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Yes, Still Breastfeeding, For Me, It’s All About Me

By Abby Theuring, MSW

I never saw anyone breastfeed before I was in the hospital with a nurse hanging her head over my boob trying to get my first son to latch. Before this moment the only things to touch my nipples were me, my bra and men. I probably had some unspoken idea that I would breastfeed for about 6 months. Once we got rolling I pushed that to a year. I worked so damn hard to get started, I wanted to breastfeed as long as I could. A year was surely as long as people breastfed. Not that I even knew.

Today I breastfeed a 4-year-old. If that nurse had told me that I might breastfeed a 4-year-old I would have told her she was gross. Yes, I would have thought it was gross and weird and dysfunctional. I have no problem speaking loudly about my opinions, even when I am ignorant, which is much of the time. I am sure I would have joined the ranks of, “that’s going to cause long-term emotional harm. I’m a social worker after all, I would know.” “That’s sick and people who do that are freaks.” “That family has serious issues.”

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder's son Jack

I didn’t set out to breastfeed a 4-year-old, I mean Jack, he has a name, his name is Jack. He is a person, he has needs, he is unique and we have a relationship just as you have with your child. But anyway, I didn’t plan this with that nurse. I had no idea what the future held, even worse I thought I knew exactly what the future held. I was so ignorant and then so dead wrong and then so humbled by motherhood.

When Jack was about a year old I had hit my stride with breastfeeding. I had made many friends who were breastfeeding beyond infancy. I was (and still am) an advocate of “extended” breastfeeding and child led weaning. I advertised that I would let Jack breastfeed for as long as he wanted. I would let him lead the way and I would provide him with the nutrition, comfort and security of nursing for as long as he needs. Breastfeeding had become a major part of my identity as a mother.

When Jack was about 2.5 years old I got pregnant with my second son, Exley. I had big dreams of tandem nursing and I felt anxious that Jack would wean when my supply dipped mid-pregnancy. Jack soldiered through and it ended being me that wanted to bow out. I was confused and scared of this new feeling that occurred when Jack latched on. Nursing aversion. 13 months postpartum it hasn’t let up. And neither has Jack.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder breastfeeding with sons.

While pregnant I figured this feeling would go away upon delivery of Exley. I didn’t want to wean, I was afraid for Jack. I could see that he wasn’t ready and it was providing him comfort during a major life transition. I had to create some boundaries and get through this. For him. When Exley arrived we all struggled to find our new normal. I tried to balance being there for Jack, managing this nursing aversion, getting to know a new baby, figuring out breastfeeding again and holding onto my husband so that everything wouldn’t fall apart.

While Exley bathed himself in smash-cake I thanked the universe for getting us out of that initial chaos of welcoming a new family member. But here we are. I am still breastfeeding this toddler, this little dude who doesn’t toddle anymore, who runs faster than me, out-wits me and looks more like a little boy than any baby or toddler I see at the playground. Every time he latches I want him to unlatch. I deal with it by playing with my phone, planning my day and longing for Empty Nest Syndrome. I tell him “no” like 15,482 times a day. I have strict boundaries around my boobs and he’s knows it. Our sessions are short and he accepts it. But man alive, he still needs it. And getting to this point involved a ton of tears from both of us.

Abby Theuring, The Badass Breastfeeder's sons

I can no longer say I am practicing full-on child led weaning. I mean, I don’t know, does that mean you breastfeed on demand until they are ready to be done? I have no idea. That is not what is happening here. I can’t. I have to think of my own needs. I cannot handle nursing Jack that often. Meanwhile let the gaping hole in the earth called Guilt swallow me up and crush me to a bloody mass of mush as I have no struggles breastfeeding Exley.

I truly think my biological clock is simply telling me to stop breastfeeding the big one. I know not everyone’s body speaks to them this way, but this is where we are. Why don’t I just cut him off? I just can’t. It’s not right for us. That is not the answer for my boy. That will cause more harm than good for him, I know this as his mother. Breastfeeding has become his number source of comfort, security and connection. It doesn’t matter how you feel about us being in this place, it is where we are. I see it as my responsibility to transition him gently regardless of how much I want it to be over. He deserves that from me. He deserves the chance to transition. It’s a balancing act for now.

All this to say that I want to give a knuckle sandwich the next person that says I am doing this to fulfill my own needs. No matter your insignificant opinions about my family, if you feel that this is all about me then you really are oblivious.

Comments

  1. I wasn’t sure how long I’d nurse my daughter when she was first born, either. I remember talking about it with my husband, because the infamous “Are you mom enough” Time issue came out the month she was born. By that point I’d gone to a few LLL meetings and had met a few women who were nursing toddlers, so I was at least familiar with the idea, even though I wasn’t sure about my own plans.

    It ended up being 2 1/2 years of nursing her. When I got pregnant last summer I started setting limits hoping that she’d wean when my supply dropped. She didn’t. She still liked the connection and comfort of nursing, even though it wasn’t as important for her as it used to be. I struggled with the decision to wean her completely because tandem nursing wasn’t something I’d ever had a desire to do. When the nursing became too much I did wean her as gently as I could. It was definitely the right decision for us.

    I appreciate you sharing your story and your feelings. Even though we’ve made different decisions based on different family dynamics, your posts about tandem nursing have helped me.

    Congratulations on nursing for over four years and tandem nursing for over one. You’re a badass.

  2. I figured that child led weaning would occur earlier than this. My three year old is more interested in nursing then my one year old. She asks for “boobies” throughout the day and announced the other day that she’ll be nursing until she is six! I hear you- I have no idea how this nursing relationship will slow down….

  3. I can tell you that you aren’t alone. My first daughter nursed until just after her 4th birthday and we tandem nursed for about 18 months. I experienced the same nursing aversion while pregnant and continued to feel that way after my second daughter was born. I just didn’t enjoy nursing my oldest daughter anymore. We did continue, but like you, I had to set limits for her for my own sanity. I don’t regret my decision at all, but I did so things differently with my other children. When I became pregnant with babies 3 and 4, i wa smith quicker to set some limits during my pregnancy so I would be willing to continue. Both of my other 2 daughters ended up weaning because of that, which I am okay with. I’m now nursing baby #4 who is 3 months, and he is our last. I’m interested to see where our nursing relationship ends up when we don’t have to worry about weaning during pregnancy!

  4. I assumed I would nurse for a year and then be done. My son is now 2 years old, and I’m pregnant with number two. I have no plans to wean. I assume he’ll know when he’s done. If he’s still nursing when new baby is born, I might be banging down your (metaphorical) door to see how this all works!

    I totally agree that this is not for me, it’s for him – how can I take something away that he’s done every day for his whole life? I can’t. And I won’t. Good for you, mama!

  5. So much YES…. I have to laugh truly laugh inside when people insinuate that mothers breastfeed an older toddler/child for themselves. I started off with DMER – hated nursing, but pushed through. That let up & I was like wow, this is almost nice. By then he was ‘near weaning’ according to everyone else…but he didn’t know that. 😉 Then it was fine, okay even for like a year, and then I got pregnant. I immediately went into what felt like a life or death battle with thrush, something we never had before. That took 6 months of agony to finally cure & by the time it was over I realized I was having NA. Perhaps I had it all along, but the razor blade nursing sessions tended to leave me screaming in my head so loudly it was enough to cancel out anything else I could have thought or heard or felt (hence my reference to life or death struggle). And a few months later, #2 was here. My point is, that other than hoping to avoid maybe osteoporosis, or any of the other long term health benefits nursing is supposed to offer…I have literally never spent one day (in nearly a decade now) nursing for me. I didn’t *want* to do it on day one even. I do it because I feel like it is important for my kids. I am okay if someone else feels it isn’t for them, or that they needed to wean, but there should be no assumptions made about what someone chooses to continue.

    It is funny. I started yoga when I was pregnant to help ease pain. After having the baby I continued to help ease my body through the healing & transition to being no longer pregnant. When I continued that no one said “Well you aren’t pregnant anymore, you know you don’t *need* to keep doing that”. I see this as no different. Many times I do yoga – not because I want to, but because I feel like I am a better mom when I do. I don’t feel like I have time, I don’t feel like i have the energy always, but I feel like it always makes a difference when I do…so I keep on. This is not all that different.

  6. Andi Crater says:

    I came to your Facebook page to post a photo, and I came across this post. I can identify with this 100%! I have been nursing for over 6 years straight now, most of it tandem. Thankfully my oldest daughter weaned at the beginning of my pregnancy with my youngest (she was 4.5 at the time) but I am struggling with self weaning of my current 4.5 year old. I get major aversions to her nursing, and have put a lot of limits on her as well.

  7. Susana Med says:

    Totally identified with this post! that dress in the photo!!! where can I found a dress like that? I haven’t worn a dress since I stared breastfeeding 18 months ago!

  8. You were writing my story! My daughter will be 4 in 20 days (we’re counting down!) & I’ve been tandem nursing her 8.5 month old sister & her. Whew man! It is tough! I’m here with ya!
    People who haven’t nursed this long cannot comprehend how difficult this balancing act is!
    Congratulations for listening to your body & your babes as you journey through! ♡

  9. Thank you! Seriously thank you so much for sharing this. It’s like you are sharing my daily struggle. I’m sitting here with tears of… Of what? Reading my own story i guess, reading how hard it’s been past 17months, reading how i am not the only one who has the same dilemma between weaning him for my comfort and him not being ready to be weaned.
    So thank you so so much for this.

  10. Two words: weaning party! This worked great for my son, who was two months from his 4th birthday. My older child had continued nursing when the second was born and they tandem nursed around 6 months. I was ready to be done after nursing from 1989-1996. I talked up the option of a weaning party, and he was done. I’d still feel a little pat-pat-pat on my breasts in the early mornings, and would say, ” if you want to nurse, you can, but you know if you aren’t weaned we can’t have the weaning party.” He would always immediately withdraw his hands and quickly tell me, “I’m weaned.”

  11. Christi says:

    I feel like I’m reading my own story. 21 months between my girls and My 4.5 year old asks to nurse about once a month now. (When she’s really hurt or upset). It only lasts for like 5-10 seconds now, “thank gawd!”
    I do not believe setting boundaries is truly weaning. Your intent is to make it manageable so you can continue for the child that still needs it. If I didn’t set boundaries for my then 21 month old I would have had to wean abruptly. She increased her nursings and the NA was too strong.
    I had some aweful moment where I hollered out, because I wanted to jump out of my skin when she latched. It was aweful but I knew she needed nursing still.

  12. Wow! I have to give you credit for nursing through a nursing aversion. That’s amazing.

  13. Katharina says:

    I love to read your stories!!!Same stories right here, every time 🙂

  14. This could be our story. I couldn’t have described it better myself!

    I believed in child-led weaning so wholeheartedly. She went past her 3rd birthday, and I didn’t say no when #2 came along and she was 4. I think she’s even had a sip at age 5. Baby sis nursling is now 21 months.

    It’s evolution happening right here, right now, on a small scale, as we grow as a family.

  15. You rock on, mama! Jack will slow down…I promise. I’ll tandemed my kids and my older always eventually weaned. The aversion is real, but honestly, you are amazing and honest and I just want to give you a huge hug!! Back when I went through it, I had very few people who really “got it” — even LLL was not much comfort at that point. It’s hard for others to comprehend doing something that doesn’t feel great to us for the benefit of someone else.
    Hang in there!! You’re a champion!

  16. If I had a nickel for everything I do now that I SWORE I would never do before I had kids….. I can think specifically; when my kid can ask for milk I will definitely wean. Now, her signing for milk or coming up with those big blue eyes asking for num-num… that’s just what perfect moments are made of. 17 months into our journey, nursing one of my twins while pumping for the other (she has a feeding tube)

  17. With all of my kids I’ve told myself I was willing to go until 2 and then we would re-evaluate. Both my girls self-weaned before two, so we didn’t have to cross that bridge, but now my little boy is two weeks away and not interested in stopping! It definitely is not for me, I’m pregnant right now and have dealt with major nipple sensitivity since becoming pregnant. I’m glad I can still provide him with the comfort that he needs. I was never especially interested in tandem nursing, but with his little brother due in a few months it looks like that is probably going to happen! I’m interested to see how my nursing relationship with him will change when the baby gets here.

  18. I was ok nursing 2 year olds but 3 year olds bothered me. Why? Because I have massively tall toddlers. #1 weaned on his own at 2years 2.5month. #2 weaned at 2 years 9.5months but I was done. She was ready too. . #3 is still nursing at 2.5 years and I have a feeling I will be nursing him for at least 18 more months. He is obsessively attached to nursing. I feel as though I will never get my body back.

  19. I am currently tandem nursing my 2 year old and 2 month old and needed this to know that I am not alone. It was refreshing to read! Thank you for sharing!

  20. Thank you so much for keeping it real and making me feel like I’m not alone!! I can totally relate with everything you have written. Thank you again. Nurse on momma.

  21. Thank you for putting my feelings into words again!! Literally everything you said. I have a newborn and a 2.5 year old- the nursing aversion started when I was pregnant as well, and continues as I nurse my oldest child. Sometimes I get really angry- but like you I think weaning would cause more harm to her than good. And I feel guilty for feeding my youngest without the aversion. We will get through it and your instincts will show you the way.

  22. Thank you for all your writings they help so many people/families! I am nursing a 28 month old who shows no signs of self weaning and I keep hoping she will be ready soon. I too would never have thought I would be nursing a toddler.

    I think you will be interested in this: I got a call from the CDC about answering questions about vaccines, they wanted to know my daughters vaccine history for research. The vaccine conversation is another story but the nursing question was amazing. I had already given my daughters birthday and was asked at what age did I stop breastfeeding. When I answered I had not stopped she tried to clarify by asking me when I weaned my daughter. When I confirmed my daughter was not weaned she mumbled something about not having a category for that and that was followed by a long and strange pause. It is telling in how our culture views breastfeeding.

    I have never met another woman whom has done extended breastfeeding and child led weaning so I cant think you enough for this outlet.

    • Wow, what a crazy story about the Centers for Disease Control — supposedly, this esteemed institution — just *assuming* that all young children are weaned by some unnaturally young age. I had a similar experience (on a smaller scale), when I did a follow-up survey from the local hospital where my son was born asking about how they did with their breastfeeding check-ins.

      They did the survey when my son was maybe a year old, and it was all past tense, asking how long we nursed and when we weaned. I was aghast — especially as this hospital has been seeking “breastfeeding-friendly” status!

      My son is now 25 months and still nursing strong, day and night … I hadn’t ever heard of nursing aversion before this article, and I really, really hope it doesn’t happen to me, as I cherish my breastfeeding relationship with my son, and am planning to let him nurse for as long as he chooses (which I secretly hope is for a while longer yet …). What a difficult emotional situation to be in — but it’s been so education to read of all these other mothers’ experiences. At least I know what it is if it happens to me!

  23. I nursed my daughter until she was 3.5 (or so). I wasn’t keen on it near the end and when I got pregnant again I told her she had two weeks and we ended it. It was funny, she would tell me not much was coming out (I asked regularly) but she didn’t care, she just wanted booby!

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