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Never Say Never

Sheila Fitzgerald
Riverside CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 1, January-February 2001, pp. 14-15

At the beginning of my parenting journey, if anyone had told me that I would someday breastfeed a toddler, I would not have believed it. I had observed other mothers breastfeeding preschool-aged children, but it just didn't look like something I would be comfortable doing.

My first daughter, Kaitlin, abruptly stopped nursing when she was about 11 months old. Not knowing what a nursing strike was, I assumed she had "weaned" herself. I stopped attending La Leche League meetings and never thought about following up on the issue. After all, the majority of what I had heard about breastfeeding was that you should do it for about a year.

Breanna was born two years later, and she has changed almost every parenting opinion I held previously. Breanna was an avid nurser from the minute she was born. She would nurse for hours at a time if I let her. I would never have gotten anything accomplished without using a baby sling and we soon discovered the practicality of the family bed. La Leche League meetings also became an active part of my schedule again.

Breanna's first birthday came and went. She continued to nurse six to eight times a day in addition to one or two times at night. We were both comfortable with this arrangement, so it was a natural progression to continue nursing her as a toddler. Her vocabulary began to expand exponentially with her older sister, Kaitlin, coaching her. It was about this time that more friends and family began to ask me when I was going to wean her. Breanna continued to nurse energetically and sometimes not very discreetly. As a result, it became necessary to explain acceptable behavior while nursing. "No Breanna, you can not lift Mommy's T-shirt all the way up while you are nursing. All these other people don't want to see Mommy's breast."

My husband, Brian, works developing computer software, and I am a registered nurse. As two technically oriented people, one of the foundations of our parenting practice has always been no baby talk. So, when Breanna indicated or showed signs of needing to breastfeed, I would ask her, "Do you need to nurse?" I discovered that nothing turns heads faster than an exclamation from an articulate two-year-old announcing, "Mommy, I want to nurse!" I developed a lot more respect for those discreet cue words other mothers used. But then I never imagined I would still be nursing Breanna when she was two-and-a-half years old!

I've been told that children don't need breast milk to sustain them nutritionally after age one, and that may be true. But Breanna has taught me how nursing sustains her emotionally, and teaches her love, trust, and security. It is emotionally gratifying to me, as a mother, to know my little explorer can venture out into our uncertain world, feeling secure in the knowledge that when she falters, or falls, her strength and courage are renewed with just a few minutes of comforting at my breast. When she is exhausted and can no longer cope with the stresses of her day, her little body relaxes to sleep within minutes of latching on to breastfeed. So now, when another mother comments to me on how she couldn't see herself nursing an older child, I smile to myself because I recognize my former feelings. I do my best to explain to her how my views changed gradually and how comfortable I am to be changing along with my children.

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