Remember when I wrote about breastfeeding and the learning curve a year ago? That was right around my son's 6 month birthday. He just turned 19 months last week and, yep, he still nurses.
Luckily, no one has ever said anything negative to my face about his nursing habits. Toddler nursing makes some folks uncomfortable- I'm not sure if it's a lack of education on the topic** or a difference in parenting style. One of the more popular things I've heard is, "If he can ask for it, he's too old to nurse!" Sorry, lady, but he's been asking to nurse since Day 1. As he ages, he learns how to communicate his needs in different ways.
When he was under a year old, he would cry to let me know something needed to be different- in most cases, it was because he was hungry. Around a year, he learned how to sign for milk. And now? He communicates his needs by using his words. Now, that's not to say that he doesn't whine for it or tug at my shirt when he's hungry (probably one of my least favorite toddler behaviors to deal with) but often, he is very sweet and says things like, "Milk!" or "Nurse, please." And his 'please' is more like , "PEAZ!" Come on, people. I can't say 'no' to that!
Okay, sometimes I say, "No." And that's because, like most nursing kids who are attached to their mothers, he doesn't just nurse when he's hungry or thirsty. He may want to breastfeed because he's bored, tired, sick, hurt, snuggly, etc. It can be exhausting, especially when he asks multiple times throughout the day only to hop on for 2 minutes and then say, "All done!"
That's another new thing that's happening, which I appreciate: the 'all done' phrase. Sometimes he doesn't use it correctly ( says 'all done' and then starts to get mad when I am putting my breast away), but he's learning and that is exciting and fascinating to see. Despite his attachment, his independence IS growing (I've heard people say before that extended breastfeeding hinders development. Ummm..sorry. But no.) In fact, once we settled into our new house we've been taking on some new rituals that are helping him establish autonomy. He has a full-size mattress on the floor of his bedroom as well as his crib mattress at the foot of my bed. During the day, he nurses to sleep in his bedroom. At night, he wants to nurse to sleep in his bed. Lately, he will nurse and say, "All done," then roll over and fall asleep. It's lovely! He usually wakes up anywhere from 3-5 hours later, so I pull him up into my bed where he nurses for 30 seconds and falls asleep again.
About three months ago, I was taking my first big trip away from my baby. A full 4 days in Florida without him! I was excited but nervous. I was also at my breaking point- I was ready to be done with nursing. My child had been extremely needy leading up to the night I left, and I was considering weaning him. I thought that maybe I would come back and he wouldn't think about nursing anymore. I wondered if I would be okay with that and if I was ready to let go of that special closeness I shared with him. I decided to play it by ear and see what would happen. I was told by my sister-in-law and mom that he only cried for milk right before bedtime- I think throughout the day he was distracted enough by playing, being around different people, etc.
To my surprise, I was SO ready to nurse him once I came back. I realized that I didn't want to throw in the towel as badly as I originally thought. The short getaway was just what I needed to recharge and truly appreciate how special our bond is. I got home in the middle of the night and shortly after, he woke up, kissed me three times, and then said, "Milk?" This made my heart so happy.
Is nursing a toddler easier than breastfeeding a newborn or a 6 month old? Yes, I think so. But it does come with it's own set of challenges. Sometimes I think about what life will be like when he's no longer nursing- a bittersweet feeling for sure. But like the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" It still works for us and while we've made some small changes to our nursing relationship here and there, I want to follow his lead on this one. I feel that he will self-wean when he's ready.
**"The American Academy of Pediatrics currently recommends that 'Breastfeeding should be continued for at least the first year of life and beyond for as long as mutually desired by mother and child..' * The World Health Organization and UNICEF recommend that babies be breastfed for at least two years."- La Leche League International
For more information on breastfeeding your toddler, check out Kelly Mom: