Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Nursing a Toddler

When I was pregnant, I imagined Sprout nursing until she was a year old. As her first birthday approached, it seemed pretty evident that she wasn't going to be stopping any time soon. Sometime shortly after that, I recall saying to Jen that I was fairly certain she'd self-wean by age two. Her second birthday came and went more or less as her first did: with no end to her nursing days in sight. I've learned from my past experience, so with her third birthday around the corner, I'm making no assumptions about when she will wean.

I always feel a bit anxious when posting even a sentence or two stating that I am still nursing.  Will readers think I'm crazy for breastfeeding for so long? Will those who haven't breastfeed their babies feel judged?  Maybe it's best to begin with this post by stating that I am firm believer that people need to do what feels right for them and their families and their babies when it comes to nursing. I understand that some people can't or just don't want to nurse their children or decide to wean after a certain point. It's a personal decision. Still, I feel judged. I know there are many people who think it's (beyond) time I stopped nursing Sprout. I always feel like I need to justify our nursing relationship --it's only around sleeping times. It's not in public. Etc. Etc.

All that to say, I've had this post floating around in my head for a while. It's just been hard to actually write and publish it.

I am fortunate in that nursing was never a big challenge physically for me. Sprout latched well.  I produced enough milk. One of the most difficult things in those early days, and still a hard part of it now, is the forced stop of all other activity. I've never been one to read on my phone or really do anything at all while nursing except for, well, nurse. Sitting still is not one of my strong suits. I have had to make a concerted effort to be in the moment. To watch Sprout's face and feet and hands while she nurses. To do  my best to commit those moments to memory. To take a minute to rest.

I never imagined myself nursing a child for this long. And for me, in this moment, it does feel like it's been a long time. I am both grateful for my ability to do so and exhausted by it. If we hadn't night weaned her after her second birthday, I may be losing my mind by this point. Fortunately, one of the biggest differences between nursing an infant and nursing a toddler is that the toddler can understand when you say you've had enough. They might not like it, but they understand. In addition to night weaning, setting limits to where and when I nurse has gone a long way towards making me feel comfortable with nursing a toddler.

Without saying when I think she will wean, I do feel like the end to our nursing days is drawing closer. I know I'm no longer producing a lot of milk.  Sprout's nursing sessions have become increasingly shorter. It's obvious that the main goal of the nursing is now comfort. As she snuggles in I can often feel her body relax. Her breath slow. Her eyes close.  For a toddler that doesn't like missing the action, I like that nursing gives her the ability to slow down and disengage when she needs that break. And the weight of her sleeping body in my arms. I will miss that.

I was concerned that when Jen and I went away this summer that Sprout would be done nursing upon our return. When we got back and she asked practically first thing to nurse, I breathed a sigh of relief. A week long vacation that she had no say in was not how I wanted things to end. But, after that "reunion" nursing session I also knew that I would be (mostly) okay with things coming to an end soon. I am ready to have my body back to myself.  To not have to feel guilty about leaving her around naps or bed time. To have a back that doesn't ache from positioning awkwardly in a chair. I've questioned Sprout on whether she is ready to stop.  (No.) Or if she will be soon... perhaps when she is three?  (Yes. But then no.)  If not then, when? (Never. Stopping nursing? Why? What a ridiculous thought!)

Sprout's attachment to me is very strong. Sometimes as a person who needs their alone time it can be overwhelming. I joke about Sprout being a "Mama's girl", but the truth of it is that she is. I feel like a lot of that has to do with our nursing relationship. And while I am glad that she feels close to me, I also feel guilty that she doesn't have that same relationship with Jen and that she will reject Jen in favour of me. The Bean didn't do this. I think I would have been heartbroken if he did.  He also weaned before a year old. While Jen seems to take things in stride and keep the perspective of this as being a short term thing, sometimes I wonder if breastfeeding Sprout for this long has been the fair thing to do in terms of Jen's relationship with her.

Though there are reasons I am ready to stop, I know I will miss nursing Sprout. Maybe that's why I'm not forcing things at this point.  I like to think I'll be able to let weaning happen on it's own. Almost certainly before she is four... right?


  1. No judgment here -- you know my story. Q was just shy of 3.5 years. T was 45 months old.

    I can completely relate. I always felt the need to explain/justify and didn't tell too many people that I was still breastfeeding. But for us, it worked. It was easy but, that was only because I set firm limits. They understood and respected it (for the most part!). I had it in my head that I wanted (hoped) they would wean before 4.

    Throughout T's 4th year, she slowly forgot how to latch -- breastfeeding became somewhat painful. That's when I knew I was ready. Instead of asking when she was ready (because she would never have said she was), I said that her "Mommy milk" was going to be ending one day. The whole process took 6 months. Eventually, I explained that when she was ready, she could pick out a new toy at the store, but that would mean the end of her milk (at which point it was only at bedtime). On that first night, she told me she wanted to give the toy back. She cried a lot. I desperately wanted to give in, but didn't. I held her for a long time. It got easier after a few nights. She still remembers how much she loved her "Mommy milk" and doesn't have any negative feelings towards my encouragement for her to wean.

    T had a similar bond with me and still does to an extent. But, I have to say that her relationship with Jenn strengthened a lot once we stopped breastfeeding. There are times now, when she asks for Jenn -- it's great for her and a welcome relief for me. It will likely be the same for Jen and Sprout.

    Do what is best for you. Stop when you're ready and recognize that might not be when she is ready to stop. I'm always here to chat/provide a listening ear :)

  2. I nursed Jackson until he was 3.5. We ended when he was ready and it went smoothly. Every time I attempted prior to then, it was awful.I know how people judge but as someone who was in that same position, I know how normal and natural it feels.

    Jackson was the same way with Angele but trust me, their relationships bloom as they get older and look to their other mom for things. I'm always the "sucky mom" for all of the kids and it's normal to have different bonds. Not being close to a toddler who is nursing won't make their relationship suffer.

  3. As I said earlier, she won't go to college still nursing. I agree with the above, when she is older the bond between her and Jen will strengthen. Children are very much supply and demand driven with their affection. Who is supplying my demand? That is the person who is going to get my affection. It is evolution at the very best and how those little buggers ensure their survivability. That and cuteness. Cuteness helps ;)

  4. I'm still nursing F at 2.5 years old and he shows no signs of stopping. I'm really ready to be done, but... I'm going out of town on business for 3 nights soon and DW is saying that is the end, but I'm just not sure how I'm going to refuse him on my return. The end of nursing is so so so very bittersweet.

  5. B is still nursing @ a few weeks shy of 3yo. You aren't alone - or crazy. :)

  6. I am comforted in the stories of the above commenters and seeing how many other people nursed their toddlers! As you know, I was still nursing Evelyn up to a week ago - day and night. I'm glad it's over, and she has had a smooth transition (with some sadness) that I think she was ready too. But I am going to miss it.