Piglet, my #3, is 34 months old and still breastfeeding.
I feel strange, writing about it. Nursing has become such a normal part of my life I hardly give it a conscious thought. But recently someone asked “Who is still nursing a toddler? What age?” on Facebook and it evoked all kinds of memories.
Please let me say at the start I am fully aware we are in the hey-day of breastfeeding, but this isn’t a post about what I think should be. Its a post with some facts and foibles for those who are curious about my nursing story, a record of my journey for our little ones who may one day become fathers and mothers. My story is just one of millions of other women, unique in their personalities and circumstances. Besides, there are enough comments that pit mothers who exclusively breastfeed against mothers who formula-feed – and those in-between, the mixed feeders. That is a miry place with enough of muck in it and I’m not going there.
I’ve been nursing a long time – for the past 7 years, 6 months and 20 days to be exact.
It’s been that long, not because I had a schedule, not because of some romantic ideal of the kind of mother I thought all mothers should be, or one that I wanted to be. If there was anyone who entered motherhood without an initial vision of motherhood and a knowledge of motherly subjects, that was me.
Puppy’s birth was a turning point. Getting on the breastfeeding road was hard, but it taught me ever so many things about my first baby, my body and my coping abilities. It was a deeply vulnerable experience, a time when my faith in God was deepened and I began to see some things I unconsciously assumed as impossible, were possible.
The only goal I had about nursing was to follow the general recommendation – nurse exclusively for 6 months, then continue for up to at least 2 years. It seemed possible since I would be staying home to finish my postgraduate course.
I found nursing on demand a real challenge. I had decided I wouldn’t use bottles, for fear of nipple confusion and wanting to avoid the task of bottle management altogether, so the act of feeding Puppy fell completely on me. There were numerous times, day and night, I had to stop studying or writing to go get Puppy, latch her on, then continue whatever I was doing with my free hand. Assignments got delayed and I worked late into the night, resting whenever I could and being so thankful for my mother who came to help in the daytime.
I learned how to get accustomed to carrying Puppy in a sling, going out with her and nursing discreetly in all kinds of situations – eating out, walking, shopping, signing credit card slips, even emergency visits to the public toilet. (I know, yuck! But it would be a screaming baby inside a toilet stall or me peeing in my pants, and I wanted neither.)
The sling was my breastfeeding cover. It normalised nursing for me instead of making it an awkward, dreaded chore. Going out was so easy without having to pump in advance, without bottles to prepare or carry or wash thereafter, I didn’t feel that life outdoors had to stop. It was just throw a diaper, some wet wipes, extra baby clothes and my sling into a bag, and go.
Eventually, “extended” nursing grew out of a “wing it along the way” attitude, along with a desire to meet what I perceived were Puppy’s needs as a toddler. When I got pregnant the second time, Puppy was 18 months old and definitely didn’t want to stop nursing. I hadn’t any complications in my first pregnancy that would warrant ending nursing, so I simply continued and ended up tandem nursing the both of them when Lamb was born. It was a tough circus act for the first few weeks, but I got used to it.
When Piglet was born, Lamb was 30 months old and he wasn’t ready to stop nursing either. At that point, Puppy was 3 months short of her fifth birthday and nursing once every few weeks. It didn’t seem like a far jump to nurse 3 children, and although I had my fair share of challenging days it seemed a natural thing to do. Furthermore, Puppy and Lamb were homeschooling at home. Everyone was together the whole day and nursing was just another part of life together.
It did seem crazy though. I didn’t have any friends or knew anyone personally who did the same. I didn’t tell people I was nursing while pregnant or tandem nursing unless someone asked me if the older child had stopped. I was afraid of coming across as a breastfeeding junkie, a breastfeeding addict, someone who didn’t know the meaning of boundaries or how to teach children “independence”. I certainly didn’t feel any of those things, but the isolation I felt in my personal experience and the surprised reactions of those who found out only served to nurture all kinds of unhelpful thoughts. I pushed them away whenever they came and just did what I felt was healthy for our family.
Until I was a tandem nursing mama of two, I hadn’t heard about Dr Bill Sears or terms such as “child-led weaning” or “attachment parenting” until a friend pointed them out to me, observing that I seemed to practise such methods and asking what I thought about them. I had to say, “I’m not sure, let me google.”
Perhaps sharing information about what toddler nursing and extended nursing is like, for me, will help me feel a little more understood. But in any case, exposing one’s heart is always dicey. I will probably gain a few sympathisers as well as an increased following of those who think I am a queer fish.
Do I love nursing my tot, once a day, in the early hours of the morning while it’s still dark and I’d feel so much better with a couple more hours of uninterrupted sleep instead?
Do I find it easy, nursing when I’m 33 weeks pregnant? How is Piglet positioned in front of my belly when it’s so torpedo-shaped, people have asked me whether it’s just a ball I slip under my shirt? (Some have even patted it, to make sure it’s real.)
How do those little teeth feel now, gripped on like steel?
Does “extended” nursing make my child more dependent on me – in an always clinging-to-mama’s skirts, unhealthy and irritating sort of way?
I’ll answer these questions in my next post.
This week, I have a post about 11 Ways to Teach Your Toddler Practical Life Skills at Home, at Makchic. Feel free to drop by and have a read!
And thanks for visiting! I’d love for you to join me with a cuppa and poke around! If you enjoyed reading, you may wish to follow Mama Hear Me Roar on Facebook or subscribe by email for updates.