Even though she will soon be walking, I don't have any plans to stop breastfeeding. I know this puts me in a massive statistical minority, and that this choice is not for everyone. However, for those of you who might be considering continuing to breastfeed your baby past six months, or even longer, here are my top ten reasons to keep your nursing bra when all around you others are losing theirs...
- It's Normal - it doesn't always feel this way, as it's unusual to see anyone breastfeeding a newborn in our culture, let alone a toddler. But start asking around and you'll be surprised how many mothers are quietly nursing their older babies, at home, and often in bed, where nobody else can see. And even though these mothers are relatively rare in the UK, worldwide there are and have always been plenty of women who choose to nurse a long way past babyhood. Globally many women breastfeed to three or older, and the World Health Organisation recommends we nurse our babies to the age of two or beyond.
- It's Natural - it's likely that your baby doesn't want to stop just because you have turned over a new page of the calendar. If you are already breastfeeding, chances are you are already a fan of Mother Nature, so you may struggle to find a rational reason to completely wean. As long as breastfeeding feels a positive experience for both you and your baby, it is perfectly natural to continue. Studies of primates and other mammals suggest that a natural age of weaning for humans is at least 2.5, and may be much higher.
- It's Easy - if you've managed to get breastfeeding started and maintain it for a few months, you've done the hard bit. The longer you nurse for, the easier it gets. Once you are really up and running, you are unlikely to suffer from soreness, engorgement, mastitis, and other nasties from the early days. In fact, after about six months, your breasts settle down so much that some women mistakenly think their supply has dried up. And, with an older nurser, feeding is usually much less frequent. The pressure is off, you can have more control over when and where you feed your baby, and even drop down to just a nighttime snuggle up if this feels right for you both.
- It's Nutritional - your under one might be chomping happily away on any food you put in front of them right now, but trust me, pretty soon they are going to grow something new and scary - a mind of their own. Once they develop this - look out - they may well cotton on to your attempts to ply them with vegetation and amaze you by fuelling their limitless energy with a diet consisting only of crackers and snot. On those days when all you've managed to persuade them to eat is two raisins and a breadstick, you can enjoy giving them a boob packed with protein, vitamins, minerals and proven to boost immunity.
- It's Good for Mum - there are a wealth of health benefits to breastfeeding for mothers as well as children, including the reduced risk of several forms of cancer, and also osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. We can assume, although further research is needed, that these benefits continue for as long as breastfeeding continues. And, in the unlikely event that your body has not sprung back to its former size ten glory (what have you been doing all year, couldn't you have joined a gym?), then your nursing toddler may well help you shift those last few pounds with their Dyson-like suck.
- It's Comforting - comfort is often so very under-rated. And yet giving comfort, and in doing so helping your child to tolerate their own distress, is probably the single most important thing you can do as a parent. For the rest of their life this gift will just keep on giving, as your child will be able to cope better when times are hard, and draw on the inner resources that you have helped them to build. The breast has been a place of comfort for your baby, and can continue to be so, helping your child to find calm and to reduce their stress levels in the chaotic and sometimes scary new world they are exploring.
- It's Helpful - for those moments when you need to calm and reconnect with your child after a tantrum, a disappointment, or a falling out, and for the many knocks, bangs and bruises of toddlerhood, the boob is your secret weapon. You can instantly soothe and quieten your baby, and this can be invaluable, not only simply to ease your child's pain, but also for those situations where a screaming toddler is less than desirable for all concerned! (I'm thinking of a plane flight, but there are plenty of other examples!) Nursing is also invaluable if your child is ill; they might stop eating and drinking but they're unlikely to refuse the breast, allowing you to keep them hydrated and also feeling nurtured and reassured.
- It's Connecting - if they are not already, your precious baby will be walking soon, and mostly away from you. You may even be increasing your time apart in the day for work or other reasons. Sharing a nursing session is a wonderful way of connecting with your little explorer and allowing them to return 'home' to you for comfort and reassurance.
- It's Rewarding - when you breastfeed an older child, you start to see more and more just how important the nursing time is to them. They may begin to stroke or pat you while they feed, or sometimes look up spontaneously and smile. They may develop a sound or word for your breast, and use it lovingly in a way that melts your heart. They may literally thank you, or, as my first daughter did for a while, take to feeding you back while they nurse. Whatever they do, it is bound to make you feel good when you see how grateful they are for your efforts.
- It's Loved - your child is devoted to their time at your breast; you can see it in their eyes, feel it in their snuggly little body, and hear it in their sighs of contentment as they drift off to sleep. These are blissful moments, and eventually, they will wean, and these days will come to an end. For now, you can see they love to breastfeed, and, admit it, you love it too, so why stop?
with thanks to La Leche League, and kellymom