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I Let My Kids Breastfeed as Long as They Wanted and This Is What That Looked Like

Photograph by Twenty20

I didn’t expect to breastfeed my children for years and years. I don’t think most moms who breastfeed long-term plan it that way.

When my first son was born, I didn’t even think I would make it through the first day of breastfeeding. My son wouldn’t latch onto the breast at all. I had to pump my milk and feed him with a dropper. I remember standing in the shower crying because I wanted so badly to breastfeed and was convinced it wouldn’t work out.

Maybe that’s partly why when things finally did go well, I never really saw a point in stopping. Some of my friends stopped breastfeeding when their babies started solids, others weaned when their babies started to crawl. Most of my friends were totally done when their babies hit the first-year mark. Even the ones who breastfed their toddlers stopped after two years or so.

Not me. I guess I just didn’t see the point. By the time my son was 2, breastfeeding was nothing like it was when he was a baby or even a young toddler. Most of his nutrition was from solids, and he mostly nursed for comfort and to fall asleep.

Nursing was a time to (finally!) sit still and cuddle. Yes, there were times that nursing a 2-year-old was annoying AF (ever hear of “nipple twiddling”?), but I quickly learned that setting up some nursing “manners” and boundaries was key and made those annoyances a lot more bearable.

Really, we both loved breastfeeding, and I just didn’t see any reason to stop. My son turned 3, then 4. By 4 1/2 or so, things really began to dwindle. And then he was done. The same thing happened with my younger son, who was born when my first son was 5, and who nursed a similar amount of time.

Obviously, breastfeeding for this length of time isn’t for everyone. But I will tell you why I did it. First, as my sons got older, I found that almost everything irritating about breastfeeding pretty much melted away. By 3 and 4, my sons were not clingy about nursing. It never happened when we were out of the house, so no one really knew unless I told them.

It’s kind of how kids that age suck their thumbs, cuddle a lovey or have a favorite blanket. Only it was their mom.

My sons mostly nursed at night or for naps. It’s kind of how kids that age suck their thumbs, cuddle a lovey or have a favorite blanket. Only it was their mom. I thought that was pretty dang rad.

I also was just totally fascinated by the whole phenomenon. I had heard that if you just let a child breastfed till they were done, they would wean on their own, and I dove head-first into reading all about the biological imperative for long-term breastfeeding.

Katherine Dettwyler, an anthropologist, has written about about the “natural age of weaning,” looking at records of how long other mammals nurse, how many years humans have evolved to breastfeed for and other interesting stuff. Dettwyler doesn’t specify a specific age of weaning, but more of a range (anywhere from 2-7 years!).

The idea that humans have evolved biologically to nurse until they are programmed in some way to be done captivated me, and I wanted to see how that played out with my kids.

In the end, they truly did stop on their own. The last breastfeeding session for both of my kids was the one right before bed. And basically, it just stopped working. They didn’t fall asleep nursing anymore. Or they wanted to talk or read instead. We’d skip a day, then two days, a week, a month—and before I knew it, we were done.

Breastfeeding this long is not for everyone, and I would never tell someone do it who wasn’t comfortable with it. For me, it was the most normal thing in the world. It was cozy. It was natural. It was love. I have no regrets, and breastfeeding my kids “till they were done” is actually one of the coolest and most amazing things I’ve ever done.

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