When I read Jessica’s post a while back about becoming a lactivist, it brought to mind my own journey as a breastfeeding mom. I started out with the twins, with whom I greatly struggled to breastfeed, hoping only to make it to one year. With Sienna, I worked harder and actually did make it past a year, but didn’t really set goals for going much further (we made it to 18 months). However, with Adele, I knew before she was born that I was going to let her self wean. Breastfeeding has been easy and truly enjoyable with her from the very beginning, so I have never questioned our goals.
Now that she is nearly 17 months old, we are officially in the midst of toddler breastfeeding fun. And for the most part, I completely stand by that statement. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where nursing a toddler is less than fun, more along the lines of challenging, shall we say, but typically things are pretty great. I am so thankful that I have now been able to nurse two toddlers, and I look forward to continuing this wonderful breastfeeding relationship with Adele for quite some time. I am often asked questions about nursing a toddler, and even more often given strange looks when people notice that I’m nursing a toddler. I thought it might be nice for those of you wondering what it’s like, wondering why we do what we do, or for those considering extended breastfeeding to read a little bit about toddler nursing.
Unlike nursing a newborn, toddlers need no help letting you know what they want. Although there are times where I don’t necessarily relish having a small person shouting MiMi! while ripping my shirt up/down and furiously signing MILK, I do love that I no longer have to guess when she wants to nurse. Often she just wants a quick little sip, sometimes because she is just slightly thirsty, other times because she needs a quick reconnect with mama. In a sense, her nursing sessions are a chance for her to refocus.
One of my favorite aspects of toddler breastfeeding is the way it comforts them like nothing else. When Adele is hurt, nursing snuggles and whispers of love are the very best fix. When she’s tired, nursing soothes her to sleep. When we are in a new situation, nursing gives her the confidence that she needs to venture out away from mama for a little bit. The bond that develops while nursing your baby continues on through toddlerhood, growing as the months pass.
Ever since Adele was about 6 months old, she has been a wiggly nurser. We like to say that she likes to practice her yoga moves while she’s nursing, since it seems she has perfected downward dog without breaking her latch! She loves to nurse sitting up, has stood and nursed, and is nothing short of a contortionist while she nurses. Although hilarious at times,and definitely cute, it can also be annoying and even painful. There are many times where I have set her down and told her no nursing until she could be still. She may not completely understand what I’m saying, but she does understand that something ended her nursing and separated her from her beloved mimi’s, so she generally becomes very sad and becomes still when I let her resume nursing. The same technique works when dealing with a biting baby or toddler: say no firmly but gently, set baby down and walk away for a minute or two. This worked quickly with Adele, who hasn’t bit mama in months. It’s a good idea to initiate some ground rules when nursing a toddler, letting them slowly become accustomed to being a polite nurser, so that mom and baby continue to enjoy nursing. It quickly gets tiresome to have someone attempting to rip off your nipple (and if you think that sounds like a gross exaggeration, you clearly haven’t experienced toddler breastfeeding)! So if you are interested in extended breastfeeding, start early working on breastfeeding manners.
I had one mom ask me the other day if letting Adele nurse as often as she likes was going to make her nurse forever. First of all, I haven’t heard of many adults who are still nursing. I haven’t even heard of any middle schoolers who are still breastfeeding (although I could be wrong). Toddlers typically wean sometime between 2 and 4 years old. It is rare for a child to wean before 18-24 months of age. All children, however, will self-wean eventually. Children go through nursing spurts, often nursing frequently between the ages of 12-16 months (Adele has nursed like a newborn for the last several months) but eventually tapering off to fewer nursing sessions as the grow. Some toddlers work their way down to one or two sessions per day and stick with that pattern for months or even years, depending on what works best for mama and baby.
No matter what your nursing relationship with your toddler looks like, it really is one of the sweetest relationships I’ve experienced. Every child varies, thus their nursing tendencies are going to vary, but the special bond is more than worth the few hassles. If you have never planned on breastfeeding your baby into toddlerhood, I hope you will reconsider. I don’t think you will ever regret the extra time spent snuggling and bonding, and the benefits to your baby are many!