STILL nursing? (You're not alone)

Though the World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding to a minimum age of 2 and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends 1 year and beyond, as is mutually desired by mother and child, only 27 percent of U.S. mothers — of the 76.5 percent who breastfed to begin with — are still nursing at 12 months, according to the AAP’s 2013 Breastfeeding Report Card.

If you’re nursing a toddler, you might feel self-conscious, doubtful, unsupported, fierce or defiant — maybe all of these things on any given day.

Perhaps you’ve fielded questions from uncomfortable friends and family members: You’re STILL nursing?! Don’t you feel like a PACIFIER? Aren’t you worried about creating some sort of oral fixation? AN OEDIPAL COMPLEX? What do you think your breasts are going to look like after all THIS?

Though the questions aren’t always verbalized, they’re there — you imagine — in the averted gaze, in the enthusiastically offered Sippy cup.

No-judge nursing, please
I speak from experience. My children were 2½ and 3 at their very last nursing sessions. That doesn’t mean I have a “my way or the highway” view of breastfeeding.

Hardly.

As a postpartum doula, I’ve worked with families who weaned at 3 weeks, 3 months, 1 year, 2. I’ve worked with families who supplemented breastfeeding with formula, and those who used nothing but formula.

I loved nursing personally — yes — but I’m not a militant lactivist. I’m pro-breastfeeding for every mama who wants to, for as long as she wants to.

One thing all parents seem to have in common in terms of feeding is fear of judgment — too little, too long, never tried, gave up. There’s always an opinion.

Though we have these lofty recommendations and the ubiquitous “Breast is Best” slogan (happily adopted by a formula companies, by the way), we’re not, as a country, completely comfortable with the breastfeeding relationship.

A nursing toddler takes that discomfort to the next level.

‘Boooooob!’
And a toddler will ask for it — usually a name chosen by the family, either intentionally or very much accidentally.

Case in point: My daughter called it “Boooooob!” Yes, shouted loudly and gleefully, particularly in the Target bra aisle. You live, you learn. And my son — her little brother — called it “Nigh Nigh.”

Another thing that’s unique to toddler breastfeeding is the level of activity and engagement. They smile while nursing, break to play or chat, stroke Mama’s hair.

This is a real, fully formed human at the breast, not a teeny sleeping baby hiding under a blanket. With such a small percentage of mamas nursing toddlers, to come across this intimate exchange between mother and child is a shock to the system — even for me, a toddler-nursing veteran.

Celebrating the benefits
To all who stopped nursing eons ago or never even started, I support you and your decision — 100 percent — but bear with me as I cheerlead the mamas who are going against the grain RIGHT NOW, with Aunt Polly looking down her nose: Breastfeeding Toddler Parent, way to go! Keep up the good work!

The WHO reports that, worldwide, the average age of weaning is between 4 and 7. So, you’re normal — if not behind the curve — nearly everywhere else on the planet.

Joanna Carrane, a professional liaison for La Leche League (LLL) of Minnesota and the Dakotas and an Eden Prairie LLL leader, said: “The physical benefits of nursing a toddler are numerous — possible reduced risk of breast cancer for Mom and a tailor-made nutritional boost for the child. Human milk adapts as the child grows and nutritional needs change.”

There are, of course, emotional benefits as well. Carrane said: “It supports a natural physical closeness with a child who is only starting to explore the world outside the immediate orbit of his or her caregivers. Being able to trust and regularly come back to that place of comfort is invaluable.”

My personal favorite benefit of toddler nursing is a bit selfish: They remember. My kids express a sweet fondness and gratitude for breastfeeding. And it’s nice to know that the nursing relationship meant something to them, as it did to me.