day11

Breastfeeding a Toddler

I posted a little bit about our choice to let our children self-wean over on our SPB blog since it’s Breastfeeding Awareness Month in the USA.  Based on one of the comments that post received on FB, I am going to write more about the “hows” of breastfeeding an older child here today.

As of today, Otter is about two months shy of her fourth birthday, and continues to show interest in nursing.  I plan to continue until she self-weans.

1.) How it works for us.
I am not breastfeeding a toddler or a preschooler as often as I did a newborn.  I want you to know that the analogy of “a dance between two people” is applicable.  Unlike ballroom dancing, in our relationship there is no set leader or follower.  Sometimes I set the boundaries, sometimes my Sweet Pea says no or demands, “now!”…all are acceptable in our breastfeeding relationship.  I encourage you to find what works for you.

It became clear to me that Otter was using breastfeeding as a way to control access to Mommy.  If she didn’t want anyone else to have my attention, then she would demand to breastfeed and would make it impossible to do anything else.  That is when we started to set some boundaries and expectations, and pretty much stick to them.

The boundaries in our relationship: I told her she was always welcome to nurse first thing in the morning, or before bedtime at night.  If she wanted to nurse during the day, she would have to wait until I could lay down with her in bed, or until we could sit in our nursing chair.  If her teeth get involved, it’s an immediate cessation of that nursing session (this does not happen more than once or twice a year).  I also told her that nursing is primarily done at home.  When we are out in public, I ask her to wait.  Occasionally, there are exception: the times that I know she is super-tired or overstimulated and nursing really *is the answer*, we will nurse.

2.) Why my husband supports it, even with a male child.
My husband became an advocate of breastfeeding as we took our first Bradley class in 2004.  I will let him share why he has, and continues to support extended breastfeeding.

Extended Brestfeeding: A father’s viewpoint. By Bruss Bowman

Krystyna and I are parents to 4 wonderful, healthy and happy children.  We committed to together to have the best, healthy pregnancies and labors for all our children.  We took Bradley method birth classes for our first two children and then became certified to teach Bradley and have helped well over a hundred couples on their own personal birth/parenting journeys.  That philosophy of healthy pregnancy/labor/parenting extends into breast feeding of our children, the health benefits of which are well documented and I support whole-heartedly for all our children and extending to those families that we have helped through Bradley as well.
I was posed the question of father’s support for extended breast feeding, that is (in my opinion) a breast feeding relationship that extends beyond 2-3 years.  It is an interesting question for me, given my support for the healthy, natural path of pregnancy, labor and breast feeding; yet a big part of me is unquestionably old school…I wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to my first Bradley class, I went with a desire to support Krystyna to best of my ability whatever that path might be, but I certainly had a level of skepticism.  Yet my skepticism has fallen away through the years as I have learned and experienced, first hand and through our students, the undeniable benefits of the things we teach and live everyday.
So back to extended breast feeding, this was yet another challenge to my old school dogmatic thinking and I was not 100% comfortable with our family doing this.  But like so many things that came before,  through some introspection and prayer I did become comfortable with this extension, not so much of breast feeding itself but of Krystyna and my commitment to healthy, happy children and being the best parents we can be.
I will tell you that the single thing that made the difference in my decision to support extended breast feeding was the trust that I have in Krystyna as a great Mom who *always* does what she believes in her heart to be the very best things for our children.  Given that trust, her strong desire to extend her breast feeding relationship with our last two children is reason enough for me to support her parenting choices as I have done since we walked through the door of our first Bradley class.
Everyone’s parenting journey is unique to them, so ultimately you must do what is right for you as partners and parents.  Dads, if you are faced with similar circumstances, it is important to communicate and to remember the big picture of health and happiness for you and family.

 

3.) Extended breastfeeding in our family.
All of our children have been breastfed past their first birthday.  They nursed 22 months, 18 months, five years, and 3 years&counting, respectively.  The more I learned, the more committed I was to continuing the breastfeeding relationship until the child self-weaned.

Puma self-weaned, Night Owl was an emergency wean since I was pregnant with Charger and I was having a lot of contractions when I nursed.  I learned more for the next pregnancy, so I was able to nurse Charger through Otter’s pregnancy – and wow, was he excited when the rich, creamy, newborn milk came in!  You can read about that experience over at the Nursing Nurture webpage, where I shared about our breastfeeding journey. (Part 1: Breastfeeding Through Pregnancy, Part 2: Tandem Nursing)

I weaned Charger a little after his fifth birthday.  If I had heard Dr. Nils Bergman speak about the evolutionary biology of breastfeeding sooner, I would have let him nurse until he started losing his milk teeth, aka baby teeth.  Having learned that all other mammals nurse until the milk teeth fall out, I will be letting Otter nurse until she starts losing her baby teeth, or until she decides that she is finished nursing, whichever comes first.

4.) Tandem Nursing
With the help of my IBCLC and my La Leche League group leaders, I felt ready to tandem nurse.  I set the expectations of what was going to happen well before Otter was born, and I kept reassuring our then toddler that I was still going to be his mommy, and he was going to be able to get milk when we felt he needed it.

Expectations:
The baby was the baby, and she was going to nurse first when she was hungry and he wanted to nurse at the same time.  Since he was a big boy, I encouraged him that he could eat lots of neat things with his teeth; not the baby, she’s too little.  No fun for her. I also had a stack of books next to the bed that we could read together while he waited patiently.

As soon as the baby was finished nursing, he would be invited to nurse.  Or if the baby was napping, of course I would be available to him.  Little by little, that time turned into snuggle time.  By the time he was three, he was only nursing in the morning, for naps, and at bedtime.

Every once in a while, I would nurse them together. I didn’t really care for it at the time, so I didn’t do it very often.  Later as I realized our time as a tandem was ending, I regretted it.  There are so many lovely stories about children’s bonds who are nursed at the breast together.

The two of them did enjoy taking turns.  Sometimes they got possessive about which “side” was theirs, however, most of the time, it was a comedy.  One would finish and call out to the other, “Hey – it’s your turn!!” And a conversation would ensue between them about turns, sides, and which breast had more milk that day.

5.) Other places I have written about extended breastfeeding if you are interested:

Our Journey Into Tandem Nursing May 2012 intro about our chosen path

Still Tandem Nursing August 2012 update

Tandem Nursing – Extended  July 2013 update

My Take on Toddler Nursing – Today August 2013 photojournal of “gymnurstics”…thank goodness that was only a phase!

Nursing By Example: The power of peer-to-peer support

Nursing a Toddler: Benefits, and why it’s good to follow your instincts and your children’s cues

Extended Breastfeeding: the science behind why it’s beneficial

Breastfeeding & Tandem Nursing: Encouraging parents to follow the right path for their family

Now that I know people are looking for more info, I will be adding more links to the breastfeeding resource page about tandem nursing, how to deal with biting and nursing strikes, and other topics related to nursing older children.

In the meantime, I hope this gives you a clearer picture about what breastfeeding older children looks like.  It isn’t common, however, it would be nice if it was normal.