Let's All CTFD About Extended Nursing

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Elizabeth Broadbent

I have been breastfeeding for seven and a half years now. That’s because I nursed each of my sons for over three years, sometimes four. I say this not because I want some shiny gold breastfeeding award. I don’t want a parade or a tiara. I don’t want gloating rights or some “I’m a Better Mom Than You” sticker. What I do want, however, is for everyone to calm the fuck down about extended nursing, or nursing past the age of 1.

I’m tired of hiding it and getting weird looks for something that’s totally normal. The world needs to stop caring about my boobs and my business, thank you very much.

Nursing my son — who is 3 years and 9 months — is different than nursing a baby or even a young toddler. It usually happens once a day and looks something like this: Sunny gets tired. We go through the bedtime routine of putting on pj’s, brushing teeth, going pee, and locating his If I Ran The Zoo stuffy named Spotty. Then we lie down. I pull my boob out of my Bravado nursing bra, and Sunny latches blissfully. He tries to grab my boob. I tell him not to grab my boob. We go back and forth on this issue while I read a novel and cuddle him. And then he passes out.

Clearly, this is abusive behavior that must be stopped. I’m kidding, obviously.

Seriously, for fuck’s sake, whose business is it, other than my boobs’, if my kid decides he wants to nurse for longer than one year — a milestone only 34.9% of American babies reach? A study of American women who practiced extended breastfeeding found the median weaning age to be 2 1/2 years, with a range up to seven years and four months. Youngest children averaged a weaning age of 3. This, KellyMom says, is “consistent with the weaning ages found in traditional cultures.” So, actually, we extended nursers are the norm.

I’ve heard a lot of dumb-ass reasons people are “against” extended nursing, as if you can be “against” a parenting practice you just happen not to agree with. The most offensive? That it’s abusive. Like, sexually abusive. This makes my skin crawl. If it’s not abusive to nurse a newborn, what changes when the baby is 3 or 4 or even 5? A friend of mine, born economically disadvantaged in another country, remembers being 5 and nursing. She never felt weird about it, and neither did her mom. She has only good memories being breastfed.

If you’re having sex while breastfeeding and the kid’s over larval stage, or you’re asking your kid to nurse when there’s no milk there and he’s complaining about it, that’s a different story. In the first case, you’re exposing your kid to adult situations and asking them to participate in them. In the second, dry-nursing an unwilling older child isn’t fair to the child, and it might be time to find another means of comfort. But aside from that, save the “abusive” comments, okay?

Then people like to ask, “how old is too old?” As if they’re the ones in the nursing relationship and their opinion fucking matters. People say, “Well, if they’re old enough to ask for it…” which, as Slate points out, is just a way of saying “toddler nursing is icky.” ABC News says, “Some parenting experts say breastfeeding too long could potentially stunt child development because it may impede a child’s ability to self soothe.” Well, fuck you very much, Mr. Unnamed Expert, but I don’t know what the hell that even means. My older sons still lie down with my husband to get to sleep. Do they have self-soothing issues? No.

Extended nursing works for us. And I’m quite sure what happens in my house, what we’re happy with, and which isn’t hurting anyone, is nunya. As in, none of your fucking business. Plus, Slate also quotes Brian P. Kurtz, a psychiatrist at the University of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, as saying that the claims that “Breastfeeding into toddlerhood [..] will make children clingy and stunt their emotional growth […] does not apply to a toddler-age child.”

Some men complain that it hurts their relationship with their spouse. In fact, one man told Slate, “There are some things men can’t share with first-graders, and two of them used to be called breasts. Now my first-grader calls them ‘boobalies.’” This is really just an issue between co-parents, but dads are part of the nursing relationship, even if peripherally, and men complaining about their wives extended breastfeeding are family disagreements, and not relevant in the greater context of the debate.

I asked my older sons, age 7 (who nursed until he was 3 years and 3 months) and age 5 (nursed until 4 years) if they remembered breastfeeding. They looked at me like I was a total weirdo, and each said no. This, even though the 4-year-old nursed in public regularly at age 3 and was very boob-attached when I weaned him because he lost his latch.

And if you need further evidence that extended nursing is totally okay, let’s look to the experts. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, “continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.” As long as mutually desired.

I desire to continue nursing my 3-year-old. He desires to continue to nurse. So as long as that’s the case, why does it matter to anyone else what our family does before bedtime? Let’s CTFD and STFU about extended nursing and find something better to fight about.