Extended Nursing…

Why is nursing a child over the age of 1 so “shocking” to so many people?? I was reading another blog post on extended weaning a few weeks ago and it got me thinking about it – and about my own feelings – and changing feelings on the subject.

I nursed my son until he was nearly 4 years old. You can read about our journey here and here.

I think a lot of the ignorance around extended breastfeeding is just that – ignorance. Our culture doesn’t teach us anything about breastfeeding – not a thing! I admit that prior to having my son, I thought it was “weird” when people were breastfeeding their toddlers. I had a very good friend who nursed her twins until they were three and I thought that was “a bit much”. But at the same time, I was very lucky – even though I didn’t realize it at the time, all of these extended nursers who I thought were a bit over the top, were really good role models for me.

I had my good friend who nursed twins until they were three, and several other friends who nursed toddlers until they were two or there-abouts. So even though I initially thought they were odd, I knew it could be done. And as time went by – and I had my own son – their extended nursing seemed less “abnormal” and more “normal” to me. When my son was born, I knew I would nurse for a year. As time went on, I thought I would like to let him self-wean and I thought about nursing until he was two. I became more and more comfortable with the idea of nursing past the age of one as my son got older and older. And soon I knew that I would nurse until age two. One year came and went and there was never a time when he didn’t seem like a baby to me. There was also never a time that I felt “forced weaning” was required.

I remember when my son was 18 months old and my husband used to ask me WHEN I was going to stop nursing. He didn’t want me to stop then, he just wanted to know when it would be (as if I knew!). I always used to jokingly say “when he’s 3” because I never dreamed I would be nursing THAT LONG!

Then age three came and went and he was still going strong. To be honest, I didn’t think he would ever wean! And again, there never seemed to be a time when weaning was “necessary”. I did start employing “gentle” weaning techniques and had a strict “don’t ask, don’t offer” policy.

My son finally did self-wean just prior to his 4th birthday. I never dreamed we would nurse that long – but it also never felt like it was “too long.”

Our culture definitely sexualizes breasts – and I am very sad to say, that even now, nearly a year after my son has weaned, I feel “weird” when he grabs at my breasts and asks to nurse. Even after nursing him for so long, our culture has made me feel like this is a sexual act – when it is the furthest thing from that.

What can we do to normalize breastfeeding beyond the age of one? The best thing that we can do is to educate. Teach our children about breastfeeding. Show them animals and humans nursing. Whenever my son and I go to the zoo we talk about the animals that are nursing and he pretends that his toys nurse from their mommies. The best way to make it accepted is to make it common. So nurse in public and even if you don’t nurse in public – let people know that you are a nursing mom. Education is the key! What is so “magical” about being one anyway?

Did you nurse your child beyond the age of one? Why or why not? Have your feelings about breastfeeding changed now that you are a mom vs before you had children of your own? Who were your role models and positive influences? Please leave a comment to share your story.

18 comments to Extended Nursing…

  • Logan

    Judy- I think you must be a mind reader because you always seem to post about things that I’m thinking about!

    My daughter is 14mo and is nowhere near ready to wean. I always knew that i would “extended nurse” my children, whenever i had them. It just seemed like the most natural thing to do. In my head I’ve always thought that I’d go until at least 2yo, and then make decisions from there based on how both me and my child were feeling/reacting at the time. It never seemed odd or abnormal to me.

    Just this weekend we went to visit some close friends and meet their new baby. They were telling us about their older son’s reaction to the baby’s nursing. I asked if they thought he was jealous because he didn’t get to nurse any more. She replied no, because he probably didn’t have any memories of breast feeding since she weaned him at 15mo. But then she added, that she had to wean him then because if it went on much longer that it would be “freakish.” I was both shocked and hurt by her comment.

    Freakish? And this is from someone who (as far as Americans go) was an extended nurser herself. I wondered, if that’s what other nursing mamas think of extended nursing, what does the general public think? It made me really sad.

  • I nursed my daughter until she was about 31 months – and would have cheerfully done so longer, except I had some health issues I really needed to deal with. While I too was one of those folks who thought nursing past (pick age of choice) was “weird”, I ended up discovering a whole host of benefits for both child AND mom! Not the least of which is the strong and stable bond that I have with her… and the confidence that she has in both herself and me!

    Which leads me to a story about her weaning: I had always needed to take herbs in addition to a prescription drug to produce enough milk. (Turns out it was an undiagnosed thyroid issue, but I digress.) Since I’d decided that I’d like to wean, I slowly stopped doing all the things I had done religiously to ensure that my milk supply stayed in. I went off the herbs; I stopped being so careful about drinking lots of fluids. Finally, I stopped the prescription drug. Over the next couple of months, my supply dwindled slowly but surely. One night, she was thrashing about – even though she was latched – and I asked her if she was getting any milk. She popped off and said “No”. I said, “Well, let’s cuddle then while you fall asleep.” I sang a song I had sung almost every night while I nursed her to sleep – and that was the last time she nursed. No drama and no problems with falling asleep (despite being warned that babies who are always nursed to sleep will NEVER sleep on their own…)

    A couple of months later I was talking about her weaning with my mom. My mom didn’t nurse, so she didn’t know about weaning or anything else. I was explaining how gentle it had been – when my daughter puffed up her chest and said, “I drank it all up!” I told her, “Yes, you did!” and that was that. She felt that she’d done well; and I’d had a gentle ending to that phase of her life.

  • Taz

    My son is 2 and a half. He doesn’t want to stop nursing at the moment. In fact I am having trouble with him eating food with textures. These days, he hardly eats sold food and rather nurse. I get a little worried that he will never want to wean. I keep getting comments from my friend about giving him the breast and when I will stop. I pointed out that she has never nursed and all that she has to rely on is what she hears from other people she knew about nursing. She says that I am crazy. Most of them stopped at early ages like 6 months. My son’s dentist even suggested I stopped because he thinks it ruins his teeth. If he is not ready, what am I suppose to do starve him? And to make things worse, he is a very large two. He looks like he’s three. People make me sick sometimes.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Judy Masucci, Dinker & Giggles. Dinker & Giggles said: #bfing @MommyNews Extended Nursing… http://ht.ly/181KLk […]

  • Thank you for sharing this, Judy. You’re so right that we need to normalize nursing AT ALL, and especially nursing past age 1.

    It’s sad, but working in the church nursery has demonstrated to me just how little exposure our little girls have to nursing role models, and talking to teenage girls is downright disheartening…

  • ShanD

    Thanks for sharing. I am still bf-ing my 16mo old and feel fine w/ no need to force wean however my co-workers think I have weaned already (because of the rude comments they started to make when he turned one year, and I didn’t want to deal w/ their stress anymore) and people in my family are now giving me crap to stop. Even Dr’s tell me he is plenty old enough…why?? DS is still so attached I could never force him off, it would seem cruel.

  • I think there is more pressure to wean boys than girls, which is SO SAD. There is so much confusion over how extended nursing does (or DOESN’T) affect a child’s sexuality. I sometimes wonder if some men’s obsession with breasts comes from a feeling of early deprivation. (Not trying to get Freudian here, it’s just a passing thought.) Or maybe it’s just that we don’t let them experience the food/nurture aspect of breasts so they become overly-focused on the sexual element. I don’t know.

    I am pregnant with my second child and am waiting until the birth to find out the gender, but if it is a boy I plan to nurse him as long as he wants. I hope that by meeting his needs I will encourage him to grow up and be a support to his wife when she wants to do the same for their children.

  • That is so awesome Mommypotamus. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Congrats on your pregnancy and on your desire to let your baby-to-be self-wean.

  • @ShanD It is amazing how many people feel the need to tell you they think you should stop – it’s crazy!! I found with my son that I got a LOT of comments from people between 12 and 18 months – but after that most people stopped commenting – I figured that they just “gave up” and figured they couldn’t change me anymore. You are the only one who knows what is best for your baby – so keep doing what you are doing and ignore (or educate if you so choose) the ignorance. — Judy

  • @Taz – your son will eat real foods when he is ready. Lots of nursing toddlers get more of their nutrition from breastmilk than from food – it’s perfectly normal and happens more often than anyone realizes. Your child will know when he is ready to eat more. –Judy

  • Thanks for sharing your story @Monique! What a beautiful journey you had with your little one. — Judy

  • @Logan – I’m so sorry your friend felt that way. I know so many people who DID breastfeed and still think going beyond 1 is abnormal. My sister for-instance – always told me it was “gross” or “abnormal” that I nursed my son for so long (as a matter of fact, we just had a “discussion” about it yesterday). So many moms miss out on this beautiful extension of the relationship that they have with their children because our society is so warped when it comes to accepting breastfeeding at all. I always tell moms that they are the only ones who know what their little ones need. Don’t let anyone tell you different (or try to shame you into feeling differently). And if your Dr doesn’t support you – get a new Dr. <> — Judy

  • Alycia

    I nursed my son until he self-weaned at 34 months, and part of that time was spent tandem nursing my second child. She self-weaned (much to my distress) at around 20 months during my third pregnancy, and I am currently nursing her 7 month old younger brother. My oldest son is so very accustomed to seeing nursing babies and children (I have a great group of crunchy friends) that when he saw a woman nursing under a blanket at Target one day he thought it was hilarious. He kept staring with a big smile, laughing, and saying, “What’s that baby doing under the blanket?!” He thought it was so silly that he was eating under there. I felt so good that nursing is such an everyday activity to him that the only thing worth noting about the whole thing was the fact that the mother was so covered up while doing so!

  • That is a great story Alycia – thanks so much for sharing it!! — Judy

  • MelissaT

    This really speaks to me. I too though it was weird to breastfeed so long. My own mother even nursed me until I was two and I still thought it was weird.

    I was determined to nurse for 1 year, becuase I wanted to give him the best health possible. As time progressed. I really enjoyed nursing him. He’s 20 months now and as soon as I get home from work he asks to nurse. It’s our little way to bond after time apart.

  • That is wonderful @Melissa! Thanks so much for sharing your story. It’s fascinating how our views change once we are in the midst of it. — Judy

  • […] I have written about how it felt after it was over. I have written about extended breastfeeding and why some people don’t understand it. I have written about TV specials that highlighted moms who nursed beyond that magical age of 1. […]

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