Christa recently did a very sweet post about how she is still breastfeeding her two-year-old, and how she will follow her child’s lead when it’s time to wean. I’m a big fan of both extended breastfeeding and child-led weaning, which naturally go hand in hand. I nursed my older daughter, Mackenzie, until she was 22 months old, when my second child, Aurelia, was born. If it weren’t for the problems I had with Aurelia’s latch, which made round-the-clock nursing pretty painful in the first week or so, I would have let Mackenzie keep going with it until she decided to wean herself. Mackenzie is now 2 years and 8 months old, and for all I know, she would still be nursing today along with the baby, who is now close to a year old.
And that brings me to the topic at hand, because I was remarking to my husband the other day about how nice it was to finally stop pumping, although admittedly it was a little forced (that first day led to some engorgement that almost made me give in before baby got home). I mentioned that August will mark the three-year point for me as a continuously lactating woman, and that I couldn’t believe that a year from now, when Aurelia is close to two, I will still be going at it.
“Or you could wean her,” he said.
“What do you mean? She’s not even a year old yet.”
“She’s eleven months old. You could wean her.”
I just stared at him, dumbly. “But she’s only– ”
“–what, eating solid foods? You could wean her.”
Oh. My. God. I could wean her at this point! Be done with breastfeeding!
If this conversation seems odd, understand that I’m part of a community of families where extended breastfeeding is not only common, but expected. I mean extended breastfeeding as in breastfeeding well past the age of two or even three years old. So with this frame of mind, I had completely forgotten about the fact that in the U.S., most breastfeeding moms discontinue the practice by one year of age, or even earlier, at six months old, with the introduction of solid foods, sometimes with the assistance of formula. My original goal with my first baby was to nurse until one year, but when things kept rolling along from there, I began to understand why so many moms and babies love extended breastfeeding. It’s comforting, easy to do if you’ve already gotten used to it, and there’s really no reason to stop if mutually desired by both mother and child. I had long discarded the 12-month mark as a measure for when the breastfeeding relationship would end, so it hadn’t even occurred to me that the occasion of my second child’s first birthday could spell the end of not only nursing her, but of my milk production altogether (barring, ahem, unforeseen circumstances).
Then another thought hit me: why was I so excited about the possibility of being done with breastfeeding? Anyone who knows me and my parenting practices well enough knows that I’m a champion of extended breastfeeding, tandem nursing (even if it didn’t work for me), nursing in public, pumping at work, and well, all things breastfeeding. For so long, I’ve been lamenting the fact that so many babies aren’t getting the full benefits of breastmilk and the breastfeeding relationship due to a culture that discourages prolonged breastfeeding. The fact that we even refer to the practice of breastfeeding a child over a year old as “extended” sends the message that one year is the point at which we are supposed to stop, and has the effect of making anyone who nurses a toddler look strange in contrast, when in reality the practice is normal, healthy, and perhaps even beneficial.
So I did a happy dance in my head, then stopped to seriously consider whether the end of lactation would truly be a joyous occasion. Should I really be so excited to be done with it–the pumping, the midnight snacking, the fact that my baby was now a toddler and could literally chase me down to nurse? Shouldn’t I keep going instead, if not for my own child, then for other babies, whose mothers may look to me as a positive role model?
Well, in case you’re wondering what happened, suffice to say that the decision is, at the very least, on hold. Aurelia came down with a virus that came complete with a 103 fever this week, and she’s been home with me for the majority of that time, nursing around the clock to make up for her lack of appetite for finger foods and jarred stuff. She’s well today, but she still shows no signs of unlatching for good. And that’s just fine with me.
That pump is history, though, as I mentioned earlier. I may find that I miss breastfeeding someday, but pumping is something that I definitely will not miss!