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Breastfeeding a Two Year Old

I never thought I’d be breastfeeding a two year old. And yet, here we are two years later, and Claire is still nursing. As Lauren says, it just kind of creeps up on you and one day your nursling isn’t a baby anymore. Even though Claire still nurses, our breastfeeding relationship has changed in the past few months, both from limits I’ve started setting and from developments she’s made as she grows up.

toddler on a merry go round

Daytime Nursing

Once Claire turned two, I became more self-conscious about nursing in public. I’m still a huge supporter of nursing in public, and I will stand up for anyone who wants to nurse their baby, toddler or preschooler wherever the need arises. But I kind of had imagined that I would wean Claire when she turned two, and when it became obvious that the cost/benefit ratio of that choice was leaning way out of my favour, I compromised by not nursing her at the park, at playgroup or while I’m sitting in the computer chair. She is generally happy with a substitute of a snack, a drink of cow’s milk or doing some activity with me instead, so she has transitioned pretty smoothly to not nursing during the day.

Nursing Down for Naps

When naptime comes, I lie down and nurse Claire in her bed, then sneak away and have some one-on-one time with Bea. Claire still very much needs her nap, and will ask to have “sleepy na-na” after lunch. Bea needs the one-on-one time, and we do most of our “schooly” stuff like handwriting practice and phonics when Claire is asleep. And even though Claire is a generally happy, easygoing kid, I appreciate having only one child to keep tabs on for an hour or two every day. Nursing down for naps still has that sleepy magic, and I’m hesitant to give up our 15 minute nursing to sleep routine and trade it in for a prolonged and frustrating napping without nursing routine. I’m not interested in letting her cry it out, and since she sleeps in a double bed, I’m pretty sure she won’t stay in it for a solo “quiet time”, although that could be a possible option. If we stop nursing, I expect that Claire will give up her nap altogether.

Nighttime Nursing

Despite my efforts to night-wean at the start of the year, Claire continues to nurse at night. I’m OK with this now. She comes into out bed at about 1am, nurses back to sleep and then doesn’t nurse again until about 6am. That’s fine with me, and I wake up feeling rested as long as I went to bed early enough myself.

Most parenting decisions come down to evaluating the available choices and comparing the pros and cons of each choice. For me, the pros of nursing my two year old (regular naps and not nursing in public anymore) outweigh the cons (not being able to go away overnight, which is kind of moot anyway since our families don’t live nearby). And I love the fact that she is rarely sick and gets that extra bit of nutrition from the handful of nursing sessions we still have.

Have you nursed a two-year old? What was your experience like?

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{ 11 comments… add one }

  • michelle July 12, 2011, 7:55 am

    thanks so much for this!! my son turned 2 in June and im beginning to wonder if he will nurse until college! LOL no, really my experiences are very similar to yours, and i wouldnt change any of it for the world <3

    • michelle July 12, 2011, 10:30 pm

      It is great to know that other kids and moms are going through the same things! I’m glad to hear you’re happy with the way your nursing experience has gone.

  • Dawn July 12, 2011, 10:00 am

    Luke is 2 years and 3 months. He is a big nurser just like his brother was. WIth Cayden he had to stop nursing because I was pregnant with his brother but since we are done with 2 kids, I’m curious how long he will nurse for. Cayden stopped napping at 2.5 because I started to refuse to nurse him to sleep, I just couldn’t take it when I was pregnant. So I understand wanting to keep that going, since an hour or two break from having both kids is usually much needed.
    I don’t feel a huge need to stop nursing Luke, especially since Cayden stopped nursing at one month shy of 3, so we still have a way to go, if we are doing it the same way.
    I am finding that nothing else will substitute for nursing, he just isn’t happy with a snack, juice, milk or a cuddle. He might like chocolate milk…but would I really want to start that? As soon as I sit down, he usually asks to nurse, it can get annoying. He is nighweaned though, so there’s something that works for us. He nurses at 8:30pm then again at 5am. And I love that I don’t nurse him down for sleeps at night…but that only works because it is dark I think (which is why it wouldn’t work for naps)
    I also don’t care for nursing in public anymore…but he’s usually so distracted by being out, that he usually doesn’t ask.

    Anyway, my long winded reply…hope it makes sense ;) hmmm did I just do a big long run on sentence?

    • michelle July 12, 2011, 10:29 pm

      Claire is surprisingly easygoing – I know that Bea would not have been ok with a substitute for nursing if she was still nursing at Claire’s age. :) It’s totally dependent on the individual kid! And I see lots of punctuation in your reply. :)

  • Jo-Ann July 12, 2011, 1:08 pm

    I am glad to hear that you have reached an equilibrium with Claire.
    Anushka turned 3 in May and is still nursing. It was a challenge through my pregnancy with my second daughter, but I kept it going through the pain, knowing that the connection of nursing would be worth it once her sister was born. Through reading “Adventures in Tandem Nursing,” I learned to set limits that I was comfortable with. I stopped night nursing near the end of my pregnancy because I was irritable and tired (she knows she doesn’t get to nurse when it is dark out, which has caused some early mornings with long summer days, but generally that was successful) and then we stopped nursing to sleep once we discovered she had a mouth full of cavities (that is another story) when she was about 2 1/2. I still lay down with her to sleep, she never asks to nurse to sleep anymore.
    We also don’t nurse in public, as I am not comfortable with it, despite my advocacy for breastfeeding in public (plus it is a way to cut down on the number of times we nurse during the day). I am actively trying limit our nursing sessions to the one in the morning, but she usually asks a couple of times a day. I never thought I would be nursing a three year old, but right now I don’t see any need to force the issue of stopping.
    Thanks for sharing Michelle, I am enjoying the blog!

    • michelle July 12, 2011, 10:26 pm

      I am concerned about Claire’s teeth as well, since Bea just had several fillings done and I know they’ve been sharing spoons, etc. I know many people who say that breastfeeding at night doesn’t cause cavities, but I know a lot of night-nursers who have had major dental issues and it seems a likely culprit.

  • Stacy @ Sweet Sky July 12, 2011, 7:46 pm

    I nursed my first child until he was around 5 years old. The weaning process was gradual enough that I don’t remember the last time he nursed. I became pregnant when he was 2 1/2 and his nursing slowed down, especially toward the end of the pregnancy, but it picked up again once my second was born. :)

    I continued to nurse my first-born “on demand” for about three months alongside the baby, but it was feeling like a bit much to me and one day I told him after he asked (he asked every time he saw me nurse the baby) that “we would nurse at bedtime”. There was a sense of clarity and honesty in the way I said it and he replied “okay”. I think we were both a bit shocked at the simplicity of the exchange. But it somehow stuck, and we nursed at bedtime and at naps (he stopped waking to nurse when I was pregnant) and he gradually just stopped nursing altogether over the next year and a half.

    I am still nursing my second — he will be 5 in October. He mostly nurses at bedtime (no longer wakes up in the night), and he does ask to nurse during the day. I don’t have a hard line against it, but I often tell him I don’t feel like it right then and offer alternatives (including “holding the boobie”). I have nursed him in public, recently, though I am very conscious of drawing attention to ourselves.

    Both of them like to pretend their babies and pretend nurse (over my shirt), and sometimes the older one tells me he wishes he still nursed. He does still hold the boobie occasionally and even tried to nurse not too long ago. I try to keep a balanced response — I never tell him he’s too old but I think he might have realized that when he tried (briefly) and popped off and said, wistfully though matter-of-factly, “I couldn’t get any milk out.”
    Stacy @ Sweet Sky´s last [type] ..Why I Love Park Days

  • Momma Jorje July 24, 2011, 7:53 am

    I nursed my older daughter until 3½ years when she self-weaned. Most of her nursing in the end was just kind of checking to make sure I was there, I think. I had always thought night nursing (even to go to bed) would be the last to go, but it wasn’t for her.

    I’m currently nursing a 22mo, so we’re almost at the 2 year mark. I don’t think my husband expected us to nurse so long, but when the OB suggested I quit even my husband knew there was No.Way.

    Strangely, I’m more comfortable NIP now than I was when she was smaller. I have no idea why other than just not wanting to fight her about it. We’re expecting our next baby in January and I’m truly hoping my milk holds out through the pregnancy. Sasha still nurses a few times in the night, too.

    As for naps, if she’s tired enough to ask for “sleepy na-na,” I bet you could still snuggle her down for naps if she wasn’t nursing. But still… rough transition. I wouldn’t want to face it, either.
    Momma Jorje´s last [type] ..Pet Names

  • Kate July 24, 2011, 12:07 pm

    I’m so happy that I found this post through Hobo Mama. It’s nice to hear of other mothers that are also nursing toddlers.

    I have difficult moments with my Charlotte who has renewed her love of nursing now that we have a newborn son. She nursed through pregnancy, but only about once a day. She is now at least three times a day and will wake up at night to request it.

    I too am totally okay with NIP, but with Charlotte, it feels uncomfortable. I have taught her that we only “nurse at our house.” This has helped.

    It can be hard for her to wait until her brother is finished nursing.

    Overall, I’m thankful that she still nurses. It does, however, come with certain challenges.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Jenny @ I'm a full-time mummy July 25, 2011, 1:37 am

    Greetings from Malaysia!

    I’ve nursed my boy right up until he’s 25 months old cos that’s when my BM just dries up – most likely because I was in the mid of my 2nd trimester by then. However even at 33 weeks pregnant now, my boy is still dry nursing from me (before his afternoon nap and bedtime sleep). I hope I can go for tandem nursing when my 2nd one comes along in 1 months+ time.

    I am all for breastfeeding for as long as the child wants and am happy to hear when new mums (or going to be mums) planning to go for breastfeeding when they have their babies. I have friends who refused to breastfeed citing tiredness after labor and all as the reason.. such a waste.. :(
    Jenny @ I’m a full-time mummy´s last [type] ..Potty Training with Briefs and Stickers…

  • Inder July 25, 2011, 4:42 pm

    I’m still nursing my little boy, who is “two years and change” as we say. Between me setting some limits, much like what you describe (less NIP, for one) and him getting older, we somehow have found ourselves ONLY nursing reliably at bedtimes and in the middle of the night! I work outside the home, so we do nurse more on weekends, but it’s no longer like clockwork.

    With that little nursing going on, I’m no longer in the slightest bit interested in night weaning! I now realize that night weaning for us would pretty much just be “weaning.” And I have really, really mixed feelings about that! Way more than I ever expected to have at this age – I mean, if someone had told me right after Joe was born that I would still be nursing him at 27 months, I would have snorted, because back then, I was just trying to survive to breastfeed him until six months! But it’s so true – when your baby is a newborn, a two year old seems “old”! But when your baby is two, he (or she) still seems like a baby.
    Inder´s last [type] ..A little weekend sewing.

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