Eva has two year old boy/girl twins, Jordan and Sarah. She works full time as a professor of human development.
What do you think when you hear that someone is nursing TWO YEAR OLDS? Surprise? Discomfort? Disgust? If they’re old enough to ask for it, they’re too old? I might have thought some of these. I cannot explain it, but it’s different when it’s your own children. It’s just Sarah and Jordan nursing, like they have every day since I could walk to the NICU. In the first year of their life, breastfeeding felt all consuming – six times per child during the day, a few more per child at night. I had to plan every meeting, every social engagement, and every attempt to leave the house around nursing or pumping. Now it is in the background, like bathing or brushing teeth. There are moments it is surreal. Recently I was tandem nursing and asking the kiddos about Spanish body parts — “point to your nariz; put your hands on your cabeza…” My son popped off and asked “Bubbie in Spanish.” When your child is asking how to say grandmother in Spanish, it’s a bit odd that they still nurse. On the other hand, it’s our normal.
I recently spoke with another daycare parent. When she found out that my kiddos still nurse, she seemed quite surprised and asked many questions. She nursed her child until 18 months so she’s clearly not against extended nursing. Still, I couldn’t help but feel embarrassed, and caught myself almost blaming my kiddos during the conversation (“they just don’t want to give it up”). Some family members quickly change the subject if I mention nursing and have even expressed concern. At times I feel pride discussing it with others, but there are moments when I feel a bit like the crunchy deviant Mama, like I should be wearing a prairie skirt and braids in my hair.
During pregnancy and the newborn phase when people asked if I planned to nurse I told them I would try and hoped it would work. Once we truly established nursing (after 3 very challenging months) I said I hoped to last a year. After a year I said I’d like to get them through another daycare winter. I have no specific goal at this point.
It has evolved in the past year. At 13 months they still nursed wake up, 10:00 AM, before nap, after nap (their daycare is in the same building as my office), before dinner, before bed, and throughout the night. I gradually weaned them off the nighttime (thank goodness), working hour and pre-dinner ones, finally dropping the lunchtime one at around 20 months. Unless they are sick, they do not nurse between bedtime and 7:00 AM. I never offer, but almost every morning and bedtime they request and I do not deny at those times.
I prefer nursing one at a time. I still occasionally tandem nurse when they are both frantic for it, but over 50 pounds of toddler nursing feels overwhelming. I’m not sure why given that our alternative is just as crazy, often with one nursing one while reading to the other, book across the nurser’s body, nurser’s feet in reader’s lap. Sometimes when the first nurser seems to be dawdling I’ll give a warning, “three more seconds” and then count off. Other times the waiting kiddo will say “Sarah all done, one, two, three.”
When the kiddos were sick with the stomach bug, I was really happy that they still nurse. The doctor told my husband it was wonderful I still nurse to help them stay nourished and hydrated. I was glad to be able to offer them something comforting, nutritious, with antibodies, and in small quantities. I did at times, though, feel as though my body was letting my daughter down. I certainly do not produce as much milk as I used to (the days of eating with impunity are long gone), and Sarah was so hungry that she would sometimes stop nursing and cry because she could not get enough. I had flashbacks to newborn Sarah nursing for 40 minutes and still not able to get enough, and once again felt a sense of failure at being able to nurture my child.
There are days when I think nursing is less important to the kiddos than it used to be. Sometimes they are distracted and seem more interested in the book that Daddy is reading to their brother/sister than nursing. Other days, though, they cry and beg “Mama nurse…. Mama do one baby… Mama do two babies” as I pick up their sibling first thing in the morning. I still believe that my son as a singleton would have weaned by now, as he’s easily distracted, but if I am around, my daughter insists on nursing at bedtime and in the morning. Sometimes my husband gets them ready for daycare and if they don’t see me before breakfast, they might not ask. I believe twice I have left the house before bedtime and they went to sleep without nursing.
On a recent morning after the kiddos nursed and I was dressing them I asked, “Do you think soon you will want to go to bed and not nurse, just cuddle and read books?” They both looked at me like I’m nuts and said “no!” Then I asked “Do you think some mornings you want to get up and get dressed and have breakfast, and not nurse?” Sarah said “get up AND NURSE.” Tonight I asked Jordan “Do you want to read a book, or nurse?” and he replied “read a book after nursing.” The whole self-led weaning thing has yet to take at our house. I’m not sure how we’ll do it. Perhaps when I leave town? Or a few nights/mornings when I skip bedtime/wake up? I’ve also read about letting them pick out a present, and saying they can have it when they are all done with nursing. We’ll see what we end up doing. I don’t want to force it in a way that they are dissatisfied with the way things ended.
At any earlier point discussing this topic, I think I would have said that I was not completely ready to be done, or at least, that I’d be sad when it ended. There were nights when Jordan skipped nursing, or a morning on vacation when they both did, and I felt almost teary wondering if the last time had already happened. Today I think I can say that I will be ready to be over when they are ready. I look forward to (mostly) having my body back (no idea what those post-nursing breasts will look like, though). Not thinking about what bra I have on (my son and I actually had a discussion about my wearing the “wrong bra” and “Mama take your bra off” just this week) or how cold my stomach will be when I lift my shirt. Occasionally having my husband say “why don’t you sleep in this morning?” because the kiddos won’t yell “Mama nurse!” until I drag my sleepy body out of bed. Being able to plan a business trip without worrying about clogged ducts and traumatized children. There are certainly things that I will miss, some of which are already long gone. More than two years of multiple times per day, looking down into my children’s eyes and seeing them content and relaxed. More than two years of feeling their warm bodies snuggled into mine. My daughter’s definitive nod when I ask her questions while she’s nursing. My son popping off to laugh or answer a question. I worry about getting enough snuggle time when they no longer nurse, as these days, hugs and kisses don’t always come when requested. Even when we’re done, I hope I find time every day to take each of my babes, snuggle them close, kiss their delicious heads, and tell them how much I love them. The memories of crying, frustration, pumping, bites, and all-night-long nursing are already fading, and I’m mostly left with melty thoughts of the sweet, gentle, cuddly moments. Babyhood is such a short instant in our lives, and I treasure all of these moments with each of them. I’ll miss it and not miss it and never forget it.