Old Enough to Ask for It

It’s happened. My young baby is a toddler, with budding verbal language. He’s reached the stage where his nursing elicits comments about his being too old to nurse. You’ve heard them all before, I’m sure.  When he’s old enough to ask for it, he’s too old to nurse. He should be drinking cow’s milk. I even get, You’re going to mess him up psychologically if you keep that up much longer.

baby with tool belt

How could I wean this sweet little man? He has a tool belt and everything.

Since we use a few signs with Felix, he’s technically been “asking for” milk since he was eight months old–I even had a witness spot him clenching his little fist as he crawled toward me at the toy library one day. But now he’s starting to actually ask for milk in many different ways: pulling down my shirt, saying a word only I recognize as milk, still using the American Sign Language sign for milk (sometimes with both hands).

And I think that’s great, because I’m very happy to be able to provide this whole milk for him and also to help calm and center him as he learns to explore the world on two feet. I don’t have a reason to wean my son, and I have lots of medical and scientific evidence to support nursing to two and beyond. At my house and out with my mama friends, I feel supported and normal nursing a 14-month old.

But outside the safety of this network I’ve created? Things are less rosy.

As with many things, I forgot how uncomfortable I felt when people questioned my decision to nurse my older son beyond his first birthday. I might feel very brave on paper or inside my head when I fantasize witty retorts to comments, but in reality I often don’t know what to say or do.

When people state emphatically you need to wean him, I am often able to say, “Why? No, really, why do I need to?” And then sometimes I get to have a productive conversation about nursing.

But it’s harder when the comments are more subtle–Isn’t he a little old for that? Shouldn’t you be giving him food? When do you plan to wean him? He can’t go to school doing that.

Nursing is such a challenge in this country, not physically but mentally. Even the second time around, I sometimes felt the sting of judgement and attempted-shaming, the vulnerability of nursing or pumping in public with my wee baby. And just when I’m recovering from all of that mental tough stuff, the comments start up about my “old” child still latched to the teat.

Maybe what I should start saying to these commenters is this. My son loves nursing. It makes him happy. He gazes into my eyes, and for those moments, there is nobody on Earth apart from us, and we are connected. This makes me happy. Who would ever want to stop doing something so sweet?

Of course, I know the line of questioning and chastising that will probably follow such a speech. So instead, I’ll focus on not caring what other people say. It’s tricky, but I get better at it every day. Meanwhile, both Felix and I are very happy with our nursing relationship. Until that changes, we’re going to keep on keeping on.

So don’t let anyone try to make you feel like you’re the only one out there still nursing. There are lots and lots of mamas out there nursing happily for several years, and I’m going to make it a point to thank the next one I’m nursing beside.

Did you ever get comments about nursing your toddler or preschooler? Leave us a comment to share your favorite response.

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