January 31st was my son’s first birthday. No, I still can’t believe it. Everyone said the year would fly by, and I’m still searching for where it went.
A baby’s first birthday is a major milestone for parents – especially new ones, like myself – because it comes with a flood of emotions and the realization that your baby, while always your baby, is now given the title of “toddler.”
I recently celebrated my son’s first year of life, and along with that, I also celebrated another big milestone: one year of breastfeeding.
On a personal level, I’m proud of making it this far in my breastfeeding journey. I really struggled with nursing those first few months, and I didn’t know if I could or wanted to continue beyond that point. Well, three months became six months, six months became nine months, and then here I am today. Had you asked me when my son was still a newborn if I would be nursing beyond a year, I would have said, “No way – I will be so ready for more freedom by then.” (I felt very tied down by nursing at the time.) But now, I can’t imagine stopping.
What I originally felt was just a natural way to feed my son became so much more over time. Nursing became a nurturing relationship, a beautiful bond with my son that I can’t describe. I quickly learned that nursing was about more than providing nutrition – nursing helps my son peacefully drift off to sleep (and he does not like to go to sleep!), it provides my son comfort and security, and it just works for us. I now have no intention of weaning my son until both or one of us is ready.
Sadly, not everyone – even family members or pediatricians I’ve seen – supports this choice. I’ve found that support for women choosing to breastfeed beyond infancy begins to quickly dwindle and opinions vary greatly. I’ve personally heard the word “disgusting” used to describe breastfeeding into the toddler years – both from people I know and from people commenting on articles and forums behind a computer screen. “They shouldn’t be nursing when they can walk to it or ask for it” is a statement I’ve heard more than a few times.
Due to cultural conditioning and the sexualization of breasts, we are taught that nursing has a deadline. The one year mark is often the time that breastfeeding mothers are asked by family members and even doctors if they are beginning the weaning process, despite the World Health Organization recommending breastfeeding for two years or more and despite the fact that breast milk does not magically lose its benefits at day 366. (And many people are surprised to learn that the natural weaning age is much later than age one – in fact, it’s around 4 years!) Questions and comments about weaning once her child reaches his or her first birthday can make a mother who would otherwise wish to continue breastfeeding question or feel ashamed of her choice.
I distinctly remember the first time I heard a very negative remark in response to someone breastfeeding beyond infancy. I was in my last trimester of pregnancy and working as a college counselor at the time. During an informal meeting, one of my students asked if I planned to breastfeed and proudly told me that she nursed her daughter until the age of two. This didn’t phase me. However, after my student left, another person who overheard the conversation came up to me and proclaimed, “What a sicko! Two years old?! There must be something wrong with her.” It took me some time to process this comment and inspired me to research extended breastfeeding after work that day. Since then, I’ve heard various comments from both relatives and strangers, ranging from downright rude (“nursing a toddler is weird/gross”) to those back-handed remarks where the tone changes everything (“you really still plan to nurse him?” or “can’t you just put it in a cup?”). And sometimes, I just get general statements like, “I bet you can’t wait to be done nursing soon!” This one has good intentions, but it still makes an assumption that breastfeeding has a deadline, and it is not supportive.
Honestly, I’ve learned to brush off most of these comments because they don’t always warrant a conversation. The sad reality is that some people are truly unwilling to understand why someone would choose to nurse a child beyond the first year – let alone significantly longer than that – regardless of any benefits for mother and child. But with others, such as close family members or friends and those who are genuinely interested in learning, I believe in taking the time to gently explain my choice. If I can give someone a better understanding or new information, they hopefully will walk away with a refreshed perspective and maybe even the inspiration to do more research on their own.
I don’t know how much longer I’ll be nursing. I don’t believe nursing is something that requires a set end date. However, what I do know is that I will continue to nurse my son until we are done nursing. What’s funny about parenting is that you think you know exactly how you’ll be as a parent before you even become one, and that changes when you welcome a new baby – and then continues to change as your child ages and grows into his or her unique temperament. You adapt and parent your child the way he or she needs to be parented at the time. And like any mom, that’s all I’m doing: parenting the way that feels right, the way that meets my son’s individual needs, and the way that is best for my family.
So, yes, I will be nursing my toddler. We’re not ready to wean, and if you take issue with that, you’re just going to have to deal with it.