I'm Still Breastfeeding My 3 Year Old, & I'm Totally OK With That
My son latched onto my breast within 20 minutes of being born. I'd tried nursing him because the nurses told me that breastfeeding would stimulate uterine contractions and help me deliver my placenta, but I didn't necessarily think it would work. It did. He took to suckling like a champ, so from that point on I was willing to do anything to make sure we would continue to be successful.
Prior to my son's birth, I had taken a class that had taught me the myriad health benefits of breastfeeding. I was committed to doing it for at least the first year of his life. He spent most of the first five or six months of his life hanging out on the boob, even though after the first three months, he pretty much gave up on the right breast and would only nurse from the left. I was nursing on demand, because I hated pumping and either way, he had made it clear that bottles weren’t really his jam.
Initially, my goal was to breastfeed for a year and then reassess the situation from there. At around five months old, he began eating solids, so he was receiving nutrition from both table food and breastmilk. I knew that I had to think about going back to work, but I knew that he wasn’t really ready to wean, so I decided to change jobs and work part-time as a babysitter. I was able to bring him with me to work and we were able to continue our breastfeeding relationship the way we both wanted.
Now that my son is 3 years old, I'm still breastfeeding him to this day. People may stop and look at us on the street, but I don't let it bother me. This is our relationship, and only we can decide when we stop.
Some people thought that I was crazy to continue nursing my son past his first birthday, even though it's not unheard of outside the United States for mothers to nurse their children well beyond the first-year mark. (In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that moms breastfeed their children until the age of 2.) Some of my friends told me they thought that nursing a child after the age of 1 has no real benefits for either the child or the mother. (This is patently untrue — in fact, some literature suggests that there's a correlation between extended nursing and infants having higher IQs.)
But on my son's first birthday, I made a promise to both of us that I would only consider weaning him when it was no longer working for both of us. Plus, breastfeeding wasn’t bothering me, so I didn’t really see the point of stressing him out by weaning before he was ready just because other people were questioning my decision.
Breastfeeding is about so much more than providing nutrition for your baby. It's also a deeply emotional experience, for both the mother and the child.
I still nurse my son to sleep, and we bed-share so I can nurse him during the night. Breastfeeding is about so much more than providing nutrition for your baby. It's also a deeply emotional experience, for both the mother and the child. Nursing has become the main source of comfort for my child; when he is sad or angry, he will usually want to nurse to soothe himself. If he feels too hyped up, he can nurse to calm down. It can happen within seconds: one moment, he can be screaming and crying, and as soon as he latches he relaxes.
As my son has gotten older, I've continued to nurse on demand. If we're at home, or if he's not feeling well, he's usually inclined to nurse more. Lately, I've been working on weaning him from the emotional nursing, because I want him to learn to cope with his feelings on his own. If he comes to nurse, I will hold him and give him a hug, or sometimes I just sit with him while he cries. Sometimes it works, and other times he cries even more, but I don't want to force him to wean before he's ready. Instead, I'm trying to let it happen organically.
After my son's most recent birthday, those close to us, like his grandparents and his dad, got tired of asking me when I was going to wean him. I have explained to them countless times that I’m not doing him any harm, nor am I forcing him to do something against his will. Nursing a toddler who is more than three feet tall and 40 pounds is not at all glamorous, but when he climbs up in my lap asking for his beloved “boopie," I remember why I continue to do it.
Breastfeeding has become such an integral part of our relationship that I can't imagine what our relationship will look like when I finish nursing him.
My son is 3 years old now, and there are days when he will want nothing but the breast all day long if I let him; other days, he will go for hours and hours without asking for it. Because nursing is such a crucial part of his day-to-day routine, it is important that he self-weans, so I am trying to slowly point him in that direction. He rarely asks to nurse if we’re outside of the house unless he is tired or very upset, but even then he is learning how to cope if I’m not in a position to nurse him. Sometimes when he asks for the breast, I can offer him something else to drink or a snack and that will do the trick. Sometimes he really wants the breast and I can’t talk him out of it.
Breastfeeding has become such an integral part of our relationship that I can't imagine what our relationship will look like when I finish nursing him. As a mom, breastfeeding has been the most empowering thing I have done so far. I know that at this time next year we will likely have ended our breastfeeding relationship, because I feel that he will likely have begun to wean himself, but nursing was a journey that I will look back on fondly.