It’s world breastfeeding week! I have been breastfeeding now, for almost 21 months and we are showing no signs of stopping. Back when my son was newborn, I had no idea how long we would continue our nursing relationship, but I would have guessed we would continue until around the two year mark. However, since then I have become more and more comfortable in my parenting, in following my instincts and in learning everything I need to know about how to be a mother, simply by listening to my son.
And what I have discovered is that weaning is optional. Back before having children, I always assumed that there came a point when the mother had to cut the child off from the breast. A point where the child was taking advantage and the mother was in need of her body back. Although I cant speak for everyone else, I can speak for myself when I say that I have found this to be untrue.
The benefits of breastfeeding a toddler are huge. I watch as exasperated mothers try to calm their overtired toddlers, talk them down from a meltdown, panic at their sudden aversion to solid foods and I think, Thank goodness I have this wonderful tool. It is with me wherever I go, whenever the day gets too much, when he falls and hurts himself, the times he has to cope with leaving somewhere or something behind. Just a quick feed and his world is right again. Its like a reset button. When we have both become wound up and tetchy, collapsing in a heap on the carpet to cuddle and nurse makes it all good again. We re-tune and get back on the same level, starting again relaxed and refreshed. When his teeth hurt, when his eczema is itchy, when he has a cold, nothing soothes and nourishes him more.
When he heads off to the woods with his Daddy, on his return as soon as he see’s me, he asks “Milk, milk!” And I am desperate to reconnect with him too. So we sit, we hold hands, he feeds, this side then that side, then back again. He smiles at me as I talk to him, sing to him, make faces and tickle him. We are one again.
Of course its not all good. There are the times when he feeds like a newborn, over and over again, and I get frustrated that I cant get on with something. There are the times when he gets feisty and yanks on my earring or pokes me in the eye because its oh so funny, and then when I try to turf him off he clamps on with the force of a space shuttle, firmly yet gently holding my nipple between his teeth while he grins up at me like he has discovered the best game in existence.
But I look at our bond, the immeasurable love we have for one another, the mutual respect and I cant help but credit breastfeeding for its contribution to this. I know a time will come when he no longer needs or wants my milk. And when that time comes I will stand back and watch proudly as he steps in to a new stage. I know that many mothers reach a certain point where they feel they should be weaning soon. But for many, they cant pinpoint a reason, except perhaps, its the done thing in our society. But there are many cultures around the world who don’t bother with weaning. Their breastfeeding relationships come to a natural conclusion and the children don’t continue to nurse in to their teens. If you don’t want to wean, you don’t have to. There are only two people who have the right to make that choice, you are your child. Don’t let society decide for you.
My son has learned so much from breastfeeding. Just this week he woke up and began nursing his own teddy, and I got a view of the gentle parent he may become one day. I am so proud to be teaching him skills that will benefit his own children. (Not necessarily lactating, but nurturing and meeting needs!)
Have you continued to breastfeed a toddler and beyond? Is there an age you plan to wean or will you continue until breastfeeding comes to a natural conclusion?
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