Any time the topic of breastfeeding beyond a year comes up, someone inevitably comments, “I just think that after [fill in preferred time period], the mom is doing it more for herself than for her child.”
And then every mother who has ever breastfed a toddler or preschooler bursts out laughing.
I nursed all three of my kids until just past age 3. I didn’t set out to breastfeed that long; I just took a “whenever they’re ready, they’ll stop” approach. I was raised by a La Leche League leader who eventually became a professional lactation consultant. My mom said I nursed until I was 2 1/2. I watched my little brother nurse until preschool. I read all the research about natural weaning ages. I knew that the World Health Organization recommended breastfeeding for at least two years.
Breastfeeding beyond a year was totally normal to me.
I didn’t start breastfeeding with a set time frame in mind. That said, I couldn’t really see nursing a 3-year-old until I had one. The thing about breastfeeding a 3-year-old is that it’s not like you start out breastfeeding a 3-year-old. You start off with a newborn and they just get bigger. They eventually start nursing less, until it’s maybe just once or twice a day. But there’s no magical age when all of a sudden it feels weird. Annoying and tiresome on occasion, but not weird. Never weird.
I always struggle to figure out where the “it’s more for the mom than for the child” argument comes from. I’ve known many child-led weaning moms, and most — if not all — of them were ready to stop nursing before their kids were. I was ready to be done by around age 2 and would have been perfectly happy to stop then. But my kids were really attached to it, especially before bed. Quitting cold turkey at that point would have been like taking away a child’s favorite blankie or stuffed animal. It wasn’t worth it to me to deal with the trauma of trying to wean when they weren’t ready.
And in reality, we were weaning. From the time my babies started consuming food other than breast milk, we were weaning. It was just a really, really slow weaning process, partially led by my child and partially led by me. First, I stopped offering and only nursed when they asked. Then I started distracting when they asked and I didn’t want to (which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t). I started delaying, telling them, “Not right now,” or “We’ll nurse a little later.” When I was really ready to be done, we set up rules about when and where (“We only nurse at home now,” or “We only nurse at bedtime now, remember?”).
These stages took place over the course of a couple of years, with new boundaries at each stage to help transition the child away from nursing. By the end, they only nursed when they first woke up. (Some kids hang on to the bedtime nursing. For my kids, it was the morning snuggle nurse.) It was a very slow, gentle weaning process.
What’s missing from that process is me ever thinking, “Gosh, I really want to breastfeed right now.” I mean, early on when I was engorged, of course I’d want to nurse to relieve the pressure. But beyond that, no, breastfeeding was never for me.
People who say that moms who breastfeed past a year do it for their own benefit have clearly never nursed a toddler. We all know how demanding and irrational toddlers can be; imagine having them be that way about your boobs. While nursing can be sweet and bonding, the toddler willpower is real. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t all sunshine and roses on my end either. However, since the research shows that there is no detrimental effect of nursing past a year, and since breast milk continues to be healthy as long as a child nurses, and since it most definitely was all sunshine and roses for them, I was willing to let them wean at their own pace.
So no, I didn’t allow my kids to breastfeed past babyhood because I was trying to keep my kids young, because I liked being needed (good gracious, no), or because I got some personal enjoyment out of it. And honestly, saying that a mother would breastfeed beyond a year because of her own needs or wants is downright creepy. It borders on accusations of pedophilia, which is flat-out sick and offensive. Just no.
I simply don’t understand the need for people to make gross assumptions about things outside of their own experience. I totally understand how the idea of a toddler or preschooler nursing might strike you as a bit odd if you’ve not experienced it. But unfamiliar is not the same as unhealthy or inappropriate.
Please, listen to the thousands of us who have nursed well past a year and believe us when we tell you that there is nothing weird, creepy, or mom-centered about it. It’s merely a slow-paced weaning process that billions of women around the world and throughout history have embraced. Nothing more.