The Secret About Extended Breastfeeding No One Talks About
by Wendy Wisner
Photograph by Twenty20
When it comes to breastfeeding past the first few months, people definitely have strong freaking opinions, don’t they? Believe me, as a lactation consultant who has worked with hundreds of moms, and as a writer who frequently writes about breastfeeding toddlers and older children, I HAVE HEARD THEM ALL.
“Once he can walk and talk, he’s too old for it.”
“Why can’t you just pump and put it in a cup?”
“Breastfeeding past X number of months is just for the mother.”
I’m not really interested in going through the litany of arguments about the subject. The bottom line is that breastfeeding past 12 months is something that has been done around the world for thousands of years and continues today. It's not unhealthy, it doesn’t harm children and it’s up to every mother and child to decide how long they want to nurse. You do you and I’ll do me. End of story.
But for the moms out there who are open to the idea of breastfeeding past the baby months and who want to know what it’s like, I want to let you in on a little secret: the longer you go, the easier and more awesome breastfeeding becomes.
Both of my sons breastfed into their preschool years and what surprised me each time is that the older they got, the more I enjoyed nursing them. Nursing became less annoying, less tedious, even more cuddly and sweet.
What I didn’t realize until I did it is that when you continue nursing past the sometimes annoying ages of 12 to 24 months, when you're the only one they want, something truly amazing happens. Sometime after the age of 2 (and this varies a lot), you stop being an open-all-night milk bar. Your child stops jumping all over you like a little nursing monkey. You stop feeling like your nursling is stuck to you 24/7 like glue.
Instead, nursing becomes this sweet little thing you do a few times a day. By the end of nursing, it’s just once or twice a day, mostly at bedtime. By then, your nursing child has developed some manners and can ask nicely to nurse. It’s a more reciprocal relationship.
It was warm and quiet and sweet and lovely.
You can talk about nursing, make silly jokes about it. My kids even became interested in the biology of how the breasts make milk! You can discuss what it will mean to eventually finish up, to move onto the next stage of childhood. If you choose to nurse that long, weaning is generally pretty easy. You can negotiate it with your child and help them proudly move on.
Most of nursing in the preschool years happens at home, in private, so you no longer have to worry about judgmental relatives or strangers who have annoying opinions about what you are doing. When I nursed my boys then, almost no one knew we were still doing it.
And you definitely don’t feel chained down by nursing at that stage. I was able to spend all day away from my boys. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if we missed a nursing session. Lots of moms of older children will even go away for a few nights or a week—no big deal.
At the very end of nursing my boys, it was something that we did right before bed, like a shred of their babyhood preserved there for a new minutes each night. It’s like a child who cuddles a teddy bear they’ve had forever, a favorite blanket, a binkie or a thumb. But for my boys, it was Mommy instead. It was warm and quiet and sweet and lovely. And we both savored it until it gradually melted away.
Having done it twice and watched my boys turn into mature, independent, happy, smart, respectful kids, I can tell you without a doubt that breastfeeding them for several years did no harm. If anything, it was one of the things that shaped them into the fantastic kids they are today. And it definitely is part of the reason we are still so close and bonded today.
Breastfeeding for as long as I did isn’t for everyone, but if you're considering it, know that it can really be the best thing ever—one of the most sweet, long-lasting memories of closeness and bonding you'll ever have with your kids.