How Breastfeeding Enriches Toddlerhood…And Motherhood

Feed

My husband smiles knowingly from across the other side of our bed. I long to reach out for an early morning embrace but there’s an obstacle between us, making him seem an unreachable distance away. It’s 6:30am and our three-year-old son is breastfeeding in his dreamy slumber. This has become our morning ritual; nursing for half an hour before he officially wakes to greet the day. Soon he’ll be all smiles, laughter and affection. But if he misses this nurturing, this time of reconnection, he’ll wake like a confused bear cub who’s been robbed of half his hibernation.

The sun and the birds have been awake since 5am and I have too; lying in the soft stillness contemplating how to simplify my day and maximize toddler-free moments dedicated to minimizing my ever expanding to do list. I’d love to crawl out from under the covers and take advantage of this quiet time before my son rouses. To go for a walk, make a start on my day job or pen some words for my blog. Occasionally I do, but lately my little man has a sixth sense for when his maternal security blanket has left the bed, and this morning I’m craving a few more minutes of silence.

So, I channel patience, extinguish frustration and practice gratitude.

I remind myself this selfless act is time well spent, cementing our connection which will reward us both for years to come. Many cynics claim mothers who breastfeed their toddlers are selfish, narcissistic and doing it for themselves, not their children. Anybody who makes such ridiculous comments has clearly never breastfeed nor had a partner who nursed for a long period of time.

I’ve freely chosen to sacrifice my independence to give my son this gift, but that doesn’t make it easy. We’ve never spent more than a few hours apart, he’s nursed to sleep every single night for the last three years and no matter how dedicated a mother I am, at times I crave personal space. It has challenged my sense of self, with the lines between what’s mine and his blurring and lately, seemingly up for an animated debate.

It’s getting easier lately as my son slowly self-weans and only nurses a few times a day. Occasionally when he skips his afternoon nap he also forgets to nurse. Hours later I’ll realize and feel my heart skip a beat as I sense this season of my life will soon be drawing to a natural close; I fear I’ll deeply miss it. I don’t know if we’ll have another baby and I’m the first to admit I’m in no hurry to prematurely close this chapter of our magical fairytale.

I don’t know what motherhood looks like without breastfeeding.

I’m anxious about losing my maternal superpower: it has gifted us an intimate closeness and an unwavering trust I never imagined possible. It has been the single greatest surprise of motherhood and I feel the experience is devalued in our modern culture, too often reduced to a nutritional comparison of formula versus breastmilk.

I feel lucky to live in a relatively tolerant and open-minded society but I’m not immune to the stigma attached to breastfeeding a three-year-old. I’m acutely aware of the judgement and outrage breastfeeding a toddler can precipitate, which is sadly borne out of ignorance and fear. If I’m being honest, though, as brave as I feel, I’m relieved we rarely breastfeed in public these days. If my son needs it, I discreetly nurse him and happily I’m always surprised how few people seem to notice; I guess we’re masters of our art form now. I have thick skin and can handle any negativity that comes my way, but I don’t want my son subjected to a stranger’s insecurities and personal phobias.

Despite my confidence, I often feel isolated nursing my toddler and with good reason: despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation for children to be breastfeed until at least age two, only 5% of mothers nurse their babies beyond six months. A recent study published in the Lancet suggested if breastfeeding were scaled up to near universal levels, 823,000 deaths of children under five could be prevented every year. Yet, sadly, many doctors don’t support breastfeeding mothers, which makes it seem like an impossible road to follow.

I find it exhilarating to be a trailblazer rediscovering a path less travelled.

I share my story, not to fuel a debate amongst mothers but to paint a picture of what sustained nursing looks like. It is so rare, so foreign in our modern day world, that we simply don’t know what it looks like nor what to expect. When my naturopath suggested I breastfeed my son for at least two years, the notion made me anxious. It sounded abnormal because I’d never seen it before. I was nervous about what others may think.

But, breastfeeding my little man has been nothing but an extraordinary adventure, which unfolds and takes me down parenting side trails I never expected. It rebalances him after an emotional upset and reconnects us after time apart. He makes me laugh when he asks for “boo-zies”, the “big one” or the “other one” and surprises me when he casually puts his tiny hands down my front; an unsubtle hint he’d like to nurse. He melts my heart when he looks up at me with the same innocent blue eyes he always has, and gently whispers tall tales or recounts our day together.

Acrobatics are common, biting is non-existent, laughter is frequent and smiles are guaranteed.

To be fair my experience with breastfeeding has inevitably changed my attitude towards it. It has deepened my respect for the power of the female body and heightened my maternal instincts, softening me along the way and giving me renewed confidence in my evolving body image. But, despite being a proud breastfeeding mother I’m still a modern day woman who craves feeling attractive. When I stand in front of the mirror naked, I remember my breasts used to sit a little higher. I’m anxious about whether my husband thinks the same and I wonder how they’ll look when I eventually stop nursing. But, then I remind myself I can’t go wrong if I forge my own path, live my truth and care for my family in the way that feels right for me. And nothing is sexier than authenticity.

I’m grateful I’ve been able to nurse my toddler son for as long as I have. Not all mothers can, with work commitments and health issues throwing obstacles in our paths. And for many mothers it’s not a choice that’s right for them – it’s a personal decision which should be respected and supported either way. But for those of us who can and want to, we owe it to ourselves to proudly nurse our children for as long as they need it.

If my twenty-year-old self could see me now she’d be horrified; at that age I couldn’t imagine breastfeeding. So, as I lay here reflecting on how my views have changed I’m filled with hope and positivity. I wonder what other twists and turns life will take and it excites me. If we deny ourselves the freedom to grow as people and to challenge our long held beliefs, our comfort zones shrink, our minds close and life loses its colour, fading to black and white. So, as demanding as it is at times, I’ll never regret a single moment I’ve spent nourishing my son.

It has been the most selfless act of my life, but it has given me infinitely more than it has taken.

If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in my upcoming eBook, Nature Baby, Protecting the Mental and Emotional Health of your Baby in their First 1000 Days. Click here to learn more or to sign up to be notified when it is available.

Join the Free Natural Parenting Superpowers eCourse and receive updates from Raised Good

COMMENTS
  • July 26, 2016
    Anamika

    What a lovely post and thank you for giving a voice to this beautiful feeling (read as I’m nursing my 12 m.o). 🙂

    • July 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Anamika and my absolute pleasure – happy it resonated with you. And know the feeling – half of this post was written on my iPhone as I nursed! Motherhood hey. Thanks again xx

  • July 26, 2016
    Alison.

    Beautiful piece thank you … Really sums up the experience. Nursing my 21 mo, something i never expected or planned before having a baby. But no regrets and so grateful to be able to do it. Despite how positive I feel about the journey, it is a lonely road at times, know hardly anyone else in real life doing it. Find online support and blogs like yours so important.

    • July 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Alison and so happy you enjoyed it. I never expected to nurse this long either and I honestly don’t know how long we’ll keep going but I know we’ll come to a natural ending together, I know I’ll be sad when it ends though. I don’t know anyone else in real life nursing this long either. A friend I met when we were pregnant nursed her son until 20 months, which was amazing to have it in common for so long. I find a lot of support through this community and I’m so happy when I connect with mums like you. Thanks again for reading xx

  • July 26, 2016
    Dawn

    Thank you! Your beautiful words brought tears to my eyes. I never imagined I’d be breastfeeding a 3 yr old yet here I am and I wouldn’t change it for the world. A thousand times YES to your final sentence!

    • July 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Oh, thank you Dawn. Makes me so happy when I hear my writing moved people. I never imagined it either but amazing when we’re open to new experiences how it can be better than we ever thought possible. I wouldn’t change it either 🙂 Keep nursing as long as you and your 3 year old want to and I will too. It’s such an amazing gift. Thanks again for reading and for your lovely comment…means a lot to me xx

  • July 26, 2016

    Thank you for being brave and authentic and sharing this piece with the world. I find truth in everything you’ve said. I’m still breast feeding my 30 m.o. The nourishment, nurturing and bonding that happens in breastfeeding is incomparable. I look forward to the freedom that will come with weaning, but I’m going to enjoy (and not rush) these breastfeeding years. It’s too beautiful not to.

    • July 26, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Julie, I’m so happy it resonated with you. It’s hard to put myself out there and I always brace myself for criticism but I’m so happy this time with the positive comments coming in. It’s just being honest. I feel mothers have lost so much when they don’t realize what can be gained emotionally from breastfeeding and if this post helps one brave mama nurse a little longer I’m happy. These years go by so fast and it feels as though breastfeeding is such a lovely way to slow it down and ease our toddlers into the big, wide world. Thank you again – your comment means a lot and thanks for reading xx

  • July 27, 2016
    Ally

    I am nursing my boys… big brother is almost 4 & his 5 month old brother. 🙂 Big nurses in the morning consistently, and sometimes forgets now. I offered him nunnies before we brushed teeth tonight & he declined – I proudly made it past my looooong 10 seconds that I usually allow him in the morning. Funny how I thought 10 seconds was so little time & yet this morning he was satisfied after about 5. There are days when I am over it & days when I am ok, but it makes me sad when I can handle a longer session and he doesn’t need/want it. My baby is growing up. 🙁 This article is all things true, it’s one thing to find extended nursing mommas, but another to find mommas that nurses past 3. Thank you for this.

    • August 07, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for reading Ally and for your lovely comment. Amazing you are nursing two little boys at once 🙂

  • August 06, 2016
    Mere

    So beautifully written, and so familiar to my own path in many ways that it tugged at my heart strings all the way over here in Australia! My three year old and I still do “milky” every morning and evening, and without fail when he rouses in the night and trots into our room I awake to the words “Mama, can we do milky?” being whispered in my ear. I feel so much affinity with so many of the things you describe – the smiles, acrobatics and wandering hands; the amazing closeness, comfort and depth of connection it nurtures; the awkwardness of extended feeding in public and my relief at being rarely called upon to do it these days; the mixed feelings relating to eventual weaning and loss of my ”maternal superpower”… Even the way they ascribe their own funny little names to it (I have a clearly designated ‘side 1’ and ‘side 2’ apparently!). Like you I never set out with the intention of doing extended breastfeeding, and certainly knew nothing about it before my own experience, it just naturally evolved into the right choice for us. It both mystifies and saddens me that Western cultural norms have twisted perception so much that it is almost impossible for people to feel impartial and unaffected by it – I’ve even found myself madly Googling “benefits of extended feeding” to build my arsenal of supporting evidence to throw back at the critics, some of whom are close to home sadly. Thanks for sharing your beautiful story – as you say it’s rare to come across people feeding past 3yrs, and heartwarming to think as I lie awake in the early hours of the morning, toddler feeding in bed beside me and my exposed shoulders suffering the brunt of the chilly air, that the same scenario is playing out on the other side of the world 🙂

    • August 07, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you for such a heartfelt comment Mere – I think you should be a writer, your words were beautiful too. And I’m an Aussie so we have that in common. I’m from Melbourne – where are you? I have such mixed feelings as you say about the eventual end of weaning. I used to be a vet and wrote so many sympathy cards to owners and one thing I used to say, is the depth of your grief reflects the depth of the bond you had with your pet. And I think that’s relevant to something like nursing – we’ll miss it because it means so much, so that’s ok, if we have to grieve losing it as it reflects how wonderful a gift it was. It saddens me too that we seem to have to fight for something that is NORMAL – like we’re educating people on something we shouldn’t have to. I am so sorry to hear you copping criticism even so close to home. As hard as it is being away from family and friends it means I don’t have to explain myself so much and Canadians are very polite and less likely to say something in public compared to aussies. Although I so miss the friendliness of Australia 🙂 I love your words, “exposed shoulders suffering the brunt of the chilly air” – so true!! Thank you again for reading and you may like this post too or this one Thanks again for reading and lovely to meet you! xx

      • December 14, 2016
        Mere

        Hi again Tracey – I was just reading your “15 reasons for overcoming the obstacles to breastfeeding” post and followed the link back to here… I’m so sorry for the very long delay in replying to your previous comment! In answer to your question, I’m very close to Melbourne! Grew up in Bendigo, lived in Melbourne after school for uni and work, then settled just down the road in Geelong – close to Melbourne but far enough away from the rat race 🙂 Do you miss Melbourne much? From all I’ve heard of Canada (one of my friends is Canadian and another lived over there for a number of years) it’s a rather wonderful place to live… and as much as I adore the Aussie bush and our national parks here in Victoria I would love to have the amazing scenery on my doorstep that you do!!

        • December 14, 2016
          Tracy Gillett

          Hi Mere, thank you and no worries – sometimes I take a long time too! Life is full on 🙂 My sister lives in Geelong now with her almost one year old little boy. I hope to get down there to see her when I’m in Australia in March – she absolutely loves being away from the hustle and bustle of the city so I can appreciate you enjoy it too. I do miss Melbourne – its such a great city! I’d love to live in Australia again, on the coast somewhere. My husband is from New Zealand so we’ll never live close to all our families. My brother lives in Brisbane too so a little scattered. Australia is such a wonderful country so I feel blessed to have choice. We’re on the same ocean being on the Pacific side of Canada so that makes me feel better. I hope to one day be location independent as far as income goes so we can spend a few months downunder – there is so much of Australia I still haven’t and would love to explore 🙂 Lovely to connect again and stay in touch xx

  • October 20, 2016
    Vanessa B

    I love they way you explained your journey, I’m too, a lucky mom who has nursed two daughters for 13 months. I’m now in the process of stopping with my last daughter and I’m afraid too, of ending this magical time with her.
    Although I don’t listen to what people have to say about it, I do admit that I constantly hear “she no longer needs to nurse” and I laughed at people who say that because it’s really none of their business. I chose to nurse them both until they turned 13 months and it has been the best choice!!! I love the connection we created and the magic of those eyes staring into mine.

    • October 20, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Vanessa and I’m so happy you enjoyed it. Good on you for following your instincts and trusting your babies to do what nature intended. It’s amazing how when people feel uncomfortable by something they try to get you to stop rather than facing their own insecurities. The connection is magic – keep going as long as feels right for you. Thanks so much for reading xx

  • November 16, 2016
    Angela

    I’ve just stumbled upon your webpage recently and I love what you write! While reading this one, I felt like I could have written it! My boy is now 2.5 and loves his milkies more than ever. He nurses frequently in the hours before he wakes and just yesterday I was pondering how I could glean a few morning moments to get my day going while he sleeps – and at this stage, it is just a sacrifice I’ll have to make because he knows the moment I am gone from bed. Anyhow, I often feel alone as I live in a very career-woman area and the moms have their babies on strict routines (since I am so opposite, it makes it hard to connect) and even my husband has struggled to be supportive of this intuitive approach to nursing our boy. But I know it too much in my gut to sacrifice these moments because they will be over before I know it. Anyhow, thank you for writing so beautifully and sharing so honestly. I think more mamas are in this position too but it can be hard to admit it when surrounded my so many opposing voices. I wish I had a friend like you to talk to all the time! 🙂

    • November 16, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      My pleasure Angela and I’m so happy you connected. I feel the same – I don’t know anyone in real life, other than my sister, who is parenting like this. And me too – I’d love to get up at 5:30am and get a jump start on my day or meditate or exercise – but my son is the same, he wakes up. If he doesn’t nurse first thing he’s not himself for a while, he seems to really need it to transition from night to day. As you say, its a sacrifice but such a fleeting moment in time and I know when it’s gone I’ll miss it so much. Please feel free to connect or email any time. I am also planning to launch a support community early next year to try to serve our community – there are so many parents craving support. Thanks again and stay in touch, Tracy xx

  • December 15, 2016
    Amy

    I stumbled across this article at the perfect time for me. My 27 month old son is still nursing strong, particularly at night. I’ve started getting fed up with it (mainly because he’s also been waking up at 5am and I’m just plain exhausted), and I’ve kind of been at my wits end. Wanting to night wean even though I really don’t want to and KNOW he doesn’t want to (he screams if I try to refuse nursing at night). I know it’s the best thing for him but I’ve just been so angry and even bitter each time he wakes me at night. My husband and I were talking about it today, trying to decide what’s our best options and he said, “One of you is going to struggle, so either you struggle while you nurse or he struggles if you force night weaning”. Then I thought about it for a moment and realized there was a third option: I could change my perspective and then no one would struggle. So I appreciate your article during this emotional and stressful time for me because it’s exactly what I need to reinforce that all I need is a perspective change. Nursing this often, even at this stage, is normal and healthy and is doing wonderful things not only for his health but for our connection. So keep up the beautiful words, because it’s mommas like me who need to hear them.

    • December 22, 2016
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you so much for reading and for your wonderful comment Amy. I read it to my husband! Totally understand where you are coming from and I am so happy that my post was able to help you shift perspective to give your son what you want to give him. Its such a beautiful gift and nothing good in life is easy. Good on you for listening to your instincts and your husband sounds great! Very insightful. xx

  • February 06, 2017
    Linda

    Beautiful words – thank you for sharing! I have just discovered your blog and already feel so at home here. My 2.5 year old daughter is just the same, nursed to sleep every night since birth and nurses as she wakes in the morning (I love your analogy of the bear cub). Nice to know I’m not the only one still doing this. I actually “day-weaned” at about 20 months, but we’ll still have night “mimi” as long as she wants/needs. I guess it’s the reverse of what most people do (night-weaning first), but it has worked for us.

    • February 16, 2017
      Tracy Gillett

      Thank you Linda and it made my day to read your comment. I’m so happy you feel at home here – that is exactly what I set out to do, to create a space where parents would want to have a cup of tea and read a while. You’re right – it does sound reverse but that just goes to show how powerful and individual responsive parenting is. Good on you for following your instincts and doing what works. Sweet dreams with your bear cub! xx

  • May 30, 2017
    Rachael

    Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this! I’m still nursing my 13 month old with no intention of stopping until she’s ready/wants and it’s so refreshing to have examples of what nursing a toddler looks like (from your post and comments)! I know no one who’s still breastfeeding their little beyond a year and even the health visitors here suggest it’s not really necessary anymore beyond a year (and that if you are still breastfeeding then it should only be done once in morning and once at night….try telling that to my boob monster! Lol). Posts like yours and other articles I find during my weekly google sessions are a comfort and guide as I navigate these extended breastfeeding waters and choose a gentler/intuitive approach to raising my little. 😊👏🏻

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Join the Free Natural Parenting Superpowers eCourse and receive updates from Raised Good