Family Life

How I Stumbled Into Full-Term Breastfeeding

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.

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  • What a beautiful post. I stopped breastfeeding my first son when he was 8 months old. With my second son, I’m not sure when I want to stop since the breastmilk will be so beneficial. I was planning to go on till he turns one, but now may go longer. Thanks for this post.

  • What a beautiful nursing story for breastfeeding week! I love how calm and happy it sounds. I hope when the time comes weaning my son will be as gentle!

    • Thank you, Michelle! Not everything was perfect and peaceful all the time, of course, but I’m glad things worked out the way they did. 🙂

  • My story is a little like yours. I was hoping to be able to breastfeed for at least 6 months, and was hoping for a full year. I have been fortunate that my supply is still good, and my daughter still enjoys nursing. She is going to be 2 in a month. My husband thinks she shouldn’t nurse any longer. I feel guilty to cut her off cold turkey, and would prefer she weans herself.

    So, not sure what will happen in September. I’ll be back at work, and my daughter in daycare. Perhaps all the changes will cause her to wean herself. I’ll have to wait and see.

    I’m so happy to have had all this time with her, but I’m sad that it will be coming to an end.

    • I think you’re right that extra time apart will impact your nursing relationship, but there are many women who continue to nurse after returning to work, especially when their toddlers are older and don’t need to nurse during the day. Congratulations on what you and your daughter have already accomplished, whatever you decide!

  • Love this! I nursed my first for 6 months, my second for not even four months and this time around, I’m determined to simply nurse as long as I can, my goal is one year but if we don’t make it, I will be okay with that but if I make it past a year until my daughter can simply self-wean, that would be my ideal!

  • Thats beautiful 🙂 I did the same, while pregnant said 6 months, then after that a year, now that I’m back to work my daughter has weaned herself for the most part. She nurses in the morning and sometimes when I get home. She gets a bottle at night because when hubby started putting her to bed this was easier for him, then she began to prefer it over nursing and waiting for the let down. Its so nice that you tandem nursed, its cute that the older, pet her baby sister, so cute!

  • Kudos for you! 🙂 I think extended BF is wonderful! I have a soon to be 2 year old, and I wish I had committed longer than 6 months. I just couldn’t handle the constant biting 🙁 . I started pumping but I found it hard to make time for it. If I am blessed with another baby, I would like to BF for at least a year 🙂 .