Nursing a toddler is an entirely different beast than nursing a newborn. It’s also a beast I found myself unexpectedly wrangling. When I had a baby, I knew I would breastfeed exclusively for six months, and my ultimate goal was to make it to one year. I figured we’d hit that 1st birthday and that would be all she wrote.
I’m not sure I ever really expected to still be breastfeeding while I was planning my daughter’s 2nd birthday. Yet here I am, being asked for “boo” when she gets overtired, or is unsure about a situation, or it’s bed-time. While we definitely breastfeed less than we did when she was a little baby, it’s still very much a part of our relationship. However, it’s a very different relationship than it was in a number of ways.
1. Teeth. While the newborn days were dominated by both of us attempting to figure out the logistics of nursing, I always dreaded the eruption of those first little teeth. Really, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, but there’s a big difference between being clamped down on by gums and the very real threat of getting literally bitten by your toddler. I still don’t think being bitten (at least how my daughter has done it) trumps the pain of nursing with thrush, but it definitely elicits a gasp of pain.
2. GymNURSEtics. Gone are the days of snuggles with a baby who fit easily within your arms. Now, nursing has enough twists and turns to rival an Olympic gymnast. As often as not, I end up with feet in my face at least once during a nursing session. One of her current favorite positions as we go to bed is to nurse and then sling both feet over my side so her feet hang down over my back. Basically, she’s upside down.
The world is also far more interesting to a toddler than a newborn, which results in attempts to look at the goings-on around and interact while continuing to nurse. It generally doesn’t really work out, but she gives it the good ol’ college try nonetheless. Which usually results in me discovering just quite how elastic nipples actually do become with breastfeeding.
3. Time. Nursing sessions used to be long but efficient. My daughter needed more nourishment from the breast milk, so she nursed longer to become full. As a toddler, it still serves as wonderful nourishment, but it provides far less of her daily nutrients and calories. Therefore, sessions are fewer. The intervals between sessions are longer, and sometimes when I expect her to decide to nurse, like the same time she did the day before, life away from me is far too exciting to be drawn back in to nurse. And when she does ultimately come back, the sessions are short, but she’s more experienced at nursing now, so the smaller amount of time extracts more sustenance than it would have in her early months.
4. Space. My daughter is no longer 10 lbs and a small 21 inches long, where she fit conveniently across my lap or in my arms. Now she’s around 25 lbs and a few inches short of three feet tall. Which means she is almost fully 60% as tall as I am. That’s a lot to curl up into your lap and makes the instance where she wants to nurse when we’re not at home a whole new round of contortion.
5. Hands. As a newborn, my daughter’s hands were largely a great hindrance to her feeding. For months after she was born, my husband had to hold her hands out of the way, because otherwise she would block herself from getting a latch. Eventually, she figured out what to do with her hands and breastfeeding was no longer a two-adults-and-one-infant ordeal. Now, far from blocking her from nursing, her hands offer something to do while she nurses.
I’m grateful that we rarely nurse in public now (it’s just not necessary), since as she’s gotten older, she’s developed a preference to have access to both breasts. One to nurse on, the other covered with a persistent small, chubby hand (frequently with nails that need to be trimmed and therefore feel like tiny razor blades) fiddling with the breast she’s not nursing on or twisting the leather cord necklace my Star of David charm hangs from. Not that she doesn’t bounce between the two with a scary amount of adeptness, as if trying to decide whether she prefers chocolate or strawberry milk (kidding, kidding, I’m pretty sure both breasts produce more or less the same flavor, but you’d never know it watching her).
6. Comfort. OK, maybe this isn’t so much of a difference. But the comfort provided, I think, is a different level. While breastfeeding still provides the comfort of familiarity and security in a quickly changing world, as a toddler, I think it helps her to be willing to take on the challenges the world brings on, knowing that the thing that has been a constant for literally her entire life will be there when she comes running back. And it’s a little comfort for me, as I watch my baby girl run off on her own, day by day becoming more independent and needing me less and less. But, at least so far, she’s always come back to that spot that we have shared for nearly two years now.