My first child was born in March 2010. When I was pregnant I knew I would breastfeed, but I hadn’t put much thought into it beyond that. I’d heard that you were supposed to breastfeed exclusively for six months before introducing solids, so I figured I’d give it those six months at least. Of course, as I did more research I realized babies still needed human milk even after starting solids. She wasn’t going to switch from breastfeeding to surf and turf on the day she turned 6 months! Okay, so a year then. That’s what most moms did, wasn’t it?
I remember when Tee was just a few days shy of her first birthday. She didn’t look like a “big kid”. She looked like my baby. I honestly didn’t buy that a few days would suddenly make my milk worthless and unnecessary. So we kept nursing. As I became more comfortable and more educated about the benefits of breast milk, I discovered that lots of women didn’t stop at a year. In fact, Health Canada and the World Health Organization both recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months then continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond.
But a two-year-old isn’t a baby! Why would a two-year-old need breast milk? I started doing some research and discovered multiple studies that showed the longer babies are breastfed, the better the outcomes for both mom and baby. I read anthropological research that presented several lines of evidence estimating the natural, normal age for humans to wean as somewhere between two and a half to seven years old. If you’re interested, Dr. Katherine Dettwyler summarizes some of the data here. That’s what the full-term in full-term breastfeeding means.
Nursing, or “sissies” as Tee called it, was special time – time for her to slow down and take a break in her rush to learn to walk, to run, to play, to talk. Breast milk was the magic potion that put her to sleep at naptime and bedtime. When she fell down or had night terrors, nursing soothed her hurts and calmed her fears. At around 18 months, we night weaned. It took about a week where I just explained, “Sissies is sleeping until morning.” Once we were sleeping through the night, I didn’t see any pressing reasons to quit. On a typical day she nursed once in the morning and once before naptime.
And then Tee was about to turn two, and I got pregnant with my second child. By this time, I knew two other moms who also breastfed their babes into toddlerhood, as well as countless moms online. I didn’t see it as weird anymore. I breastfed throughout my pregnancy and continued to nurse my oldest after Kay arrived in August 2012. I love that my two daughters shared that nursing bond. I preferred to breastfeed one child at a time, but the occasional time I tandem nursed, my oldest, then two and a half, loved to hug and pet her new baby sister as they nursed together.
Like most families, we were super busy through the December holiday season and spent many evenings out late. Tee had new toys and family visits and playmates that all took precedence over nursing. We missed one day, then two days, then three. The last time she nursed was on New Year’s Eve 2012 at 34 months old, and so in the end she weaned herself gently and painlessly. Both of us were ready to end this phase of our relationship, but I do still sometimes miss the sweetness of her little hand patting my cheek or her beautiful green eyes looking up at me.
My youngest will be turning a year old this month, and we are still going strong. I hope our nursing relationship ends just as softly and gently when the time is right for both of us. I’m comfortable leaving that up to her.