So my little nursling is turning two, and I'm musing about the nursing experience so far. If you had asked me 10 years ago, I'd have told you that you were completely crazy if you even suggested that I'd ever be nursing a two year old. I'd have thought you were completely off your head if you told me that I'd be still nursing her many times and day and often at night. Yet here we are!
My first daughter basically self-weaned at 18 months, and so I kind of assumed my second would do the same thing. Personally, I had nursing until two, if I could, as a personal goal, because all my reading has led me to think that it's the best choice for her health as well as mine. But in truth, I assumed that meant that by this time maybe she'd be nursing down for nap and bed, and maybe in the morning. I certainly never would have thought she'd be walking up to me saying, "Can I have some Mommy Milk, please?"
The funny thing about nursing this long is that while it might look strange to those looking on, it doesn't really feel that way when you are doing it. Granted, my girls are like little pixies, so they probably look at good 6 months younger than they are (at least). But even so, when you are nursing a toddler and looking down from what has to be the world's best vantage point, and watching this little person draw sustenance straight from you, it's impossible to understand how anyone could think they are too old to nurse or that this isn't exactly what nature intended. We are so quick to want children to grow up, and in many ways, toddlers change and grow under our noses. But I think nursing a toddler grounds strongly us in the reality that they are still babies. Even if there were no nutritional or health benefits… I think that right there is reason enough to keep on nursing.
As far as how long I'll keep going from here, it's hard to say. To be honest, it's hard for me to believe that she'll ever voluntarily let the nursing go…although I'm sure it will happen if I let it. Because I know this is my last baby, I think I'm willing to let it go longer than I might if I were contemplating another round of pregnancy and nursing ahead of me, or thinking about getting pregnant again (although there are plenty of women that nurse much longer, through pregnancies and then tandem nurse both babies – I've just never been in a position to have to decide of that's for me!) I can't see the logic in trying to slow her down going into cold and flu season or 2-year molars, because the nursing is such a great way to comfort her during these times and help with hydration when she's sick. But come next spring, we'll have to see how we both feel…
I have found myself being not quite as "on demand" as in the past. I'm not really as willing to extend our outings by stopping in the middle of a store or errand to nurse for a few minutes just because she wants to, especially if there's no nutritional need right then. She's getting more willing to accept water or a small snack and wait a while instead. Although, I will still nurse her out and about when there's a quiet moment or a transition – because the nursing is as much about being able to sit and connect with me for a moment rather than just being on the go. And if I anticipate a busy time coming, I'll ask her if she wants to nurse first because there might not be a chance for a while. As she's getting older and more able to comprehend the concepts of "wait" and "soon" and "when we get ______" this is because more and more possible. In return, that makes me more and more willing to continue extending the nursing experience.
And so on the last day of our second year of nursing, I extend my gratitude and congratulations to all those who came before me, and all those who will come after me, in the beautiful dance that is extended breastfeeding. Without the existence of groups like La Leche League, and wonderful groups of women bound on the internet, and women generally sharing the joy and benefits of nursing toddlers, I may have either felt compelled to wean earlier or felt embarrassed that I hadn't. I am proud to add my voice to those carrying the message of extended nursing.
For a great book on extended nursing, check out "Mothering Your Nursing Toddler" by Norma Jane Bumgarner –