Editor’s Note: Lately there have been a lot of questions about the how’s and why’s of extended breastfeeding. In the US, “extended breastfeeding” generally means breastfeeding past a year. Here at Breastfeed, Chicago!, we recognize that mommyhood is not a race, and there is no such thing as the perfect length of time to breastfeed – every mother/child pair is different. Christine does an excellent job of exploring the many benefits to mom and child when breastfeeding goes past infancy. No matter how long you breastfeed, you can rest assured that *every day* that you breastfeed your child, you are giving them something really awesome. Rock on.
I always planned to breastfeed my children. I remember my mom nursing my brothers. It seemed the logical choice. It was cheap and easy. But, I didn’t go into nursing with a real plan. I figured I would nurse at least until my daughter needed solids and go from there. Then I did some research and learned that the recommendation was to nurse for a year. So, that was my goal. I could do a year of nursing, right? Sure, it seemed like a long time but if that’s what’s best for my daughter then I would take a stab at it.
Fast forward 12 months. My daughter was now a year old, the magical age of weaning. She loved solids, but didn’t actually ingest a large quantity of them. She still liked to nurse, A LOT and honestly, I liked it too. I loved the quiet time it brought. I loved how it helped her go to sleep. I loved that it was a near-instant fix to anything wrong in her world. And really at one year old, she was only a day older than 11 months and 29 days. And the day after that, she was only one day older. She didn’t suddenly transform into from a baby that depended on my milk for life into a child who didn’t need or want it in a single day. She wasn’t ready to wean and I wasn’t either. By this time, I knew that the World Health Organizationrecommended nursing for 2 years and then as long as both mom and baby wanted to. So, I changed my goals and aimed for 2 years.
I never intended to be a “long term breastfeeder”. I mean, really, moms that nurse their toddlers are weird. But my little girl wasn’t a toddler, she was my baby. Even as an independent 18 month old who preferred to run off and play rather than snuggle with Mama, she was still my baby. And when she was nursing at my breast, I didn’t see some child that was too old to be there. I saw my baby right where she had been from birth. It was familiar and comfortable and not at all weird. But you couldn’t have convinced me of that a few years ago!
Along the way during the second year, we discovered that we were pregnant again. Nursing became much less comfortable for me. We ended up doing some night weaning in order to gain more sleep, preserve my sanity, and give me patience for the more important (in my daughter’s eyes) morning, daytime and bedtime nursings. Then we had a miscarriage. Nursing was no longer painful and in fact the tables turned. What I once did to comfort my little girl was now a huge source of comfort to me. As I healed physically and grieved emotionally, my daughter’s patience and love and nursing were such a blessing. We relaxed on the night weaning, although not completely since we had made great progress.
Fast forward to her second birthday and oddly, she was only one day older than the day before. We still nursed, but not as often. She had more important things to do. It was still our morning ritual and I knew that morning nursing will be the last one to go. A few weeks later, we found out that we were expecting once again. We nursed on and off and I was thankful that she was old enough to understand when Mama needed a break. She moved happily out of our bed and into her own and nursing decreased even more. Then all of the sudden, we went a whole 24 hours without nursing. Then it was a few days. And then a week. And then I looked back and realized that my sweet little baby, now an active 2 year old, had weaned; all on her own. There were no tears, it was just a natural step. I’ll admit, while I am excited to have a little break before I have another babe at the breast, it is bittersweet to know that chapter of our relationship as mother and daughter has come to a close.
3 years ago, I would never have guessed, admitted or otherwise thought that I would nurse my daughter for 27 months. But I have learned that it is a journey; one that you take a day (sometimes an hour) at a time. There is no real need to look forward; they will only be a day older tomorrow. I am already looking forward to the journey I will take with our next child. Perhaps it will be longer, I hope not too much shorter, but I’m sure it will be filled with snuggles, precious moments, times of frustration and exhaustion, funny stories and above all, it will all be worth it in the end.
Jayme is a former elementary music teacher and now stay-at-home mom. She lives with her husband and daughter and is expecting another little blessing around Christmas. She loves exploring natural living, attachment parenting and all things early childhood. When she’s not playing with her two year old, she occasionally finds time to work on her child and family photography business, Jayme Lynn Photography.