How I Came to Nurse My Toddler

When I was pregnant with my first child, I decided I was going to nurse him. It seemed like the obvious choice. My body was going to make this lovely milk for my own species, this perfectly designed food for my baby. Of course I’d nurse him! For one year.

Because you’re only “supposed” to nurse for one year, right? Doesn’t our society tell us that? My sister nursed her kids for two years apiece and my whole family joined in saying all sorts of awful things to her–if he can ask for it, he’s too old! He’ll never stop on his own! He’s going to remember doing that and it’s going to be weird and totally messed up. He needs to be drinking cow milk.

Ugh, I cringe now remembering myself nodding along while people said these things, while my 15-month old nephew asked for some nursies and cuddled up on my sister’s lap for a few minutes to drink milk. I also remember not having much to say in response to her question of, “But why? Why shouldn’t this baby drink human milk?”

When my Miles was born, I had no idea what I was doing regarding nursing. We went to a La Leche League meeting and I remember my shock that a woman sat at the meeting nursing her two year old. Right there for the world to see! These women are those people, I remember thinking, the sort of people who just keep on nursing their children.

Which, of course they were! It was a La Leche League meeting. What did I expect? Miles and I had some nursing challenges and I kept going to the meetings and lo! I learned facts about nursing beyond one year. I learned more information about the nutritional content of breastmilk and about the World Health Organization recommendations.

I saw moms with babies that started out under a year grow to be nursing toddlers and, thus, I saw that moms don’t start out with a nursing toddler…we all start in the beginning with a nursing newborn. Gradually, they become nursing toddlers. Miles turned a year old and I decided I was going to nurse him that day. I mean, why wean him that day?

We could always wean tomorrow.

Suddenly, he was two years old. We set some boundaries–I stopped nursing him out in public at that point, but mostly because his nursing gymnastics made it harder for me to be discreet. I felt uncomfortable not with his nursing but with the majority of my breast and stomach revealed among the flapping limbs. He nursed until I was pregnant with Felix, when the milk shifted in taste and we both were finished with the nursing relationship.

Right now, I’m nursing my 16-month old and hoping he’ll never, ever grow up or wean.We were out at the spray park the other day and I ran into an old friend, one who doesn’t yet have any children. As she and I talked, Felix walked up and asked for some milk, so I nursed him as I kept on talking.

“He’s still drinking that??” my friend asked. “That has to hurt! I mean, doesn’t it hurt?”

I’m so happy I got to tell her it most certainly does not hurt to nurse, that I got to tell her just a few things I’ve memorized from the fact sheet about nursing beyond one year. But beyond this, I’m glad I got to explain that of course I didn’t begin nursing a toddler–I’m not sure I would do that. Between the face grabbing, the kicking, and the climbing around, I sure wouldn’t like starting out that way with such a wild child attached to my body parts.

He just sort of gradually became a nursing toddler, so gradually that I don’t notice unless I stop to think about it. And who has time to stop and think about it while nursing a toddler? These babies of mine change every, single day and one thing that’s been the same for them each day has been milk from mommy. It’s just right there, the thing that they eat/drink and love so much.

At the beginning, I knew nothing about nursing other than it seemed like the right choice to make. Only through actually nursing my children did I learn about all the other stuff, about how awesome it is to stare into my child’s eyes while he nurses, or about how nursing can so magically help to reset an upset toddler.

Apart from the recommendations of health organizations to keep on going with nursing, I could never find a valid reason to stop nursing. Once I sat down and thought about the things people say in response to nursing older babies (the things I myself used to say and think), I realized not one of them was true. For now, both Felix and I are very happy nursing. Until that changes, my plan is to forge on ahead! Not one day at a time, but into the unforeseen future.

This time, if people ask me when we plan to stop “doing that,” I won’t say, “Maybe tomorrow!” I’ll say instead, “Never!”

Did you wind up nursing your children longer than you initially intended? Leave us a comment to share how you got there.

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