I was running late meeting a friend for dinner. I apologized, explaining that after I'd walked in the door from work my toddler of course wanted to nurse and...
"What?" she yelled. "You're STILL nursing?"
Every weeknight when I arrive home, my daughter, who turns 2 next month, runs and gives me a big hug around the knees. She then walks over to "our" comfy chair, slaps her hand on the seat, and excitedly says, "Nurse!" After I greet my two big kids, ages 11 and 8, my husband takes my work bag off my shoulder, I sink into the chair, my little girl climbs onto my lap, and we settle into our reunion routine, as she contentedly and squirmily (she is a toddler, after all) nurses at my breast.
I didn't plan to be an "uberboober," that suspiciously derogatory-sounding slang for those of us who choose extended breastfeeding, defined as nursing beyond 12 months. But I breast-fed my two older kids a few months past their second birthdays, and will likely do the same for my third.
When I was a newbie nurser, I'd set a goal to breastfeed my first child for six months. The date came and went, and one day my husband, who recognized the commitment I'd made to my glider and my breast pump, sweetly surprised me with a bouquet at work with a note "from" our son: "Thank you for nursing me for eight months, Mommy!"
I hadn't intended to nurse for so long—I just never found a good reason to stop. When our first pediatrician told me at my son's one-year well visit that this was when "we typically discuss weaning," I politely listened. Then I ignored him. Why end a nurturing, mutually satisfying arrangement according to a date on the calendar? After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for one year or longer as desired by mother and infant, and the World Health Organization encourages breastfeeding to age 2 or beyond.
Besides, over time, nursing got easier. The hard parts—like the learning my baby and I both had to do about latching on—were behind us. Curious friends now sometimes ask if I'm physically uncomfortable, at work all day then commuting home with presumably full breasts. (I'm not pumping this time around.) I'm not. It's one of those beautiful maternal miracles, how the body's supply simply adjusts to a child's needs. (I haven't worn nursing pads in, well, years.) Sometimes a friend will inquire: "Doesn't she bite you?" Maybe I've been lucky, but no. As far as my experiences with three babies tell me, a child can't clamp down with her teeth and nurse at the same time.
I'll occasionally hear a snarky comment about a woman who's "still" breastfeeding. Like this one: "At that child's age, it's more for the mom's benefit than the kid's." The subtext: a mother who nurses a walking, talking child must be psychologically deficient, empty in some way that she can't just let go already. Do I get some enjoyment from nursing? Of course. I'm not sure why that's a "bad" thing. When my daughter's warm body is snuggled against mine and she's nursing in that lovely, rhythmic way—like how a wave laps at the shore, retreats, and returns—it's sweetly hypnotic. Nursing has such a calming, tranquilizer-like effect on each of us that sometimes we both nod off in our chair. The continuing benefits of extended breastfeeding, nutritional and otherwise, feel like a bonus.
Every feeding relationship between mother and child is unique—there were such differences even among my three children. One was a "gourmet," taking all the sweet time in the world to nurse. Another was more the "barracuda:" content to nurse a few quick minutes at a time. The challenges were individual, too: When I couldn't pump enough at work for my second child, I began to supplement with formula. My third child—my 2-year-old's—and my trouble with latching on in the first days home from the hospital was a problem that caught me off-guard (I'd already nursed two babies—uh, shouldn't I have this breastfeeding business down by now?). I was humbled by my nursing issues, and in my fragile postpartum state I found those weight check-ins surprisingly upsetting, even though the pediatrician was sensitive and kind. I contacted one lactation consultant, who was too rigid ("formula is the devil," she said) and too rude for my baby and me to have success. So I called my old, trusted lactation consultant across the country, and she recommended supplementing with formula, "to get over the hump." "Your baby needs nourishment," she said.
Ultimately, how a child gets it, and when and for how long, is every mother's individual decision to make.
Image of a mother breastfeeding via Shutterstock