A walking and talking nursling

I can well remember the first time I saw a toddler breastfeeding.  It was at a La Leche League meeting, and the child must have been about 2 years old.  I remember feeling surprised and curious.  I had no idea that anyone would breastfeed a child of this age.  Why would anyone want to?  After playing a pushing game with another child where he was the most recent recipient of a shove, the little boy came and sat on his mother’s lap, lifted her top then turned to look at me as he latched on.  I recall that one-eyed stare, and my own feelings of surprise as I watched.  The mother seemed so relaxed, as though this was normal!

Many years later I understand that it is normal.

I don’t think I have ever met a mother of a newborn who woke up one day and decided that she would breastfeed her baby til he turned three, or four, or whatever age.  When I was breastfeeding my first baby many people asked, “How long do you plan to breastfeed her?”  I hadn’t thought about it.  After climbing the Everest of so many breastfeeding struggles I wasn’t about to stop now that we had found a calm, happy nursing relationship.  Weeks turned into months and soon I found that my baby was nearing her first birthday with no evident intention of weaning!
Swiss Mother and Child on the Beach at Long Key State Park Family Is on a Tour of the United States, Camping Along the Way.


And this is how toddler nursing happens– it just happens.  Babies turn into toddlers and neither the mother nor the baby sees the need to wean.  In fact, nursing becomes even more important as a mothering tool.  Tantrums, two-year-old molars, boo-boos and owies… all can be magically calmed through nursing.  Another pregnancy, the arrival of a sibling, mama returning to work… breastfeeding through these changes becomes a rock for a toddler to cling to.  A mobile toddler comes into contact with germ after germ, and his mother’s milk continues to play an important role in supporting his immunity.  As the amount of milk a baby drinks reduces, the immunity-boosting qualities of her milk actually become more potent.  And let’s  not forget that many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are dose related, i.e.,  related to the duration of nursing.

Many mothers find that as their babies grow older they are ‘nursing in the closet,’ that is, trying to keep their breastfeeding relationship a secret from others, both strangers and family members.  It can be a tremendous support to know even one other mother who is nursing a toddler.  It is a different experience from nursing a young baby, with its own joys and challenges.  There are some brilliant resources out there for mothers curious about toddler nursing.  Have a look at La Leche League International’s help pages about toddler nursing, here and here, where there is an excellent selection of articles.  If there is no LLL group near you, it can help to talk to a local LLL Leader.  Whatever you do, know that breastfeeding a toddler is normal and yes, weaning will come.  More about that in another post….

Lisa Hassan Scott

About Lisa Hassan Scott

Lisa Hassan Scott is a stay at home mother of three little ones, age 2, 6 and 9. An American living in Great Britain for over 15 years, Lisa is a Yoga teacher certified by the British Wheel of Yoga, and a La Leche League Leader. She blogs about mothering, breastfeeding, Yoga and the mind at http://www.lisahassanscott.co.uk. Follow her on Twitter: @lisahassanscott

14 thoughts on “A walking and talking nursling”

  1. Great post! My 17 month old only recently started to really eat any amount of table food, normal enough in human natural progression from baby to little boy- but so vastly different from the american societal view of how thing should be. I’ve had nurses (nurses!) be outraged I wasnt pushing foods more (mind you this is a little boy whose mom and brother have dairy alergy and celiac disease, why push foods and risk more food allergies developing in a system obviously not ready for table food?). My oldest did the same thing, almost exact same time line started really eating table food around a year and a half, obviously this the natural way of development for them. I highly doubt my little guy wants to stop nursing anytime soon either 😉

  2. It is such an interesting topic….like the author, I had no idea how long I planned to nurse. It just happened. I ended up weaning on my daughter’s 3rd birthday – an emotional day for us both, however, it was the right time for us. Until one is in the situation, no one should judge parenting choices of another. I did get strange looks from people, and comments from my family, but I would do it all over again. I know I was somewhat hoping that she would self wean, as some children do, but she never did. When she turned 2 1/2, I began talking with her about when it was her 3rd birthday, that she would no longer have milk from mommy. (still hoping she would self wean before that day) At that point, it was so easy and so not inconvenient to be nursing, it was only at bedtime and upon waking. In any case, I prepared her for the day and the morning of her birthday was our last time. Once she weaned, she did begin to catch colds much more often.

  3. I, too, wasn’t sure how long I was going to breastfeed. She ended up self-weaning a month before her third birthday. I never thought I’d breastfeed that long; but, I was very glad I did.

    She never had an ear infection and didn’t catch colds. Her first cold was a few months after she weaned.

  4. What a wonderful article. I just loved the warmth and comfort of nursing my baby until she was a few days shy of three.

  5. I adore my nursing relationship with my 12.5 month old. I’m also asked frequently when I plan to wean him, to which I always respond, “When he’s ready.”

    I seem to be a unicorn, though, because no one I know IRL breastfed. (at least not past a couple weeks, and most supplemented. Not passing judgement, just a fact:). )

  6. I love this quote “one-eyed stare” – what a great image! My daughter will be 2 in March and I’m definitely nursing in the closet now (thru the night)! This is the age that I weaned my son (when I was pregnant with my daughter and it was too painful for me to continue) and I am starting to consider weaning again. I wish more people knew about the benefits of nursing beyond 1 year – I never thought I would actually want to continue nursing. It’s going to be hard for both of us to stop!

  7. Thanks for this great piece of wisdom.

    I am 27 weeks pregnant an nursing my 19 month old. I have some friends that think I am crazy but we are just doing what works for our family. It would be great to see another pregnant mom or a toddler mom nursing in public. Here in Texas I am not holding my breath.

  8. Cat- my son was 19 months old and still nursing, when I gave birth to my 2nd son, I tandum nursed them for 3 months (my oldest was 22 months old when he weaned himself very easily). Nursing two is do-able and I find it almost spiritual- like. I hope you can find the strength to keep going!

  9. We had my daughter’s “no more nursing party” just shy of her fourth birthday. She still remembers it wistfully 5 years later. I’m nursing my 4-month old baby as I type and hope she’ll also nurse for several years. The nursing relationship is an exquisite gift.

  10. If your child can pick up a cell phone and send you a text message requesting to be breastfed, maybe he’s getting too old.

  11. I am about 6 weeks pregnant, and still nursing my 17-month old. I plan to tandem nurse if I have to and I have no plans as to when to wean him. I’m sure it will happen when he’s ready.

  12. I just weaned my son, and he is over 2 years old. I had so much trouble establishing pain-free nursing and I was reluctant to wean him. Under much pressure from family and my husband I tried to wean him at a year, just to create more issues (mastitis) for myself and my child. Once i decided to just be at peace with it, I loved it!!! I decided when it was enough and I do still miss nursing my son but it was my decision to wean him and we are both ok with it:)

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