My son is 19 months old. He still nurses.
On some people, the eyebrows raise up to their hairline when I say this. Some people make a comment like, “Don’t you think it’s time to be done with that soon?” Others say that they could never be that dedicated. And, of course, some people congratulate me.
Have there been times when I have been ready to give up on nursing? Yes. Have there been times when I feel impatient for my son to wean, though not impatient enough to force it? Yes. And have there been times when I can’t wait to go sit down with him because it seems like the only time he is still all day/the only alone time I get all day/the only chance I get to read? Yes.
I still gaze at him with that mamma sigh when he’s asleep in my arms though, and think how beautiful he is asleep; I love his rosy, round cheeks, his purplish eyelids, and his full lips relaxed into a small pout. I delight silently that he is mine. Though he is more than a year and a half old, those happy hormones don’t completely stop just because they nurse less; even though I don’t feel any let-down in my breasts, I still feel content and in love with my son.
Paul, my son, is my second child. With my first, Elizabeth, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. We had some nursing problems in the beginning, but they got straightened out, and after a few months, turned the other way. I had read books that cautioned introducing a bottle too early because the infant might get “nipple confusion” and prefer the plastic nipple of the bottle over the real thing. I didn’t found it written, nor have I since, that the infant can also decide that the real thing is the only way and then absolutely refuse a bottle. Yes, it happens, and by the time Elizabeth was three months old, I was the only food she would accept.
It was a challenge, but we made it through, and she gave up nursing at the age of 17-months. I returned to working just a few hours at a time when she was four months old, and her caregiver would most often put her down for a nap while I was away, and she was very good at going to sleep on her own (still is!), so that by the end, she only nursed in the morning just upon waking.
But my son has been a different story, and one that I am still figuring out. With Paul, we had intended to use bottles, as well as having me nurse him. But when he got thrush when he was two weeks old, I blamed it on the bottles, and decided that I wanted to nurse exclusively. In addition to the thrush, I also didn’t enjoy pumping, and the doctor cautioned against going back and forth between breast milk and formula, as that can result in intestinal discomfort for the infant. If I wanted to follow his advice and use bottles, I would have to pump. I figured that nursing takes a lot of time, but so does washing bottle (we don’t have a dishwasher), pumping or mixing formula, heating water to warm the bottles, etc. My husband was of accordance if nursing exclusively was what I wanted to do. I knew that it kind of cut him out of the picture a little, but I felt that it was the best thing for both Paul and I. (Should I mention the intense feeling of jealousy I felt when Chepe bottle fed Paul? Probably not.)
In the long run course of things, I had expected Paul to kind of follow the same time-table as Elizabeth, giving up nursing before he was a year and a half. But 14, 15, 16, 17 months came and went, and he did not show any sights of wanting to go to let go of nursing. Actually, through 16 months, he not only nursed to fall asleep, but also in the morning at about 10am. At 17 months, he finally let the morning nursing drop.
When he was about 15 months old, I started to feel very impatient that there seemed to be no end in sight. Around then, I had my yearly feminine wellness check-up with my midwife, and decided to ask about toddler nursing and advice on weaning. My midwife directed me towards a member of the nursing staff who, I was told, was their un-official breast feeding expert. She told me something like, “Well, at 15 months, it’s not really about nutrition anymore. It’s just about comfort.”
Written down on paper, the words don’t seem very harsh. Actually, on their own, I don’t dislike them. But the way this woman said ‘comfort’ just made it sound like she really disregarded the importance of toddler nursing and that I could just stop now because comfort isn’t important.
I spent a few days researching toddler nursing and weaning, and ruminated on it for double that time. I came to the conclusion that nursing a toddler is about more than just comfort, it also involves a number of health benefits for both mother and child. As long as both parties are still open to doing it, there is very little draw-back to doing it.
Benefits Of Toddler Nursing
If a woman feels inclined to wean her toddler, or must wean him, then of course, it is her decision. Her child is old enough to take in sufficient nutrients from his food to sustain him, and he does not necessarily need her breast milk for survival on the basic level. But the truth is is that she does still imbue nutrients to her child through her milk. According to mayoclinic.org, the nutritional value of her breast milk does not diminish, nor ever become insignificant, no matter how long she nurses. Breast feeding a toddler helps keep him physically and nutritionally balanced. Studies have shown that nursing past the age of one may help reduce the risk of being overweight or obese as a child, as well as reduce the risk of obesity as an adult (llli.org). Other studies indicated that nursing into the toddler years may reduce the risk of juvenile (type I) diabetes and some cancers in the adult years.
The anti-bodies that a mother passed to her baby when he was an infant, continue to pass to him as a toddler as well. Recently, my daughter and I both got a virus, but my son did not, even though I held him when I was contagious, and we regularly share food (and silverware sharing is virtually impossible to avoid with this guy). Yet, he never got sick, he never even slowed down in a way that indicated that he got the virus mildly. I honestly believe that it was because he is still nursing, and that my own body’s first anti-bodies were passed onto him through my breast milk.
Physically, a toddler benefits from extended nursing, but what about that comment that the nurse at my mid wife’s office casually threw out, that it’s only about comfort these days? She is right that it is still about comfort. Nursing a toddler helps him to feel confident and comfortable in the world. The sucking and chewing action and my sweet-tasting breast milk, while falling asleep in my arms, helps my child feel secure and loved, not only in the moment, but all through the day and night. He knows that I support him and give him what he needs. Unconsciously, he knows that he has a mother and a family that support and love him. Every night, he does not fall asleep feeling upset and alone, crying in his crib, but in my warm arms. And even when he still nursed at 10am, that was a comforting, routine reassurance after a long night alone in his crib that I was there for him when he needed me. That morning nursing was purely comfort for him, but it allowed him to feel secure, and he dropped it on his terms, when he began to feel secure enough that he didn’t need it anymore.
In addition to the good imparted to the toddler from extended nursing, the mother also continues to receive benefits as well. Emotionally and physically, she and her toddler still reinforce their bond while nursing. She may also benefit from a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, high blood pressure, and heart disease, among other illnesses by nursing her child until he is a toddler. Extended nursing may also keep a woman’s period away for an extended time, which may help reduce the risk of some cancers. Both times in which I have nursed into the toddler years, I have also lost the weight I gained in the first year when I was so incredibly hungry from nursing an infant.
I know that I personally look forward to the quiet time that I spend nursing my son, as a time to read or think with few distractions and little noise after a long day chasing my two kids. I know that I will miss it when he’s done.
Chime in: How was your experience nursing a toddler similar or different from mine? What were some of your fondest memories/best moments during that time?
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