I never planned to breastfeed a toddler, and now I do all the time

September 27 | Guest post by Karen Loopman-Davis
Breastfeeding mug by SunshineSauce

I don't know how it is in other countries and cultures, but breastfeeding brings out a lot of emotions in this country — mainly of discomfort. The idea that breasts, the symbol of female sexuality, should provide the ultimate nourishment to babies, the symbol of innocence, just seems, so, well, unnatural. Before I had children, I thought I was OK with nursing babies, but the idea of a toddler nursing was, if not obscene, at least weird — a kid being able to ask to nurse! I vowed to be discreet, not to make anyone else uncomfortable. I still remember my cousin feeding her baby during a wedding reception when I was a kid. While she was talking to my father! I wouldn't do that in front of any of my uncles.

Despite all my hang ups, I always knew I would breastfeed my children. It's customized food for my baby alone — it changes as she grows, giving her nutritious milk always at the right temperature and concentration, packed with antibodies from her personal environment.

After my first baby was born, I respectfully retreated to a bedroom to nurse whenever I was in mixed company. Now, newborns spend LOTS of time nursing. Consequently, I spent lots of time sitting in an unused room, while everyone else ate, drank, and was merry. I started to feel like I was ostracized to a reoccurring time-out, even at parties and family get-togethers held in my new baby's honor.

Nursing my baby in public places was more problematic. I started wondering why my baby should have to eat in a public restroom, while everyone else got to eat at the table. All in all, I was tired of sitting alone in a room listening to everyone erupt into laughter while I missed out on the joke. I started realizing that nursing a baby was natural, healthy, and well, NORMAL. Of course, just because I had a transformation, didn't mean anyone else had. But why did I feel a need to feed into others' hang ups about how I fed my baby? So I started nursing in front of people. Guess what? They adjusted! None of my friends or relatives bat an eye when I nurse now and I'm nursing two! We continue our card game and conversation as if everything's normal — because it is. I'm pretty sure I have desensitized/normalized a whole lot of college aged men and women that worked at our bar/restaurant over the last couple of years.

I'm still nursing my two-year-old partly because it's the only time she will cuddle with me for 5 or 10 minutes without squirming. To those people who recoil at the sight of my two-year-old tugging at my shirt with a plaintive "Nursie? Please?" I ask: would you object in the same way to a two-year-old asking for a pacifier or bottle, which are rubber imitation boobs?

To my girls, breastfeeding is just something mommies do, as normal as brushing my teeth and complaining about socks thrown on the floor. I get a kick out of watching my oldest imitate me by breastfeeding her dolls and stuffed animals. Sometimes, she'll bring them to me to nurse as well. I usually half heartedly oblige and play-nurse a bunny or Barbie. A few days ago, however, I had to draw the line. When Acy handed me "Pee-Pie the sailor man" and asked me to nurse him, I looked at that dirty old sailor man leering at me and loudly declared "dolls with pipes CANNOT nurse".

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  1. Okay, the last line made me crack up! I could totally relate to your post, I'm still nursing my 21 month old, which is now 9 months longer than I thought I would. Somedays he feels mostly weaned, but then others he nurses more. I've stopped talking about it to people who don't understand. I have to be home to put him to bed, not I have to be home to nurse him to sleep, because I get side-eye and I'm tired of it.

    But in the comfort of my own home, as we lay in his bed together, it is so sweet and innocent and not to be embarrassed about at all. But man it's taken awhile to get to that point where I'm not always second guessing my decision or complaining that I want to be weaned NOW!

    1 agrees
  2. This is a very cool article, a lot of us are raised with hang-ups with our bodies, and it's great that this process helped you get through it!

    5 agree
  3. Yay! I'm so glad you stopped being the "odd one out". I too thought I had to be at first but that didn't last. I almost went 3 years with my daughter. I had a lot of public ridicule, in a theme park surrounded by security on a family vacation with my then 3 month old and ten year old son and their father. Why? Because a woman felt she didn't need to explain to her children what my baby was doing. Baby is eating, simple. Nothing drawn out no need to explain further, breasts feed babies. Period. Suffice it to say our trip that day was on the park and the kids in the rest of our party enjoyed an ice cream on them as well.

    Though what saddened me most is that every form of public ridicule, ugly statements, stares and sneers all came from WOMEN. Men were too oblivious to even notice I was nursing because though I never covered, I always wore two shirts and only ever exposed nipple to baby so baby could latch. I was discreet and respectful of those around me, yet so many felt the need to disrespect something so very natural and normal between a mother and child. Most of the women having children themselves.

    Often times I held full conversations with people and perhaps ten minutes in, they would jump "Oh, I'm so sorry." then whisper, "You're nursing" as if I was doing something illegal or had a booger hanging out of my nose in public. So you see it wasn't noticeable but immediately after it becomes noticed people's perception changes dramatically. Perhaps it will change by the time my daughter nurses her own baby. She's three now and still will pat my breast fondly and say "booby juice was there Mommy, but I drink it all up" with a huge grin on her face. I think it's cute and at the same time lets me relish in the fact that I made the right decision for her, allowing my body to do what it was meant to do. So from one woman that also ended up breastfeeding a toddler and proud of it to you, thank you. It does matter, you aren't the outsider and never should feel like one!

    1 agrees
  4. Yep, still breastfeeding my 3 year old a couple of times a day, and yes, most of society (including friends and family) gives me shit about it. I keep hearing, "If they're old enough to ask for it, then they're too old!" I mostly keep it private, but sometimes my daughter busts me out by telling people, "There's milk in there!"

    I think the assumption is that we mothers are forcing it on our kids, or that we are trying to keep them "babies" or dependent on us. Not true over here. My girl is super independent, potty trained herself at age 2, goes to school, has chores around the house. She also asks for cuddles, rocking and milk while she falls asleep. Why the heck would I deny that because society thinks it's gross? It's not hindering nor harming her life at all. I see it as a little nutritional perk, like a multi-vitamin, not to mention quality bonding time with my kid. I think it's more prevalent than we know…some of us are in the closet.

    1 agrees
  5. I went into breastfeeding with the understanding that I was going to need to nurse in public. I was pretty sure that I personally wasn't going to make it long breastfeeding if doing so involved isolating myself and missing out on the goings on around me. It was awkward the first couple times, especially when I was first learning to nurse, but I'm glad I got past that. (I'm also glad I bitched my mom out for trying to "help" by "covering me up" – she needed to get over it too! And the baby HATED nursing covers.) I think this is different for different people – I live in a relatively crunchy area, I'm pretty comfortable with exposing my body when situationally appropriate (e.g. I'm not weird about wearing a bathing suit) and it wasn't a huge leap for me. For some others, the amount of personal change involved just isn't going to be worth the payoff, and that's cool too.

    Now I'm breastfeeding a toddler, but we almost never do so outside the house at this point. Dude is waaaay too active and interested in his surroundings to stop and nurse – if we're out, there's something more fun than nursing to do as far as he's concerned. So nursing is down to just part of our bedtime/wakeup cuddling routine, and everyone is fine with that. Though we may have some weaning in our future to facilitate conception of kid #2…

    4 agree
  6. Lol @ dolls with pipes! Yay for you not hiding anymore! It is truly an adjustment, but you know what? The baby surely doesn't care who is around when they eat…. That is until they get my son and play peek-a-boob with ppl while he nurses! XD

    3 agree
  7. As someone who is also nursing a (19-month old) toddler, I also say yay for not hiding anymore! Boobs are magic.

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  8. Yay for not hiding! I've gotten more comments from friends and family while nursing at home than I have while nursing in public. (Though to be fair baby is only 2 months and we haven't been out long enough for her to get hungry that many times.) My youngest sister (16) actually asked me how I was able to sit at the table with everyone while I nursed, even though I was totally covered. My oldest sister (who has a toddler) and I just told her because it was a normal, natural thing. Baby was hungry. My dad got all freaked out and jumped up to leave the room once, even though I was covered. I'm not going to separate myself just because I chose to feed my daughter with my boobs instead of a bottle.

    7 agree
  9. Here in Scotland anyone who tries to stop or prevent a person breastfeeding a child under the age of 2 years can be prosecuted. It's been law scince 2005.
    You'll still get stink eye from some less enlightened members of society, but they are a lot less likely to say anything!

    2 agree
  10. I was breastfed well into my toddler years (I was never officially weaned, I just gradually stopped), and I'm here to say that it didn't eff me up.

    I still feel a strong, what I believe is chemical, bond to my mother. I cherish it.

    5 agree
  11. For moms that are breastfeeding toddlers and working, are you still pumping? Does your child get breastmilk during the day in a bottle or sippy? I have a 8 month old and plan to nurse as long as she wants, but since she is still little I am pumping while at work.

    1 agrees
    • With my toddler? No. My son is 21 months and I don't sent breastmilk to daycare with him anymore. I stopped doing that when he was about a year. I hate pumping.

      2 agree
    • My munchkin started daycare at 11.5 months, and I never bothered to pump. I hate(d) pumping.
      She nurses when she's with me, and at daycare she gets water or cow milk if she's thirsty.

  12. My mom breastfed all of us for a few months after we were born, and if my memory serves me correctly, she never felt the need to leave the room because breastfeeding was "unseemly." She did cover up with a light blanket in public, because she felt more comfortable and also wanted to respect everyone else. I'm pretty sure the only time she'd excuse herself to nurse was if there was a raucous party going on and the room was simply too loud for the baby to concentrate. Now, she stopped breastfeeding me and each sibling after she went back to work (between three/six months), so I can't comment on toddler nursing. But everyone respected her right to feed us wherever we happened to be at the time. And this was in the 90's.

  13. I breastfeed my 21-month-old in public all the time! I don't really have any extra comments, just wanted to chime in!

    1 agrees
  14. Thanks for this article and mazel tov to you for doing what feels right for your family! Thank you for sharing.

    I am nursing my 8 month old, and like Natalie above, I have some questions for those of you who have nursed or are currently nursing older babies.

    Q1: I can rarely breastfeed Baby Z in public–not because I don't want to but because she gets sooooo distracted and will pretty much only nurse in a darkened room with only she and me around. So restaurants, parks, cupcake shops, stores, public transit, even my workplace are generally no-go places for nursing, sometimes even if she's pretty darn hangry. Maybe a sip or two but nothing much more than that. Sometimes she even gets a little pissed and then that's when, inevitably, a stranger gives me a dirty look, and even says, "maybe she'd prefer a bottle?" I want this nursing-in-public thing to work for us, mostly so we can be more out and about and less like shut-ins, and also because I think it'd be rad to have more babies get to go places and eat whenever they want to. How do y'all breastfeed a non-infant in public? Or maybe Baby Z is more particular than other kiddos? I've heard that it could be a phase, but so far it is a phase that's lasted her whole life…

    Q2: Natalie's question about pumping is super on-my-mind too since I currently pump 2-3 times a day monday-friday while I'm at work. When did y'all stop that? Do you have any advice about keeping up breastfeeding while stopping pumping. I hear a lot of "I hate pumping," and lord I really hate it too, but it is what allows me to nurse whenever I'm with Baby Z (before and after work, all weekend long). Any advice for PP Natalie and me?

    Aaaa! I have so many more questions but I'm typing on a stupid phone, so I'll keep it at that. Lemme know if you mamas (or dads!) have any /wisdom you could share. I didn't think id even make it to eight months with a couple bouts of mastitis, endless plugged ducts, etc. but now that it is working, Baby Z and I aren't ready to give up. I really appreciate being able to read about your experiences, eapecially because we are living far from family and I need all the support I can come by.

    3 agree
    • I'm still nursing my 14 month old, but only before bed (every night), sometimes in the mornings, occasionally during the night (when he's less settled because he's sick or something – easy way to relax him), and a bit more often on the weekends. I work full time, and have been since he was 4 months old. I pumped at work (3-4 times x day) until he was 12 months old, and decided that was enough for me. I was really nervous about drying up once I stopped pumping, but my supply just adjusted and I can still feed him every night at bedtime (and then some). That said, although things worked out for us, I had to really be ok with things not "working out" when I stopped pumping at work. For me, I had aimed to feed him until 12 months, and then beyond that I considered bonus time. Now, I've got no real plan except we'll nurse until one of us is finished.

      Nursing in public doesn't happen for us anymore, which is fine. I don't give him much during the day (on the weekends) anyway – usually just if he seems to need it before a nap. If I tried in public, I know he'd be way to distracted and the meal wouldn't really happen. He's always been a big, busy kid too, so I had to start retreating to my car when I needed to feed him and I was out and about probably somewhere around 8 or 9 months.

      Hooray for public breastfeeding! For every one loud and crazy judger, there are many more of us quietly thinking you're awesome and letting you be.

      4 agree
      • Thanks so much for those deets, Lauren. Obviously I'm still trying to figure this out; even at eight months, it seems like every few days is a brand new learning experience! My mom once told me that everything that is supposedly "natural," from breastfeeding to staying in love, is always much harder than you think it'll be…but still so worth it!

        I really appreciate hearing other families' stories. Much more inspiring and helpful than a book or even a la leche meeting. At least for me.

    • Re: Q2: I stopped pumping at one year, but was able to breastfeed until 18 months. After a year, milk of any kind wasn't my child's main food source, so there wasn't a need for the same quantity of milk. I continued to breastfeed when I woke her up and put her to bed – I could do this everyday with no issues. I'm not sure I made much milk, but then that wasn't the whole point of nursing her anymore. I worked full time during the week but would still breastfeed at her two nap times on the weekends. Again, she'd nurse fine even though I assume there can't have been much milk. Enough to make her happy!! She weaned when I became pregnant again (it's how I knew we were pregnant, in fact!). My assumption is that, for many toddlers, it's not just about the milk any more.

  15. this reminds me of an ad i just saw recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgmbJso-2-o

    not something i would normally pay much attention to, but it's possibly the first time i've seen a positive message about breastfeeding in something really mainstream (i mean, everyone is positive about breast*milk*, but seeing that about breast*feeding* was striking and cool to me).

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