Confessions Of An Extended Breastfeeder

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Something struck me today. I am an extended breastfeeder. While this might not come as a massive surprise to some, it did to me. Primarily because my daughter is not yet 20 months old, and I always assumed I would breastfeed for the WHO recommended 2 years – that’s 24 months.

In my mind, there’s nothing ‘extended’ about breastfeeding Ameli. She’s still a baby. She doesn’t pay for a seat on the train, she doesn’t pay entry to amusement parks, and she breastfeeds. Like babies do.  Except in the eyes of other people, my leggy little girl, born at 52cm tall, and walking since she was 8 months old, looks like a proper toddler.  So when people hear that I’m still breastfeeding her, they are surprised, and either raise their eyebrows in a “what” kind of way, or make some or other comment about how brave I am or how good that is. Which, of course, it is.

But the things is, I can’t imagine not still nursing my baby. When she wakes in the middle of the night and without even opening her eyes says “Dhoodhoo” (her word for milk, I have no idea why), and if I don’t respond soon enough, adds a whimpered “Mummy, dhoodhoo” for effect,  when she falls and hurts herself and all she wants is a little dhoodhoo, or if she’s feeling unwell, or when she’s just feeling unsettled, or whatever it is she needs. The thought of not being able to nurse is worse than what someone I’ll never see again, sitting opposite me on a train, might think.

Like pretty much everyone else, when I hear the term ‘extended breastfeeder’ my mind goes to those people who still breastfeed their 8 year olds.  But it turns out that to other people, nursing a 20-month old makes me one of those people.  Which of course I have no real problem with – my baby, my body, my choice, and all that.

But it does challenge me on my own perceptions. They say that if left to self-wean, children will normally do so between 4 and 5 years of age. Will I be breastfeeding that long? I have no idea. Sitting here right now, I can’t imagine I would. But then, some people say you should stop breastfeeding when your child can ask for it. Ameli did baby-signing, so for us that would have been around 5 months.  So that’s no good as a measure, is it?

While I am a believer in ‘to each their own’ – to some extent, anyway – I find it interesting how our perceptions about the perceptions of others, and our interpretation of cultural norms affects our decisions.  The other day, for example, Ameli and I were on the train during rush hour. It was quite a long journey and she was ready for a nap, so she turned to me and said “Dhoodhoo”. Being surrounded by businessmen in suits, I must admit I felt a little self-conscious, the way I never did when she was a baby, and I said no, and that she could have some a little later. This made no sense to her 19-month old brain. I mean, we’re sitting down, there’s nothing else happening, they’re right there: what’s the problem?

This made no sense to her 19-month old brain. I mean, we’re sitting down, there’s nothing else happening, they’re right there: what’s the problem?

She looked at me again and said, “Mummy, dhoodhoo.” And I again whispered to her, no, later. To which she, loudly and without shame said, “Mummy. Boob.” Well, the man opposite me burst out in uncontained laughter and left the train at the next stop, still chuckling, and it was all I could do to stop Ameli from climbing in under my shirt. I was blushing fiercely, and angry at myself for feeling reserved. My daughter didn’t get it, and the man opposite me couldn’t stop laughing.  He’d probably not even have noticed if I had just nursed her.

I’m curios though, since ‘when should I stop breastfeeding’ is a comment that comes up in parenting forums often: what do you consider ‘extended’ breastfeeding? One year? Two years? Five?

While I can’t get on board with the ‘mothers who breastfeed toddlers are doing it for themselves’ mentality, I’m curious to know what you think?

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13 thoughts on “Confessions Of An Extended Breastfeeder

  1. I remember talking about breastfeeding when I was pregnant with my first and telling people that the WHO guidelines said at least two years. I got some funny responses from friends and family but I would tell them that by then the baby would probably only be nursing once or twice a day. Well, William was nursing 8-10 times a day at 18 months, he started sleeping through the night at 2.5yrs, and only recently at almost 4yrs has started going a wekk or so between feeds. I can’t imagine doing it any other way and hope that Ellie has the same opportunity to breastfeed as long as she wants to. I know lots of people whose kids suddenly weaned on their first birthday and their parents had said they would definitley nurse for a year, but tell me the baby made the decision? I knew lots of extended breastfeeders in the US, but prectically none in the UK, so it’s always nice to hear of others doing something similar, makes me feel less out of the ordinary. Where I live it’s hard to find someone who hasn’t introduced formula at 3 months. But, I do think that the more people see older babies nursing in public the more normal it will get in society. I think I last nursed in public when William was 3, never had a bad comment though.

  2. Zoe

    I am intending on breastfeeding Kayleigh until she is a year old, and then I am just going to see what happens. The ideal would be for her to self wean but by the sounds of it that is unlikely to happen at such a young age. I would probably feel very uncomfortable breastfeeding her in public much longer than a year because I do worry about what other people think. I would probably be happy to carry on morning and night feeds at home for a while longer. I worry about what I am going to do to calm her down when she is upset once we stop though!
    Zoe’s last blog post ..Nap Transition

  3. Kathie Dapbim

    I breastfed Toby until he was about Kyra’s age, at which point he self-weaned. He’d only been nursing at bedtime for about 2 months at that point (again, his own choice, he wasn’t interested the rest of the time), so my supply had dwindled to the point where my breasts never felt full, but I could tell he was still getting something when he was nursing, as I could hear him swallowing. Despite this, the sessions were getting shorter and shorter, and then one evening, he wouldn’t even suck, he was just playing with the nipple with his tongue and lips. The next evening, I decided to try just not offering him it, with the plan to give it to him straight away if he asked for it. He didn’t, we snuggled and he went to bed. Never asked again. It was perfect, just the way I’d hoped for things to end. I hope it will be the same with Olivia, although we’ve still got a long while to go, thank goodness!!

  4. colleen

    At 5yrs of age he walked to the room,crawled into bed and had some. Dad looked at this and said “aren’t you a bit to old for this now?”He looked up at dad,unlatched and said “OK’ and that was it. He looked back from the door and asked if he could have a sweetie then instead

  5. @Eleanor, Awww.. that’s sad Eleanor! I guess that’s why I’ve not even thought of stopping – I know she’d be heart broken! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  6. @Korina, thanks Korina. I agree 6 months is really sad, and yes, have heard that too. I think I agree about 2 years too. I guess the natural weaning age is subjective? Between 2-7 seems like a REALLY big window, which strikes me as being more of a natural progression – which I guess weaning is anyway, so maybe you’re right!

  7. @KrissyFair, Lol. That made me laugh. I must admit, puberty is just too long for me! 🙂
    I have no intention of stopping before Kyra is ready, and I assure you she is not ready now, but I’m curious as to when other people think they should, or did stop. The notion of us being ‘extended’ breastfeeders really surprised me.

  8. ‘When should I stop breastfeeding’? It’s really a flawed question isn’t it? I don’t think there is a time when you should stop. There will eventually come a time when it doesn’t work anymore. Either because the nursling loses the need for it or the skill to do it, or for any number of reasons that might involve work commitments or needs of mom, dad or siblings. I think that’s the only ‘should’.

    I have a friend who does research on mice and as she reminds me frequently, they nurse until puberty begins. So there’s nothing extended about toddlerhood 🙂

  9. Korina

    I bf’d dd1 till 5/6, ds1 till 5 & ds2 still going at 18 mths…. Will finish when he’s ready.
    I think most people consider extended breastfeeding is past six mths which is sad. To me after 2 yrs is truely extended.

    Btw the natural weaning age is between 2 & 7 yrs.

  10. Eleanor

    I would still be feeding Emily at 17 months if it wasn’t so damn painful when you are pregnant. By the time we stopped about a month ago she only had some at bedtime anyway since I stopped expressing at work when she hit 1. She had pretty much weaned herself on daytime milk anyway by then. I cried all week when I forced her to stop completely last month but she barely notices now anyway!

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