As I sit at my computer typing this, a little one is sprawled across my lap nursing. I look down at her and she grins, as if she knows this is not the most convenient time or the most comfortable position in which to type… but also, she knows I don’t mind.
This “little one” I’m talking about is almost 2 years old. Her feet are slowly swaying out to my side, as she barely fits across my lap anymore. And she proudly announces, “Other side!” as she sits up and situates her body to lay the other direction.
Before I had a baby, I always envisioned breastfeeding — but not breastfeeding toddlers. I remember actually saying, “I would not nurse a child old enough to ask for milk.” I’m not sure why I said it. I think in some circles coming across as stern and unemotional about some aspects of motherhood gives the impression that you will ensure your children will be well-disciplined and unspoiled.
That statement was really made in ignorance. I knew very little about breastfeeding. Even from an academic standpoint, there was so much to learn about what breastmilk and the process of nursing actually provide to both mother and baby.
When I was pregnant the first time, my husband and I took a breastfeeding class. I learned about how to get a good latch, some common hurdles that can arise and about the best pumps and nursing bras. But what stood out the most was this encouragement the lactation consultant echoed again and again: You cannot nurse your baby too much.
I felt a weight lifted that I wasn’t aware of before. I had been trying to figure out how to balance having a successful nursing relationship but also not spoiling my child with too much milk. In time I realized, breastmilk is not a disciplining tool: It fulfills every need.
Not just for nourishment and hydration, but for comfort and connection — needs we all have. Not just for antibodies and immune boosters, but happy, calming hormones for both mothers and babies. I decided then I would not limit my child’s access to this need satisfier.
Even then, I did not plan to nurse into toddlerhood. It just happened naturally.
When my first baby was born and I brought him to the breast, I learned things that thorough breastfeeding class could not teach me: Breastfeeding felt so right. I was overwhelmed by the attachment I felt at every feeding. I soaked in all the closeness and sweetness. Yes, some of the early days brought clogged ducts and tenderness and oversupply, but overall, I felt like we were giving each other the gift of fulfillment when he nursed.
It became even more obvious how useful this was when he got his first cold and stomach bug and when we were in a crowded place where he felt overwhelmed. I had a secret weapon.
He was slow to try solids and my pediatrician encouraged me to exclusively nurse him for as long as possible, so even at his first birthday, he was mostly breastfed. I was not sure how long we had before he weaned, but I was happy to continue as long as he asked for it.
When he turned two, I was sure he would wean soon. He had only recently stopped nursing at night and some days, he didn’t remember to nurse more than once or twice. But somehow, we continued through my second pregnancy and he weaned slowly and gradually, 2.5 months before he turned 3. It was very peaceful and I was thankful he decided on his own to be done.
Now his little sister will be turning two soon and I see no sign of weaning yet. It may seem odd to some and I understand — it’s not common to see a child who can speak full sentences breastfeeding. Maybe it seems like laziness or unnecessary. But to me, it just feels natural and right.
I know she would be fine without it and I could probably wean her fairly quickly, but I cannot think of a good reason to sever that tie yet. Societal expectations are certainly not at the top of my list of concerns.
I understand some mothers simply cannot be available throughout the day or night to nurse due to work schedules or health issues. There have been a few times I thought I may have to wean her so I can take a supplement that is unsafe for her or because my supply may dry up, and I was willing to accept that because the benefit to both of us (my health) outweighed the risk. But somehow, we avoided those scenarios. I even understand if moms just feel that in order to perform all of their duties and tasks, at some point, they have to let go of the time contraints and physical demands of nursing.
That day may come…but at this point, I know she benefits and I benefit and that is enough motivation to continue. At the moment, she has a runny nose and I am thankful to know breastmilk can help her fight off whatever she’s fighting. The day will come when she forgets to climb up onto my lap and ask for mamamilk, and when it comes I will be ready. But I hope she gets to choose when that day will be.
photo used with permission from carolyn spranger photography.