Extended Breastfeeding: From the Mouth of the (Not-So) Babe

This is my daughter Echo some time last year. She was three and still nursing quite a bit. I was struggling with it all and so took a moment to ask her about her thoughts on nursing.

After making the video my compassion for this little being grew. I no longer saw her as an adversary in the nursing struggle, I saw her as someone that loves me so and doesn’t want to squander a single moment of shared affection. My emotional renewal on the topic allowed me to lovingly nurse her another eight months when she self-weaned.

I thought that was the end of the story. I am surprised that ten months later the subject still comes up. When Echo weaned it wasn’t exactly a conscious decision on her part. She was only nursing for a few minutes each night as she fell asleep but then for a few nights in a row she became distracted by stories and singing and it didn’t occur to her to nurse. Eventually the milk ran out and when she thought to ask to nurse again it was no longer an option. I felt pretty good about the process as it was natural and without upset, but apparently it’s still on Echo’s mind. On New Year’s she made a wish. Without a moments hesitation she wished she could nurse again.

We got the video camera out to talk about it.

Once more I felt a well of compassion rise in me when I watched this. I hold Echo a lot but I have to admit that I put her down pretty quickly, either setting her on the counter or drawing her attention to something else so that I can release her. I tell myself that it’s hard to hold her because she’s so big now, and it is, but I also tell myself made-up stories about how an almost five year-old should walk on her own, or that if I hold her and cradle her she will never want me to put her down and I will be trapped and unable to “get anything done”. These stories leave me frustrated, as “shoulds” always do, and also insensitive to her desires for closeness. My response is sometimes begrudging and cold, not cradle-y and warm.

And whenever we ignore our children’s needs, in this case connection with a parent, they don’t disappear, they pop up again. The more I turn Echo down or distract her, the more her need finds ways to bob to the surface elsewhere – whining, or extreme snuggling in bed where I can barely move, or fatigue, or discontent. If I were to meet her need by purposeful holding I might just be able to avoid all of the other manifestations of that need, all of which are just as irritating and prohibitive if not more so.

In any case, when she asks me to hold her now I do, and I make sure to be present and gracious in my giving of myself. My perspective of her has shifted to one that feels so much better. And all because I asked. I love that.

My girl.

Natalie Christensen

About Natalie Christensen

Natalie Christensen is a mother, artist, and writer living in Missoula, Montana. She is co-creator and illustrator of the innovative line of emotional-educational tools called Feeleez. She writes about her empathy-based parenting ideas, struggles, and triumphs at www.talkfeeleez.typepad.com. Natalie also helps other mamas and papas find new perspectives and ideas about their lives and parenting through phone consults.


23 thoughts on “Extended Breastfeeding: From the Mouth of the (Not-So) Babe”

  1. This just was the sweetest! Being an adoptive mom I have to say this was the one thing I feel like I missed out on with my daughters. I think breastfeeding your baby brings immeasurable closeness and I can’t understand why anybody would choose not to if they could.

  2. Very sweet! I love this article and the videos!! Our kids are definitely the best experts to listen to when it comes to parenting!

  3. Love this. Read it as I nursed my 2.5 yr old in her sleep. There’s that in-between time when a “toddler” isn’t quite a “big girl” and holds on to a lot of the needs of a baby and it’s wOnderful to be attentive to that and fulfill their needs, even if others deem them “babyish”

  4. I asked my 3 year old why she likes Mommy Milk and she told me that it was yummy and makes her feel better and feels like warm! I can’t blame her for wanting something that packs this much of a punch, if I could find a magic elixir that cured all my aches and pains, tastes good and warms me up on a cold day, not to mention is nutritious, strengthens immunity, is good for your teeth, etc etc ….. I would pay big bucks for it and here she has it in me!!!

  5. This story has made a huge impact on me and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to read it on your blog a while back. Congrats on sharing this on Mothering.com!! That’s FABULOUS!! With Mazie’s severe food allergies, we are still going strong with nursing at 14 months, to make sure Mazie is getting all the best from the breast as long as possible until we have a wide range of healthy varieties of foods for my girl. Your shared story has allowed me to be open to Mazie’s needs with nursing, both nutritionally, physiologically and emotionally as long as she needs. Its good to know I have the support of other women like you with this choice to support my girls needs. Thanks always for your stories Natalie 😉

  6. This is a beautiful story, thank you for sharing! My six year old son remembers breastfeeding fondly, I am so grateful that I nursed him long enough to have memories of it. My youngest is still nursing and I see no end in sight….and that is okay :)

  7. My original goal as a new mommy was just to make it through the first year without using formula. Once we made it to that goal, I stopped pumping at work but there seemed to be no need to stop nursing, and my little one just seemed to truly love it.

    That child, now 5.5 years old could still tell you now all about how much she loved nursing even though her last time was a few months past her 4th birthday. I kept waiting for her to self-wean and it was obvious that the day was not coming. I had been tandem nursing her with her new sister for over three months and the experience was too much for me to take; I was “touched out” too often for my own comfort. I set a date of Christmas Eve and told her often in the weeks coming up to that date how many days of “nummas” she had left.

    My younger daughter is now 19 months and still too little to express in words how important “milkies” are to her, but I know she is the same way. There just seems to be something about that connection between a nursling and the mama that seems difficult to replicate in other ways. I hope this beautifully written post will get many mamas thinking about the emotional side of nursing and consider continuing longer than they expected if it seems important to their child.

  8. My 8 year old daughter and I watched this together. My heart was just so raw, watching this precious little being talk about nursing. I know what she is trying to say, even though she is too young to be more comprehensive.

    I thought I’d just follow my child’s lead, with regard to nursing. I assumed we’d nurse for a couple of years, or maybe even to 3.

    My little one had other ideas.

    She treasured nursing….the closeness, the taste, the warmth, the Mama time..all of it. She asked pretty often, even as a toddler.

    I found myself avoiding sitting down, or reading a book, or holding her, if I didn’t feel like nursing. But, nurse I did, even at night.

    She was deeply grateful, and when she’d look into my eyes, sigh and relax, I knew I was giving her just what she needed.

    So, we passed 2, then 3, then 4, and no end in sight. The mere mention of weaning made her react as if I’d said, “Now that you are 4, I can’t hug you anymore”. She equated it so much with love.

    I gently tried to substitute. We talked about it. I gave all of my attention and remained physical and loving, and still she begged for “nursies”.

    She sang about nursies…talked about them…and most of all, treasured them.

    People gave me grief, I worried a bit, but in the end, I looked into her eyes and nursed her. It meant too much to just stop because she was some arbitrary age that was “too old”.

    I also got a surprising amount of support, from the most unlikely places.

    She turned 5. Things slowed down, but, from time to time she would ask. I usually said yes, but not always.

    By 6, she was done, but on her 6th birthday, she asked. I figured it would be the last time, and although I felt strange, in a way, and it hurt at this point, I said yes. We snuggled in our big family bed and I held my beloved big girl, and she gratefully tried one last time.

    She remembers nursing well and we talk about it sometimes. She remembers how it tasted sweet and yummy, but, more than that, she talks about the warmth and the softness, and the comfort and safety of my arms.

    I’m glad I hung in there for her. It was important. I can see that the trust and affection between us was fostered in the many hours I spent giving her what she loved most in the world..her nursies.

    They soothed hurts, got us through many illnesses, and gave her a deep seated sense of rightness.

    Now she is a big kid, confidently riding horses, swimming, doing ballet and gymnastics, navigating the challenges of childhood.

    And, still, she craves to crawl into my bed every morning and snuggle. Some things never change..

    Give your little ones all of yourself. No matter how hard you focus on them, they’ll grow up and slip away faster than you can imagine. Don’t waste your time being conflicted about being a connected parent. Follow your heart and your child. You will never regret it.

    Long days…short years… Treasure them. <3

  9. Thanks so much for sharing this beautiful story. It really helps to understand what our children are getting out of it. My 3yr old loves nursing and when I asked her why she said it’s juicy and her favourite thing. How can I take that away from her – I can’t and won’t until she’s ready.

  10. Thank you so much for this beautiful post, and all the comments too. I have a almost 4 year old who nurses daily, while I am comfortable with that (I myself nursed till I was 5) I do feel weird sometimes thinking I’m the only one who does this. You have a beautiful and grounded daughter, thank you again for your words.

  11. Thankyou!!!

    My daughter was just 2 when she weaned – I think due to drop in my milk supply as I was 9wks pregnant with her brother – although she was already very verbal we didn’t talk about it very much, it was just such a part of our normal day, but I know that she loved nursing very much, and I bet once she’d stopped she missed that special one-to-one time that we always made time for when I was still feeding her.

    2 years on I still try to find time to give her my undivided attention, but I doubt it is the same quality/quantity as when we were nursing.

    She can’t really remember it, but knows that I fed her like I’m still feeding her 18mth old brother now.

    I hope that my little boy will be able to wean when he’s ready, and will try to remember your sweet daughter’s words and feelings about feeding when I’m not feeling quite so positive about the demands of feeding a wriggly little boy!!

  12. I nursed our first-born until sometime in his year of being three he popped off one morning and said, “Actually Mummy, I’d like cornflakes!” Our second son nursed even longer but I think that was because he enjoyed nursing at the same time as his little sister who came along two and half years later. They had one side each and nursing was a time of real closeness for we three. I never really asked them what they cherished about it – and I am so glad that you did. It was a delight to listen to, thank you.

  13. I appreciate your honestly of your inner struggles when it comes to breastfeeding a “big kid”, as well as your sensitivity to your daughter countered by concerns for her development and independence.

    I am still nursing my big boy – older than your daughter. He is independent, unafraid of spending time away from me, and a very athletic “boy’s boy”.

    Extended breastfeeding is a wonderful thing that doesn’t last forever.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and all the best!

    Christine

    http://www.loving-attachment-parenting.com/breastfeeding-toddler.html

  14. Hi Christine,
    Thanks so much for your comment. All the best to you and your “big boy” too. So sweet :)
    Natalie

  15. I love that cornflake line! And what a sweet experience for your two younger kids to be able to share nursing. That’s a pretty unique bond for you three. Not to mention probably really cute. Thanks for your comment.
    Natalie

  16. Becki, yes all that wiggling! Toddler nursing really is quite different from newborn nursing. Glad you enjoyed the videos.
    Best, Natalie

  17. I love this. “…a deep seated sense of rightness.” So beautiful. Thanks for this story. I’m so glad your daughter (and you) got what you needed.

  18. I hope so too. Nursing is about soooooooooo much more than food. Thanks for sharing your story.

  19. Yes, my goal was definitely to have nursing end with the same spirit that we had been enjoying it. I didn’t want to suddenly rear up as a scary monster and reverse all the good feelings we had fostered thus far. Thanks for your comment!

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