"Extended breastfeeding", or, just plain old "nursing a toddler" sure is a hot topic these days. Why, you ask? Well, I'm not quite sure... but opinions and insults are flung back and forth in the blogosphere between those mommies who "parent-wean", and those who "child-wean". Basically, do you decide to actively take steps to wean your baby at the common, culturally/socially/what-have-you 12 month mark (or at some other point, maybe before or after 12 months)? Or do you go off the res and continue to breastfeed until baby weans his or her self? That is, until they just don't show much interest and stop asking to nurse, or, they are just too busy, or they find comfort in other things (if they were ever a comfort nurser which not all babies are), etc., which could happen anytime up to about age... 20? Haha, I'm just kidding. The average natural weaning age for humans has been shown to be anywhere between 2 and 7 years of age (American Academy of Family Physicians, 2008). I think, however, that the term "extended breastfeeding" applies to nursing beyond 12 months. Of course there are shades of grey here, and it's not an all-or-nothing (all parent or all baby-led) situation by any means, but that's the gist.
Anyway, it's a hot topic. If you don't believe me, go google it and you will find yourself in the middle of a tornado of controversy, complete with lots of unfortunate flaming between mommy bloggers. It's sad. Don't get me started on mommy bloggers and flaming. Can't we all just get along?
We are nearing the 18 month mark with our dear Eliza, and nursing is still her #1 favorite hobby. Heheh. Okay I might be exaggerating. But seriously? This girl is downright giddy about nursing.
So what's it like? I was just asked about this by a friend and school colleague the other day who also had a baby in grad school (yes, it wasn't just me!), and it got me thinking about how different it is than nursing a teeny baby.
Overall, BFing a toddler has been and is so much fun. Eliza really understands what's going on and how to ask for milk, and is starting to "play" somewhat at the breast, which is so so cute. For example, she'll pop off and look up at me and make a face, and then pop back on, or she'll pop off and go run around the room for 30 seconds and then climb back in my lap and continue to nurse. I love it, and I'm happy to oblige her in her games - most of the time, at least :) She also has started to nurse her baby dolls as well as bring her baby dolls to me and ask me to nurse them (this is the cutest - she makes a little sucking sound when she does it too!). She has gotten so polite lately that she now signs "milk", and then "please", and even "thank you" when she's done (not all the time, but often).
Of course there are definitely some things I miss about nursing my teeny tiny baby. For one, nursing a toddler HURTS a lot more! Eliza's nursing has become very physical; she kicks her legs and flails her arms around and boy is that girl STRONG. Also, she has picked up the bad habit of pinching and grabbing at things with her free hand when she is nursing (favorite target these days is mama's other nipple. Seriously??). Also, her latch has gotten really lazy. Gone are the days of the text book open mouth "fish lips" latch. Her latch is so haphazard now, she just does whatever works. She will often just feel around with her mouth until she finds what she thinks is probably the nipple, and then just SUCKS IN really hard. Because, you know, as long as it's in the VICINITY, she'll get it into her mouth if she sucks hard enough, right? OUCH!!! Thankfully, I've gotten used to this and it doesn't hurt anymore.
We've been through a lot - rough patches of biting due to teething, biting for fun, times when she wanted to nurse pretty much every hour all day and wanted nothing to do with food, times when she would only nurse at nap and bedtime and put down a ton of food that day. I've just tried to go with the flow and follow her lead. Eliza was/is a baby who loved nursing very much. She has continued to show interest in nursing, and she shows no signs of slowing. We've nursed "on demand" since day one and the demand just hasn't slowed down. So, here we are!
I wanted to write about nursing a toddler because I know there are probably lots of moms doing it and lots of moms who are thinking of doing it, but don't know much about it because it is still considered taboo in our mainstream culture. I love it, and Eliza loves it, so we continue to do it. If one of us started hating it, we'd stop. So, do what works for you. Don't let other people or society or our culture pressure you to either continue breastfeeding or to wean your baby before you are ready.