Monday, March 19, 2012

Nursing my toddler

Back when Ollie was just a little little, I had a minor run-in with an acquaintance with some pretty strong opinions about breast feeding older infants and toddlers (and just breast feeding in general). Everything about the experience was totally offensive for me, as a firm believer in supporting breast feeding mothers, but I was also a new mum, so even as I asserted my desire to continue to breast feed my son until he was two I wasn't 100% certain that was something I'd stick with. And I haven't been absolutely certain of that at any point in my breast feeding relationship with Oliver, but  I am certain that today, as the mum of a 25 month old, I am still breast feeding my toddler.

I never had a plan for weaning, I always figured that since breast feeding came so naturally for me and Ollie, weaning would too. I thought it might happen as he got running around and wanted to spend less time in my arms, but it didn't. I thought it might happen as he got more independent during the day and went to daycare or spent time with a nanny, but it didn't. I thought maybe after our first overnight apart it might happen, but nope. And I thought it might happen once I was pregnant with a second baby and the milk started to change, but it still didn't.

Sometimes I thought that I wanted it to happen. Most of the time, I'm really happy with nursing my son, but there are lots of challenges too.

Since I've been pregnant, my breasts are a little more sensitive and combining that with an active toddler's acrobatic nursing style can be trying. I no longer enjoy lingering in bed in the morning for marathon breakfast nursing with a bursting bladder, nor am I as willing or able to pause my meals to provide milk for my son when there are plenty of other ways he can get nutrients. And where everyone (with that one, previously mentioned exception) was very supportive of my nursing Oliver when he was younger (under 18 months), I now find that many people in my circle have more skeptical questions and opinions about extending that bond. Even Chris has his doubts - mostly expressed with concern that perhaps nursing a toddler while growing a baby is overly physically taxing (my reading suggests that isn't the case).

According to the excellent breast feeding resource, most children who are allowed to self-wean do so between 24 and 48 months. Using that information, we're likely somewhere near the tail end of nursing now (although many children regress when they have a sibling come along who is nursing constantly), and I'm OK with that. I'm not planning to try and make weaning happen, but I am trying to set some firmer boundaries around when Ollie is allowed to nurse, to try and limit any frustration I feel over being held in place by a two year old milk monster.

Even though there are things I find difficult about nursing a toddler, there are a lot of up sides too. For one thing, toddlers just ARE frustrating, but having the option to offer milk and a cuddle is one really handy tool in the face of meltdowns and temper tantrums. It might make people uncomfortable to see a two year old nursing in public, but it makes them much more uncomfortable to be stuck sitting next to a two year old having a complete, endless freak out in public. There is nothing more effective in the face of overwhelming toddler emotions of any kind, for Ollie, than nursing.

Of course, there are actual, physical benefits to nursing a child beyond infancy, as well as for the nursing mother, but for me, more than anything, knowing that I'm a physical, safe space for Oliver to come back to when he needs comfort or rest is worth any occasional discomfort or awkwardness.

Once my attention is divided between Oliver and our new little one, my feelings on that might change. I've been doing a lot of reading about tandem breast feeding and having somewhat mixed feelings about it, but as with my approach to weaning so far I think I'll probably opt to wait and see how the whole thing feels. I've found some other mums online who I feel a connection with who are breast feeding toddlers, but in my real life I don't know a single one and I definitely don't know anyone who's attempted tandem nursing, so it is all foreign territory for me.

There are so many emotions and fears mixed up in having a second child and so many challenges for a toddler adjusting to life as a big brother that I really hope nursing continues to be a comforting way for Ollie and I to connect, for as long as he needs it to be. And although I could worry about what people will think about me nursing two children I prefer to just assume that they are all as ignorant as our dinner guest was. Because even though she knew her own mind on the subject, she had no idea how special and important nursing Oliver is to me, and that's the only thing that matters.


  1. Love the post. I'm totally with you: do what feels right to you. And you can add me to the list of moms who are (proudly) nursing a toddler in a week!

  2. Have you been reading my mind? Because I've totally been sending "I wish Meg would blog about breastfeeding while pregnant" vibes to you. Seriously, thanks for sharing this. Like you, I have lots of IRL friends who are supportive of breastfeeding and nursed their children until 12-18 months, but none that are nursing a child Kale's age. I've always said that my goal is to make it until he is 2, but now I regret saying that because I think some (mostly my mother and mother-in-law) interpret that as an end goal and think that I'll wean. I've long since given up on making plans around breastfeeding and when I might want to stop. Breastfeeding has become one of the few things that feels really natural to me about parenting and like you, plan to do what feels right and respond accordingly. As Kris and I talk more and more about adding to our family, I've started to think about whether tandem breastfeeding would be something I'd embrace. I'm not sure it's for me, but then again, I don't think I can say one way or another until I'm faced with the situation. There are days, of course, that I'm at my wits end with the gymnurstics and the demands for "ba-boos!", but for the most part, love the bond it's created and enjoy those few peaceful moments in the day that it's created for us.


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