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I'm Letting My 2-Year-Old Decide When to Stop Breastfeeding

Photograph by Getty Images

There were certain things I thought I’d never do when I became a mother. I wouldn’t yell at my children, share my marital bed, or breastfeed through toddlerhood. As my husband said with authority when we first discussed breastfeeding: “If you can ask for it, you’re too old for it.”

But as we all now know, never say never when it comes to parenting.

Fast-forward four years and I’m still nursing my 2-year-old. She’s evolved out of her sweet baby-word for milk into a precise verbal demand, “Me want some bubbies, Mommy. NOW.” Even in liberal Vermont, where lactivism is a thriving movement, I worry what others will think.

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One friend reassures me, “It’s not a problem if both parties are happy with the arrangement.”

And both parties are.

My toddler is a whirlwind of energy who rarely pauses for snuggling. Nursing provides us rare moments of connection as we attempt an afternoon nap or wind down from a busy day. Her warm, sturdy body slides into my lap and curls up infant-style, her feet flopping over the side of the chair.

For 10 minutes we nurse and rock in a blissful trace. Her free hand plays with my hair. Her eyelids flutter as she grows drowsy, nestled in her original source of comfort. Once again, I’m amazing at the sheer sensual pleasure of it, the cocoon of give-and-take that shuts out the outside world. I remember the first months of nursing my babies as a milky island in a dark sea, the tiny hand like a star, stroking my skin.

I’m flattered. I feel delicious. No lover has ever been as interested in my breasts as my two babies.

“She touches me exactly how I’ve always wanted to be touched,” another nursing mama told me in delight. We were exchanging war stories of first-time motherhood: recovery from long labor, mind-numbing sleep deprivation, the mysterious times when a gassy newborn would escalate into hard-bellied screaming. But we were both lucky to experience the intimacy of breastfeeding, and we took solace in that new relationship—a kind of falling in love.

For me, breastfeeding made every challenge worthwhile. It was also the only part of the pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum continuum that came easily to me. While pregnant, I struggled with depression and succumbed to its downward pull during my third trimester. Both my labors had been long and excruciating and resulted in emergency C-sections.

Recovering in bed with a painful abdominal incision, I grieved my lost dream of natural childbirth. Weepy with postpartum hormones and exhaustion, I felt I had failed some female rite of passage. But I cradled my baby and fed her, and she grew plump from my milk. Her strong latch seemed to pull the sadness from my veins.

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I admit I was proud when my babies grew fat from my body’s sustenance alone. It was the first miracle my breasts had ever accomplished. Starting with sixth-grade bra-snapping, I’d felt vaguely ashamed of my small chest. I never daydreamed about posing for Playboy, but I was thrilled when pregnancy gave me head-turning cleavage.

“Yummy bubbies. Tasty bubbies!” says my expressive nursling. I’m flattered. I feel delicious. No lover has ever been as interested in my breasts as my two babies. My four-year-old (who weaned at 19 months) still grows wide-eyed when she sees them naked—she wants to touch, kiss, even talk to them. Sometimes her fascination infuriates me, as does my monkey toddler nursing upside-down, grazing me with her teeth.

But my youngest shows no sign of losing interest, and I want to take my cues from her. I know I’m holding onto the last vestiges of her babyhood, but when we stop, it’s forever. There’s no going back. Young children quickly forget how to nurse, and soon they grow up and out of our arms. So I'll hold onto her as long as she'll let me.

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