Here's What People Don't Understand About Extended Breastfeeding

by Sa'iyda Shabazz
Originally Published: 

I nursed my son until he was almost four years old. It was generally a great experience, and I kept it up because it brought my son comfort in a way that nothing else could.

But even though I loved nursing, as he transitioned from infant to toddler, it did get a bit harder. Okay, a lot harder. That’s why, if you say that moms extend breastfeeding for their own personal benefit, you clearly haven’t actually experienced it.

As a toddler, my son couldn’t stay still if his life depended on it. This kid would suddenly turn into a gymnast doing an Olympic-worthy floor routine while still latched to my boob. I’d try to hold him, and there would be a little foot flying up over my shoulder, or a long leg pushing against my bicep like it was one of those leg machines at the gym.

Trust me, there is nothing fun about a wiggling toddler in your lap trying to nurse. Getting kicked is not my idea of a fun time. You know those videos of the giant fish flopping around on a boat? That is what nursing a toddler is like.

He was also easily distracted. He really wanted to nurse, but there was always something that was a little more exciting. But if I tried to release him to go investigate that other thing, he’d cling to me that much harder. Every time.

The other thing about little ones is that they’re constantly getting bigger. My son is a giant for his age; he’s all limbs, mostly the long, gangly legs. As he got bigger, he began to realize that it was harder to curl up into my body to nurse as he had when he was smaller. And his constant moving was less adorable when he’d lumber his thirty-something pound body into my lap.

If I was trying to look at something on my phone, there was an annoying constant wiggling, instead of the peaceful stillness like when he was a snugly baby. Nursing wasn’t cute anymore, but he still needed the emotional support, stability, and bonding that came from the process. I had committed to nursing for as long as he needed me to, but it was getting more challenging.

Any mom who has nursed a toddler, or is currently nursing a toddler, knows what it’s like to feel touched the fuck out. If I sat down for more than five minutes and didn’t look busy, there was this little man baby coming for me, quick to lift my shirt and serve himself. It’s fun having to remind a small human that you are also a human, not the all-you-can-eat special. And when I say “fun,” I mean, it’s really fucking annoying.

But still I stuck with it FOR MY SON. People are full of opinions on how we feed our children, whether it’s where we breastfeed or for how long. And people just love to share those unsolicited (and unfounded) opinions as often as possible.

“If your kid is old enough to drink from a cup or eat regular food, they no longer need to breastfeed, at that point it’s just for the mother,” some people say in regard to older children breastfeeding.

But here’s why that’s bullshit: My son was eating dinner with us once he got enough teeth, but he wasn’t ready to quit nursing. He needed it for comfort and for nutrition, and breastmilk changes as your kid grows and adapts to what they need, so there is always value in your child receiving breastmilk.

Look, I know that extended breastfeeding was totally a choice. But it’s not just the mother’s choice. There is another person involved in that choice — the tiny human who is using our milk for more than just nourishment. They are using it for comfort, to relax, as a way to soothe themselves and deal with their big feelings.

Sometimes, as much as we may want to say ENOUGH ALREADY, we also consider the other person (our child) too. Because breastfeeding, especially past infancy, is a very delicately intertwined relationship. None of us are forcing or manipulating our kids to nurse. That is the most ridiculous claim I’ve ever heard.

Nursing a toddler was challenging and exhausting, but I kept at it because it was what my son needed. I have no regrets about that, but I do wish I would have told people to go to hell with their ignorant comments a whole lot sooner.

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