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Breastfeeding My Toddler—Why I Let My Children Decide When to Stop, Not Society!
June 13, 2012
I was 23 when I had my first child, and 41 when I gave birth to my last. Fifteen years separate my second and third. While much had changed during the intervening 15 years, one thing most certainly has not—the stigma attached to breastfeeding. More specifically, breastfeeding a child over the age of one.
Just as I did with my first two children, I let my youngest daughter decide when it was time to stop nursing, not society!
When I was pregnant for the first time, I lived 500 miles from both my mother and my mother-in-law. In this case, it worked out well for everyone involved because I have never been particularly inclined to listen to well-meaning advice on anything, and I was not about to start when it came to motherhood. Not that I didn’t value their experience, I just didn’t want to be pressured to do things as they had done.
As I do with everything else important, I read up on the subject, and decided early on in my pregnancy that I would breastfeed my child. At the time, I gave little thought to how long I would breastfeed. Little did I know that in years to come, it would be the focus of much controversy.
As my first born grew, he ate everything in sight. At 21, he is now 6’3” and about 200 pounds, so I guess he was getting an early start! He took the breast, the bottle and baby food by the time he was about 6 months old. By about a year and a half, he essentially weaned himself off of the breast.
My second child, who came along when my son was almost three, would have nothing to do with a bottle. Nothing! It didn’t matter what I put in there—breast milk, formula, juice—she was only interested in the breast. As she neared her second birthday, I listened to more than my fair share of advice from people who informed me that she was far too old to be breastfeeding.
I’m not sure when we—meaning Americans—came up with the idea that there is a ‘cutoff’ age for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding past the age of two is far from uncommon in many other countries. According to the World Health Organization, the world average is 4.2 years and they recommend breastfeeding until at least two years of age. Additionally, anthropologists tell us that weaning naturally takes place for humans somewhere between two and a half and seven years. Obviously, I am in good company and not alone in my beliefs.
For the record, I did make some effort to wean my older daughter close to her third birthday. I made no such attempt, however, with my youngest. She weaned herself of all but bedtime nursing shortly after she turned three, and continued at bedtime for about six months more.
About the time each of my children turned a year old, I began to feel pressure from well-meaning family members to stop nursing. I also learned to brace myself for a debate if the subject of breastfeeding came up in conversation with other mothers. Aside from healthcare providers and a few very close friends, I think just about everyone thought I was crazy to continue breastfeeding a toddler. The bottom line is that it was the right for me, and for my children. Going against the grain isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but when it is something you truly believe in, it suddenly becomes much easier.
Have you had a similar experience to mine? Glad you continued or sorry you stopped? I would love to hear your thoughts.
—Proud mother of three happy, healthy children.
Thank you, Leigia, for sharing your experience with the Mamapedia community.