I never set out to nurse a 2 ½ year old, yet there I was. I’d always said (while laughing of course) that if my “baby” was old enough to ask for it, he or she was too old to get it. That all changed when my amazing talker of a daughter started saying, “nu-nu please” at just 10 months old. It was so incredibly sweet and just melted my heart. Besides, I’d already made up my mind that we’d be nursing to a year as I had with her brother before her (actually he was 13 months if we’re going to be technical and then one day just didn’t want it anymore).
When she turned a year old, I decided that I couldn’t quit nursing her on her birthday. What would another month hurt? Lukas did it that long and he was none the worse for wear, right?
But 13 months came and went. At 18 months, I told myself. We’ll reexamine things then and make a decision. Well-meaning friends and family would ask, “did you stop nursing yet?” I’d get a combination of incredulous looks and “way to go” depending on their feelings. In the meantime, I did some research on extended breastfeeding and found out that nursing past a year is extremely beneficial and that there are tons of babies who do it.
18 months came even faster than the year mark for us. We still weren’t ready to quit, but I was feeling pressure from everyone around me. It was around this time that I went to a local La Leche League meeting with a friend who encouraged me to continue nursing as long as we both wanted to. We kept at it. Maybe at 2, we’d stop.
The La Leche League has this to say in regards to extended breastfeeding: “All the benefits of human milk—including nutritional and health—continue for as long as your baby receives your milk. In fact, as your baby takes less human milk, these advantages are condensed into what milk is produced. Many of the health benefits of human milk are dose related, that is, the longer the baby receives human milk, the greater are the benefits.”
Lily’s second birthday came in a flash, but it didn’t usher in feelings of being finished with nursing. It was quite the opposite actually. Neither of us was anywhere near done nursing and again, I was faced with the dilemma of quitting on her birthday. I just couldn’t do that to her or me. It would be a memory for me forever, so we pressed on.
In the meantime, I read this from Dr. Sears: “I have read many medical journals with articles proving the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding. The incidence of many illnesses, both childhood and adult, are lowered by breastfeeding -- diabetes, heart disease, and central nervous system degenerative disorders (such as multiple sclerosis) to name a few.”
And also this: “The World Health Organization (WHO) officially recommends mothers breastfeed until three years of age. (Yes, you did read that right!) Even the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers should breastfeed "at least until one year of age and then as long as baby and mother mutually want to."”
A couple of months after Lily’s second birthday, she began to lose interest in nursing. In fact, it was so gradual that I didn’t even notice until I realized one day that we were going a week between feedings. My milk supply suffered. We couldn’t continue this way. So I got a book called “How Weaning Happens” and started researching gentle ways to quit. I cried a lot to be honest. I didn’t want to let go of my baby.
While I know that many mothers tandem nurse, I didn’t feel like I was ready to be one of them. So when I discovered I was pregnant (a complete surprise), that gave me the final push I needed to encourage Lily to be done with nursing. We went on vacation for a week where I implemented the “don’t offer it” technique discussed in the book. And you know what? She never asked. She was having way too much fun. When we got home, she asked once or twice, but I offered a different drink and she accepted.
At 30 months, we were officially done nursing. It was seriously sad for me, but I kept holding onto the fact that I’d be nursing another in just a few months. It got me through.
Fast forward more than two years to the present and I can happily tell you that I’m still nursing my 19 month old little man with no signs of stopping anytime soon. There are less questions in my mind this time. I know we’ll both quit when the time is right.
Resources: *These are just a few of the many sites available on this subject.
1. La Leche League: http://www.llli.org/NB/NBextended.html
2. Kelly Mom: http://www.kellymom.com/bf/bfextended/ebf-benefits.html
3. Ask Dr. Sears: http://www.parenting.com/article/Baby/Feeding/Ask-Dr-Sears-Extended-Breastfeeding----Handling-the-Criticism
4. Crunchy Domestic Goddess: http://crunchydomesticgoddess.com/2009/01/02/breastfeeding-until-age-3-4-or-5-more-common-than-you-think/
5. The World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/