I clearly remember the first time I witnessed extended breastfeeding. I was a young teenager when I glanced out my window at work and saw her. She was nursing her toddler and I was shocked. He looked so big.
Years later I was chatting with a friend and she told me that she was still nursing her one year old son before bed. Really??? The look of surprise was all over my face.
I had no idea that women even did that. I wouldn’t nurse for that long. Would I?
After Grace was born, I expected that we would wean before she turned one. I had heard of moms having problems with their milk supply as their babies got older. I had also heard of babies weaning themselves before their first birthday. With those things in mind, my first goal was to nurse Grace for 6 months.
Hitting that 6 month milestone was a breeze. Of course I had a few issues to work through along the way, but overall breastfeeding came very easily to me. My next goal was to nurse for 12 months.
I was so blessed. I didn’t have problems with my milk supply. Grace was always eager to nurse and showed no signs of self weaning. My husband and friends were supportive. Grace’s birthday came and went and we nursed on. Suddenly I found myself “extended breastfeeding.”
Extended breastfeeding is defined as breastfeeding beyond the age of one. It doesn’t matter that the medical recommendation is to nurse until age two. If you are nursing past a year, you officially have a label.
The transition from nursing my 11 month old baby girl to nursing my 12 month old was seamless. We turned the page on the calendar, but nothing else changed. Grace’s desire to nurse stayed the same. Our routine of nursing several times a day stayed the same. It didn’t make sense to me for us to stop simply because of the date on the calendar. So we didn’t stop.
I had heard a “joke” that when your baby is 11 months and 30 days old people will praise you for still breastfeeding. However, as soon as your baby is 12 months old people will turn up their noses and tell you he is too old. Sadly, I saw this first hand.
Grace was 13 months old when the first person questioned me about still breastfeeding. “She isn’t done with that?” he asked.
I had become that woman I saw outside my office as a teenager. I had become my girlfriend still nursing her toddler. I found myself in this new world of extended breastfeeding and I wasn’t completely sure what I thought of it.
At first I was confident. Breast is best. It was still best. But then…
Grace got older and older and I started feeling more and more alone. Around 18 months old I became concerned. I had pumped a lot of milk for Grace (in case she weaned early – ha!) and she refused to drink any of it. I tried sippy cups. I tried regular cups. She wouldn’t take it. Then I tried cow’s milk and she wouldn’t drink that either. A slight panic began to creep in. How could I wean my daughter if she won’t drink any kind of milk? What will I replace the breastmilk with???
I never hid the fact that I was nursing my toddler from my friends and although they were supportive, the comments started coming in…
My husband thinks it is weird you are still nursing Grace.
It probably helps that she is so little. (Meaning that it doesn’t look as strange for me to nurse such an older child.)
Sometimes I hear about these kids who are 3 and 4 years old and they are still breastfeeding. I just wonder how that is going to damage them.
Damage them? By breastfeeding? Is this the path that I was on?
These were things said by some of my most supportive friends. They didn’t mean any harm. They had all breastfed themselves. They loved me and Grace, but their words stung.
I was extended breastfeeding and I was embarrassed.
Grace was well beyond 18 months old. There were no signs of weaning in sight. I was embarrassed and feeling a little desperate.
How do I even begin to wean her? How did other women do this? Could it be true that she was too old for this? Was I the one that needed to let go?
I searched online for a community that could give me some answers. I gobbled up everything I could find on extended breastfeeding, but it probably did more harm than good. I found many passionate nursers, but they all seemed to advocate for self weaning and that can take a long time. Many were nursing toddlers beyond 2, 3, or even 4 years old. It wasn’t unusual for these moms to tandem nurse, breastfeed a baby and a toddler.
Tandem nursing did not appeal to me. Breastfeeding a 3 year old didn’t appeal to me. I was becoming desperate for some advice from someone who was supportive enough to build me up, but not so supportive that they pushed me beyond my comfort zone. It was a difficult balance.
Please tell me that I’m doing the right thing for my daughter, but please, please, PLEASE don’t tell me that this is going to last for another two years!
Eventually, Grace did wean. It was peaceful. It was done slowly. It was the right time.
I breastfed my daughter for 23 months. I was firm in my belief that the benefits of breastfeeding didn’t apply just to infants. I had appeared confident on the outside. Yet, on the inside I was just waiting for someone to tear me down.
Now I am here again in the same position. Noah is 15 months old and we are still nursing about 4 times a day. My goal is to make it to 18 months before we begin to slowly wean and to do it with my head held high.
I am fighting hard – fighting against that feeling of shame and uncertainty.
While I still am feeling bold I want to take a moment to address my future self…
Rebekah, take a moment. Breath deep. Noah will not nurse forever. This is a temporary thing and the end is almost here. In the blink of an eye these moments will be gone. Soak it in.
Ignore the negative comments. Respond with confidence to the questioning. You are giving Noah an amazing gift. His health, his heart, and his mind is benefiting from these moments with his mama.
You are doing the right thing. Take it slow. Don’t rush. Your heart, Noah, and your boobs will thank you! You can do this. The time will come. Be confident. You. are. amazing. The end.
Can you relate? Are you nursing behind closed doors and hoping that no one knows? Are you wondering how, when, and why you are supposed to wean your little one? My letter is to you too, mama.
This is a hard, ugly world. We shouldn’t have to worry about something as beautiful as breastfeeding, but we do anyway. I totally get it. I’ve been there. And I hope I don’t go there again…