There is nothing weird or wrong with breast-feeding through the ‘Terrific Twos.’ By Kari Walker

Friday, Aug. 2, 2013

kwalker_breastfeeding
My daughter Stella and I one day after birth trying to figure it all out.

I’m Kari, and I’ve nursed a toddler. Do you know how difficult that is, inexplicably, for some women to admit?

I’ve never quite understood why much of society makes mothers feel so ashamed of something as natural and part of life as breast-feeding. For those I have offended by nursing a baby beyond the first year of life, I do not apologize. But I have had to defend my choices multiple times, and through this journey learned one thing: My job as a mom choosing to breast-feed beyond infancy is not anyone else’s concern except mine and my daughter’s.

That sweet little girl who struggled to latch on and gain weight her first week of life is a happy, well-adjusted, 2-year-old whom I have had the responsibility to help grow through my commitment to breast-feed. In the beginning, I struggled, cried (a lot) and worried — I worried if she was getting enough milk, I worried if she was gaining enough weight, I worried that the pediatrician would suggest formula, I worried what other people thought.

But when I sat in the rocking chair and cuddled up with my petite little Stella as she nursed, I worried about nothing and tried to capture the moment so one day when she is grown up I will remember what it was like to be someone’s everything. She depended on me and a continued production of milk, so I sought help from certified lactation consultants when I struggled, I pumped at work, I drank disgusting tea when my supply was low, and I never once thought she wasn’t worth the extra effort. Breast-feeding is something I always planned to do, but initially I only planned to nurse for a year. I’m not sure why I had this goal in my head, but it sounded like a reasonable amount of time until I read the World Health Organization suggests breast-feeding (along with table foods) up to age 2 — and beyond. The physiological benefits to baby are that she receives nutrients from milk tailor-made for healthy development and protective immunoglobulins and antibodies to build the immune system, defenses that may prevent against illness later in life. For the mother, it helps the body (read: figure) recover from the pregnancy and can reduce the risk of breast cancer.

So why the need to go beyond the age of infancy? Across the lifespan of the nursing baby this time with the mother creates a sense of security and comfort beyond the nutritional benefits — toddlerhood is a time of learning new gross motor skills, like mastering walking and learning to navigate life with a few extra bumps and bruises. The ability to reconnect with mom during a nursing session helps with comfort. Despite the opinions of people who say, “Your child will always be dependent on you if you don’t cut them off the milk,” it can work in an opposite fashion. Toddlers have dependency needs just like babies — they have psychosocial needs that can be met during this time with a mother.

And, of course, the aforementioned immunity boosters help just as your baby is growing up and learning the art of sharing toys and germs with his or her playmates.

I’m not here to chastise those who didn’t consider breast-feeding — I’m here to support nursing moms, particularly those who continue to nurse through toddlerhood. You are not alone; share your story with other moms and play a role in helping normalize breast-feeding for this and all future generations.

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