As regular readers of my articles know, I am a huge proponent of extended breastfeeding and child-led weaning. With my first daughter, we nursed for 18 months – I would have nursed for longer, but mostly she just got busier and stopped asking! My second daughter is a nursing machine – at 22 months she nurses more than some newborns. In between the two nursing experiences, I met dozens of women who had nursed longer than I had, and had come to wish, for many reasons, that my first had gone longer. So now, immersed in an extended breastfeeding relationship, I was surprised to have such mixed feelings about the experience.
By the time my older daughter reached the talking and demanding stage, she was really through with daytime feedings aside from first thing in the morning and just before nap. So it was a whole new experience for me to have a baby who would walk up to me and ask for milk. You also could have never made me believe that my second daughter would still be waking up in the night to nurse *longer* than my first did, who finally slept through at 15 months.
And yet, when I look at my baby, who is almost no longer a baby, the time when I most "have her" is when she is nursing (whether she is getting much milk or not). It's a little surreal to be negotiating over my breasts, but it's also sweet. As she is my last child, I'm dreading the first day we go a full 24 hours without nursing (even if now that day seems as if it will never come).
It's been 2 ˝ years without a full night's sleep, 2 years of wistfully looking at my favorite clothes and instead choosing my wardrobe based on accessibility, and as long without being able to run a quick errand without finding a corner to sit in to give the baby a snack. I've had to restrain myself from attending meetings at my daughter's elementary school during her Kindergarten year, which are totally out of character for me to miss, because I can't yet get away at bedtime. And yet, I can't quite make myself wish that she'll stop nursing anytime soon.
Those moments, in the dark, in the night, when she's nursing with her eyes closed, her hand absentmindedly grazing my neck, and her body melting into the nooks and folds of my own are irreplaceable. And when I'm dozing off in the chair in her room nursing her back down (hoping to get just a few more things done and wishing for at least a couple hours of solo sleep ), or later crunched up on my side in my bed with her pressed against me, wanting more than anything to roll on to my back, I remember my mantra – temporary, temporary, temporary. Even if temporary is turning out to be longer than I bargained for.
Extended nursing is a physical and emotional commitment to your baby, one that transcends the first-year debate of whether formula is as good as breastmilk. It's the recognition that babies didn't write the AAP recommendations on nursing minimums, and that the needs your individual child don't come written in a manual. It's not always easy. I used to wonder how anyone could nurse a two, three or four-year old, or even older. But I think at each successive age, you look at your child, curled up in your arms and think… how could I not.
If you too sometimes feel ambivalent about your extended breastfeeding, or are contemplating what is right for you, take a look at La Leche League's "Mothering Your Nursing Toddler." I've enjoyed this book both for reference and for emotional support.
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