If you want to see people get really passionate about a topic, don’t go to the New York Times and read comments debating the merits of presidential candidates. Instead, go to any article about the recent photo series depicting moms nursing their children older than 12 months. Boy, things get heated.
I’ve nursed all of my three kiddos beyond the 12-month mark — 14 months, 15 months and currently still at 17 months. With my first weaning experience, I was pregnant with my second and felt like my body was tapped out. With my second, I was just ready to be done. My youngest is a little trickier, and weaning her has been two steps forward and one step back.
Nursing into the toddler months is actually a pretty natural progression, at least for me. It didn’t make sense to cut off nursing at a certain time, by a certain calendar date. I thought I’d be done nursing my youngest baby a couple of months ago, but life got in the way of that. We’d cut way down on nursing, and then she’d get sick and refuse all other food for weeks at a time. Those are the times when you’re thankful that at least you have something to offer because they literally won’t eat or drink anything else.
Before I had kids or had any experience breastfeeding, I remember being shocked when I saw a woman in public walking around with boob out and baby on it. I remember thinking it was crazy that my husband nursed until he was 18 months. Now? Well, that’s me. It’s one of those things about parenting: You don’t know what you’ll actually do until you’re in that situation. Some people though, apparently think nursing beyond 12 months is a totally crazy thing that only totally crazy moms do. There are all sorts of arguments against it. Here are a few I’ve seen and my responses to them.
Common Comments about Breastfeeding Beyond a Year
If they can ask for it, they don’t need breastmilk. One of the genius responses I saw to this argument was that they ask for it from day one. It’s true: Newborns ask to be cuddled and fed pretty much immediately after birth with their cries. Of course how they ask for it will evolve with their abilities — and you have to help teach them what’s appropriate and what’s not — but even a 6-month-old will throw himself in the general direction of your boob as a sign that he wants to nurse.
If they have teeth, they can eat real food. Sure, once the teeth start coming in, they get better at eating real food, and even the most die-hard nursing moms start introducing real food around 6 months. But recommendations are that breastmilk or formula make up the bulk of a baby’s diet until they’re 12 months. My youngest didn’t even get her first tooth until she was 11 months old. Introducing food is a gradual progression — most kids don’t suddenly toss their milk aside and start eating full meals of steak and potatoes at 1.
If they can hold a cup, they don’t need it. A lot of arguments I see have more of an issue with the method of milk delivery than with a toddler drinking breastmilk itself. “Put it in a cup!” they say. People, this requires PUMPING. Which is a pain in the ass. Clearly, these people have never had to pump.
It has no nutritional value. Yes. Science clearly says that the milk that gives your baby so many nutrients up until 12 months turns into a completely different kind of milk at that time devoid of benefits. In fact, women’s bodies KNOW down to the HOUR when it’s been 12 months and suddenly start producing the kind of breastmilk that provides absolutely no nutrients; it’s basically water. But it’s water that doesn’t even hydrate a baby! Again, #science.
It’s more for the mom. If people think moms are getting all kinds of jollies from nursing a toddler, they’ve never nursed a toddler. Sure, there’s a bit of nostalgia and “aww, my baby is growing up,” but nursing a toddler isn’t always a sweet cuddlefest. My baby actively pinches and pushes my face away; it’s like she wants to cuddle but at the same time wants nothing to do with me. I think it’s a preview into the teen years. Not to mention the fact that it’s super fun when ONLY mom can comfort the baby because the baby wants mommy and milk. It’s nice to be in demand, but sometimes you just want to skip bedtime and pass off the duties.
In some ways though, nursing through the toddler years IS for the mom. Very much so. When something can so quickly and easily comfort a toddler, it’s hard to give up that little bit of magic. My daughter like clockwork gets super grumpy and clingy before dinner. It makes cooking dinner with both hands and sanity intact very difficult. But if I nurse her for about 60 seconds, she’ll carry on with her day independently and roam around in toddler style. For us, breastfeeding makes life easier. With three kids, I need all the easy I can get.
I’m ready to be done nursing, sure. Cutting out overnight nursing sessions has been the best thing for our sleep, for certain. (Note: Don’t wait until 17 months to overnight wean for the love of all that is holy. I knew this and in my sleep-deprived brain put it off. Don’t!) And I don’t anticipate that I’ll be breastfeeding even another month from now. But I’ve always found that it’s easier on me and my babies if weaning is a slow progression rather than an abrupt stop.
There is no hard and fast rule as to when it’s right to wean. Some women never start breastfeeding. Some women breastfeed for a day and decide it’s not for them. Some moms and kids carry on for years. The thing is, it’s no one’s business but the mom and child’s. I’m not planning to nurse until she self-weans; I’m gently nudging her in that direction every day. But it’s not my place to judge a mom who wants to nurse her kindergartner. Nursing beyond a year isn’t weird to those who do it — and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else. As one Facebook commenter so eloquently stated, “Mind your tits” and don’t worry about anyone else’s.
Did you get judgment for breastfeeding beyond 1? —Erin