continue on and let your child self-wean. And if you're a new breastfeeding Mom, perhaps open yourself up to the possibility of having a breastfeeding toddler. And don't worry, some day they will be going to high school, and won't be asking for "Mommies boobies."


  1. Thanks for your encouraging blog. I'm "still" breastfeeding my 15 1/2 m/o and it isn't easy to deal with others' reactions. I had the same experience as you - terrible pain & infections in the beginning and then it finally starting going better at 10 m/o. I love connecting with my little guy after coming home from daycare. Also, nursing has been a savior when nothing else soothes him when he's teething! I thought I would stop nursing when he could ask for it too, but now when he signs for milk - I think it's adorable!! I have to admit there are days when I'm tired and wishing someone else could put him to sleep, but I know it's a unique & special thing that only we can share. So, I'm planning to let him self-wean as well, as I know it's good for him nutritionally too. Oh, and you can count one more person that's nursing her toddler - my sister is tandem nursing her 1 y/o & 3 y/o!

  2. When Aylen was down at 'nannie' and 'gampa's with daddy, she looked at me while I was leaning over the arm of the couch and said, "what's that?" I was confused because I didn't see what she was looking at, she asked again "what's that?" I laughed and asked her what's what. She said, "it's boobies" I laughed out loud because she was looking at me and my v-neck t-shirt. I told her that my boobies aren't like mommy's, mine don't work. She went back to playing like no big deal and I got a kick out of it.
    ~ Mary Ellen

  3. Ian thinks instead of the rule "if you can ask for milk, you're too old to breastfeed" should be changed to: "if you can e-mail your mom to ask for milk, you're too old to breastfeed."

    For the record, I believe I was breastfed until I was two-ish.


  4. Hey Anonymous ladies...ME, that story is hilarious. And Kate, tell Ian I totally agree! lol

  5. Good on ya! I nursed my son until he was 16 months and still sad that he was weaned so early. Like you, before I was a mother I never would have imagined nursing a toddler, but now after nursing a toddler my views have completely changed.

  6. I nursed my daughter until she was 20 months. I loved every moment of it. I imagine that she would have nursed much longer, but it was very easy to wean her at that point because she was so busy and distracted that within a few days of stopping - she never asked again. What she has done ever since, though.... is she will reach in my shirt and hold a boob when she is sad or scared or tired. She is 3 now and she only does it in private - she seems to instinctively know that she shouldn't do it in front of others. I think breastfeeding for so long really kept us close and strengthened our bond. I'm now 5.5 weeks pregnant with #2 and I look forward to how the next round of breast feeding goes :)



I love comments and emails, as most bloggers do! You can reach me by clicking on my "about me" page and sending me an email, or leave me a note below a post and I'll be sure to get back to you!