I can sit here and tell you that the global average age for weaning is 4 years old. I can tell you that naturally, mammals typically nurse until they get their first permanent molars- around age six for humans. I can say that the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding children until the age of two years old, and that the American Acadamy of Pediatrics says that mothers are “encouraged to continue breastfeeding through the ﬁrst year and beyond as more and varied complementary foods are introduced.” Let me re-stress that: Through the first year and beyond. One more time: and beyond.
I could tell you that she isn’t ready. I could tell you that Michael Jordan was breastfed until he was 3. I could tell you all of these things and then some. As if I have to defend the choices I have made for myself and my child.
The truth is, most often times, I do. Because this little girl:
Is no weaner. And she will also be two years old next month. Yes, I breastfeed my nearly two year old. My beautiful two year old baby girl. My baby. In many ways, emotionally, physically, and cognitively, two year olds are still babies. They still need the antibodies and nutrition found in breastmilk. They still need the reassurance and emotional stability that breastfeeding provides. They still need the quiet bonding time with their mothers.NEED. As in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If other babies and mothers find other ways that help them with these things, then that is wonderful; it works for them. Live and let live, right?
Yet when people find out that I nurse my nearly two year old, I have to defend myself and my daughter. As it has been from the start, the game of nursing is changing for us.
For example, I try my hardest not to nurse her out in public, if at all necessary. Not because I am ashamed, or because I am a “closet nurser.” But because I am unsure whether or not the laws that protected me and my babies when they were infants, still protect us now that my nursling is what society calls a “toddler.”
When this picture was taken while enjoying a Cleveland Indian’s game at Progressive Field, the law was on our side. I could breastfeed in any public place where both I and the baby were allowed to be. We were allowed to be in the stadium, in those seats. We bought the tickets legally. No one could ask me to leave that seat for the sole reason that I was breastfeeding.
Now however, I am unsure. I cannot find specifically that it protects a child beyond infancy. And so, to avoid awkward confrontations, I try to sway her attention to other things, or find someplace very private (but still not the bathroom!) Another reason is because she is beginning to read other people’s emotions and reactions to things. When people see her asking to nurse, comments are made, glares are exchanged. I don’t want her to think that what she is doing- the wholesome and natural and RIGHT thing (for her)- is wrong, just because other people say it is.
And because well meaning friends and family members have said to me “you just need to do it.” Let me share with you, our attempt to night wean my dear daughter. I began wondering if everyone else was right. Maybe we would all start getting good nights’ sleeps if she weaned. Maybe we would all be happier. I wouldn’t be so stressed during the day. Maybe, just maybe. Worth a try, I thought. The plan seemed simple. I would create timeframes during which she could nurse at night. If she woke and fussed during a time that was not within the designated nursing time, then I would hold her, cuddle her, sooth her back to sleep. The idea was that this would help us lengthen the periods of time between night feeding. It seemed to be working, so we moved onto phase two. Knocking out one nursing session.
This is where it turned sour. She not only cried during the time she wanted to nurse and was not being allowed, but she started to scream and cry at the start of bedtime too. Before our attempts to wean, we would do our night time routine (which includes nursing) lay her in her bed, and walk away. When she would wake up at night, she would nurse for 10-15 minutes, climb out of my lap and go back to bed on her own. Now that I think about it, it was relatively easy. After our attempt to wean, she screamed while we were putting her to bed. She woke up within an hour and began screaming again. She developed terrible separation anxiety, and I would have to wait by her door for her to fall asleep. If I didn’t, she didn’t sleep that night. She would scream. all. night.
During the day, she became very clingy. Where she was once my independent and self confident girl, she became insecure and needy.
Her whole demeanor changed.
Because we tried to wean before she was ready. My way of coping with this was to give her what I could see that she needed. We began nursing through the night again. She has decided on her own that one nursing session at night is enough. She has gone back to putting herself back to bed after only a few minutes at the breast. We are all sleeping better. I am not as stressed during the day. We are all happier. Because we did what was right for our family. Because I followed my little girl’s cues. Does this mean she will go off to college breastfeeding? No. I know there is such a thing as natural weaning. It happens every day. Does this mean that I am a “slave” to my child? I certainly don’t feel that way. I enjoy the bonding time. I know that soon she will be grown up. She will be interested in shoes and hair and prom… So I will continue to do for her, what she needs now.