Answering some questions about "extended" nursing, i.e. past the age of about a year, into toddlerhood and childhood. Questions lifted from Mayim Bialik's blog, with a few of my own added.

Didn't you eventually run out of milk?

No, I had milk the whole time. My body produced it in the amount that my baby was using it, so at the end I was producing less as she was nursing less. It didn't stop producing milk entirely until a few months after she nursed for the last time.

Did s/he really need breastmilk for nutrition?

Breastmilk is pretty dang nutritious, and bolsters the immune system as well. My children certainly deserved that for as long as they desired. But "need"? This question makes me think of Frank McCourt's book Angela's Ashes, in which he details his childhood of poverty in Ireland in the 1930s. I don't remember if his mother was unable to breastfeed due to malnourishment, or if it was discouraged, but whatever the case his siblings were fed primarily tea as infants, as they couldn't afford anything else. They were sickly, but most of them survived. This says to me that the human body is pretty resilient. So, define "need". Is it only that which is necessary for survival? Then, no, my children didn't "need" it. But it sure was good for them.

If s/he’s old enough to ask for it, isn’t s/he too old to have it?

Based on what logic? It cracks me up that people take this seriously, it's so arbitrary. Besides, my children were always old enough to ask for it, from the moment they were born. There's no special relationship between nursing and the switch from non-verbal cues to verbal cues.

Wasn’t it weird having a walking talking thinking LARGE child nursing?

No. Not a bit. I found that my perceptions of what constitutes appropriate mothering and childhood behavior changed when I was actually inside of it. I would have never had ideas to the contrary if I'd grown up in the kind of culture in which natural (non-managed and non-shamed) breastfeeding is the norm. But as it was, all it took for years of artificial conditioning to be undone was that I allow my human body to do exactly what it was designed to do.

Did you place any limits on this?

Yes. Past about the age of 2.5 or so we didn't nurse in public. Not because I thought there was a problem with it, but because other people definitely did and I didn't want to risk a visit from Child Protective Services. If there was a great need for it, I would take her to a quiet corner and turn away, shielding her with my body. Most times it was easy enough to agree to wait until we got home.

But you didn’t nurse her/him at night, did you???

I sure did. Children make it known that they have a need for physical closeness at night so we slept together, and babies do best nutritionally when they nurse during the night. As they got older the night nursing sessions naturally became less frequent, as their bodies' metabolisms changed and they began eating other foods during the day. Babies nurse for comfort as well, of course, so I tried not to wake them unnecessarily during the night. I snore (allergies!) so we made use of white noise and made the sleeping arrangements as spacious as possible.

At the time that they began to have the ability to reason and to understand me as a separate being with needs of my own, I started talking to them about how I would like more sleep and how it would be nicest for me if we could just snuggle back to sleep and nurse in the morning. I'd pat them on the back and murmur comfortingly and sometimes sing quietly. If not nursing was upsetting, we'd nurse. In that way we night-weaned in a gentle way over time. (Not that it was entirely without ramification. Ideally I'd have had the emotional and physical energy to not feel the need to night-wean at all.)

Didn't this make them spoiled?

Oh, what nonsense. Love, kindness, comfort, and a sense of security are the best things a parent can give a child. It's meanness and intentional deprivation (lack of a generous, loving spirit) that spoils people.

What did your husband think?

Well, he never said a thing about it, and he would look on lovingly as I'd nurse our children. I guess it felt normal and natural to him too.

When did you stop?

My first got to nurse until he was 3 1/2 years old. This was because he was too young to stop when I had our second, so I nursed them together. However when he was 3 1/2 I became pregnant with our third, and because I had found tandem nursing very difficult and challenging and crazy-making, I wasn't about to try it with three. So I weaned him and also my second-born, who was 2 at the time. The same thing happened when my third-born was 2 years old. It was too early for all of them. I regret weaning very much, but it was definitely the lesser of two evils. If I had it to do over, I would have made much more of an effort to delay the subsequent pregnancies so that each of them could have nursed exactly as long as they needed to. My fourth-born nursed until she was done, at age 5 1/2, and it was fantastic. I'm grateful that I got to experience it with her. It was an important part of our relationship, and a very, very good thing. I wish it could have been that way with all my children.

Did they nurse for comfort?

Of course. It was a really lovely thing to be able to comfort them in that way. Really, it was the best kind of comfort too; it was almost instantly calming. Which made parenting so much more enjoyable and easier. It felt good to have such a wonderful power!

What did your family/friends/the public at large think?


I live in a pretty nursing-friendly community. Once at a private party it was suggested that I nurse in a more private place. (I declined.) Other than that I was never bothered by anyone about it, and I've nursed a lot in public. My friends and family all acted like it was a non-issue. If they thought it strange, they kept their opinions to themselves. My mom did ask a few times, in a surprised tone, "Oh, is she still nursing?" But I never sensed any judgment attached to that. Of all our parenting decisions, this was one of the easiest for people to accept/tolerate.

Wasn't it inconvenient?

It was far more convenient than having to fix and serve and clean up a meal, or deal with a melt-down in any other way. And besides that, it was nice. Calming happy love hormones, ahhh. When you feel good, whether something is convenient or not becomes irrelevant.

Didn't you want your body back?

No. That to me is a nonsensical question. It's like asking, "don't I want my body back from my husband?" When it feels good to share your body in a mutually pleasing way with someone, you're not thinking about when you can finally be done with it. Rather, you miss it when it's gone.

Oh, c'mon. You paint breastfeeding as some kind of panacea and perfect thing, when we all know it's hard and a lot of work. Tell the truth, now.

Yes, there were times when I was stressed out by other things, and when a person is stressed out it makes it hard to do anything else that takes care and time and energy. Sometimes the stressors can't be avoided, and sometimes we just don't know how to avoid them yet. For me there was a lot of the latter, as I'd grown up in a culture in which there are a lot of expectations about achievement. It took me some time to figure that out, and then some time to let go of the fear of what would become of me if I didn't toe the line.

Also, yes, it was hard to get started because I was not as healthy as I could've been, didn't know some things, and didn't have the right kind of support. It was excruciatingly painful. I wept with each feeding. I would absolutely have stopped if my baby would have taken a bottle, but I couldn't let him starve, so I kept at it. Eventually I learned some important stuff about how to take care of my body so that it could do its job without suffering, and from there on out it was smooth sailing.

But the breastfeeding relationship itself? Magical. Holy. The sweetest thing I've ever known. If I'd known then what I do now, I would have been deeply grieved not to have been able to do it.