My son is 24 months old. And yes, he’s still nursing.
I never thought I’d be one of those moms — super weird because they let their talking toddlers approach them, lift their shirts and suckle at their tired breasts. I probably even said — at some point in my life — “If they can ask for it, then they’re just too old to do it. Gross.”
Funny, there’s no science in that statement — just a cultural bias — but people believe it anyway. I’m not throwing stones. I just told you I once had that bias, too.
Alas, I have become one of those mothers. While my son won’t lift my shirt — I do have standards. He will approach me and, with the sweetest voice, ask, “Mommy’s milkies?” Most times I’m happy to oblige, though we’re at the point where we can reason about it: “In a minute Elijah, when I’m done folding clothes.”
Sometimes I forget I’m in a funky minority. I forget how strange all that must seem to people — that kind of conversation about breastfeeding with the breastfeeder himself. I forget, too, how weird it looks when a 28-pound 2-year-old does his acrobatic act at my bosom.
(Truly, I try to do most of my toddler nursing in private. There’s just no real way to nurse him modestly, and, despite what you might think, I take no pleasure in purposefully shocking people.)
Toddler nursing is only strange because we don’t see it often. Were we in another culture, perhaps another time, it wouldn’t be so. And one cannot properly write about this subject without noting the great disparity — Ahem, hypocrisy? — in U.S. pop culture: We love women’s breasts when they’re falling out of halter tops in restaurants, but when a little one uses those breasts for their intended purpose? We’re grossed out, “offended” even.
Rarely do I make decisions that affect the health and welfare of my family based on what pop culture thinks is kosher. So, while I don’t flaunt it, I’m now happy to be one of those moms a lot of people misunderstand.
Breast feeding is just as good for my 2-year-old as it was for my 2-month-old, though certainly the benefits are different.
First, we have this necessary bonding time. I’m a full-time student who also traipses off to births at all hours. I’m away a lot. It pains me much — perhaps my children, more — and so I relish those quiet moment when I simply must sit down with my baby and reconnect.
Secondly, my son continues to get nutritional and immunity value from my breast milk. He also gets so much caffeine from my coffee habit, I’m sure, that my milk is virtual cappuccino — but still. He’s healthier from having it, I’m positive. After I cold-turkey weaned my daughter, now 6, on her third birthday, she promptly got the worst cold she’s ever had to date. Not a coincidence.
Third, breastfeeding through toddlerhood is part of an overall parenting approach, something along the lines of “attachment parenting.” I’m aiming to communicate, “I love you. I’m here to meet your needs. You can depend on me.” Sometimes I’ve communicated other things — like “Don’t you dare bite me!” — but most times it’s the sweet stuff I’m saying by nursing my big boy.