Breastfeeding a Toddler -- That's So Not My Plan

Mom Moment 99

breastfeedingBefore I was a mom, I'd visit my friend who was still nursing her then three-year-old, and exchange knowing eye-rolls with the other adults in the room. "That's absurd!" I'd say to my husband the second we left her house. "That child has a full set of teeth ... she could be eating steak!"

Fast-forward three years. Judgmental mom (note my raised hand) is still breastfeeding her two-year-old. Watch those eye-rolls, ladies. Been there, done that.

I didn't plan to breastfeed for this long, but if there's one thing I've learned in the past two years, it's that kids and plans don't always mesh.

When I was pregnant, I figured I'd breastfeed my baby for three months. That's how long my mom breastfed me. That's what I knew. My mom didn't breastfeed my sisters -- it was looked down upon in those days. In our neck of the woods, only barbarians and those who couldn't afford formula would even consider breastfeeding. But the pendulum swung, and when I was born, nursing was in vogue. Lucky me.

Of course, we all know that the real reason my mother breastfed me and not my sisters is because she loved me more. Much, much more.

But then my sister told me she had breastfed her daughters for six months (she obviously didn't want them to suffer the same awful fate she had from not having been breastfed -- whatever that was, I wasn't privy to it). Six months, that sounds right, I thought, mentally erasing the 3 on my "breastfeeding plan" and changing it to a 6. My sister is a great mom, she knows what she's doing. Six months it is!

After my baby was born, I was reading baby books round the clock (I was up anyway), and my six-month plan turned into a one-year plan. Many of the books suggested that a year was a good, healthy, normal amount of time to breastfeed. One year was best for baby. And didn't I want to do what was best for baby? Yes! Sign me up! I wanted to be good, normal, and healthy. I wanted to do the "best" for my baby. The added bonus? I could outdo my older sister -- nothing like a little sibling rivalry to keep the juices -- or in this case, the milk -- flowing.

A week later, I was screeching at my husband at the top of my lungs at some ungodly hour:


My husband, groggy, obediently went down to the kitchen, sterilized some bottles, found the formula they had stuck in our hospital "gift bag," and came trudging back upstairs, baby bottle in hand.


I was exhausted. My baby was nursing for an hour, every two hours, round the clock. That meant we'd start again every other hour. My nipples were cracked, bleeding, and so sore I couldn't bear to have anything touch them. I was naked from the waist up 24/7. Let me just say here that I'm so modest I'd never even actually seen my own boobs, never mind had someone else ogle them. Now my porn-size melons were right out there in the open for all the world -- or at least our female visitors -- to see.

One of our guests wistfully reminisced about the "wonderful, bonding 2 a.m. nursing sessions she shared with her daughter."

"She's off her rocker," I hissed at my husband. "There's nothing wonderful about it." Then, when my hormones shifted ever so slightly, "What's wrong with me?! Why isn't it wonderful?" followed by a bout of uncontrollable sobbing.

At my daughter's two-week check-up, the pediatrician said she hadn't gained enough weight, but being the generous guy he was, he'd give me another week. Or else. Or else I'd have to supplement with formula. I expressed my surprise -- my exceptionally pudgy, very pleasant baby seemed happy and healthy to me. Still, the doctor scrawled FAILURE TO THRIVE in huge letters across the bottom of my daughter's chart. That, of course, was medical jargon for VERY BAD MOM.

I was a wreck. I had been starving my baby to death. My baby, on the other hand, was completely chill -- obviously she was too weak from hunger to complain.

We had a lactation consultant come to the house. A nice little old Italian grandma from La Leche League. She was my people. I knew she'd take good care of my baby and me. By the time she left, I hated the bitch.

She made me feel like crap for having had a very involuntary c-section. I already knew I had pretty much ruined my daughter's chances at having a happy, fulfilling life, but she didn't have to rub it in. And when I had the gall to ask her how to coordinate pumping with breastfeeding so that I could stash some milk, but still have enough to nurse my daughter, she was furious. "You will never pump," she said. "You will never be away from this baby. You will take this baby everywhere you go." I sort of never planned to leave my baby, I was just thinking it might be nice for, uh, her dad to feed her once in a while. I clearly was very bad at this mom thing. The good doctor had been right to note it on my permanent record.

I continued to feed my baby every two hours. It wasn't fun. The actual nursing was fine, it was the latching on that was excruciating. I dutifully kept the breastfeeding and pooping log Italian grandma had given me (though I screened her calls and never spoke to her again). I still can't believe I made that witch a delicious chicken and avocado sandwich.

I went back to the pediatrician. My baby had gained weight. A lot. Turns out the scale had been broken the week before and they replaced it. I wanted to grab my daughter's chart and write VERY STUPID DOCTOR on it. That's mom jargon for YOU'RE FIRED.

It still hurt when I breastfed so I went to another lactation consultant -- this one an R.N. Her primary goal was to help my baby and me conquer the breastfeeding thing, not push her own agenda. She was smart and kind, and she helped a lot. I left there feeling like a not-so-bad mom. I should have brought her a sandwich.

I continued to breastfeed and gradually, the nipple pain went away. My daughter and I got into a rhythm. Nursing became old hat, and yes, wonderful -- but it wasn't always easy. At 6 months, I had a blocked milk duct. At 9 months, I got a serious case of poison ivy ... all over my boobs. At 12 months, my daughter was still nursing every three hours round the clock (did mama ever sleep? not so much). Since I'm not a public breast-feeder (that whole modesty thing), my schedule revolved around being able to get home in time to feed her. I spent my fair share of time in public bathroom stalls and the backseat of my car. I never did pump or use bottles in the end, but only because it just seemed so darn complicated.

Somewhere in there, I read that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfeeding continue at least through the first year of life; the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for the first two years and beyond. I read a lot of other things too -- research and studies that I won't bore you with here -- that made a lot of sense to me. I also had the luxury of not having to go into an office to work. Scratch that whole one year thing. I was going for two.

So a few months ago, when my daughter's second birthday was fast approaching, I began to explore the different ways of weaning, and even started to try a few out. After all, two years of breastfeeding was the plan, and I was sticking to the plan. I mean a plan is a plan.

The problem is, it seems my daughter has a "plan" of her own.


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julie... juliebulie

Sounds like my story, but we are almost to 9 months. I am so excited that we have made it this far. We will see how long she wants to go.

ethan... ethans_momma06

I realized with my first that it doesn't matter how much you plan for very specific things- your plans change. Sometimes though, that's really for the best!

sstepph sstepph

Thank you for writing this :)

I am still breastfeeding my son, who will be 20 months, and he nurses quite frequently but I'm proud. He's never been sick.

Makes me happy to know that there are other moms out there that have boobie babies like me, who just looove the boob!

RanaA... RanaAurora

Good for you for sticking it out. The AAP is an organization who has formula and other companies filling their pockets, so they really are incredibly biased and fuel agendas for their sponsors. One is a good age to stop a bottle (but kids are even better off continuing into toddler formulas from cups)... but still really premature to stop nursing. The people who roll their eyes and poo-poo it have never tried. It's not like you wake up one day and go, "Oh my god! You're old enough that this is gross!" What was a nursing 6 month old is soon a 12 month old... then next time you blink, they're 18 months, and then 2 years. They're still itty bitty and nursing not only provides amazing nutrition, but for anyone who has gone into the second or third year can understand, it's a way of parenting as well. There's a lot of emotional and mental needs met that way as well.

Phils... PhilsBabyMama

Way to stick it out! I had a hard time at first, too. Bloody nipples, multiple (more than 5x) bouts of full blown mastitis, etc. Not fun, but I knew it was what was best for my son. My goal was 2 years. Somewhere along the line I decided I'd let him self wean. He turned 2 in January and is still nursing. It works for us. :)

Oh, here are some great links about the benefits of nursing toddlers for those interested:

Freela Freela

One thing you realize when you have a baby: the plan can change. I did not picture myself nursing a toddler either, though I didn't have a set period of time in mind when my oldest was born. I went through misery nursing him until he had a tongue tie released at five weeks- after that things improved so much that I nursed him until I got pg with the next baby (he was about nineteen months old at the time.) My second nursed until 22 months when she suddenly started turning her nose up at it- first sign that I was pregnant again! With my third (and last) I hoped to let her self-wean... which she did, around her third birthday. Not necessarily what I planned either... but worth it for us.

lovin... lovinangels

this was a wonderful story. thanks for sharing it.

nonmember avatar Ann Sinnott

Beautifully written piece Suzanne. You might be interested in my newly-published book 'Breastfeeding Older Children', Free Association Books Request a review copy, if you wish.

Although [extensive] media coverage has been predictably superficial and prejudiced, feedback from mothers and organisations in 'the field' has been amazing! - quite humbling.

Best wishes
Ann Sinnott

nonmember avatar Amy

Thank you for this wonderful, refreshing article. Usually one has to go to or somewhere similar to read these kinds of stories. I'm very proud of you, and it's wonderful to see more and more mothers practice what anthropologists and many public health experts have been saying for a long time: nursing toddlers is healthy and natural, and has many wonderful benefits for both mother and child! My son is two and a half and we're still happily nursing.

Zandr... Zandrialeann

i love you moms like you rock

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