Breastfeeding a Preschool Age Child
When I got pregnant, I knew I was going to breastfeed, but I never gave a thought to how long. Three and a half years later my baby, now a preschooler, continues breastfeeding.
I remember saying once that I couldn’t imagine breastfeeding a walking and talking kid; a baby of course, but a talking kid? Yet here I am. During the first year, there were days when I thought I was not going to be able to make it to a year of breastfeeding, but things got easier and better as time passed by. I went back to work after about 6 months and our breastfeeding relationship was strong. I pumped while at work so my child would still have breastmilk even though we were separated.
There have been times when I wanted to stop, especially when I noticed that the nursing sessions were increasing in frequency. But my child was not ready to quit. How did I know? Because my breasts are the most comforting, secure and loving place for her to be. She’d be crying and, upon nursing, everything would be fine in a matter of seconds. What toy can do that to my child? None. Besides giving her the calmness she needs at that moment, she is also getting a huge number of antibodies to protect her from the polluted environment. Where else can I find that? And for FREE?
There were also times when I thought she was almost ready to wean and, while I felt happy it was happening, I couldn’t help but think what I would do when the magical breastfeeding was no longer needed. However, she came back to nursing. I guess she was just testing the waters to see if she was ready and perhaps realized she was not. As long as she keeps asking to breastfeed, I will be giving it.
Breastfeeding a child over a year old doesn’t mean you are breastfeeding all day. Remember that this child is also eating family food. Right now we are breastfeeding about 3 times a day; morning and night time feedings are the longest. Throughout the day (if we are home all day), she will ask to nurse a few times. Sometimes, she literally just wants a sip. I think she needs to know that they are there for her. At this age, if for some reason I cannot or do not want to breastfeed her at that moment, I can explain it to her and/or give her something else instead such as: a cereal bar or her favorite snack. She understands and is happy with what I give her.
While breastfeeding for this long may not be possible for many women, I feel that if the opportunity arises, you should not let it go. Now that my child can talk, I get to ask her questions such as: what does my milk taste like? Do you like breastfeeding?, etc. She uses words to answer me, not just gestures or babbles like when she was a baby. I’m actually having a conversation with her.
One of the things I like about breastfeeding is that it is a reminder. If I had a busy day, I can take a break from it to nurse my daughter and perhaps give her the personal attention she deserves that I might have neglected to give her. I can also breastfeed her while I work on my computer. She sits on my lap and I type while she nurses. In short, breastfeeding an older child is not an impediment for executing my daily tasks.
While we are breastfeeding at this age, we do not do it in public. She doesn’t ask and I don’t offer. I think that for us now, breastfeeding is a private relationship that we get to share as a family. I believe she feels protected, loved and that we share something special that nobody else is allowed to witness. It is our secret and even though she has no idea what a secret is, she sure knows how to keep one!
My husband thinks we shouldn’t go past 4 years and I do not know what our little one wants to do. I do not think I will breastfeed her when she is eight or until she goes to college (as we joke around with some friends), but I would rather not set a date to stop. Remember, I initially thought I wasn’t going to be breastfeeding a talking, running toddler.
I think my daughter is the wiser in this matter and will let me know when she is ready to stop. While I’ll be okay with her decision, I know I will be heartbroken. Breastfeeding this long might not seem right to some, but I know it’s the right thing for my family.