Before I started this post, I went to kellymom.com, a great and well-regarded site on breastfeeding, looking for statistics on the number of babies in America who breastfeed past the age of one. Than I remembered, I don't really care. My guess? Not many. Under 10% I'd bet (again, in America) and that's probably shooting high. While I've done my reading on the benefits of extended breastfeeding (of course it has a name- doesn't everything these days?), I'm not going to report that here. This is more of a what-works-for-us approach. And as a nursing mother of a bright, bounding, brilliant toddler, I thought I'd share some experiences here.
Thoughts on nursing a toddler... this is not your infant nursing. Those first six or so months, breastfeeding was a quiet time, a peaceful time, Dory still fit neatly in my arms, we gazed at one another or slept together while she nursed. This was a rich experience for the two of us and for Matthew as he often sat next to us, watching Dory's face as her expression relaxed, her eyes closed, she became dreamy, and eventually slept. We were serene, filled with love and tenderness. Those are the words I would use.
At the time, I might have also called it: intense. Constant. Demanding. No one else could provide what I had (especially as Dory wanted nothing to do with a bottle). She nursed on demand and her demands could be high. That is the other side. But, now, in that dreamy way we all have when we move farther away from a certain period in life, I mainly remember how calm and loving our nursing time was. And stationary. Very stationary.
No longer. My nursing toddler is a child on the GO. When she was smaller and I would settle down to feed her, I tried to remember, bring a glass of water, a good book, a snack, wear something comfortable- you're going to be here for a while New Mama. Now my main thought? Lady, hold onto those boobs.
Dory still breastfeeds on demand, but it can be anywhere from a half-hour nurse to bed to a thirty second drive-by.
She can nurse: sitting, laying down, kneeling, standing, bending over, kicking one leg to the back (then switching sides), draped across my belly, performing baby yoga, and sometimes even dashing across the room.
There is no understanding of modesty. For her, that is. Regarding my modesty. She happily yanks up my shirt or thrusts her arm down it, tugs at my bra straps, unzips my coat. She'll find a pillow, settle on the floor, and pat the space next to her, seeming to say, c'mon Mama, let's get this dinner going. Too bad we're in her grandparents' living room. If given her druthers, she likes the whole chest-area available, (buffet-style, you might say), but this typically only happens at bedtime, when she and I are cuddled in bed and I'm just glad to be sitting in one place for longer than two minutes.
The cuddle time. That's my favorite, when I hold her in my arms, she taking up all of my lap, nursing happily, and gazing up at me with such total trust in her eyes. Sometimes I'll make silly faces and she'll smile. The tenderness in that moment is inexpressible.
For us, there is so much value in this relationship, this extended breastfeeding. There is an immediate comfort for her- this is something she knows. In this world where she has- how many new experiences a day? Dozens? Hundreds? Thousands? Who could say for sure? This is something dependable, faithful. Even our relationship, maybe especially our relationship, shifts and changes all the time. She tests boundaries, limits, possibilities, her own power. As she gets bigger, more mobile, more independent, more adventurous, this- the safety of her mother's breasts- is still a constant. The power of a comfort zone is a rich and heady thing when your world grows exponentially every single day.
A friend of mine, when I asked her about nursing her eighteen month old, expressed it this way: "She has an emotional connection to breastfeeding. As she gets older, she won't need this anymore, but right now this is still a need. I wouldn't feel right taking that away from her." That sums it up for me.
But for anyone who would like more reasons for prolonged nursing (scientific ones, not my woo-woo, namby-pamby, follow-your-gut stuff) you can read up on benefits here. Excellent info. For more on this method termed "child-led weaning" API gives a good, brief description here. And for La Leche League's thoughts(THE authority in breastfeeding) on the subject bop over here.
And for any mamas out there, thinking, "just us?" you're not alone! We have surrounded ourselves with like-minded mamas, most following along on this "extended" schedule, past six months, nine months, a year, and beyond. I think I speak for Dory and I both when I say: Power to the nummies!