Sunday, September 2, 2012

Breastfeeding Part 4: Toddlers

(If you've missed my previous breastfeeding posts, spanning from birth up until today's discussion of toddlerhood, check back on the last few days of posts to catch up!)

So, nursing a toddler, yeah?  

If you would have told me a few years ago that I would be nursing my now almost 19 month old while pregnant with my second baby, I would have just about fallen on the floor of shock.  To say that I did not intend or plan on being in this position would be a very true statement.  However, here we are.

As I mentioned in the last post, after about month 6-7 of breastfeeding, it became really easy to nurse my son.  He was happy, I was happy, things were going really well.  Once we got to that point, I set a goal to breastfeed until he was a year old, because that sounded like the next good goal number.  I always thought to myself that when he reached one year we'd probably stop.

When my son turned one year old, however, it was a different story.  I kept looking at him while he was nursing.   As the days approached closer and closer to his birthday I kept thinking - he is no different than the day before.  I am no different than the day before.  Our relationship is no different than the day before.

I don't know why, but I maybe had expected some huge lightning bolt moment where we would both just realize we were all of a sudden done with breastfeeding, and then we would be done.  And, for whatever reason, because I'd never known anyone who'd breastfed longer than a year (or, really, anyone who had even made it to a year among my friends), I thought that moment would happen when he turned one.

It's kind of silly to me now, but when he turned one, and the next few days after, I just kind of waited, waited for him to stop asking to nurse, waited for myself to want to start the weaning process.  Neither happened.  And then it became a month, and two months, and longer.  Nothing had changed.  He was still my child, he still needed me, I still needed him.  

I think the main thing that kept me going at it was the comfort and ease of nursing.  He now only nurses twice per day, once when he wakes and once before he goes to bed.  But, for any of you who have or have had a toddler, it is SO calm when I am nursing my son.  He isn't up and around and moving, he just lays in my arms and cuddles.  Now, as soon as we're done, that's a different story, it's like 0 to 60 in about 5 seconds.  But for those few minutes of quiet cuddling, it is so worth it for us.

Because we only nurse morning and night, the problem of nursing in front of other people is almost never an issue, unless someone is staying at our house.  Although, typically, most of our guests are close family who know and understand.  So, it is a private thing.  Well, as private as it can be when shared through the internet with hundreds of my reader friends :)

Except that when people know you're still breastfeeding a toddler, a lot of times you hear odd, rude comments, or get random side-eyes from people.  I've heard my share of friends and family questioning why we are still nursing, assuming we've stopped (because he is over a year old AND because I'm pregnant), and asking when we are going to stop.  I continue to be honest about where we are because I'm not ashamed.  Here are a few reasons why:

Nutritionally, breastmilk is still providing for your child.  It makes me worry a whole lot less about his picky toddler diet when I know the following (taken from my favorite

 In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:
29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements
– Dewey 2001
I don't mess with or worry about vitamins or supplements. I don't obsess over him not eating as many vegetables as I would like, all mainly because I know he is still getting a large amount of the vitamins and nutrients he needs from my milk. In addition to all of the aforementioned vitamins and minerals breastmilk provides, it also shifts to have a higher fat content when your toddler is between the ages of one and two, which is really important because a higher (good) fat ratio is important in their growing diet to meet their needs.

While breastfeeding a toddler, you also continue to reap the benefits of decreased risk of illness and shorter illnesses when they do get sick. Breastmilk continues to provide immunity and protection after the age of one.  And while we're talking about better health, continuing to breastfeed your child is good for YOU as well! Mothers who breastfed (in some cases, the longer you nursed, the less of a risk you enjoy) have been found to have decreased risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, endometrial cancer, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes (if you did not have gestational diabetes). So, not only are you helping your child to be healthy, you are helping yourself to be healthier at the same time!

Additionally, there are some studies that suggest cognitive skills, mental skills, and social skills are positively influenced by breastfeeding, in some cases the longer your child nursed, the more benefit they obtained and the higher they scored on certain assessments. With everything I do for my child already, I consider it to be just one more thing I personally do to aid in his health and development.

As for the breastfeeding pitfall of being judged for what you are still doing, I'd encourage you with this.  You've made it this far to provide for your child and give to your child in this way because it meant something to you, your family, and your child.  Why let someone else's opinion matter now?  

There are, um, several fun things about nursing a toddler.  While nursing for us, on the whole, is a very quiet, calm event, for some mother and baby dyads, it is not.  Several of my mommy friends now have shown me pictures of their little ones crawling all over the place while still trying to nurse.  I personally, a time or two, have had fingers up my nose or in my eyes while my son nurses.  He also has a thing about letting me know when he is done very quickly, by sliding off my lap while still attached at times.  Ouch!

My son also thinks it's like a one-stop snack shop at times.  He will grab a pillow and stand at the chair we nurse in, waiting for me to come and sit down.  When I sit down, he'll run over, grab his no-spill snack cup and climb up.  Now that he can say the word phone- he will often request a 'movie' while he nurses.  (He likes to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse sometimes, which I find to be on the not-as-annoying side of baby entertainment!)  While some parents would be mortified, I think it's kind of sweet that he still finds that comfort in our relationship.

As I mentioned before, one of the more common questions I hear from family and friends is when will we stop nursing?  At this point, I'm really not sure.  I never intended to nurse this long, but here we are, so I can't estimate when we'll finish nursing.  I'm not opposed to tandem nursing (or continuing to nurse my son and my daughter at the same time after she is born), but that is only if my son is still interested and it works for our family.  If I've learned one thing about being a parent, it's that you need to be open, because you never know when you'll be eating your words about something you said you'd 'never' do.  :)

If you've been reading through all the past week's posts about breastfeeding from birth to toddlerhood, thank you for having an open mind and following along with my journey.  It has been an important part of our lives, and a way that we show love.  It is something I feel strongly about, however, I also feel strongly about each family making personal choices that work the best for their specific situations.  Thank you for listening to our breastfeeding stories.

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  1. I am one of the ones with a gymnastic nursing toddler! Though he has calmed down some, and also enjoys laying on me and nursing while watching shows.

    I will say, I'm starting to wish he'd at least cut back a little (he still does "na na," as he calls it, 4 or 5 times a day on the weekends, plus all night long). That means I still nurse in public quite frequently, but you know what? You don't make it to 20 months nursing without developing a pretty thick skin about it.

    It's hard to answer the "How long will you do this?" question. My answer always was and always will be: As long as he wants to.

  2. I thought that was you with the acrobatics! :-D

  3. I nursed my daughter until she was 15 months old. I wasn't ready to wean yet, but she was. I think it's wonderful that you've been able to continue this long! It's so wonderful for Mommy and child!

  4. I nursed my son until he was 23 months old. I've never thought it would be possible but it happened. I'm happy I did it. A month after I stopped nursing him I got pregnant. I'm due in December as well :)


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