Carol | January 8, 2012
I remember the first time I saw a mother nursing a toddler. The baby couldn’t have been much past twelve months old, but when the mother scooped her up and began to nurse her, she looked so big! My mother and I exchanged glances and later commented on how crazy it was for her to still be nursing. That was something that was not done in our community. Rarely did mothers choose breastfeeding, and if they did, they only nursed a few months at most. This particular nursing couplet was from out of town. As a young minister’s wife with three little daughters, she didn’t know the rules in our community.
I never gave a lot of thought to breastfeeding. My brother and I had been bottle-fed in the early seventies, but my baby sister (thirteen years my junior) was nursed, ever so discreetly. Back then, the hospital nurses attempted to sabotage the breastfeeding right off by providing and encouraging bottles of glucose water. For the most part, our community was ignorant on the subject of breastfeeding.
When I became pregnant with our first child, my husband and I attended birthing classes taught by a lovely pro-life Catholic nurse. She recommended a book called The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding which I read cover-to-cover. I recall borrowing her copy before ordering my own. I was definitely going to breastfeed. And I expected to do so for a year. (On an aside note, this is when I began my journey of self-education.)
When my baby was born, I faced the challenges of cracking and bleeding, but I was determined I was still going to breastfeed. Even if it killed me. Even if it was going to hurt like that for the duration. I would do anything for my child. Thankfully, by the time he was three weeks old, the nursing was going smoothly. Completely pain-free. Just as it should be.
Breastfeeding proved to be a treasured comfort because my baby ended up being colicky. In an effort to help him, I began to read everything I could find about babies. Since this was before the days of the internet, I recall that a lot of my research came from books I ordered from the La Leche League catalog. Dr. William Sears introduced me to a whole new parenting paradigm – a world that combined logic and instincts. I soaked up the information in his books and practiced what he preached. Attachment parenting. Awesome. It was oh-so right.
During my first year as a mother, I read a couple more inspirational and educational books about breastfeeding: Mothering Your Nursing Toddler and Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. Add in The Family Bed and The Continuum Concept, and you get the small library that originally inspired me to create an attached environment for my babies. The authors, in their wisdom, introduced me to a road less traveled. Since I lived in a community that was unaware of that road, I journeyed forth alone, and immediately began to experience the rewards and benefits of this new direction.
If you can accept breastfeeding, and understand its biology, then continuing to nurse past infancy is a perfectly normal progression of mothering. When I became educated on extended nursing, I was completely convinced and confident that it was the right thing to do, even if I didn’t know one other mother who ever considered such a thing. Thankfully, for my children’s sake, I am the kind of person who doesn’t need others’ approval when I know I’m right. As time went on, the added bonus of practical experience simply reaffirmed my parenting decisions. I knew, without a doubt, that my toddlers needed to nurse. No question.
The strength of the nursing mother/child attachment is incredibly powerful. The depth of the connection between mother and child is not just physical, but can become a truly profound spiritual relationship.
I am very thankful for breastfeeding. I won’t go quite so far as to say I wouldn’t want to have had babies without being able to breastfeed, but I know for certain that not breastfeeding would be much more difficult and would require much more energy. I am so glad I didn’t have to go the substitution route. I can see how not breastfeeding might result in a mother choosing to have fewer children. They miss out on the easy-breezy, chill-axing part of mothering. I don’t know if I could have physically handled getting out of bed to tend to artificially feeding a baby. I don’t know if I would have been able to mother without the natural hormones that induce nurturing: oxytocin and prolactin. What a design concept! God created nursing mothers to feel oh-so motherly toward their offspring. Breastfeeding is worth it just for the natural hormones!
I can’t imagine choosing to prepare bottles when I can just sit and hold her close. The convenience is incredible. It’s hard to believe God came up with such a crazy, fast-food for babies. And even though it is instantly available, it is also perfectly formulated nutrition. Unbelievable.
I won’t list all the physical and emotional advantages of breastfeeding here, but please research the topic and pray that your heart and mind will be open to accepting God’s creative gift of breastfeeding. Mammals around the world rejoice!
Rarely have my babies fallen asleep or woken up without nursing. Why would I bother to use other methods when nursing worked like a charm for all five babies? Breastfeeding is the best sleeping potion available for little ones. And nursing to wake up gives them that extra boost, like an “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” energizer. Nursing is better than any band-aid. It soothes and comforts. Nursing is also an incredible discipline tool for toddlers. It calms them, provides them stress relief, and helps them refocus, like a good attitude pill.
One of my reasons for writing about extended nursing is to give you a picture of a typical day in the life of a nursing sixteen-month-old.
Bedtime is a pleasure. After completing some bedtime chores around ten (like making sure the pets go out and in, and locking the doors), I scoop up my baby and do the “change” and “diaper” baby sign language while changing her. She starts smiling and pumping her little fists (“milky” in baby sign language), we hop onto the king-sized bed, and lean against the comfy foam wedges to nurse. As is her habit, she grasps my hair, excitedly pats my back (murmuring her enthusiasm), and settles down for a good long nurse on both sides. I usually watch TV or look at my laptop. I don’t hurry to lay her down next to me when she falls asleep.
Since I am still recovering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we typically stay in bed a good eleven hours. During that time, she usually wakes twice to nurse during the night. She is more vocal than she used to be in getting me to nurse her (probably because I am lazier), but she still keeps her eyes closed. It is cute to see her rapidly making her “milky” sign with both fists, even though it is hard to see in the dark.
By the time morning comes, she may or may not want to wake up after a morning nursing session. Same as her mother. We are usually out of bed some time after nine, and head to the kitchen for breakfast. After or during some schoolwork with her brother, she might have a nursing snack between her independent playtime. Lunch usually follows around noon. More play and school, and then she has a nursing session that usually leads into a nap. She nurses another time in her sleep and nurses again to wake up from her nap. Then she is off to play again. Supper is typically between five and six, and she plays pretty hard until about ten. Usually she nurses at least once during the evening, but sometimes she is too busy. She, like her siblings, has more than her fair share of snacks during the day. Her favorites are raspberries, strawberries, and cut-up grapes.
She rarely has a crisis or conflict that needs a “milky” fix, but when she does, I quickly offer to nurse her, and her discomfort is soon relieved. She learned how to suck her thumb early on, so that helps her recover almost immediately from any baby hardships. At least once every day, she comes to me communicating with her “milky” sign, and is so excited when I completely understand her. Outings, appointments, and activities definitely change the daily routine, and at this age, she no longer needs to nurse when we go out (unless it is a full day trip).
I often mention one of the most excellent benefits of extended nursing – and that is extended post-partum infertility. The fact that breastfeeding can help space children naturally is a well-kept secret. I think many people view having more than two or three children as highly undesirable, simply because they space their children too closely together. Having two babies at once is hard! Breastfeeding around the clock beyond infancy and sharing sleep will help extend natural infertility. A mother’s ability to cope becomes easier because of the greater spacing between the children.
An old acquaintance just asked me on Friday how many children I had. When I told her I had five, she nearly fainted and told me she had two, a year apart and could hardly cope. She couldn’t imagine having five. She doesn’t understand that it is a completely different story when the spacing of children is spread out. (I am not saying we shouldn’t welcome all children, it’s just that I believe extended nursing helps to naturally space children in a more manageable, healthier way.)
Other mothers often wish their babies would sleep through the night, but not me. Instead of a full night’s sleep, I prefer to delay the return of cycles when I already have a baby. And I absolutely prefer to respond to my child’s needs, regardless of the time of day or night.
The notion that toddlers will never wean is ludicrous. Natural weaning begins with the child’s first bite of food and continues with the mother following the child’s cues to a mutually satisfying completion. Also, contrary to common myths, extended nursing gave me five very independent, secure, and advanced toddlers.
Nursing past one is so natural and matter-of-fact for me that I can’t believe it is not part of the cultural norm. I guess it is because breastfeeding is just coming back after a couple of lost generations, and also, the stay-at-home lifestyle is not very common in our modern society.
Parenting can be difficult enough without casting aside one of the most valuable and powerful tools given to a mother of a toddler. Through the gift of breastfeeding, mothers are able to nourish, comfort, and nurture from their very being. I don’t know who benefits more from the nursing relationship, the mother or the child.
After practicing extended nursing with all five of my babies, I can say with all certainty that I believe breastfeeding a toddler is a very good thing, and thus makes my short list of “Things I Know For Sure”.
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