what's it like breastfeeding a two-year-old?
Austen's birthday was on the thirteenth. I was just thinking today, as we were sitting on the couch nursing... Wow! I'm nursing a two-year-old! Which means I've reached my breastfeeding goal of two years.
Why two years? Well, really, there's a plethora of reasons, but the main one I would give if anyone were to ask "you're still breastfeeding?" (no one's asked me that since I was breastfeeding 14-month-old River, though) is that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until at least two years of age. Read that again: at least two years of age.
But I'm not here to talk about how awesome breastmilk is and all that, though I am having to resist temptation. I'm here to talk about what it's like feeding a two-year-old. A squirmy, talking, running, jumping, energetic, playful, imaginative two-year-old. Yes, a two-year-old who can say, as clear as a bell, things like "Mama, I wanna nurse," and "other side!" and "all done."
Honestly? It's no different than it was a year ago.
Since I was pregnant with her, two years has been my breastfeeding goal. I wanted to make it to two years with River, but when I became pregnant with Austen I just couldn't do it. For a number of reasons, I wasn't interested in breastfeeding during my pregnancy. I was disappointed, but not ashamed, and never regretful. But because I wasn't able to breastfeed River until he was two, I was even more determined to be able to breastfeed Austen for as long.
I thought maybe it would feel strange. I thought by the time she had reached her second birthday, I would be done. Emotionally and physically, I thought its toll would be taken on me, and I wondered if I would feel awkward breastfeeding a full-blown toddler.
But it's not awkward. It's as sweet and natural feeling as it was a year ago. I can say in all honesty that nothing has changed. I can also say that breastfeeding in front of the people whom I breastfeed in front of on a regular basis -- my immediate family, as well as my mother, father, brother, sisters, cousin -- does not feel strange or awkward. Everyone is used to seeing Austen nurse (multiple times a day) and everyone is accepting and supportive. It's weird for... well, no one.
I am lucky to have such a great support system. I know not all women can say this. If I didn't... if instead, my family told me to stop, or told me that she was too old to nurse, or that I should nurse her in another room, or that she needs to find another way to comfort herself, maybe I wouldn't have made it to two years.
Support is so important. If you have a breastfeeding woman in your family, offer her all the support you can. The health and development of our children depend on it.
I must be transparent and say that last week, I experienced nursing aversion for the first time with Austen, which was discouraging, because it happened so suddenly and unexpectedly and was so strong, that I wondered if it was permanent. It was so awful, I couldn't nurse her for more than ten minutes at a time, and switching sides did not count. Luckily, it was not permanent, and only lasted for three days. So, that means I have really nothing else to say about that. I wish I could give some great advice on how to handle it, but it was so short lived, for which I'm thankful, because I thought the weaning process was going to begin.
I do have a quick word on weaning before I close, though. I don't think weaning is a bad thing. I know this sounds weird to say, especially if you are not familiar with child-led weaning. Some people choose to let their children wean themselves, because they believe it to be the most natural, healthy way: letting their child guide the weaning process and trusting them to know when they are done. I am not opposed to this at all; however, I do believe that mother-led weaning can be a natural, gentle process as well. After all, even mammals in nature wean their young. When I started feeling aversion to breastfeeding Austen, I accepted that perhaps this was my body's way of telling me it was time to begin weaning, which would start with the night-nursing. (Yes, my two-year-old nurses a couple times at night.) Though the aversion did pass, if I do experience the same feelings in the future for a long period of time, I will take steps to begin weaning her. I don't think this is a bad, unnatural, or unhealthy thing. For some families child-led weaning works; I have never seen myself as someone to follow this route. This is just to offer some encouragement for moms who might feel bad for wanting to wean their toddlers. (Again, if you're not familiar with the extended breastfeeding world, this probably sounds really strange to you. Carry on.)
The moral of the story is, breastfeeding a toddler is natural. Physiologically and anthropologically, they are still built to nurse, and to need to nurse. With plenty of support from family members and a solid community of women, breastfeeding can continue painlessly and beautifully into the third year of life.
I love my little nursling, and proud that we've made it to two years. :)