Nursing a newborn baby is full of beautiful moments. You finally get to meet that little nugget who had been inhabiting your insides and then continue to nourish them. Did you know that about 79% of American mothers’ breastfeed at birth? In the great US of A, studies show less than 10% of mothers are still breastfeeding once their child turns 18 months of age.
So, you ask, why I am telling you about these studies…well, I was in that low percentage with both of my kids. My son nursed until he was just over 3 years old. And I am still nursing my 2.5 year old daughter. GASP! Okay, okay…stop the eye rolls y’all. Here’s another fun fact…The World Health Organization or WHO suggests a mother to breastfeed their child for 2 years or more. The mother’s milk actually changes to continue to provide nutritional and immunological properties for a toddler.
Okay, okay, I am not here to start a debate of breast is best although I believe God made a woman to naturally feed her child via her breasts. On the flip side, fed is always best! Do what is best for you and your baby. Just as we breastfeeding mothers should never judge a mother who formula feeds or combines the two, we, extended breastfeeding mothers, should never be judged for continuing to nurse our children if we choose to do so. They are our children and we know what is best for them. Breastfeeding is part nutrition and part emotional bond between mother and child. Children will breastfeed in order to reconnect with mother and find a familiar place in their constantly growing world. It can also be great for calming one of those infamous floor pounding, leg-kicking tantrums that we all love!
Breastfeeding a toddler is no easy feat. It is not all cuddling and sweet smiles. Once a baby becomes aware of what is going on around him/her and even starts to crawl then their nursing or feeding times are a fight with anything else going on around them. If you breastfeed beyond 6 months then you know that it is challenging to keep a baby at that age and beyond to stay focused and still. They do not want to be covered anymore and even choose to snack including on a mother’s breast milk. Life has become too interesting and there is way too much to explore.
Picture an Olympic gymnast. Yes, they become a true and active acrobat while going to town on your chest. Both of my children nursed while standing on one leg, upside down, sideways, and sitting cupped around me, oh, and even literally sitting next to me…yep! And don’t get me started on the groping. Uh-huh, GROPING! Wow, your body is not so much your body anymore once you become a mother and then add a toddler who nurses and speaks full sentences. She literally pleads and negotiates her nursing times while working her hand into my shirt.
So why in the world would I continue to nurse my children beyond a year or even past 2 years? It all started with my son. I never intended to nurse him as long as I did, however, at a certain point I realized how important it was for him as well as me and our relationship. I always knew that I wanted to breastfeed especially because of my son’s medical issues that we became aware of while I was pregnant. As soon as I was able to actually nurse him, then I did because I wanted him to have what I believed to be the best for his fragile body. It wasn’t until about 2 months postpartum that I finally felt relief from very sore nipples and my supply caught up with a growing baby boy. I supplemented some during that time but was persistent because it was so important to me, personally, to continue breastfeeding.
When my children were younger, I nursed on demand and they demanded it ALL.THE.TIME. I did not have much relief. However, as a child grows older and continues to nurse, their nursing habits change. Food is their main source of nutrition and breasts were designed to provide nutrition as well as nurturing effects. If a mother decides to nurse into toddler-hood and beyond then it has to be mutually beneficial to mother AND child. My son weaned on his own after I became pregnant with my daughter because I started to dry up – he told me that it was all gone. He wasn’t upset. We had gentle, open discussions that mama’s milk was getting ready for his baby sister. He did suggest that I could just get cow’s milk out of the fridge and fill them back up though. My daughter is now only nursing 2-3 times a day and I believe is on the natural progression to wean on her own soon.
It takes a certain mindset to breastfeed beyond the “normal” American age of weaning typically by 12 months, however, every family is different and nursing is very personal. You cannot force a child to breastfeed just as a mother cannot be forced to breastfeed. I hope all mothers can learn to be sensitive as well as understand the choices that we each take to meet our individual child’s needs.
(I shared this photo on Instagram a couple months ago. My daughter was walking around and jumping in a bouncy house while breastfeeding her doll – so sweet!)