The challenges of extended breastfeeding

toddler

While I am an enthusiastic supporter of nursing little ones past their first birthday, I’d be crazy to say that there aren’t some interesting challenges that go along with it. I sincerely believe that working through and with the challenges it totally worth it; and in many cases, these challenges don’t need to equate weaning. But the challenges are real, and I think it is helpful to be real about them, deal with them, and laugh about them when possible. 

Biting the breast that feeds them

My babies have all bitten me while nursing once they started teething. For our children, this has always been around three months of age. However, babies biting with gums is one thing; toddlers biting with teeth is another! Many times, a toddler will be prone to bite while nursing when going through a period of teething or sickness.

None of our four children bit on purpose or to hurt when they were nursing, and I found it helpful to keep that in mind when it did happen. Rather than get upset or rashly decide to wean, teaching the little one that biting hurts Mommy allows the benefits of extended nursing to continue without sacrificing Mom’s body in the process. When I’ve been bitten by one of our nursing toddlers, my knee-jerk reaction is often a gasp, an “Oww!”, followed with removing them from the breast. They generally get the idea. Many other moms have found similar solutions that teach the little one that biting means no nursing.

Acrobatic nursing

Toddlers are comical little people, and they often come up with very curious nursing positions. Standing up, kneeling, feet in the face, and more can be expected. For me, I don’t really find this a big challenge. I’ve found that simply moving them to a more comfortable position for me works fine. If they continue their acrobatic feats and it is uncomfortable for me, I close shop. The only time that their propensity for gymnastic nursing is problematic has been when they would want to nurse in a public place. If I am certain that they will behave and perhaps go to sleep, I can sometimes make it work. If I think they’ll be silly and do tricks, I’ve tried to stick with distracting them. Most often at home, I just roll with it and laugh. They outgrow those silly antics far too quickly.

toddler

Public demands

Sometimes while out in public, a little person will become fixated on nursing. I’ve had this happen most often while out running errands all day. Toddlers and preschoolers can only handle so much activity in one day, and nursing often helps to calm them down when they feel overwhelmed. I’ve had little ones try to pull up my shirt or reach their hands down the neck of my top. Just like teaching our little ones not to bite and not to do handstands while nursing, we can also teach them (or at least try to teach them) public nursing manners.

It’s not always easy, of course. Keeping a sippy cup of water and toddler-safe snacks on hand while out has been one of the easiest solutions for our family. General distractions, like toys, peekaboo games, or silly songs might work. Finding a quiet place like a fitting room may be the best solution when nothing else will do.

Nursing while pregnant

Nursing through pregnancy is very common and can be done in a way that allows the growing baby, the nursing toddler, and the busy mom to stay healthy and well-nourished. Getting adequate rest, drinking plenty of water, and eating a nutrient-dense diet can allow a woman to nurse while pregnant for as long as she’d like. Learning about the normalcy and safety of being both a pregnant and nursing mother can also boost confidence and help a mom decide if that’s something she’d like to do.

I’ve nursed through all of my pregnancies, except the first one, of course. I found with my second pregnancy that I was exhausted while also nursing. I now credit this to the low-fat, high-carb diet I ate at the time. I had no problems nursing through part of our third pregnancy, but nursing through part of the fourth pregnancy was incredibly painful. Weaning was a great challenge (more on that in the next post!), and after much answered prayer, I was finally able to wean seven months into the pregnancy.

toddler

Comments and criticism

For many people, nursing a baby much past one year seems odd and unnecessary. Dealing with comments and criticism from others can at times be discouraging for the nursing mom. I’ve found it helpful to just accept the fact that others may choose to make comments, and these may not always be said out of a critical heart. Sometimes things may be said simply out of surprise, ignorance, or curiosity.

I loved the tips that La Leche League shares on their website for dealing with this criticism. I’ve used many of these suggestions, like choosing to nurse toddlers in more private locations, adding some humor into the conversation, and including some factual information when questioned about nursing a toddler. No one likes to feel criticized, but learning how to deal with it certainly beats resenting it.

A request to wean from Daddy

Some husbands want to see their little one weaned around a year. They don’t want to “share” their wife anymore, and they think that one year is enough when it comes to breastfeeding. This can be a challenging situation, and one that could potentially cause some real marital tension if the wife is very committed to and sincere about continuing to nurse.

I’m not a marriage expert, nor am I an expert on breastfeeding or parenting, but I can share my personal thoughts. Husbands have real and genuine needs for their wives, and those needs should be valued, respected, and met with love. Toddlers clearly benefit from extended nursing. Ask your husband if you can share with him why you want to continue and what you’ve learned about the benefits of nursing past one year. See if you can work together to come to an agreement on how you will both approach weaning. Value his opinions and ideas, rather than casting them off, and perhaps through these discussions you can both come to a place of better understanding one another.

Have you run into challenges while nursing past a year? How did you work with them?

21 comments on “The challenges of extended breastfeeding

  1. I’m almost 6 months pregnant and nursing my 17 month old. It’s mostly comfort nursing at night and in the morning as my milk supply has disappeared but I’m hoping he’ll continue after baby gets here. I’ve really enjoyed nursing him but the only thing I avoid is telling other people. I don’t want to make others uncomfortable, and I definitely don’t want to deal with judgment, so that has made it difficult. Even before one year and when he was nursing every 3 hours, if I was out with others, I would sneak to a bathroom without explanation to make sure we got our feedings in. :( I definitely have no intention of telling others if we’re able to tandem nurse, though I wish it didn’t have to be that way.

    • Congratulations on nursing so long! You may find as you go along that more moms than you realize are doing just what you are now. So long as you know you are doing what is best for your family, you can be confident in your choices! Thank you for reading!

  2. Emily G. says:

    When DS1 was 6 months old, I became pregnant with DS2. I continued nursing DS1 to 13 months, but it took SO MUCH out of me (energy, calories, nutrients). Difficult and painful at times (sensitive pregnancy nipples, remember those??), but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

    Now DS2 is one year old, and he is just recently making the choice to wean. Breaks my heart because I love the closeness, but I won’t try to push him. He’s ready.

  3. Amanda Piper says:

    Sure enjoyed this read!! I can totally relate to the acrobatic nurser and the demands for nursing while out shopping all day…usually it’s when he’s tired and I end up in the fitting room to nurse him to sleep. I guess with each kiddo you learn more and more on how to take it all in stride. I have heard so many moms say they quite nursing at 3, 4, 5 months because their baby started biting. I can’t even fathom quitting because of that! I always gave baby a light thump to the cheek when they bit me..only took a few times and they got the message.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Amanda!
      I think a lot of moms don’t even realize that they can teach their babies not to bite. Like you said, after four babies, you just kind know what to expect and can usually figure out a way to deal with it. The thumping trick has worked well here, too.

  4. Valerie says:

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for taking the time to share all of it. :)
    I am breastfeeding our 18 month old son still many times a day/night. A few challenges as a toddler…biting, and healing from it while continuing to nurse: http://atlantamomofthree.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/healing-from-babys-bite/ and trying to conceive the next baby: http://atlantamomofthree.wordpress.com/2013/03/24/ttc-while-breastfeeding-a-humbling-experience/
    I’m actually wondering if now is the time to wean him because he has a cold; he is asking to nurse (he signs ‘milk’) but within a few moments he stops. I’ve had to pump in order to reduce the discomfort. I’m wondering if it will help us in our ttc.

    • Thank you for reading and for sharing a couple of links that may be helpful to someone!
      The picture of your chubby little guy sleeping in your arms in the one post reminds me so much of nursing my son when he was a little guy. Such sweet memories.

      • Valerie says:

        Sure! :) Yes, they really are sweet memories indeed! I wish I had taken more photos of my older children when they were babies/toddlers nursing!

  5. Julie says:

    I allowed both of my children to nurse until they showed signs of disinterest. I defined disinterest as: (a) never asking for “milkies” on their own and (b) never seeming to miss breastfeeding if it wasn’t offered. Interestingly enough, they both weaned themselves at 17-months. Just out of curiosity, is it common for children show signs of wanting to continue breastfeeding beyond that time?

    • Thanks for reading Julie! It sounds like you were blessed with two wonderful experiences as a nursing mom!

      I’m certainly no breastfeeding expert, but from my personal experience and reading, I do think it is common for children to be interested in breastfeeding around a year and a half and later. Groups like La Leche League and online resources like Kellymom and Ask Dr. Sears would also say that it is completely natural and common. I think that it seems more uncommon to us in our culture since most babies are weaned prior to a year and never have the opportunity to continue to show interest in breastfeeding as a toddler. I am probably more prone to think of it in terms of what is “natural” rather than what is “common” because our society seems a bit ignorant when it comes to extended breastfeeding. I hope that makes sense!

  6. Great post! I didn’t really do what most would consider “extended” breastfeeding (my boys nursed for 17 and 20 months respectively), but still longer than others thought I should. It’s funny looking back because I didn’t even think about some of those things as being challenges, but they definitely can be! (like the acrobatics! lol)

    I never really had a problem with my boys biting me, fortunately. I gave in to pressure from my OB-GYN when I was pregnant. I got pregnant when my oldest was 14 months and encouraged weaning at 17 months, but he was ready.

    I followed a comment to check out your blog and I’m glad I did. I’m a major breastfeeding advocate and always enjoy seeing posts about it.

  7. Gudrun B says:

    good for all of you who defy the so called status quo!
    my first two self weaned when i was pregnant again – they did not seem to like the “new flavor” (as my oldest stated it does not taste good) Now my last one comfort nursed until she was 4! and she needed a little encouragement to finally quit all together :) However, at the age of 7 she would at times see me come out of the shower and recall with a happy face that she can still recall how good that milk tasted If people asked i would tell the truth and got weird looks at times – so what? at that time it was very common, guess it might still be, that 4 year olds went to bed at night with a bottle of what ever. I have a choice and i chose/or my kids chose with me. If we don’t stand up for what is healthy how will others learn?

  8. Great again! Wow, I came here today and was encouraged by the past three articles. I have 11 children, so far and I have nursed every one of them. Most past a year. One way into his 2nd year! The only problem I have ever had is from family members (Not my parents though), who want to ask “are you still doing that??” That was obnoxious to me….but I ignored it.

  9. Thank you for sharing this very helpful and interesting post! We were only able to go to 14 months with our twins, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I also didn’t go out very much during that season. Excellent!

  10. [...] posts! We’ve had a little introduction, a brief look at the benefits, and a fun look at the challenges. Today I want to share my personal experiences with [...]

  11. [...] posts! We’ve had a little introduction, a brief look at the benefits, and a fun look at the challenges. Today I want to share my personal experiences with [...]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s