My son is 20 months old, and we were the first of our friends to have a baby, and the only ones still breastfeeding. All the other mothers either dried up or intentionally stopped nursing their babies before toddlerhood.
I used to think we'd just keep nursing until my son naturally wanted to stop - but now I'm wondering if and when that ever occurrs, or if there is a way I am to support the process in certain ways because he seems to show no interest whatsoever in slowing down.
It's not that I want him to stop now, but I'm concerned some times that it seems he prefers to nurse than to eat. I just thought it would be the other way around at this age -- prefering food, and breastmilk being the snack.
Also, the biggest problem is that he is constantly reaching into my shirt or pulling it up and pinching my nipples - and I do mean constantly; even when he's not interested in nursing, he is still grabbing at me. It's painful to have him constantly scratching and my chest and pinching me, and embarrassing to be in public with a toddler's hand permenantly down the front of my shirt. Even while writing this message, I have had to do it with him in my lap and his hand down my shirt. If I try to take his hand away, or even just cover up my nipple so he doesn't pinch it, he throws a tantrum and hit me in the chest and face. My husband and I are unsure what to do.
I can't really speak to the issue of whether or not to encourage weaning, since I've wondered the same thing myself; we are almost at 24 months and still nursing. DD is starting to show signs of winding down, like choosing to go up to bed and read her books instead of having our nighttime nursing session. But when I get home from work, wild horses couldn't drag that kid away from my boob.
But as to the hand down the shirt/nipple pinching, I think this is an issue where you are going to have to get firm. Opinions on discipline wary so widely, and others may disagree with me, but I truly believe that kids MUST learn that they can't hurt others. Set very clear boundaries: when he pinches you, move his hand away and say gently but firmly (no anger or emotion in your voice), "We don't pinch. Pinching hurts." If he has a tantrum, so be it. Quickly move far enough away so that he can't hit you in the chest or face. You don't have to leave him alone to tantrum, but don't engage. I hope this doesn't come across as cruel; I believe in disciplining gently but I believe that for big issues such as hurting others, sometimes tantrums have to happen. This boundary must be totally, consistently firm.
Repeat the process every time he does this. It won't be fun, but he needs total consistency to understand that you won't accept behavior that hurts others. As I say, you don't need to be mean, you need never act angry or raise your voice above a calm, firm tone. If he does the pinching/scratching while nursing, remove him from the breast and say, "If you pinch (or scratch, or hit, or whatever), we will stop nursing," and if he does it anyway, follow through and set him down.
I think his behavior is really, really normal, but as nursing goes well into toddlerhood, I think we often have to set some boundaries. Hope that helps!
I could have written your post verbatim, down to the same age and the nipple attacks. So obviously no advice from me, but I sure hope we're both in the normal range of toddler behavior. I've recently started trying to be firm with the wandering hands. But he seems to do it the most right as he's drifting off to sleep and when I cover myself with my hand he gets furious and tries to wrestle my hand away, obviously becoming more awake. But I'm staying strong and hoping he'll forget about the habit before too long. It's seriously one of the few things that really causes me to get angry and snappy with him, so it has to stop for both of our sakes.
I would try a bullet proof bra -- one that's too tight for him to get into and has good coverage and probably padded and maybe formed cups, too, so he can't get at you right through the cups. I've had a couple of experiences where my nursling just could not have access (recently before anesthesia) and he's pretty tenacious. I wore one of those full coverage grandma bras to bed, with the FOUR closure things in the back. It's built like a tank. lol I think if you wore one for a while (probably 24/7) he'd get out of the habit, yk?
As for going strong at 20 months, that sounds very normal to me. I used to say that my older one didn't even decide that he liked nursing until 18 months, and then it was his favorite hobby. Both of my boys have been pretty entrenched nursers until a latish age. I had to wean my older suddenly at 3 1/2 and it seemed like right up until that day he would want to nurse several times during the day and then for hours on end at night and early morning. My little one is now 3 years 8 mos and nursing quite a lot. We NEVER nurse outside the house, though, and if we're out all day it's just not an issue. Days will go by with no daytime nursing. But then if we're home and I'm sitting on the couch it's fair game.
I don't particularly believe in the idea of child-led weaning -- like, that it's possible. There're always two people, at least, in this equation and mom has to communicate some of her feelings about it. I don't think it would be right not to. It's real life for both people in the relationship to be participating. I hate it that I had to cut off my older one so suddenly, but he was so good about it. I really was sadder about it than he was. Kids are so resilient and, it seems to me, always more capable of adapting to things than i expect.
I had success with redirecting my daughter to twiddling a pencil, by giving her the pencil and unlatching her if she went for my boob. Actually she may have picked the pencil, I might have told her she needed to get something else to pinch. I was really persistent with unlatching her and eventually after a lot of (her) screaming she got the point. Anyhow she will get the pencil herself now and has been doing that for over a year. The other day she told me, "I got this pencil so I don't scratch you with my little nails." I almost died of the cuteness.
And yes, any time you set a limit with a toddler, there is the possibility of a tantrum. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't set the limit - it means the child is feeling a feeling about encountering that limit. It's okay for them to have negative feelings about the parenting choices you make because that is their autonomy. (I am sorry if that sounds obvious but it was a big deal for me to learn.) It gets better once they go through the tantrum, perhaps many times, and realize they are still here and ok and loved even when they don't get to cross that line.
I'm also with rubidoux re: clw. I think extended breastfeeding is great, but breastfeeding is a relationship. Sometimes a mom has a high suck tolerance (due to physiology, psychology, personal history, amount of family support, etc.... factors outside of her control most of the time) to her child's suck need/desire (due to personality, health, etc), and she may not need to set a lot of limits for that kid. But sometimes her suck tolerance is lower than the child's desire to nurse. In that case, compromise is necessary - whether it's setting limits or ending the breastfeeding relationship altogether. We give our kids a gift when we honor our own discomfort and seek compromise in order to meet the needs of both individuals in the breastfeeding relationship. We teach them that compromise is good and possible, and that the needs of both people in a relationship matter, and that there are many ways to give and receive comfort. That's healthy stuff for life. :)
Best of luck to you. From what I remember, the period between almost-2 and almost-3 was the hardest for me with breastfeeding and the most intense. DD wanted to nurse and pinch me all the time, and there was lots of crying on both sides. :) We grew together though, and things are very different now. DD is 3.5 and still nursing, but only once a day - that was the necessary compromise to continue our breastfeeding relationship beyond the age of three. We would never have made it this far without limits.