|Not me, just an example of a toddler nursing. |
Image credit: Amanda Westmont.
People find it very surprising, because this is something not really done.
But in some ways, I think the person who is most surprised sometimes is myself.
Before I had my first child, when I saw people nursing older kids, I was thoroughly weirded out. "Breastfeeding is for babies, not kids," I thought to myself. I had a nephew that nursed until past age 2 and I honestly was uncomfortable seeing him being nursed or even knowing that he was nursed. Something seemed "off" about it in my eyes, and I decided that when I had a kid, I would stop nursing when the kid was old enough to ask verbally to nurse, because that meant he was a kid and no longer a baby. This, already, was going farther than what I grew up with- no one in my immediate family nursed longer than 9 months, so even agreeing to nurse a year or longer was a "big deal" and "super crunchy".
It was a happy medium for me- because I had read about the health and emotional benefits of "extended nursing", and in my mind, nursing past the first birthday was doing more than what I was used to, but didn't get me into the realm of "creepy parent who doesn't know when to say enough is enough, even when it is no longer appropriate."
Lee was very in love with nursing, so much so that when he was 15 months and I got pregnant with Ike, I researched nursing during pregnancy, and discovered that when it came to low risk pregnancies, nursing doesn't increase the risk of miscarriage or preterm labor, so decided to gradually wean Lee over the course of my pregnancy. I also read that nursing hormones counteract pregnancy hormones, which could cause pregnancy nausea to be lessened, and I think it worked to some extent. My nausea wasn't debilitating- I was able to get out of bed in my first trimester, something I had a hard time doing during my first pregnancy...
During the beginning of the pregnancy, I was really, really sensitive and nursing hurt. I would grit my teeth in pain whenever he latched on, and for the first minute of each nursing session.... (It wasn't just nursing that hurt. I'd cry out in pain from the cold as well.) But after a few weeks, my sensitivity lessened, and I was able to nurse pain free again. Gradually I cut back on nursing sessions and night weaned him, and one of the few nursing times he had left every day was his nursing before his nap. Since I wasn't ready for him to give up his nap, and he would only go to sleep nursing, my husband recommended that we give him a bottle before his naps. Of chocolate milk. I agreed to do so (and have regretted it tremendously), and with that, at 19 months old, and 5 months pregnant, I weaned him. From the breast, at least.
But the bottles intensified. While before he was sleeping through the night and going to sleep without nursing or a bottle, once the nap time bottles started, he wanted one to go to bed at night. And then every 2 or 3 hours throughout the night!
It was driving me crazy. Also because of having to wake up a million times to give him bottles, but also because of the health. And because he'd wake up with exploding diapers... So eventually, we had to wean Lee a second time, this time from the bottle. And it was very hard.
When it came to weaning Ike, I did it very suddenly. Nursing him, at 19 months old, was driving me bonkers. He was very demanding, wanting to nurse multiple times a day and night. It felt like I was nursing a newborn, and he was over a year and a half old! I was long ready to wean- I'd had enough.
When I became pregnant, I was tired, nauseous, and just in general stressed out. I thought that the solution to reducing my stress and making my life less tense was weaning him. And I knew that since he was so obsessed with nursing, weaning him gradually would take a while, and I didn't want to wait a while. I wanted to be done nursing him as soon as possible.
So I weaned him cold turkey. Went from 8-10 times a day nursing (including at night) to absolutely nothing. It involved lots and lots of crying over a period of three to four days, was painful physically for me, and it was a bad, bad idea.
You see- Ike was definitely not ready to wean. He was nursing often because he had high needs, really physically and emotionally needed me in ways that even Lee didn't. And since he no longer had the option to nurse, but had the same physical and emotional need, he just replaced nursing with being super clingy, super touchy, etc... He'd rub my body up and down and up and down and up and down and up and down.... all the time. Before he could go to sleep. To calm himself down when he was upset. All. The. Time. He'd play with my chest, grab me, touch me, fondle me, and it made me MAD. Seriously. I felt very violated by him. It bothered me in ways that nursing didn't. If I had had enough of nursing him because it was sensory overloading for me, felt like I didn't have my body to myself anymore, what happened once I weaned Ike was 10 times as bad, 10 times as difficult for me.
And gradually, over time, with lots of bonding and hugs and a supreme amount of patience that I never knew I had in me, plus cutting gluten out of his diet which made him more manageable to deal with, less sensory seeking even, etc... he's stopped doing that. Mostly. He still has a hard time respecting my body space, and I often have to remind him "This is my body, not yours. Please ask me before you do that," even now, 2 1/2 years later, at 4 years old. He is, if you could believe it, almost as clingy as my 2 year old in some ways, and more so in others.
In short, what I realized after my experience in "weaning" my first two kids is that weaning doesn't just mean weaning from breast milk. Weaning is the gradual process of separating, emotionally and physically, from Mom. It needs to be gradual, because kids who are forced to separate before they are emotionally ready, forced to "grow up" when they are not emotionally mature enough, will often just find a replacement, like Ike did by clinging to me and rubbing me all over, or like Lee did with the bottle. And worse off, kids who are forced to grow up and become independent before they are ready, and they don't have any replacement to fall back on, end up being affected tremendously emotionally in the long run, with far reaching repercussions. (I'll expand on this more soon- I am reading a great book that covers this in great detail, and plan on writing a book review when I finish it.)
I have no desire to force Anneliese to grow up before she is emotionally and mentally capable of it. I have no desire to wean her from nursing, only to have nursing be replaced with something else (potentially even more problematic, annoying, or frustrating, like chocolate milk bottles or clinginess or becoming overly tactile, etc...) and then to need to wean her again from that replacement.
To be honest, I am not in love with nursing an older child. I never have been, and didn't all of a sudden start loving or even liking it with my third child. If it were entirely up to me, I probably would have weaned her already. But as a parent, it isn't my duty to be selfish and think only about what I want, but to sometimes put my needs second, or even third, learn to be selfless, and give my kids what they need, emotionally or physically, even if its not something I love.
I don't hate nursing either now. I've mentally changed my mindset about nursing. I've gone from "tolerating it because she needs it" to truly viewing it as an act/gift of love, something I am giving my daughter that she can't get from anyone else or at any point in the future, but is something special I can give her now that'll benefit her for the rest of her life.
And it does. Long term nursing isn't just about nutrition. Yes, she eats real food. Nutritionally she isn't getting much at all from nursing at the moment (not that breastmilk isn't also chock full of nutrition for a two year old- it is!) simply because I have barely any milk at this stage in my pregnancy- she probably, at most, gets a tablespoon or two of milk each nursing session. But what she is getting is the emotional bonding, and the antibodies and immune protection that kids, who even are getting a little bit of breastmilk, benefit from. The World Health Organization says that kids should be nursed at least until 2 years... and this is the first time I'm actually doing that.
At the moment, Anneliese is nursing at most 3 or 4 times a day, but sometimes will go a day and a half without nursing. Sometimes she'll ask to nurse and I realize she just wants attention, so we'll do something else together, like sing Eensy Weensy Spider and it satisfies what she was looking for. I also only nurse her at home, never when out and about.
She doesn't need to nurse as much as a newborn, doesn't demand it as often as Ike did before I weaned him, but she still emotionally needs it. She's still a baby, and I'm coming to realize that demanding that a two year old "grow up already" simply isn't feasible. Each child matures at their own rate, and Anneliese in some ways is a little active toddler, climbing, exploring, and learning how to talk... but she is still very much a baby who needs her mama. (She also isn't interested in potty training whatsoever, even though both of my boys voluntarily potty trained before aged 2. I'm not pushing her at all in this either.)
I plan on continuing to nurse Anneliese even after the new baby comes- this is called tandem nursing, and there are a lot of resources for parents who are interested in learning about it, and as a first time soon to be tandem nurser, I plan on doing my reading. I have heard that it's hard on mom in some ways, but it helps the older kid accept the younger one more easily, helps reduce sibling rivalry, etc...
And my main reason- because Anneliese isn't ready to give up nursing, and I won't be forcing her to stop- I'll wait until she is emotionally ready. I do know it'll likely be hard, but I didn't become a parent because "it was easy", I became a parent because I wanted to give to my kids what they need, and giving isn't real giving when its easy, sunshine and roses. Real giving is when you do it anyhow, despite the challenges.
However, I did decide that there was one thing I was not prepared to do. I am not prepared to wake up with two kids at night to nurse back to sleep. (I can just imagine how impossible it would be with one kid waking up to nurse, their crying waking the other, not being able to nurse both at the same time, and trying to figure out who should be put back to sleep first, and hope that the one waiting isn't waking up the other via crying in the meantime...)
I was more than ready to night wean, but again, didn't want to do it suddenly, cold turkey. So I took a more gradual approach, and over the past 3 months have worked on putting Anneliese to sleep without nursing, putting her back to sleep without nursing, even if she sometimes was crying that she wanted to nurse. (Not sleep training. I'd hold her, comfort her, even through her screaming in frustration at times, and tell her I love her but nursies are sleeping, she can nurse in the morning.)
We've now gone a week straight without nursing at night. Many nights she sleeps completely through the night. Here and there she'll wake up once, maximum twice, and be shushed back to sleep in my arms. I am hoping that by the time her little sibling is born, she'll be sleeping through the night completely consistently, and if not, that Mike will be able to put her back to sleep...
I keep on getting comments "When are you going to wean Anneliese? Isn't she old enough? Isn't it bad for you or bad for the baby?"
I'm not weaning her until she is good and ready to wean completely, and no, it doesn't hurt the baby whatsoever, and by taking care of myself nutritionally, I am making sure that I am not being hurt at all either. I learned from my mistakes. I won't do what I did the last two times.
This time, I will give Anneliese what she needs.
And right now, she needs to keep on nursing.
Did you nurse your kids? How old were they when they stopped nursing? Did they wean voluntarily, or did you wean them when you wanted them to? Did you find they replaced nursing with something else that you needed to wean them from after, like a bottle, a blankie, a pacifier, etc? In retrospect, do you wish you could have nursed longer, or do you think you should have weaned your kids sooner?
Have you ever tandem nursed or nursed for extended periods of time? What type of reactions did you get from people when they heard you were nursing still?