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Toddler Tips

Comparing Cousins

From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 8 No. 6, November-December 1991, pp. 185-6

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

My sister and I have children who are one month apart in age--my daughter is two years old, and my niece is twenty-three months old. I am the only mother in several generations to breastfeed my baby and am still nursing. My sister thought that nursing would be too confining and has always used bottles. Her daughter, Jessica, is taller and bigger than Kate; furthermore, Jessica walked before Kate and talks more. Jessica is also more independent and outgoing, whereas Kate is shy and still very dependent on me. Everyone in my family compares Kate unfavorably to Jessica, and tells me I am encouraging Kate to be dependent on me by continuing to nurse her. Now I am unsure whether or not this is true, and if I should wean Kate. What should I do?

Response

I understand your feeling of wondering whether nursing contributes to your daughter's dependency. Our family has been struggling with the same issue for some time now. My husband's brother's child, Joseph, was nursed for five months, and then weaned to a bottle. He is twenty-two months old now, and seems very independent. He separates easily and rarely cries for his mother when she's gone. Jordan, on the other hand, nursed for nineteen months, and at two, is very attached to my husband and me. He is only happy without us for an hour or two without becoming very distressed. Relatives get their feelings hurt because Jordan won't stay with them. They feel we are babying him by not forcing him to stay. He is compared to Joseph in regard to size, independence, and skills. I try to communicate that every child is different, breastfed or not. I believe that long term nursing does contribute to our children's dependency. They tend to be dependent on people (especially mommy and daddy!) instead of pacifiers, bottles, and blankets. It may be harder for them to separate easily at a young age, but the bond you are building now by being sensitive to your daughter's individual needs will teach her that she can always depend on you. She will feel accepted and loved for who she is. Stick to your convictions; your daughter is definitely benefiting from your nursing her and being sensitive to her individual needs.

Karine Matter
California

Response

I would do two things.

First, enlist the emotional support of another mother who is nursing a two-year-old child.

Second, appreciate the differences between your daughter and your niece without buying into the idea that one's set of qualities is better than the others. Is taller, bigger, more verbal, and "independent," really somehow morally superior to shorter, smaller, quieter, and shyer? Who said shy is bad? Who said short is bad? Why is there any reason to believe that shyness could be caused by breastfeeding any more than shortness is?

My son is shy, my daughter is not. Both are breastfed. My son is petite, my daughter is big for her age. These differences were noted by the time each was five months old. Some individual differences may really be inborn.

Mary Parker
California

Response

It's interesting to see how often people are willing to blame breastfeeding. From day one, if an infant is breastfeeding, people will ask, "Is the baby getting enough?" Somehow that question never comes up for a bottle-fed baby! Likewise, it appears that the majority of people in our culture cannot accept breastfeeding beyond six months. There is a myth that breastfeeding creates abnormal dependency and unfortunately it is perpetuated by the prevailing culture in the USA.

People in other countries, like Japan, have learned just the opposite. They determine how well a child will adjust to school by asking if and how long the child was breastfed. Typically, a child who nurses until he weans himself becomes a very secure and well-adjusted individual.

The most important thing to remember is that you are Kate's mother, and you know what is best for her. Don't let your family's comparisons force you into a decision to wean that both you and your daughter will regret.

Debbie Albert
Florida

Response

I very much doubt that the differences between your daughter and her cousin are due to breastfeeding.

I have three sons. When my oldest was two, he was: (1) still nursing; (2) very outgoing and independent; and (3) very small for his age. When my middle son was two, he was: (1) still nursing; (2) very clingy and dependent; and (3) very large for his age. My third son is thirteen months old and I'm not making any predictions except that I hope he is still nursing at two.

If you have not read MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER, I think you might find it helpful. (Available from the LLLI Online Store.)

Mary Zastrow
Minnesota

Response

As the mother of five children, I can see clearly that each child is an individual. A child's personality has more to do with his/her inner programming and mother's acceptance of him as a special person than with how he is fed.

Sometimes relatives can offer good insights, but sometimes the best response to advice is "Thank you for caring. We're doing what is best for us."

Deborah Williams
Pennsylvania

Response

There is a chapter in Eda Le Shan's book When Your Child Drives You Crazy, called "The Shy Ones." In it she makes the statement "What the devil is wrong with being shy?...I get so tired of hearing it discussed as if it were a disease." She goes on to point out that shy children often grow up to be sensitive, caring adults who really listen to other people--the kind of people the world needs more of. Reading this chapter will help you to see your child's personality as an asset rather than a liability.

I have the exact opposite situation in my family. My daughter, the long-term nurser, is a year younger, but she has always been taller, more outgoing, and more independent than her boy cousin who was nursed for only a short time. My sister-in-law tried to make him more independent by pushing him away when he tried to cling and putting him in preschool as soon as he qualified. I have always tried to give my daughter as much physical contact as possible and didn't enroll her in organized activities until she seemed ready. Neither one of their personalities has changed much over the years and they are now in grade school. I have become convinced that personality is mostly inborn, although I don't know which of her outgoing ancestors my daughter takes after as my husband and I were both shy as children.

Meeting a child's needs for closeness and helping her to feel good about herself will always pay off in the long run, regardless of her personality. She may never be the life of the party, but you can help her to see her strengths (one of which is her shyness) and use them.

Nancy Jo Bykowski
Illinois

Response

Walking, talking, height, and weight--these are different in every child! Your child's genetics and personality influence her development; breastfeeding (the natural thing to do!) will allow her to realize her potential. Bottle-feeding doesn't guarantee bigger or brighter children! Your family's negative attitude is annoying, certainly, but point out that Kate is healthy and developing at a normal rate for her.

Don't think that weaning will change your child's need for you. Your closeness, your caring and attention are very important! Weaning only changes ways of expressing your love. But weaning before the right time may do harm to your child's sense of security in the long run.

Follow your heart, as you have been, and let your child develop in her own way.

Annie Goldfish
Massachusetts

Last updated Friday, October 6, 2006 by njb.
Page last edited .


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