I never thought I’d be here, writing about breastfeeding a toddler who is hurtling towards the age of three. In fact, in just over three months’ time my youngest will turn three years old and I may, possibly, be here writing about breastfeeding a pre-schooler. Is three still a toddler? Probably not. Sob.
Anyway, the extended breastfeeding thing. I realised I haven’t written about breastfeeding here since March, which may be because not much has changed since then. We’re still here, still plodding along and still very much boob-obsessed. I certainly never planned to be feeding Baby Girl this long and, if you’d have asked me back when she was a newborn if I’d have pictured myself here as a fully-fledged extended breastfeeder, I’d have laughed in your face.
It’s not that I have any particularly strong feelings about breastfeeding either way. If we’d had encountered problems I’d have probably gone down the bottle-feeding route. But we didn’t, and so, because it’s always been fairly easy for us and because Baby Girl relies on the boob so much for comfort, we’ve just sort of carried on.
Of course we’re getting to the age now where people either just assume we’ve long since stopped, or are surprised when I say we’re still going. In fact, it’s almost become a point of embarrassment for me, because I don’t want to be labelled one of “those weird documentary mums”. And the thing is, while I’m completely confident and comfortable in my choice to continue to breastfeed my daughter as long as she wants it, I’m also very aware that I’m probably in the minority as an extended breastfeeder. So I thought I’d write about it here, just in case any of you reading this are in the same boob boat as me. Perhaps you can relate to some of these feelings?
Although we’re still breastfeeding, it’s very much a source of comfort for Baby Girl rather than a source of nutrition these days. Unlike her sister, she’s never sucked her thumb or had a special blanket, so when she gets tired or is really upset about something, then she’ll always ask for “boobie”. Most of the time this is at home, perhaps a couple of times a day. She always wants it first thing in the morning when she wakes up and last thing at night before she goes to bed. But sometimes she might ask for it a couple of times during the day too.
When I’m not with her she’s fine. I’ve left her overnight for multiple nights a few times. There’s no discomfort for me, which I guess shows that I’m not the huge milk machine I was a couple of years ago. She seems to accept the lack of boob when I’m not around and is happy with a cuddle, but if I’m there then only boob will do.
The few times I’ve tried to withhold it she’s got so upset she’s nearly vomited and it’s been so stressful for all of us, I’ve always relented. It feels cruel to keep it from her when she can’t understand why she can’t have it. And I just don’t have the energy for the huge battle that would ensue if I was to suddenly force her to go cold turkey. I’m at home with her most of the time, so it would be really hard to distract her from it. Perhaps if she was in nursery full time or I worked out of the house then it would be a different story, but here we are.
That’s not to say I’m completely Earth Mother Zen about the whole thing. I’m not. There are times I just don’t want to be touched, could do without little grabbing hands pulling at my top or tweaking at my nipples. And when she’s on there it can be a real battle to get her off again – she would probably happily live with her face permanently stuck to a boob if I let her. So there’s that.
But on the other hand, it’s an incredibly quick, efficient and easy way to calm an overwrought toddler. I know that, if needed, a quick boob fix will instantly end a tantrum, or get her to sleep, or basically answer any multitude of toddler dramas. When she’s been poorly in the past it’s been a relief to know that even if she won’t eat then she’s at least getting some sort of nutrition from me.
I guess, like most things parenting related, my main issue with breastfeeding a toddler is the perception of others. I don’t have any massively strong feelings on breastfeeding or attachment parenting or any sort of parenting in general. We literally do what feels right for us on any given day. I’m not an advocate for any type of way to raise a child, except the way that is best for each individual family. For us, this has just sort of happened, but I’m aware that there are some people who will assume I’m a “yoghurt knitter” because I’m here breastfeeding a toddler. People are often so quick to put labels on others and it seems breastfeeding is often a really emotive subject – even though our situation has literally nothing to do with anyone else.
Anyway, I sometimes get asked if I have a plan. Will I stop feeding her when she’s out of nappies? Well that’s happened, yet here we are. Will I stop feeding her when she sleeps through the night? Again, it’s happened and, again, here we are. Will I stop feeding her when she’s three? Who knows. To be honest, I sense that we’re coming towards the end of it – or at least will be soon. And I hope that’s the case. But I also know that I need it to be gentle, natural and completely in Baby Girl’s own time. Call me lazy, but I just can’t deal with the drama.
Are you breastfeeding a toddler? Can you relate to any of the above? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.
(P.S. The top in the photo above is my new breastfeeding favourite from Joules. There’ll be a mini summer holiday breastfeeding-friendly outfits haul and try-on video coming soon on my YouTube channel, if that’s your thing!)
I found your blog while googling something like “18 month old still up every few hours at night- extreme sleep deprivation” and was so heartened reading your posts on your similar situation.
I love your humour and honesty and it really helped knowing that I wasn’t the only one out there with a child that didn’t sleep.
Now at almost 2 we’re sleeping better and still breastfeeding and again I see myself in you and appreciate this post!
I never thought I’d be here either but my son is pretty set on having his morning, nap time and evening nurse and I want to let him have that for as long as he needs it.
Thanks for talking about this! Nice to hear from other unexpectedly extended breastfeeding mothers.
Hi Lucy, thanks so much for your lovely comment. It’s heartening to know I’m not the only one with a tot who’s fully dedicated to the boob! Glad to hear the sleep is going better. Sleep deprivation is HARD isn’t it? xx
Nelly Ritchie says
I think I was sort of the opposite of you, I breastfed Zoe and sort of assumed I’d be doing it for ages, I had friends who breastfed up to 4! I was also a big part of the breastfeeding and babywearing community so just embraced the idea and was in it for the long haul.
Zoe had other ideas, she was miss independent pretty much from birth and decided herself that by 12 months we were done with it. Looking back maybe it was a nursing strike, but it coincided with me returning to work so we went with it on her terms and stopped.
I have mixed feelings, as I was glad I didn’t have the weaning drama, and it was a fairly gentle experience, but I did miss it.
Im still feeding noah, he will be three in December…. I love breastfeeding and fed all my iyhers but never this long. I feel a lot like you I have no over whelming pull towards any specific parenting style and never imagined feeding this long, I generally dont mention the fact we still breastfeed ti anyone, like you im comfortable with it personally and have no hang ups except other people’s views. I dont know when we’ll stop I dont like to put a time frame on it as really it will just be when it will be. Will I still be feeding a preschooler… maybe, when he starts full time school… who knows when he leaves schools well I’m pretty certain it’ll all be a distant memory by then… ????
I love your attitude – I think it’s really important to just go with the flow and do what suits you as a family. Some people’s choices aren’t right for others, after all. Thank you for your lovely comment. x
I nursed my daughter (now nearly 8) until she self weaned at 27 months she is the most out going non clingy little lady. I’m currently nursing my boob monster of a 32 month old little man, I totally understand what you say regarding tantrums etc, you’re not saying you’re rewarding them by breastfeeding but giving him the chance to feel close, calm and able to breathe through what can be very big emotions for a little person. I can’t see my little Oliver slowing too soon as it’s such a such a source of comfort and love for him, pretty sure we’ll go with the flow. It’ll be the time soon enough until then breathe him in x
You’re so right – I’m sure in a couple of years this will be a distant memory and I’ll miss it! xx
I miss breastfeeding.. but i never used it to ‘reward’ a tantrum or upset, it was always food/a drink. I don’t agree with breastfeeding this long. You did ask for opinions /comments – so I hope people don’t attack me for mine!
Thank you for your comment Andrea. And I appreciate your honesty. I must say, though, that I think breastfeeding is so much more than just nutrition. With F she did only use it for nutrition as she had a comfort blanket and sucked her thumb. E has never been that way though, as much as we’ve tried to encourage other types of comfort items for her. I don’t agree that I use breastfeeding to “reward” tantrums, I think if a toddler is very upset about something and needs comfort then it’s just the same as offering a comfort blanket or them sucking their thumb. It’s about providing security and love, which is a really important part of being a parent, I think.
I agree Molly – I’m ‘still’ breastfeeding my two and a half year old,- I don’t use it as a reward for tantrums – just as I wouldn’t give food/drink as a ‘reward’ – they’re essentials for life, and sometimes a toddlers tantrum is because they’re over-tired/hungry/thirsty and that is there way of telling us. For us it’s about providing comfort/security when he’s upset, tired, hurt or scared. Now he’s older it’s less about nutrition and more about making him feel safe, secure and loved – totally an important part of being a parent.
This is right, I definitely see “tantrums” differently now I’ve had more experience of different children. Obviously if Effie did something that was deliberately testing boundaries then I wouldn’t reward her with boob or anything else, but in lots of cases a tantrum is just a toddler’s way of communicating that they need something, or are tired etc. In our case boob is often the only thing that will do in a situation like that, simply because it’s such a source of comfort for her. Freya was totally different and just had a blanket and her thumb, but Effie has never had a comforter in that sense, other than my boobs! x
I miss feeding libby, always felt I stopped too soon – she was 3…
Do whatever feels normal 🙂
Thanks Jane xxx