Posted: Apr 09, 2013 10:00 AM
 
Most moms start out breastfeeding their newborns, but that number drops off sharply at the 6-month mark, and even more after a year. But if you and your child are still nursing at age 3 or beyond, you're not alone.
Many women around the world breastfeed their kids and measure the length of time in years, not months.

Yes, I'm still breastfeeding and my daughter is 3 years old. Nobody expects it, but if I'm asked, I do reply with an affirmative, and am often met with surprise. Never disdain, just simple surprise. Full-term breastfeeding is so far outside the norm here in the U.S. I think the idea takes many off guard. However, I'm here to tell you that not only is it anthropologically normal, but breastfeeding continues to have benefits for mom and kiddo.

What is nursing a preschooler like?

Gone are the days of nursing around the clock every two hours. Willow nurses now only on certain occasions — when she wakes up in the morning, when she goes to bed at night, and in between whenever she needs to reconnect with me. She eats big-girl food and drinks water and juice from a cup too. In fact, often she eats more than her older siblings. So why does she continue to breastfeed if she's getting most of her nutrition elsewhere?

She still loves to make strong eye contact while nursing and it still takes my breath away.

For one thing, I think that breast milk remains nutritious despite the fact that she has passed the arbitrary ages of 12 and 24 months (the first being the minimum age American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies nurse to, and the second the minimum age of the World Health Organization).

Another consideration is the amazing relationship that we continue to have. I know that once she weans, she will still sit on my lap and hug me, but the precious moments where she's curled up in my lap like the little primate she is are just amazing to me. She still loves to make strong eye contact while nursing and it still takes my breath away.

The social aspect

I think many moms keep their extended nursing activities at home because they don't want to deal with the comments or ridiculous notions that the American public continue to have about breastfeeding. When you think about it, in a nation where women are put down and harassed for breastfeeding infants in public, nursing past the age of one may be considered even crazier, and I've heard of women being accused of child abuse and other terrible things when they nurse their toddlers or preschoolers.

However, many women around the world breastfeed their kids and measure the length of time in years, not months. The worldwide average for weaning is 4, which means that kids are nursed longer than this as often as they are nursed for shorter lengths of time.

I never pictured myself nursing for this long, but a lot of opinions of mine changed when I had kids of my own.

In the meantime, I will continue to nurse Willow. It is important to her and makes her happy. It comforts her when she is scared or in pain, and is indispensable during the winter months when bacteria and viruses are shared like crazy. I never pictured myself nursing for this long, but a lot of opinions of mine changed when I had kids of my own. Of course she won't nurse forever — I expect this summer to possibly be the end — but nursing a preschooler is just another part of life for me and many moms around. And it's precious to the both of us.

More on breastfeeding

Breastfeeding toddlers: Why extended nursing works
Making breastfeeding work
Making the decision to breastfeed

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Maria Mora April 12, 2013
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You are awesome, mama.