Here I am…that mom who is nursing a toddler. Even I can’t believe it sometimes, but now that I’m living it, it seems nothing but normal. Because it is normal.
Truth be told, our country is one of the only ones who is scared of this concept. Breast milk has an expiration date, people say, babies get too big and once they begin to ask for it, well…that’s weird. I get it, I do. But maybe it’s time to change our perspective on this one.
My nursing journey has been extraordinary. I’ve loved it, and it’s been easy for me, and I’m proud of that. I endured a crazy birth that I still have trouble coping with even today, so being able to have this sliver of normalcy, something that came easily and according to my plan is something I hold near and dear. I shout it from the rooftops and try to help others to have the positive experience that I have been lucky to have had.
I am not even sure how I got on the right foot when it came to nursing. I had a lot of conflicting information from the hospital staff and, being my first born, everything was new and questionable. Thankfully, once we were home, I immersed myself in online blogs, websites and Facebook groups and made sure I was doing what was right. There was no way to overfeed her. Perfect! When in doubt, offer the breast. Check! Happy, gaining weight and enough soiled diapers? Then she’s getting plenty of milk! I felt like I conquered this.
We were two months in when some colicky symptoms started. Every night, from 9pm until about 2am, she was inconsolable and had more spit-up than normal. We, like any parents, Googled our lives away and found that maybe the dairy I was drinking (I love my chocolate milk!) was making her stomach upset and bloated. I cut out dairy, brought in almond milk, and the problem was solved.
At four months postpartum, I went back to work at a new job. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do, and I struggle with it on occasion to this day. I threw my thoughts into the universe and accepted that, if I got this position, it was meant to be…and here I am. I carried that heavy pump with me to work every day and was in the lactation room constantly. I researched bottles to see which would be the best for going back and forth from breast to bottle (what worked for us: Comotomo) and even came home at lunch sometimes to nurse.
My milk supply skyrocketed and the stash was taking up our freezer. I donated around 400 oz. to the Mothers Milk Bank Northeast and was thrilled that I could provide milk to micro-preemie babies in need while still providing for my own.
When Ava was around 16 months old, I finally pump-weaned but continued to nurse whenever I was home. I thought about beginning to wean her at 18 months, but it just never happened. As a working mom, having those moments to nurse Ava and be extra close with her were so important to me.
We continued forward and here we are…25 months and still nursing. Yes, Ava eats real food, drinks almond milk, water, juices and whatever else she pleases. But being able to nurse her in the morning and at night is a special time for us.
What I love about nursing is that breast milk never outweighs its benefits and I’ve seen this first hand. Ava was sick with a cold when she was 10 months old, and that’s been it thus far. Her immune system has benefited greatly from breast milk and all of the antibodies that have been passed on to her. Some studies have even concluded that the longer you breastfeed a child, the smarter your child is likely to become. This is because the brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other time. Experts also have noted that children who are breastfed have improved vision, better hearing due to lower incidence of ear infections and even better dental health.
Still not convinced, and totally weirded out that a toddler who can walk, talk and scream at decibels that are ear-piercing is still nursing? The World Health Organization officially recommends that mothers breastfeed until at least two years of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics also has a recommendation along those lines, stating that “mothers should breastfeed until at least one year of age and then as long as mother and baby mutually want to.”
While whatever feeding relationship a mother chooses is up to her and her baby, nursing a toddler (and another societal issue here in America: nursing in public) is totally normal. We have become a very sexualized society, where showing cleavage and barely-legal clothing is ok, but feeding a child the way nature intended is shameful and not allowed. We are constantly working towards better societal norms, but we still have a long way to go.
I will continue nursing my daughter until we mutually agree to end this journey we have been on since birth, and that’s normal and OK.