My little monkey will be two in about a month.
I can’t foresee us ending our breastfeeding relationship in the immediate future.
I thought I’d like to talk about that.
While nursing beyond infancy is biologically normal for humans, and has been practiced throughout human history and continues to be practiced all over the world, it’s kind of weird here in the West. I’m something of an anomaly because I still breastfeed a child who can walk and talk and use a fork.
Sure, we’ve all heard that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding up to two years and beyond. But only about half of all Canadian and American mothers are even breastfeeding at all by six months, and I haven’t been able to find a single stat regarding breastfeeding beyond a year. I imagine the number is tiny.
I’ve heard plenty of individuals riff on some version of, “If they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old to breast feed,” which is silly because it has absolutely no logical basis. What’s so special about being able to talk? How does that indicate a person’s nutritional needs?
Western people are just weirded out by children with teeth and speech nursing at a mother’s breast.
So I’d like to work towards normalizing it. I thought I’d start by telling my story.
* * *
While thinking about this post, I started out trying to answer the question, “Why are we still breastfeeding?” (I say “we” since it involves the two of us.) But I realized that this is the wrong way to frame it. The more apt question would be, “Why haven’t we quit breastfeeding?”
Because really, the issue isn’t so much a matter of something I’ve done or am doing, but something I never did. (Namely: wean her.)
This is the way it went:
I gave birth to a baby almost two years ago, and started breastfeeding because I could, and, well, duh: I wasn’t about to pay someone for an inferior imitation of what I already had for free — especially one that required assembly. So yes, in the beginning, I actively pursued a method of feeding my baby: the one that required the least amount of effort.
Breastfeeding was fraught with all the normal difficulties of the early weeks — engorgement, anxiety, chapped nipples, etc. But from then on, it was mostly effortless.
And since then, I just haven’t put any effort into stopping.
The fact that I’m still nursing, in other words, has more to do with what I haven’t done:
- I didn’t put anything else in her mouth for the first six months.
- I never put any kind of plastic nipple in her mouth.
- I never put the effort into trying to convince her that a plastic substitute was satisfactory.
- I never put the effort into training her to be satisfied with the milk of another animal instead of mine, or to go longer and longer stretches between nursing. (She does drink cow’s milk now, from a glass, but only as an occasional drink; and she can easily go 12 hours without nursing, though she’s anxious to nurse again after a long separation.)
I just never had the motivation to go through that trouble.
Why should I have? I didn’t have to go back to work. I knew that my milk was more nutritious than virtually any food I could possibly offer her. And I was fortunate enough that I never suffered from illness or supply issues which might force me to quit prematurely.
Nursing was just so easy, cost-effective, convenient, nutritious, effective at pacifying her . . . I never worked up the energy to change anything.
Moreover, there were plenty of benefits involved in continuing with nursing:
- I was able to continue inhaling fat and calories without consequences. Seriously: as I once heard actress Julie Bowen say, nursing babies are like little liposuction machines. It was never possible for me to eat too much for her little appetite.
- I never had to worry about malnutrition during picky spells. Toddlers are famous for going days or weeks without eating much of anything, and for being exasperatingly choosy in what they’ll eat. Lydia was no exception. At least while breastfeeding part time, I never had to worry that she wasn’t getting enough of the right stuff. Of course she was. Breast milk has got everything!
- I knew breastfeeding was helping keep her immune system strong, especially during cold and flu season. Apart from a few stuffy noses and a mild fever that lasted a day, Lydia hasn’t been seriously ill or had to visit a doctor’s office once in her short life so far. I think I have nursing to thank in part for this. (It also helps that she’s not in day care.)
- It’s just so effortless. If I’m busy on the computer and she starts hassling me for a drink, I can just let her climb onto my lap and latch on while I continue typing. Breastfeeding is a boon for lazy moms.
- I like it. I enjoy our special snuggle time. I love the content look on her face as she sits curled up on my lap, calmly sucking and breathing and thinking. I get a kick out of looking into her drowsy eyes and asking, “Do you love mommy milk?” and having her nod her head dreamily, still drifting along in her own world.
In short, there were only pros and zero cons to continuing our breastfeeding relationship. Whenever I would think, “I should really get on that weaning thing,” I would come up short with reasons to go through the trouble.
And now, here we are, at almost two years, and she’s still nursing.
* * *
I confess, I’ve finally come across one con to nursing:
I think it’s contributing to my inability to get pregnant again.
I would really like to give Lydia a sibling, and it just isn’t happening. But of course, I can’t know for sure that nursing is the culprit. I had trouble getting pregnant the first time, and my body seems to be doing the exact same thing it was doing three years ago. But breastfeeding so much might be a contributing factor in my secondary sub-fertility.
Lately, I’ve been thinking I really should put some effort into weaning. For the sake of baby#2.
For a while, a few weeks ago, we were doing really good. When Lydia would ask for “mommy milk,” I could often satisfy her with an offer of cow milk, water, or chocolate (depending on her need). When she would wake up at night, I could often get her to drift back to sleep simply by rubbing her back. We were down to nursing only two or three times a day and maybe once at night. I was finally starting to gain back some much-needed weight (much needed, I believe, for a second pregnancy).
But then she started getting molars, and NOTHING ELSE could placate her but the breast. No food, no drink, no cuddles. So we’re back to nursing several times during the day and way too many times at night.
It’s a nuisance. I feel anxious about my ticking biological clock. I’m resigning myself to the fact that we almost certainly won’t have a big family like I’d always imagined.
But for now, we’re still nursing. I don’t know how long we’ll continue, and whether I’ll finally decide to take action.
All I know is that for now, I’m still loving it. And I know she is, too.