Saturday, November 3, 2012

What a 4 Year Old Should Know About Breastfeeding

Today, I excitedly announced to my oldest child that she is now 4 years old. I asked her, "Are you going to keep breastfeeding, or are you all done?" She smiled back at me and said, "I still need boobahs because I'm a big girl now!" Excellent logic!

Continuing to breastfeed a child past the cultural minimums in America often comes with pitfalls. Mothers might not know how they feel about this decision, having never seen it or heard of it from others around them. They might be ridiculed, harassed or even reported to CPS for child endangerment. People who fall for the best campaign and shout that breast is best start to give you a look. A look that says, "Maybe the best isn't best at this point."

I am very fortunate to be 2nd generation. By that I mean, I watched my mom freely nurse her children, including toddlers and school-aged children. A toddler who wants milk is a healthy toddler in my mind. I then was gifted with a mother in law who knew the importance of continuing the nursing relationship, even while pregnant. Both of my moms helped me on my way and I am forever grateful.

As I celebrate my child's 4th birthday, I think back to our breastfeeding beginning. It was a little rocky, which I suppose is how all breastfeeding relationships are for a first time mama. Zon was born after a long labor in an atypical position, so her neck was sore. She only wanted to nurse on one side. I dutifully pumped the other side, although I burst into tears at one point, asking DH if I was forever going to have a melon on one side and an apple on the other, haha.

And she also had tongue ties, which led to a shallow latch. I remember sitting naked, skin to skin, doing nothing but nursing, nursing, nursing to see if things would improve. And then right before walking out the door to her appointment to separate the tongue ties, I nursed her one last time. And there it was: a perfect latch. After that first week of getting to know each other and recovering from birth, we had finally found a place of zen. Any time she squirmed, I offered her the breast. She quickly doubled, then almost tripled her birth weight by 6 months. Mama's milk does a baby good!

Our first official Facebook breastfeeding photo,
when she was about 2 months old.
She was an avid nurser, continuing easily through the first year. After her first birthday, I conceived Ian. Even through pregnancy, she zealously nursed. Fortunately, I kept up somewhat of a supply and didn't experience nipple pain. But for reasons we never really pinned down (growing mouth, molars, lazy latch, preferring a newborn latch...could have been anything) I began to feel irritated by the sensation of her latch. She was now 2 years old and wanted to nurse like a newborn. Something I hear is common for that age. I tried every trick in the book to reduce the feelings of discomfort with her latch. It did eventually fade away and we continued to tandem nurse. 

Unexpectedly, though, we brought another child into the mix. Zon and Ian continued to nurse through pregnancy, again without complications or pain. Losing the breastfeeding relationship is my one fear about subsequent pregnancies, so it has been gratifying to continue to nurse through my pregnancies and to continue to tandem nurse all the children. I firmly think, from watching them interact, that continuing to nurse during pregnancy and then continuing to nurse everyone afterwards has promoted a sense of sibling bonding and a relaxed feeling that everyone will have his or her needs met. We're a happy crowd, most days.

Throughout this journey, I have learned more than I could type. I've learned how far a mother will go, how committed she can be to her children. But I've also learned from my children. My daughter has been an excellent teacher. She has shown me pure, unconditional love. A depth to joy before unseen in my heart. She has taught me to notice the little pleasures in life that are often the most important parts of life. 

One of my favorite articles contains a list of things a four year old should know.

If I could write out a list called "What every 4 year old should know about breastfeeding" it would go a little like this:

1. Even though you enjoy meals, snacks and dessert, my milk still contains a variety of nutrients, minerals, antibodies and stem cells that benefit you.

2. Yes, you can nurse when you're a firefighter. You can nurse when you're a princess. You can even nurse when you're a cat.

3. You can nurse in public. You have a right to be here and a right to eat. You know how to nurse without waving my breasts around and forcing others to watch. But sometimes, sweetie, Mama just wants to eat at the restaurant without holding babies in each arm. So sometimes we'll nurse afterwards.

4. You can nurse in the evening. You can nurse overnight. You can nurse in the morning. I know you're still learning to sleep at your own pace. I know sometimes in the night, you're scared and reach out for comfort. I know sometimes you just get hungry.

5. If you put your pennies in my bra for safekeeping, I'll protect them for you.

6. I love having a trick up my sleeve for those times when you are over tired, or when your tummy hurts because you ate junk food at that birthday party, or when you get into a big fight and the world is too much and you just don't know what to do. 

7. I also love having a free, unlimited medicine for you if you ever get sick or have food poisoning. Nothing soothes a sore throat or upset tummy faster and better than nursing.

8. I don't care if others glare at us, and I'll protect you and defend you if they ever harass us. You are pure, innocent and perfectly in the right.

9. A little cuddle and nursing is what Mama needs, too. I love the excuse to hold you, look into your eyes and reconnect.

10. You can stop nursing whenever you want to, and I will support you. But, please, wean me gently.

"I know I look so big to you,

Maybe I seem too big for the needs I have.

But no matter how big we get,

We still have needs that are important to us.

I know that our relationship is growing and changing,

But I still need you. I need your warmth and closeness,

Especially at the end of the day

When we snuggle up in bed.

Please don't get too busy for us to nurse.

I know you think I can be patient,

Or find something to take the place of a nursing -

A book, a glass of something,

But nothing can take your place when I need you.

Sometimes just cuddling with you,

Having you near me is enough.

I guess I am growing and becoming independent,

But please be there.

This bond we have is so strong and so important to me,

Please don't break it abruptly.

Wean me gently,

Because I am your mother,

And my heart is tender."

~ Cathy Cardall


  1. Yes! My son breastfed until 4.5, when I lost my milk during my third pregnancy. My daughter was 2.5. I wish she remembered how, as I wanted to tandem-feed again. I give her the opportunity, but she just doesn't remember. :-(

  2. So beautiful! My son is 20 months and I'm breastfeeding him through my pregnancy (7 weeks to go). I'm not liking it at the moment, but hoping it will pass so I can enjoy tandem feeding. It's the best for him and he's not ready to wean so I'm just putting up with it. I love that he is at the age where I can distract or hold it off for a bit if I need a break. I'd like to let him choose when he doesn't want any boobie.