I breastfed my daughter until she was two and a half years old. I'm not ashamed of it, but I'm also not inappropriately proud of it. Nursing a child for the recommended amount of time doesn't make me a supermom; it simply makes me a mammal blessed with the ability to do so. Of course, the moms we hear about who nurse their toddlers are the ones who make it an unnecessary spectacle-- who flaunt their choice as if it is heroic, fully and unnecessary expose both breasts, and demand that even their six-year-olds nurse publicly. Although they form a tiny minority, those are the moms who get the most attention-- for obvious reasons.
You don't have to be crazy or attention-seeking to nurse your toddler. It's a perfectly normal and natural thing to do, despite what media attention for the crazies might imply. Here are some guidelines for nursing your toddler without being a weirdo.
1. Don't be judgmental of moms who nurse "too long"-- and don't be too afraid to be one of them. The World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics, and my daughter's own pediatrician support allowing children to nurse until they wean themselves. For some kids, that might mean until kindergarten. While I have to admit that the idea of nursing a five-year-old gives me the heebie-jeebies, I know that it is a medically approved, healthy decision that I have no place to judge. You can choose to nurse your toddler, and even your older child, without being crazy or attention-seeking-- and the world's leading health organizations will support your decision.
2. It doesn't have to be public. When my daughter was a baby, I nursed her in public frequently. A four-month-old baby can't reasonably be expected to wait to eat and I had a right to feed her wherever it was necessary to feed her. By the time your child is a toddler, though, he should be eating a healthy, balanced diet containing solid foods, water, and juice. In most cases, it's unnecessary to nurse your toddler in public. With few a few exceptions, I avoided doing so after my daughter was walking and talking.
3. Talk to your child about it. By the time your child is a toddler, nursing becomes less of an instant-fix for crying or a necessary snack-- and becomes more of an intimate bonding. My daughter thought of nursing the way most toddlers think of bedtime cuddles or being rocked to sleep. It was something that we did at home that was special and sweet. Drop hints to your toddler that nursing is for home by saying things like, "I just love nursing you in the rocking chair before bed time!" He will likely begin associating it with home, not anytime and anywhere.
4. Let your "baby" grow up. No parent can force a child to nurse against his will, but we've all seen cases of codependent parents who seem to be afraid of letting their children self-wean. I have to admit that a part of me felt sad and nostalgic when my daughter stopped asking to nurse every day, but I also knew that, if she was ready, it was time to wean. If your toddler is showing less interest in nursing, don't remind him of it or offer it. Give him the opportunity to grow up, even if it's sooner than you expected.
5. Have your own interests. I'm very dedicated to my interest in women's health and in children's health, but it's important to have other interests outside your role as a mother, in general-- and outside your role as a milk-machine, specifically. While breastfeeding your toddler is a wonderful, healthy thing to do, it should never be the center of your world or the focus of your identity.
Related Work by Juniper Russo