Tales of a toddler breastfeeder

By Elisha Stam on September, 19 2012
Before my son was born, my husband and I attended one of those government-approved prenatal class. One session involved bringing a doll into class. The nurse made dads practice essential skills like diapering and fontanelle protection. Future mothers held dolls (mine was actually a stuffed dog) over bulging wombs pretending to breastfeed.

I remember learning surprising things.  You had to feed a newborn every three hours! (I did NOT know that babies ate so often).  There was something about a football hold, and counting wet diapers.

The take away message for me was that breastfeeding was free, formula was not, and we were staunch budgeters.

About a month later, in a dimly lit delivery room, my midwife handed me my newborn. Loosening my hospital gown, she said, “Take him to your breast.”  He was looking around bravely at his new world and, of course, crying.

“If he’s awake enough to cry, he’s awake enough to learn to feed,” she said. He was a veritable vacuum.

After the cricked shoulders and tender-nipple stage, I felt like a super hero. I had no idea I was capable of something like nursing.

One morning, I woke up and my son was almost a year. I thought: why stop? I ended up nursing both my children well into their twos. Accidentally, I became an extended breast feeder. It felt normal and it was not because of any parenting style or a Dr. Sears mantra.

In May, Time Magazine ran a cover photograph of a sexy mother breastfeeding her four-year-old son. All the regular opinions and criticisms circulated about nursing older children.  It is generally agreed that ‘breast is best’ but with arbitrary and unclear conditions. Canadian culture says that toddler breastfeeding is abnormal or damaging for the child. It’s for those wacky mothers who have no career, self-esteem or life.

However, studies around breastfeeding insist the health benefits continue to be powerful even into toddlerhood. By six months only 54 percent of Canadian babies are nursing at all, so why the discrepancy? Misinformation about toddler nursing abounds and mothers wean because of these rumours. Parenting is a tiring, imperfect, and consuming endeavour. Weaning will not change that.

Toddler nursing is for the woman crunched on time, or the one who wants to save money on fridge milk. It’s also for the lazy.  Camping? No problem.  Stuck in Toronto traffic with a cranky and hungry 18-month-old? Climb into the backseat and perform park our breastfeeding until they fall asleep. I never once forgot a bottle.

Going back to work? Try to continue breastfeeding. Nursing is as adaptable as you are; your supply will decrease as you drop the number of feeds, even if it’s just once before bed.  Your child is smart enough to switch between fridge milk and breast milk during their day. And also smart enough to enjoy the extra cuddle time now that mom is back at work.

The love my kids had for breastfeeding was so obvious. These new little humans felt safe and exclusively loved in my arms. This didn’t change on the eve of their first birthday.  Nursing became a touchstone, reminding the two of us that we belonged to each other. The oxytocin-induced feelings of maternal satisfaction didn’t hurt either. Breastfeeding past one just made these good things last longer.

For me, breastfeeding was an awful lot about love and it was such an awesome surprise. Wean when your family is ready, not because of societal pressures. So far, my kids don’t seem damaged at all (let’s see what the teen years hold).

By Elisha Stam| September, 19 2012

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