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!)