My son is almost 2 1/2 years old and he nurses every 3-5 hours during the day and 4-7 times a night.
I have not slept more than 4 hours in almost 6 years. My son, however, is healthy, happy, and independent, and I see no reason to wean him.
I believe that children outgrow the need to nurse just as they outgrow the need to crawl, poop in a diaper, or the need for holding and cuddling when they are scared or lonely.
Breastfeeding is normal, healthy, nutritionally, immunologically, and psychologically beneficial, and in all primates, nursing continues well into “toddlerhood.”
Not convinced yet? Take a look at my answers to the many funny, embarrassing, and interesting questions I often get about nursing a toddler.
Do you even have any milk anymore?
This may not be true for all moms who nurse a 27 month old, but I have enough milk that I still leak and spray at every nursing session, I still have an active (and forceful!) let-down, and like a new mom, I will get engorged if I do not pump, which for me, can lead to plugged ducts and mastitis. I worked very hard to build up and maintain my milk supply, and I still am diligent about pumping every 2-3 hours when I’m away from my son.
Does he need breastmilk for nutrition?
My son didn’t eat solid foods until he was 15 months and he doesn’t yet consume the amount of food that “most” 27 months olds consume. I am grateful that I can nourish him with nature’s perfect food, which is unable to be replicated by any artificial milk or animal milk. Breastmilk is designed for my child’s needs from birth until he weans; it is full of protein, healthy fat, brain-building substances, and vitamins, not to mention immune and antibiotic properties. It is always the right temperature and it is always on hand. I do not believe in giving my son milk from another animal, and humans are the only animals who seem to think that this is a good idea! The only other thing my son drinks is water, and a little sip of grape juice on Shabbat.
If he’s old enough to ask for it, isn’t he too old to have it?
Well, my son is not verbal yet, and although he has been signing for milk since he was 11 months old, he still needs to nurse. Whoever decided that “when they can ask for it, they should wean” must not have wanted to keep nursing, and that’s fine for them, but it is working for us, verbalized or signed!
Isn’t it weird having a walking talking thinking LARGE child nursing?
I will admit that nursing a newborn or even a 1 year old is very different from nursing a child in boots and a raincoat. But I struggle to understand why it’s not accepted. Besides the fact that it’s not “typical,” I don’t see that there is anything inherently wrong with it, other than people thinking it’s wrong.
Do you place any limits on this?
When a newborn needs to nurse in line at the supermarket, you don’t hesitate. With an older child, needs can be openly discussed and generally worked around. It is important to me that my son learn that we now nurse in some places but not others.
If my son wants to nurse because he is hungry, I offer him a snack first if nursing is hard to manage at that moment. A month ago, I nursed my little man on the floor of the lingerie section of a department store. His need was great, and he could not wait, so I decided to meet his need right there and then.
I don’t nurse in bathrooms, (I don’t eat in bathrooms, so why should my son?), and I try to remember a blanket when we’re out, but I often forget. I have cultivated a pleasant and confident smile to flash while nursing, and while sometimes it is met with icy stares and embarrassed glances, sometimes I get a thumbs-up and that really makes my day.
But you don’t nurse him at night, do you???
In our family, we let our children nurse until they’re done, and the earth’s position relative to the sun does not change our philosophy. Children need us at night as well as in the day. My son nurses 4-7 times a night. Am I tired? Yes! Did my body get used to it once my mind could chill out about it? You betcha! How did I do this? I found the support of like-minded moms who made me feel I wasn’t alone and that I wasn’t weird. And almost overnight, I stopped feeling tired. Once my self-pity lifted, plain old manageable exhaustion set in. I can manage it, and we are fine. And this exhausted Mama is the one who gets up at 4, 5, or 6 am with the kids, so don’t imagine I am sleeping it off while the nanny lets me rest; there is no such nanny!
Won’t this make him spoiled?
There is no respected scientific statistical evidence that children who self-wean are brattier, more spoiled, less independent, less socialized, or less productive in society. To the contrary, studies show that children who self-wean have learned that their needs are important, their development does not proceed according to anyone else’s timetable, and they are confident that love is abundant. These children typically show early healthy dependence that flourishes into healthy independence when the time is right.
What does your husband think?
My beloved, patient, open-minded husband is very supportive of me nursing our boys until they are done, and it took a lot of discussion and research for us to come to this decision. I do not take his support for granted for one minute. Once we hit the 2 year mark with both of our sons, I will admit that my husband thought we could encourage more eating of solids to see if the need to nurse would diminish. If our son weans, though, my husband’s workload will significantly increase, as the preferred method of getting said child to nap is with breastmilk, and the way to soothe him to sleep at night, and to soothe him throughout the night is with breastmilk. Once milky is gone, we have to get creative; and that creativity will be both of our jobs- and that ultimately means less sleep for Dada!
When will you stop?
I don’t know. Hopefully by the time he’s 3. I can’t imagine myself nursing a 3 year old, and I myself see 4 and 5 year olds nursing and I cannot imagine it for me. My first son weaned at 26 months, so I have never nursed a child this old before. I am learning, too, but I am open to really being in touch with my child’s needs and acting for both of our benefits in a compassionate and loving way to the best of my ability.
Is he nursing for comfort?
Sometimes. Mostly, he nurses for a lot of milk, but big boo-boos get the offer of milky, and it is sometimes the only thing that will do. At night, I suppose it’s ‘habit,’ but that’s really just a biased way of describing the easiest and smoothest was to fall back asleep for a small person who has not yet mastered the skills he needs to do it himself. For the record, my older son did not stop waking at night to go potty until he stopped nursing at 26 months. I comforted him by rocking him 4-7 times a night in the early months after he weaned, but very quickly he developed the skills to soothe himself at night and not need to go potty every 2 hours. He now sleeps 10-12 hours a night with rarely a peep.
What do your family/friends/the public at large think?
Most everyone in my family thinks this party should have been shut down yesterday. My Ph.D. in Neuroscience as well as my recent certification as a Lactation Educator/Counselor has quieted many of their attempts to reason with me, since I have a lot of research, support, and education on my side, and most of what they have – with all due respect- is uninformed hunches, personal uncomfortableness with nursing, and just plan old “I didn’t do that, so why are you?” reasoning. Most of my close friends in our community nursed their kids into the toddler years
Am I a push-over? A weak mom who needs her son more than he needs her? Not at all. Am I letting my toddler run my life? No way. Am I spoiling him? There’s no evidence of that! Do I enjoy knowing that mothers who nurse longer have lower rates of breast, uterine, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis? Sure. Do I enjoy knowing that breastmilk contains antibiotic, anti-allergy, and anti-obesity properties? Yes. Is this why I do it? No. Those are neat facts, but the real reason we nurse this way, now, all night, all day, anywhere and anyhow, is because it’s not broken, so there is nothing to fix.
Ultimately, I get to parent the way I want to, and you get to parent the way you want to. I may not have convinced you that extended nursing is as wonderful as I think is, but that’s okay. When I see my precious son gaze into my eyes and grin that milky grin – the same eyes that looked into mine minutes after he careened out of my body; the eyes that convinced me that my only job was to keep this child thriving with the miraculous resources given to me through my body- not much else matters.
Recommended children’s books depicting extended nursing:
Breastmilk Makes My Tummy Yummy
by Cecilia Moen
I’m Made of Mama’s Milk
by Mary Olsen
How Weaning Happens
by Diane Bengson
Mothering Your Nursing Toddler
by Norma J. Bumgarner