Breastfeeding a Toddler: My Soapbox
by Suzannah at so much shouting, so much laughter
i had The View on in the background the other day. i wasn't following it closely, but i heard elizabeth hasslelbeck, a breastfeeding mother, relay a sentiment i hear a lot in our culture: "if they're old enough to ask for it, they're old enough to be done breastfeeding."
why are people so uncomfortable with nursing toddlers?
perhaps that's a dumb question, when breastfeeding itself makes many Americans downright phobic. we've sexualizedwomen's bodies to a degree that we barely bat an eye at near-pornographic billboards and music videos, but nursing in public (even discreetly) raises people's ire and facebook removes all photographs of nursing moms and babies, deeming them "inappropriate."
we've forgotten that the chief function of breasts is to nourish infants.
even if people accept breastfeeding as a natural, healthful thing, there is a definite cultural bias against nursing babies who are "too old." why do people cast this judgment so readily? certainly, everyone is entitled to her personal preference, but that's just it--decisions about breastfeeding and weaning are personal, and what's right can vary from mother to mother or child to child. prescriptive blanket statements about when breastfeeding should end are unhelpful and unnecessary.
there are at least two schools of thought in ending a breastfeeding relationship: mother-led weaning and child-led weaning. a mother may want to wean in order to return to work or simply because it's been long enough. the idea that "if a baby is old enough to ask for it, she's too old to be breastfed" comes from a mother-led weaning approach, and for many women, that sentiment may be true.
but for others, breastfeeding a toddler, (even one old enough to say or sign "milk"), remains a satisfying experience and one that they may not want to end. breastfeeding is about nutrition, but it is also about comfort and nurturing, and some mothers wish to nurse until the child initiates weaning. my goal was to nurse dylan one year (the time recommended by doctors and the point at which a baby can tolerate cow's milk.) after that, we'd play it by ear.
dylan and i have recently stopped nursing, at twenty months. if i hadn't been pregnant, we probably would have nursed longer. as my milk supply decreased, we dropped feedings until i was only nursing her at bedtime. as my pregnancy progressed and i became more uncomfortable,jim and i took turns putting her to bed, and dylan wouldn't nurse when he put her down. then she would only nurse sometimes when i put her down, and now (i think), we are done.
ending our nursing relationship was gradual and it happened over the course of several months. it wasn't strictly mother-led or child-led, and it felt like a natural progression. at first, it was really hard when jim would put her to bed if i were home, because i enjoyed nursing dylan. it got easier, and i'm glad to be done nursing dylan a few months before james comes, so that dylan doesn't feel like her position is being usurped.
this is all likely more than some may care to hear, but i wanted to share my positive perspective on nursing a toddler as well as our approach to weaning. not every child who is "old enough to ask" is "too old" to breastfeed, and moms shouldn't feel pressured to wean if they and their children are still happily nursing. moms put enough pressure on themselves (and one another.)
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