Since most babies transition to cow’s or other kinds of milk around one year of age, that’s the time when it seems most "appropriate" to start weaning. However, for those of us who continue breastfeeding beyond that point, we’re usually on the receiving end of some less than supportive commentary. I get that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but there are things about extended breastfeeding that most people get wrong. So, while you’re entitled to your opinion or even your silent judgment of my parenting style, if you decide to share both with me you should expect me to set you straight. After all, and in the end, this is between me and my baby.
First of all, is “extended breastfeeding” even the right term? Culturally, many babies wean around 12 months, when solids and other kinds of milk are greater sources of nutrition for their bigger bodies. However, breast milk is beneficial at any age. As a working parent, I was spending a significant amount of time away from my babies; continuing to breastfeed them was a way I could close the gap after being separated from them throughout the day. As toddlers, they’d nurse before bed and occasionally on the weekends when they just needed a way to help them shut out some stimuli when they were overtired. It worked for us, and when my kids did wean the transition was smooth. They rarely asked for the boob in the weeks that followed the end of breastfeeding and, eventually, the memory of it was eclipsed by all the new skills they were learning.
I breastfed both my children until they were around two years old. I stopped with my daughter when I was around three months pregnant with her little brother, as it was starting to get rather uncomfortable (she was about 26 months). With my second, I stopped just a month shy of his second birthday; I had been away for a few days on a business trip and my husband reported that my son hadn’t asked to nurse once. It seemed like a convenient time to stop. So, it's safe to say that, sadly, I know what most people get wrong about extended breastfeeding. You can't fix what you don't know is broken, so hopefully a little more light shed on what can so many other women do around the world (and in this country) will help.
They're Trying To Prove They're "Supermom"
Confession: as a Type A mom, I do tend to take on a lot and sometimes, it truly is to prove to myself that I can do it all. However, breastfeeding was not one of those things. Other than having an oversupply issue with my second baby, in his first six weeks, my experience with breastfeeding was positive. There was no real reason for me to stop until, of course, it was time to stop.
While I would love to prove that I am capable of anything and everything and usually all at once, if motherhood has taught me anything, it’s that this behavior is not sustainable. I still consider myself having a Type A personality, but I keep it in check because I would be no good to anyone if I was burned out.
They Shame Women Who Wean Earlier Than They Did Or Plan To Do
Give moms some credit: we know there is never a one-size-fits all policy for anything about raising kids, including breastfeeding. Even if you catch yourself shaming another mom, you’re quickly reminded how defensive you would get if someone threw shade at your parenting practices.
As a mom who breastfed her kids for almost four consecutive years, it never got in the way of becoming friends with women who formula fed, or took some other alternative view of how to feed their kids. Sometimes our insecurities get the better of us, and we want to feel like we’re doing the right thing, which could result in judging someone else who is choosing a different path. But there can be more than one right answer when it comes to what works for kids. That’s why there are so many baby books.
They're Just Giving In To Their Kid’s Demands
Suggest this to any mom who is practicing extended breastfeeding and she will probably erupt in laughter. After all, I know I would. Sometimes I nursed my toddler because I needed a break from her. I needed her to sit, calm down, and get herself re-centered. She needed to be firmly held and to feel secure, and there's no better way to aid her in doing any and all of those things like breastfeeding.
They're Resorting To Extended Breastfeeding A Means Of Getting Their Kid To Be Quiet
True, sticking my boob in my kid's mouth was one way to get my baby to pipe down. However, nursing was never used in lieu of discipline.
Instead, breastfeeding was a way for us to reconnect in a stressful moment, or wind down after a long, nap-deprived day. It was how my body communicated safety to her and in ways words couldn’t. In other words, it was her way of knowing it was going to be OK. NO way I am ever, ever, going to apologize for that (no one else should, either).
Their Kid Won’t Drink Milk In Any Other Way
This wasn’t the case for our family. Though my children were never big milk drinkers (and my daughter wouldn’t touch it once we took her bottle away from her when she was three), breastfeeding once or twice a day didn’t ruin their appetites for what their body needed: a variety of food, and (for us) cow’s milk.
Their Kid Will Never Wean. Ever.
This is probably the biggest misconception about extended breastfeeding. This Time cover might have confused the issue further, unfortunately, but kids do move on at some point. We don’t have to agree on what age it’s appropriate for children to wean, but it does happen.
It’s not up to us, as a society, to determine what is or isn't the "right time" to start weaning your child from breastfeeding. Nope. That choice is for every individual family to decide. When people asked if I intended on no longer breastfeeding after my kid’s first birthday, since I was no longer pumping at that point, I said “no.” I wasn’t in a rush and neither were my kids. When it finally happened, however, it was done and we all survived.
They're Afraid To Stop
Change is always hard, but I was never gripped with fear from weaning my toddlers. If anything, the fact that they were older better prepared me for easing away from breastfeeding entirely. By then, I was so used to them growing and evolving out of certain behaviors, that calling an end to our breastfeeding time wasn’t so daunting. I might have been more afraid of what the result of ending that practice would be if they were pre-verbal.
It’s A Chore
From the proliferation of parenting articles about stress, it’s easy to assume that breastfeeding is just another thing about childrearing that’s a complete and total drag. I didn’t love every minute of it, especially when those minutes fell in the middle of the night, but I have never regretted the time I spent breastfeeding my kids, either. I was happy that I was able to do it and that they were thriving. It was not always convenient. It was not always easy. Sure, I sometimes resented having to make do with one hand, while the other supported my nursing kid. But it never felt like a chore.
They Hate Doing It
Please don’t mistake the occasional complaint from a breastfeeding mom for her hate of the act. We all have our frustrations with certain aspects of parenting, at certain times. I rarely hated changing my kids, but there were times when I was totally annoyed (and grossed out) by it. Same for reading that one story over and over and over again, or stopping what I was doing to breastfeed. Still, I don’t think back upon those times, holding my kids — be them newborns or toddlers — and rage against the milk machine I was at the moment.
That There Is Even A "Right" Time To Stop Breastfeeding
Who’s to say when it’s time for a child to wean? We all read the books, troll the parenting sides, and solicit advice from trusted friends and family members who’ve done it before. But there is no absolute right answer. It’s different for everyone. You do what’s best for your kid’s well-being, your own wellbeing, your peace of mind (and your boobs because, admittedly, it was nice to get them back).
I knew my kids wouldn’t be starting school expecting breastfeeding breaks. I trusted myself to read their cues and listen to my gut. I remember being a bit sad when it was all over, especially with my second (and last, it seems). However, that sadness turns bittersweet when the emptiness from the end of breastfeeding is quickly filled with new shared adventures with my blossoming kids. My cup, though not my cup size, runneth over.