I never expected to be breastfeeding a toddler. But here I am, with my 23-month-old, still going strong.
After my first breastfeeding experience ended abruptly due to to a myriad of issues, I was determined to give it a shot the second time around, but I knew what mattered most was that I took good care of myself, no matter how I was feeding my baby. We had rough start. Bean struggled to gain weight and ultimately to nurse because of an undiagnosed milk protein allergy. I had massive oversupply and hyperactive letdown difficulties, and I spent many nights sobbing out of frustration. I knew my baby would be okay no matter what I decided to do, but she would be my last and I just wasn’t ready to give up. But eventually, as many promised, it did get easier. Breastfeeding became a solution instead of the problem, and both Bean and I grew to relish the quiet time together.
I never set a concrete goal, but deep down, I just wanted to make it farther than I did with Doodlebug – 3 months. 6 months sped by, and we introduced sweet potatoes, avocado, and bananas, and I found myself musing, “now what?” I didn’t know what else to do, so we just kept nursing like aways, and I followed Bean’s lead. We celebrated her first birthday, and we just kept nursing. I remembered weaning Doodlebug from her bottle at 13 months out of fear of babying her (I know… first-time mom syndrome), and so around that same time, I started to feel a little conflicted about nursing Bean.
By 13 months, she wasn’t nursing to sleep any longer. She nursed before naps and bed, in the mornings, and a few times spread out during the day. She wasn’t biting, wasn’t pinching or pulling at my hair, and didn’t “nurse and run.” It was working for us, so we just kept on doing it, and one day turned into one week, one month, one season. The conflicted feeling passed and we made it to 18 months, when she began nursing only before nap and bed and once in the morning. Breastfeeding receded into the background of our day and I didn’t really give it much thought.
Now, her second birthday is fast approaching (pause for a moment to think about how utterly ridiculous and unfair that is) and the conflict has resurfaced. I have many good reasons to continue to breastfeed her, both anecdotal and scientific. Nursing feels natural for us, it helps her sleep well and soothes pain and hurt feelings. It’s alleviating some of the pain of her two-year-old molars erupting without the use of medications. Extended breastfeeding is supported by the AAP and the WHO for the emotional and medical benefits. My mama gut tells me it’s the right choice for us, and yet I feel like I should feel more uncomfortable with it.
It’s not that I’m conflicted about continuing to nurse my toddler – in fact, I’m convinced my mama gut is right. Instead, I’m conflicted about my lack of conflict, especially given my culture and upbringing. I had no exposure to extended breastfeeding (or really breastfeeding at all, for that matter) before doing it myself, and it’s rarely discussed openly in this country (other than to condemn it as gross, damaging to a child, or selfish). And to be completely honest? Before nursing an almost-two-year-old myself, my first reaction to a breastfeeding toddler would have been misinformed judgment.
It turns out that it’s much easier for me to dismiss the opinions of strangers on the internet or hushed stares at the local playground than it is for me to silence my own social conditioning. In recognizing this about myself, I can move past it… Because the bottom line is that: Yes, I’m still breastfeeding. It’s working for us. And I refuse to put the discomfort or judgement of society before the needs of my family.
These words poured out of me for two reasons today. Writing allows me to work through my emotions – to document my soul-searching. But also? I wanted to share that what I’ve learned from breastfeeding a toddler has nothing to do with breastfeeding at all: Suspend judgement. Informed convictions are valuable, but until you’ve experienced something, remember that you might not know everything. You might be wrong. I certainly was about extended nursing.
p.s. Why do I post pictures here, you ask? Because the more breastfeeding (both infant and extended) is normalized, the more moms will feel comfortable asking questions, sharing their stories, and reaching out for help.
p.p.s. Breastfeeding isn’t for everyone – each family has to decide for themselves what is the best fit for mama and baby/toddler. I support a mom’s right to choose how she feeds her baby. But I’d also like to see more non-pressured support for nursing mamas.