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Toddler Tips

Still Nursing

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 15 No. 1, January-February 1998, pp. 23-24

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

"Toddler Tips" is a regular feature of the magazine NEW BEGINNINGS, published bimonthly by La Leche League International. In this column, suggestions are offered by readers of NEW BEGINNINGS to help parents of toddlers. Various points of view are presented. Not all of the information may be pertinent to your family's lifestyle. This information is general in nature, and not intended to be advice, medical or otherwise.

Situation

I am nursing my two-year-old. We usually nurse at home, but we do have occasions when we nurse in public or in the presence of extended family members. Although I know of the health and emotional benefits of extended nursing, I am at a loss about how to communicate this to others. What do other mothers say to those who ask about their little ones who are "still nursing"?

Response

I usually try to make three points. First is that the average age of weaning worldwide is between two and four years. People are usually surprised but reassured that you are not a nut! Second is that the World Health Organization recommends nursing until age two or beyond. I explain that a child's immune system is not mature until after age two. Lastly, I say that I never envisioned myself nursing an older child. I relate my own shocked reaction the first time I saw someone nurse a toddler. I explain that it was a natural progression that I wouldn't have missed for anything. In some ways I enjoy nursing a toddler more than an infant-toddlers can voice their appreciation! I also add that my pediatrician shook my hand to congratulate me when my daughter was still nursing at her two-year checkup. By providing scientifically based information in a matter-of-fact manner I hope to chip away at the persistent misinformation and prejudice that abounds regarding breastfeeding.

Joyce Kelly
Newtown Square PA USA

Response

I have found that handling a situation with humor works best for me. When someone asks me, "How long are you going to nurse her?" I'll often respond, "Oh, about five more minutes!" That usually lightens the mood and everyone relaxes a bit. If someone really seems interested, I usually talk about the amazing immunities breastfeeding provides, and the fact that toddlers need those immunities even more. Since they are more mobile, toddlers often touch-and taste-everything in reach and so are exposed to more germs. There is usually a toddler around and when the person contrasts the busy toddler with the infant in arms, I often see a light go on in their minds.

LaJuana Oswalt
Sherwood AR USA

Response

We used humor. Whenever someone asked when our daughter would wean, my husband would say something like, "Well, she's not allowed to date until she's 30 so we're sure she'll be home for a long time" or "Well, as long as she attends the local college, she can always come home for a nursing break." If I did discuss benefits, I focused on the benefits to us: how glad I was to have nursing to calm my daughter down after a tantrum, or how much easier it was to take a nursing toddler on long trips. People seemed more accepting of those benefits than of the benefits to my toddler. Our close friends and relatives could see the benefits for themselves while more distant acquaintances and strangers seemed satisfied by our calm acceptance.

Cindy Howard
Palo Alto CA USA

Response

I'm nursing my five-year-old. We, too, usually nurse at home but do have occasions when we nurse in public or in the presence of extended family members. My daughter was two when my father-in-law made a big fuss about two being too old for nursing. My daughter and I discussed the situation and decided that grandfather didn't need to know that she still nursed. When she wants to nurse when he is present (at his home or ours) she asks if I can read her a story in a bedroom. That's our code that she wants to nurse. With other folks, I like to cite statistics. For example, one study showed that women who had nursed for a total of two years or more reduced their chances of premenopausal breast cancer by one-third. Since this will be my only child, I want to get as much benefit as I can! I also like to point out that the average age of weaning worldwide is two to four years of age. I give further information from Katherine Dettwyler's article comparing weaning among humans to weaning of other primates from the book Breastfeeding: Bio-Cultural Perspectives. I have found that most people are just uneducated about the benefits of nursing past infancy. Offering information and showing them that nursing an older child is not unusual in other parts of the world seems to help.

Karen Lovett
Micanopy FL USA

Response

I can sympathize with this situation as I have nursed two toddlers. When nursing can't be put off until later, I use humor to explain it to bystanders. I might say something like, "Oh, that helps you feel better, hey?" (This is a funny little phrase my children use!) Most of the time, I don't think people have any idea that I'm nursing. Many people don't expect a toddler to still be nursing, so they assume that it isn't happening. I also let the calming effect of the nursing speak for itself. Many a temper tantrum has been avoided by a few mellow minutes at the breast! Sometimes a cracker or juice just isn't enough!

Tracey Christiansen
North Delta BC Canada

Response

A happy smile accompanying a statement like "Yes, it's working really well for our family" speaks volumes. For persistent questioners, try "Yes, it still feels like the best choice available to all of us." By using the word "choice," you convey the message that you have not simply forgotten to wean your child, but that you have consciously decided not to do so at this time. Answering openly, without becoming defensive or self-righteous can lead to a more comfortable conversation.

I've had to work hard to stop spouting lengthy explanations or snapping abrupt justifications, both of which needlessly revealed either my desire to convert others or my own insecurities. Perhaps the best wake-up call came when I discovered that a woman whom I had never imagined staying home was considering the possibility. Because I had convinced myself that she was dedicated to her career and looked down on at- home mothers, I had interpreted her questions as attacks. Now I realize that one cannot judge the motivation behind such questions. It's best to assume it comes from curiosity rather than condemnation. Fortunately, it's becoming easier to keep my answers brief and gracious, which, ironically, often invites further discussion!

Esther Rupert
Conifer CO USA

Response

For the most part, the nursing relationship is between a mother and her child. However, sometimes it is important to help other family members and friends understand why we're going against the "norms" of society. Instead of making an issue of why you're still nursing, why not look for "teachable moments." For example, if someone mentions a sick child who is unable to keep any food down, you could mention how quickly human milk is absorbed. You could share that nursing provides comfort and nutrition for a toddler who is ill. If there is a person in your family who has had breast or ovarian cancer you could mention the health benefits a mother receives from breastfeeding.

I plan to simply explain to people that I can't schedule when I will wean my son until he starts carrying a calendar.

Mary Wu
Naperville IL USA

Response

I also have a two-year-old son, Mordechai, who still nurses often. We usually nurse at home but occasionally he needs to nurse when we are out. I do so as casually as possible without feeling inconvenienced or uncomfortable. I find that if I look apologetic, it appears I have something to hide. If people comment, I say to them "He is only two years old-many babies nurse much longer than that." Often mothers are impressed and interested and discuss the issue further. I, too, am comfortable with his nursing for the reasons you mentioned (health and comfort) and have a hard time convincing others. I have finally realized I don't have to convince others, just myself. Other people, especially family and friends who know me, respect me and my beliefs. I believe that every mother does what is best for her baby and family, and I expect others to honor my choices. If you feel the need for extra support, it might help to review THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING or MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER so you'll have a few answers handy.

Bonnie Weinberg
Nof Ayalon, Israel

Last updated Tuesday, October 17, 2006 by njb.
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