Three kids and 6.5 years later, and I can count how many months on my hands that I have not been lactating. It’s been a case of ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’ and I certainly could not have prepared for this breastfeeding experience. I never thought I’d hear these kinds of things uttered from a breastfeeding ‘baby’ of mine:
“Mommy Milk tastes so much better. Yeesh, it do!”
“Want some — Phuleese!” (while pulling my shirt!)
“Udder one, now.” (pun intended, by me)
My breastfeeding “baby” is now a fully functionally 2 year old who still wants the boob. I’m in a precarious spot, as I’m both proud and wincingly embarrassed.
Why? Well, it’s complicated.
Let’s start with the actual breastfeeding which can feel like either sweet baby time or groping big kid. The chatter from my child is both odd but charming. Sucking away when she pops off to mention something in a fragmented toddler sentence, look at me in her sweet gaze for comprehension and then relatch to continue all leaves me with a head-shaking the feeling of “did she just TALK to me? This is weird.”
During our regular day, she’s a two year old in our house. But when we sit together at night or first thing in the morning for our “cuddle” she’s completely my baby. Cradled in my arms, I stroke her head, pat her bum and just be with her. I don’t really notice how she’s more than outgrown my arms or our rocking chair, but she has. When she talks when feeding, I’m shocked (every time!) by the reality that the child in my arms is no longer a young baby.
Every doll or stuffy in this house is brought to me regularly for “mommy milk”. Leaned up against my shirt for a moment and then hugged by my daughter. I adore the overt love and maternal instinct she has for her “babies” and I wonder if it’s due to our own long nursing relationship?
I recently bought Megan 2 little doll bottles, they appear to have liquid in them and when tipped the ‘liquid’ disappears. Kind of a neat trick and perfect for a doll crazy toddler. Alas, Meg thinks they are hilarious magic tricks but her dolls are lifted to her own chest or brought over to me for “mommy milk”. Not one doll has been fed a bottle.
I never set out to be the mom who’s nursing a 2 year old. I am not anti-formula and have fed it to my own children and support other moms who choose that as their option. But here I am, nursing like a crunchy hippie, and I love it. Most of the time.
The World Health Organization states “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.”
In North American society, despite this reco, 2 years is far from the norm. There aren’t even accurate stats for moms who breastfeed past 12 months! Many of us renegades feel pretty lonely on the extended breastfeeding path. My baby and I are about to start our 26th month and I feel a combination of proud and compromised, empowered yet embarrassed and mostly alone.
Anyone I know who’s breastfeeding a toddler wields the WHO ‘2 years old’ stat like a shield to protect against judgement. When really, why do we need a “reason”?
This not my first nursing child, my eldest was breastfed until 18 months and our middle child 15 months. Both of those nursing relationships ended for a reason, ones that I chose when I felt our time was done.
Here we are now with a third and last child, with no real major reason to wean. A couple of times I thought weaning was about to happen. First, when I started to pump more frequently around 8 months and then again at 18 months when I had to travel for work. Both times, Megan surprised me and hung in there. There were times when I wanted OUT and the idea of weaning seemed like an oasis, other times when I bawled at the idea of leaving overnight in fear it would impact my supply.
Now, just a few weeks past her second birthday, here we are, still nursing first thing in the morning and again late in the afternoon. I've been anticipating less interest and thought her 2 year birthday would change things. But it's stil our after-work ritual, Happy Hour is what I joke and call it. If I get busy and forget, a little hand will come to my leg and say “Mommy Milk?”. Or maybe a little more direct pulling of my shirt “Mommy Milk!!”
If we’re out in public, I can get quite embarrassed by that request. Then later I’m embarrassed by my embarrassment. Because, get a grip mama, we’re only breastfeeding, not doing anything worthy of being embarrassed about! Why am I placing my own judgement on this??
Still, I debate, am I perpetuating something that needs to end? Who needs this more – the “baby” or mama? Am I so far out on the ‘weird’ plank that this is just as “bad” as the viral story about the British woman breastfeeding her 8 year old? Am I in that camp? ‘Cuz it feels like it sometimes with the self-assumed judgement.
Breastfeeding support is tough to find at the best of times but harder to find on the extended side. How many other moms are like me, enjoying the special one-on-one time with their older child during their own Happy Hour? They certainly aren’t announcing it in their Facebook statuses! With three kids, I have spent a ton of time talking about nursing but conversation about extended nursing isn’t common over coffee – unless it’s to bash it.
Yet, a beautiful thing has happened in momstown recently. We did some work with our momstown minds panel with Bravado nursing bras and 100 momstown members received free beautiful new bras. This inspired loads of conversation on our message boards! Most of the conversation was about nursing younger babies but there were a some of us, extended breastfeeders, who admitted we were thrilled our hardworking breasts were rewarded with a fancy new bra!
In those comments, we came out of the closet. We left our private nurseries, figuratively, and announced that we were STILL breastfeeding. We were applauded, not bashed. Why was it I so embarrassed again??
We’re out there. Be proud. Tell people and remind them this is normal. If more people knew we were here, less of us would be huddled away, ‘secretly’ bonding with our children, and not sharing and supporting each other.
At this point, there is no other reason to keep nursing other than the indulged fact that my child, my 32 pound “baby” who runs like the wind and can vocalize how much she loves it, still has an interest and yearning for ‘mommy milk’. She loves me. And I love her.
Onwards we go…
– by Ann-Marie Burton, mom of 3, founder and president of momstown.ca; Follow Ann-Marie and the momstown team on Twitter @momstownCA, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram.