On Nursing a Preschooler

When I wrote this post for the Attachment Parenting blog – API Speaks, I was unsure if I wanted to cross-post it on my own blog as well. I think most of my readers know I’m still nursing my almost 4-year-old daughter, and while I’m OK with the fact that I am, it’s not something I try to draw attention to either. I mean, it’s not the most socially acceptable thing to do here in the USA. Anyway, I decided to post it after all. Maybe it will keep another mom nursing a preschooler from feeling like she’s the only one in the world doing it. There have to be others out there, right? It’s just something so few people talk about. But here goes, I am talking about it…

When I was preparing for my daughter Ava’s birth, there were a lot of uncertainties about what motherhood would have in store for me, but there was one thing I knew for certain – I would breastfeed. I didn’t have a time limit set on how long I would breastfeed, I just knew I would do it, as my mom had done with me and my siblings.

My daughter Ava is now just three weeks away from her fourth birthday and she is still nursing. I am sometimes conflicted about how I feel about it. After all, it’s not like I began my nursing journey saying, “I want to nurse my child until she’s at least four. I did, however, believe I wanted my child to wean when she was ready, but I didn’t anticipate how I might feel or what I might do if her idea/time frame of weaning readiness differed from my idea of when I thought she should be ready.

Ava nursed pretty much on demand, or, a phrase I rather prefer, on cue until she was around 2 years old. It was then that I was pregnant with her brother Julian and decided I need to cut back her nursing frequency a bit for my own peace of mind. A few months before Julian’s birth, she was down to nursing once per day (before bed) and that’s pretty much what she’s been doing ever since (for the last year and a half).

A few months ago, I toyed with the idea of weaning her by her fourth birthday, so I threw the suggestion out there to her. At first she seemed amenable to the idea, but has since changed her tune, citing, “But I love mama milk,” which made me smile. And then she also added, “I’m going to nurse until I’m 8!” which made me shift a little uncomfortably in my seat.

I feel like overall (with the exception of a few difficult months during my pregnancy) we’ve had a great nursing relationship and she’s received so many wonderful benefits – great health, emotional security, bonding with her brother at the breast, etc. – over the past four years. I know it would be bittersweet if she weaned now, but I would feel very good about what I’ve been able to give her, as well as what she’s been able to give me. However, I don’t think she’s ready yet and, as much as I’d like to just be nursing one child again, I don’t think I am going to insist that she wean. I may still make suggestions and talk up the very rare occasions that she goes to sleep without having “na-na” by telling her how proud I am and what a big girl she is, but, for now, I think that’s as far as I’m going to take it. When all is said and done, I really do want her to be able to decide when she is done.

Ava, almost 4 yrs oldI didn’t set out to nurse a preschooler, but somehow along the way, my sweet little baby grew from an infant to a toddler and eventually blossomed into a preschooler in what now seems like the blink of an eye. I am confident this won’t go on forever and when I look back on this time when she’s 10 or 20 or 30, and I look at the young woman she’s become, I am hopeful that I will feel good about the choices I made and have no regrets.

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72 thoughts on “On Nursing a Preschooler

  1. Thank you for sharing that with us! As the mom of a 2 1/2 year old nursling, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be nursing a preschooler, but I also can’t imagine weaning yet ;) We shall see where I am a year or so from now, LOL!

  2. My son weaned a little too early (He weaned at 7 months). I felt sad about this because I consider breastfeeding as our bond. He stopped doing that ever since I went to work everyday.

    For my second child, I want to give her/him the benefit to nurse to me ’till he’s 2 or 3 or 4. :)

    Thank you for this insightful entry.

  3. I’m all about nursing until they wean themselves. I wrote a post about nursing a toddler last year. It’s a lucky babe that’s nursed past a year, that’s for sure.

    I don’t understand a lot about forced weaning; it just never (besides for often specious ‘medical’ purposes) made any kind of logical sense to me.

  4. wow,I can’t believe Ava is almost 4 now.I remember how young she was when I discovered your blog,I guess she was about Defne’s age.
    Well done Amy!I’m hoping to follow your foot steps.

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  6. I’m so glad you posted this. I’ve nursed mine until they stopped which has been anywhere from 14mo to 4. Thanks for letting all those ‘closet nursing mommies know they aren’t alone.

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  8. I’m with you in the “not planning to nurse an almost 4 year old but then again, not planning to wean her either” club. The only thing I planned for was to nurse for at least a year. The last 2.9 years have been bonus time, I think. I’m glad you cross-posted. It’s good to make people aware that there are many of us out there, nursing our kids as long as they need it.

  9. We’re at 19 months now and Littlepixie is showing no signs of slowing down her love of milkies. I think once she’s 2 I might gently encourage a reduction in feeds but overall the plan is to keep going for a good while yet!

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Amy, it’s great to know it can be done :)

  10. Hi — my son is almost five and still nursing (sporadically).

    We had a similar trajectory as you… the nursing really decreased during pregnancy (I got pregnant when he was 2 1/2) and then increased after the baby was born. A few months later we started nursing only at bedtime… And lately we nurse very infrequently.

    Now he seems to ask more often than I say yes and he does a lot of boobie “holding” while his little brother nurses.

    I remember reading an article in mothering about a mom nursing a kindergartner, and I once met a woman who was nursing a seven-year-old. But similarily to us, he wasn’t really nursing that often, but he thought of himself as still nursing.

    I didn’t plan on nursing so long at all, and my son and I are definitely to the point where it’s hard to say he’s nursing, since he is actually getting milk only every few days or so (if that), but my son would tell you (with a big, shy grin on his face) that he is still nursing.

    Thanks for posting, and for a great blog. I am going to sign up for the shower challenge!

  11. I enjoyed your post and I think it’s wonderful that your daughter is happily nursing and you are comfortable with child-led weaning. As my nursing preschooler got older and older it got harder for people to be supportive, and I was even asked to stop nursing at breastfeeding support group meetings because it was viewed as counter-productive to promoting breastfeeding among the new mothers. (Of course, my daughter came first, but luckily as she got older she never “needed” to nurse at meetings). She has since weaned, when she was ready, and I’m glad our nursing relationship progressed how it did.

  12. Good for you! I wasn’t able to bf, but I would have joined you in nursing as long as they wanted too. i get some grief from people because my 2 yos are still on bottles but I tell people that if I were bf’ing I wouldn’t wean so why should my girls not get that little extra bonding time because I couldn’t produce milk for them.

  13. My little Monkey is 20 months, and still nursing quite often, and we have no plans to wean any time soon. It is so encouraging to read a post like this. Let’s keeping doing all we can to help make extended breastfeeding the norm!

  14. The whole time I was nursing both of my girls past the age of 4 I always wished that I could talk about it and that more moms were willing to admit that they were nursing for a long time too. My girls only nursed at naptime and bedtime as they became older which meant only 1-2 times/day. Of course, they are weaned now, but I have no regrets and I would absolutely nurse future children as long. I started bringing up plans to wean about a year before the big day, and when that day came they were fine – no tears or broken hearts.

  15. Cadence still nurses twice a day (sometime more). It’s our ritual when I come home from work. What better way to get re-bonded than that? Plus I get to rest for 15 minutes after a long day at the office.

    The thing I like about nursing a preschooler (she’ll be 4 in September) is that I can ask her about the experience. For example, when I ask her what it tastes like, she always says, “Chocolate milk!” No wonder she likes it so much. But then one day I asked her if she liked “ma-ma-ma” for the taste or because she gets to be close to mama, and she didn’t hesitate to answer that it was the closeness to me she enjoyed so much.

    And then there are the numerous times that I thought Cadence was going to come down w/ a cold, and a day or two later, she’s fine. I’m convinced it’s the breastmilk.

    Thanks for posting this! It’s always good to hear from other moms who’ve enjoyed their extended-extended breastfeeding experience.

  16. 4!? Eeeeeeeeeeeew! Don’t you know that she’s old enough to _ask_ for it!? Gross!

    ;)

    Someone at the peds office looked at me like I had 2 heads when I said that Q was still BFing at 2.5. That really gives you the idea that no one does it – and that’s really unfortunate! I’m glad you posted about it!

    I started aiming for 6weeks and then “I’d see” so clearly I didn’t mean to make it past age 4 either ;) I have no regrets at all though!

  17. My little girl will be 1 in 3 weeks (gasp!) and while that’s a milestone I’m very proud of, we have no plans to wean. The older she gets, the more correspondence I can see between increased nursing and her anxiety over developmental milestones. She nurses mainly at night, and it will be a sad, sad day when I can’t cuddle her up to me and experience that closeness.

    great post!

  18. Thanks for x-posting this! I’m now tandem nursing with a 2.5 month old and an almost 3 year old (July)and I think a lot of me being able to do that was your advice on tandem nursing. I’m so glad that Ava is still going strong – it gives me hope that I can make it through until Caitlin decides to wean as well. :)
    People need to talk about nursing older children more!

  19. Thanks for sharing, Amy. My mom breast fed each of her three children: me for 2 years, my middle brother for 3 years, and we joke that my baby brother breast fed until 5, but I think it was really more like 4. Now that we’re all adults, I can appreciate what she did for us. We were spaced out, which adds up to almost 10 years of breast feeding! It has taken a toll on her body, and every time someone points out her “saggy boobs” she reminds us that they’re saggy because she loves us. She had a hard time talking to people about it, and was criticized by family and friends, but her bond to each of us is still strong (I’m 27 and my brothers are 24 and 19). I hope to be able to do the same for my children when the time comes.

  20. Congrats Amy!! I hope this new baby takes to nursing better than E did!

    OT – Where did you get Ava’s dress? It is beyond cute!

  21. I am still nursing my 18 month old – and she shows no signs of letting up! While I REALLY hope she weans by the time she’s a preschooler, we’ll just have to see what happens. She is a very determined little girl and she loves to nurse! And at this point, I’m glad I can allow her to have the security she obviously gets from our nursing relationship. This was a GREAT post!

  22. I think there is something wrong with a society that says it’s okay to give a child soda pop and candy and bottles with plastic spouts, but oh, if you nurse through toddlerhood you’re strange.

    I nursed my 18 month-old in front of my mother yesterday and she hissed, “He’s too old for that!” I nursed the eldest until he was 26 months and hope to do the same for my youngest (and last) child.

  23. It’s only in the west that there’s such a push for mums to wean their kids early. I’m all for them weaning when they are ready. I think it’s special that they continue to have that bond with Mum – and research shows that kids fed longer actually grow up more independent and confident because they have grown up with that security of knowing it’s there when they need it. I breastfed for as long as possible, until they gave up on their own. My youngest still occasionally pokes at my breasts hopefully and asks is there any milk in there yet? As if it will just magically come back!

  24. Got a 4.5 year-old-nursling over here! Sometimes it is a lot to nurse two, but on the other hand, it’s one of the few times Liam will settle down for a bit. Then after he nurses, he’ll sit around and chat, and that’s when I often find out the things on his mind. And I think it’s eased his transition to brotherhood as well. Nursing a 4 year old is a very different thing than nursing a baby, and it is most definitely not for everyone, but overall I’m glad I stayed with it.

    Yay to you for following your very perceptive Mama Heart to help Ava fill her nursing needs :) That’s a good thing.

  25. N stoped at 15 months-it was sad for me. M is 3 weeks away from her second birthday and still “NURSE” as she says. I tryed to “wean.” her but it was more like torture for myself, and more importantly her. Watching her cry and say “nurse” broke my heart. No I don’t have to tell the world that I nurse a toddler, that is my choice and for my daughters needs.
    P.S. It doesn’t help that my DH laughs everytime M says “nurse” and makes her say it again and again:) It helps to have the support from your mate!
    PPS Linked from twitter, I will still follow you;)

  26. I once sat next to a mom and her nursing child on the back of a bus in Indonesia. It caught me off guard at first, but mother and child looked so at peace, and that mom had such a big grin too. The little one had to be at least 4. Great pro-nursing post.

  27. As a mom who was unable to breastfeed, I am envious of you. And I don’t think anyone has any right to judge a mother’s personal decisions like this, especially when they are made out of love for a child.

  28. It’s a great post Amy.
    Anyone with issues with it has their *own* issues – because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all way to parent.

    For a lot of reasons I won’t go into on your blog-comment-thread, I didn’t get to nurse my DD. So we had the ‘when to break the bottle habit’ issue. You know what? I didn’t care what anyone else thought – because my philosophy is that if you want to parent a child, get your own, I’ve got this one taken care of, thanks.

    In the end, the real question is what works for you, your children, your family. You guys will get there when you get there.

    But it’s great that you are posting this here – because yeah, other moms DO need to hear that it’s okay for them to make the call themselves and not worry what *anyone* else thinks of it.

    Parenting is like golfing, no matter how bad the other guy/gal’s swing is, s/he will give you advice on your own game.

    Sometimes we just need to hear that we’re not alone in playing the way that works for us.

    ((hug))

  29. I’m so glad you decided to share your story. I think what really matters is that our breastfeeding choices work within the unique contexts of our own families and with our children – and it sounds like you and Ava have a strong and beneficial breastfeeding relationship.

  30. I nursed my youngest until she was 2. She initiated weaning. She just lost interest at some point. I don’t know what I would have done if she didn’t initiate weaning, but I do know this: if anyone judges you for doing what’s best for your child, and for you, then you don’t really need them as a subscriber, or as a follower. I think it’s great that you are following your heart and I think you are very brave for sharing your story.

  31. I think it was the video of the English tween girl who was still nursing that made me think two years was probably long enough. It really creeped me out. But preschool? Nah, whatever works for you.

  32. Good for you, Amy~
    My expectations may be to nurse my son before the age of 2 BUT his are completely different…I’m finding that out slowly. He seems to really enjoy nursing. I think the more we put it out there the more women will see it as the norm! I get a lot of criticism from my folks and fam…telling me he’s too old “for that”! They just don’t know any better.

  33. I’m glad you are still nursing Ava if that works for you guys. More power to you. It is sad though, that you have to feel like you can’t talk about it as the norm. There is so much pressure to wean early- why?

    As you know, I gently weaned R. when he was 26 months- b/c I was pregnant, and just couldn’t take it anymore. Now C. just turned 2, and he has no intention of slowing down. He likes to nurse mainly in the AM, before nap time, after nap (sometimes) and before bed. I’m not planning on weaning him, and we’ll just see how it goes.

    BTW, my old boss told me an interesting story a few years ago. He was in his 60′s at the time, and grew up in the country. He said when he went to school at lunch time the “little” boys about ages 6 and 7 would go home to nurse. There wasn’t a lot of food at that time, and the mothers also used it as a form of birth control.

    I thought that was pretty interesting that just in the 1940′s, nursing a 6 and 7 year old was perfectly acceptable. Too bad we have come so far in the other direction in the last 60 years.

  34. I am nursing my one-year-old (as of May 30) and I can’t imagine trying to wean her right now. She is so attached to me and is going through a hard enough time teething! It would be cruel and unusual to kick her off the breast just because of some arbitrary ideal nursing cutoff age society has come up with. She’ll probably nurse at least occasionally until she’s two or so, but that’s a guess. This time last year I was just hoping to nurse her to six months; we had a rocky start, but now it’s easy and we love to cuddle and use it as a bonding time. My issue is when do I quit pumping at work? I was planning to quit after her birthday, but I’ve always had a low milk supply and if I quit pumping I’m afraid my milk will run out before my DD is ready.

  35. I can’t say that I plan on nursing a preschooler but I definitely do want Jayden to have breastmilk for as long as I can possibly provide it. Decisions, decisions! We’ll know when the time comes!

    Great post! Mother knows best.

  36. I weaned my oldest when he was 21 months old because his brother was going to be born 4 months later, I didn’t want to tandem nurse and my milk dried up right then so it was an opportune time. It was devestating to me — neither of us were ready. My second baby weaned also at 21 months — I was ready, he wasn’t necessarily. Thank you for sharing your experience as even those of us who nursed for only 2 years receive so much judgment — the more we speak the more we normalize that which is normal!

  37. i have a three and a half year old and i have been on the fence with weaning. while i think i really want to, i sometimes feel that i don’t only because we’ve already decided he’ll be our 2nd and last kid. so until now, he’s breastfeeding. we call it our “dirty little secret” in a joking way. i guess i won’t have it any other way! thanks for the post, it was support for me!!

  38. Good for you, Amy! I let my first three self-wean and the boys both weaned right before a year. It was bittersweet, but they were ready.

    Don’t second guess yourself. She’s happy, you’re happy. What I think really doesn’t matter!

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  40. thank you for sharing this. yes, the more we hear about nursing and see mamas and babies nursing in public, the more acceptable it will become. thank you for joining the revolution.
    this post was a beautiful account of a mother’s love and a bonding relationship.
    good for you, mama.
    xoxo

  41. thank you for sharing this. yes, the more we hear about nursing and see mamas and babies nursing in public, the more acceptable it will become. thank you for joining the revolution.
    this post was a beautiful account of a mother’s love and a bonding relationship.
    good for you, mama.
    xoxo

  42. Loved your blog, Amy.

    My first weaned himself at 2y3m4d. It was happy and sad. I was a bit happy because I was 4 months pregant and had no more milk, and was very uncomforatble. but was soooo sad to lose that relationship. He had already drastically reduced his nursing just before age 2, as it was summer and we were outside all the time.
    He has always been very independant.

    His sister however, still considers herself ‘not weaned’, and she is six!!
    She nursed frequently until 3.5, then started dropping down to every few days.
    By 4 it was maybe once or twice a week. I considered her weaned by 4.5, but in the year and a half since then, she has asked to nurse, and I have let her, a half dozen times, maybe more. One day, she walked into a minivan coming off the bus from Kindergarten. I carried her home, and she asked to nurse, so I let her.

    When I had my first, I wanted to nurse for 1 year, but was a little freaked out about nursing him longer. I remember hoping he would wean himself at a year!But it is so gradual, that it didn’t seem weird anymore!

  43. You know before I nursed I may have thought it was odd for you to still be nursing Ava since Reagan is 1 day younger than her and she was bottle fed….but NOW that I have been nursing Alex for 7 months I can UNDERSTAND why you’d still let her nurse.
    I don’t plan on weaning anytime soon and though my DH has Alex’s 1st birthday and the cutoff there is no way I’m stopping there!!!!!
    My kids all got bottles until they were 2 so why can’t I nurse until he’s 2 ??

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