On nursing an older child

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I am lucky to live in a place where many families choose to breastfeed for an extended period of time. It is very common to see moms nursing their toddlers and preschoolers in public, and so I can feel comfortable nursing my babies in public too. My oldest son is going to be 3 in April, and he still nurses three times a day when he’s home with me. He always nurses in the morning at wake up, at night before bedtime, and he also nurses after nap times if he’s home (but obviously not if he’s at school). Nursing my toddler has been occasionally frustrating, but I also think it’s gotten us through a lot of the tougher periods of his development.

Because my son and I have been sitting down together for at least 20 minutes, at least three times a day over the past 3 years, we have a close relationship, and we read each other very well. Even on days when he’s tantruming every 5 minutes, and I feel like I’m going to lose it, that time to deliberately reconnect is what makes it possible for me to keep going. And, I do actually think we have seen fewer tantrums overall because my son and I have that time of connection.

Of course families who are not nursing can still have deep relationships with their babies, but I think it can be hard to make myself deliberately find the energy to cuddle when my baby is yelling at me all the time. At least for me, it’s hard to bridge that gap when I’m feeling angry and worn down after the eighth tantrum of the morning. But, nursing happens in our family whether I am particularly feeling it or not, which means my son knows that it’s a part of his routine that will always happen, and that his mom will always be there for him, even on a rough day. My son and I have very different personalities, so it’s helpful for both of us to have the encouragement that comes with a built-in nursing routine.

I should also mention that I do think that breastfeeding my son when my daughter was little minimized the separation anxiety he felt from having a new baby in the house. He adjusted to his little sister’s homecoming very well, much better than I anticipated, but that kind of situation can be a struggle for any child. There are new routines, new noises, and obviously all the family‚Äôs attention goes to the new baby. I disappeared for a few minutes four times a day when I had to get her down for naps. I couldn’t get up from the couch for my son when I was nursing the baby. Sometimes my son wanted to nurse, but the baby needed to nurse first, because I only have so much milk.

But, my son could still look forward to those specific times of reconnecting with me, and he knew he’d get that specialized attention from me even if I couldn’t give it to him all the time any more. And now, when he sees me nursing his sister, he’ll often come up to the couch and say, “Nursing sister!” and smile at us, which is super cute.

(On a practical note, nursing a toddler when you have a second baby is the best way to prevent clogged ducts and mastitis that I’ve ever found. I had huge oversupply with both of my babies, which sounds great, but was really frustrating and caused a lot of problems for me. Luckily, my son could be counted on to take extra milk when it caused me discomfort, and he was also instrumental in clearing some plugged ducts when neither his sister nor my pump were strong enough to clear them on their own.)

Even though nursing my almost 3 year-old hasn’t been a joy 100% of the time, it’s been great for our family overall, and I think it’s benefited my son’s emotional health a great deal. I’m really glad I’ve been able to offer this for him for so long, and I hope his sister has the opportunity to nurse for just as long, if she wants to.

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