The secrets out…I’m still breastfeeding my toddler.
You might be rolling your eyes, automatically logging me into to the categories of crunchy, hippy, or helicopter parent, I mean, I probably would have 5-years-ago, too. Let me start by saying that I didn’t know I’d still be nursing, and if you’d told me before I had a child that I’d be nursing longer than a year, I would probably have told you that was weird or that it made me uncomfortable, or something about “if they can ask for it, then they are too old.” I’m not saying you’ll ever do what I’m doing, or feel the way I feel, I’m just asking you to consider that I don’t necessarily fall into a category that predestined me to nurse my child for 29-months and counting. Like most parts of breastfeeding, nursing a toddler is not something the average person in the United States has witnessed first hand. I will add though, the more often I “come out” to other mamas, I hear a lot more “me toos!” than I ever expected.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, I wanted to out myself and share a bit about our breastfeeding journey.
I’m not sure where my ideas about breastfeeding came from. I mean, I wasn’t breastfed. I only had a few friends who I could say I was intimately walking the road of motherhood with, and even then, most of them lived out-of-state! I guess my ideas about breastfeeding came from movies, and formula commercials, and nannying. In fact, I kind of thought breastmilk was gross.
Fast forward to when I had a baby:
I have admittedly taken steps down the crunchier avenue of parenting. I have had one friend nurse past a year. I have a masters degree that has allowed me to study healthy development and attachment in human babies. And I have a baby. And suddenly I have milk. And for the first 3-weeks I can’t help but think… I did NOT sign up for this. Okay, I know…I did. I figured that out. It came to me eventually! With tears and snot everywhere, and, in front of my adoring husband, I humbly admitted my expectations of parenthood were um . . . off, slightly. After a tongue tie revision and persistence, we got the hang of it and I fell in love.
I fell in love with the way breastfeeding created, fostered, supported, and increased the bond that I had with my son. I loved the way I knew he was getting antibodies that would protect his little body from the latest illness I had brought home. I loved that I knew his immune system was developing and gaining strength to protect him for a lifetime against those little bugs and the big ones, too. I loved the way I could comfort him anytime, anywhere, and that no matter where we were or what we were doing, he could count on a consistent, grounding closeness; a space we had created together since his birthday. I loved that his body was being nourished the best possible way, by his healthy, joy-filled mama’s milk. I loved that I could do it. I know not everyone can, I know people have fought so hard for it and it just wasn’t a fight they could win. I have tried my best to keep this in perspective and have thanked God for the privilege of being able to feed my baby this way.
As my son got older, the things I loved changed, but my love and commitment to our breastfeeding relationship did not.
I still love all of those things I listed above, but it doesn’t look like that for us anymore. Sure, his immune system continues to be supported, nutritionally the milk benefits his growing toddler body, and it still provides comfort when we use it. But now, I love that time to snuggle and reconnect at the end of the day. I love the silliness that toddlers are and how he gets to be silly in this deeply intimate, safe place. I love the boundaries that we’ve learned and put into place together to make this part of our relationship work. I love that it’s been give and take and compromise– for both of us. I love his sweetness, and the way he says “milkies.” (Yes, he can ask for it– he could always ask for it. He’s been requesting to have all of his needs met since day one . . . but I digress.)
I could list off a million and one reasons why there is true scientific benefit to extended or full-term nursing. We could discuss attachment, biology, anthropology, physiology, and long term health benefits for both mom and baby. But, I’m trying hard NOT to defend it, so I’m just going to tell you that it just works for us. It hunkers us down for afternoon naps, and it fits into our bedtime routine like books and brushing teeth. It’s something we share, we love, and that we know is good for our family. I know it won’t always have a place here, but for now it does, and for that we are all grateful. One day we’ll say goodbye to it forever, and I don’t believe I’ll have regretted one minute I spent nurturing our son in this way.
How long did you breastfeed? What did you love about it?