when to stop breastfeeding?

I’ve been thinking about this topic of full-term breastfeeding for awhile and when I was looking up keywords for another post, the phrase “when to stop breastfeeding” popped up and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. When DO you stop breastfeeding? Well, don’t look at me for an answer. My 3-year-old son is still nursing. I like to joke that my 1-year-old daughter, who is little miss independent and pushes off as soon as she’s done nursing, will self-wean before Ryan…

full-term breastfeeding

I’m going to start by explaining my original breastfeeding goals… when I was pregnant with Ryan I knew I wanted to nurse for 1 year. Even after he was born I thought that nursing beyond that age (especially nursing toddlers) was just plain weird. But never say never!

I’m not sure what I thought would happen after age 1… he’d magically stop? Yea, well, he didn’t. So year 2 went by… I got pregnant with Rebecca and Ryan did stop nursing for a month or so (I’ve heard they don’t like the change in milk that occurs with pregnancy)… but then he started right back up again, even more so after Rebecca was born. I now have two nurslings–a 3yo and a 1yo.

full-term breastfeedingtandem nursing my now 3yo and 1yo

Just nurse him ’till college!

I know full-term breastfeeding (AKA extended breastfeeding) gets flack sometimes, but I’ve never understood the “joke” above. Does anyone REALLY think a kid is going to nurse till college? Come on. There must be something more intelligent to say.

If they can ask for milk, they’re too old to nurse.

Ryan and Rebecca both signed for milk before they turned one, which is well before the recommended guidelines for breastfeeding. To me, that counts as asking for it. If they mean by speaking with words, that also occurs before the recommended age of 2 years by the World Health Organization.

Gross.

Sad.

Fine. Just give the breast milk to them in a cup instead of nursing them.

Well that kind of defeats part of the point, doesn’t it? Entering toddler-hood, there certainly are still nutritional benefits to breast milk, but it’s more about the act of nursing… the bonding and comfort, the closeness, the attachment. If Ryan gets jealous when he sees his little sister nurse and I offer breast milk to him in a cup, do you think that would calm the envy? Not a chance.

full-term breastfeeding
I’ll admit, sometimes it bothers me. Not because I think it’s gross, clearly, but because sometimes I just get touched out nursing two kids. And although Rebecca is a WAM BAM THANK YOU MA’AM kinda nurser, Ryan could seriously sit there all day. Sometimes I love it, but sometimes… I just want to be done. I think that’s pretty normal, though. I do have good days and not-so-good days… definitely much more of the former than the latter and although some days I wish I was done, overall I am thankful to have this opportunity with my kids. I remind myself that they’re little and they need me and it won’t last forever. Both kids will self-wean when they are ready.

I’ll also admit that I don’t often talk about Ryan nursing because I feel embarrassed. Or… let me put it this way… I don’t feel the support. Society can’t seem to handle seeing even a newborn baby nursing (facebook photos deleted, accounts on lockdown, personal attacks, women kicked out of public establishments, etc…) so why would I feel welcome with a 3yo?

Although Ryan doesn’t nurse often (about 3 times a day) and never in public anymore, he does sometimes ask for “milkies” when we’re out. Around strangers I don’t really care–they probably have no idea what he said anyway. But around family or friends, I get embarrassed. NOT because they have EVER been anything less than supportive (my family and friends are awesome), but because MOST of them probably have no idea Ryan is still actually nursing. So to just announce it like that… in front of a room full of people… I feel like looking up with a smile and saying, “SURPRISE!” to break the awkward silence.

And that brings me to this post…. SURPRISE! I’m coming out. And it’s about time.

full-term breastfeeding

I know some women aren’t able to nurse (~2% of the population physiologically cannot) and far too many others never got the support that I did. Many times in my early days I wanted to quit. I have my reasons for sticking to it and I also had incredible support from my husband, my family and friends, and my online community. I remember taking my questions, concerns, and WHINES to twitter and those women were amazing. I don’t know that I would have made it without the support… if you are pregnant or are in the early stages of nursing now, please seek out the help and support if you need it. It’s invaluable and I wouldn’t trade these nursing days and cuddles with my littles for anything. Sometime (far too soon) these days will be over.

Some awesome resources: kellymom.com (I spent many days here as a new mom), the weekly twitter breastfeeding chat with #BFcafe (every Thurs 10pm EST), use #bfing (or #breastfeeding) on twitter to find support and ask questions, AND Best for Babes, an organization that works to combat “booby traps.”

23 comments to when to stop breastfeeding?

  • Awesome post! I think about this all the time now – my first was easy to wean because she was taking mostly bottles of expressed milk. My second, on the other hand, doesn’t take a bottle and prefers to nurse. As we approach the 1 year mark, I’m not sure how to even approach weaning without her having tantrums over it. I can see us extending breastfeeding beyond the year..

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  • That’s awesome – I didn’t realize that you were still nursing Ryan. Sebastian is 2 and a half and I’m due with Baby Z in May, and we’re still nursing. I’ll admit, right now it sucks. Thankfully we’ve mostly night-weaned (We nurse to/before sleep most nights but not overnight) and during the day it’s easy to offer something else if I don’t feel like giving the boob. But nursing him down can be brutal – Pain but mostly just feeling IMMENSELY touched-out – and sometimes there is no other way to calm him enough to sleep.

    The worst part is that I don’t even look forward to nursing my new baby, which makes me really sad and really resentful.

    Like you, I always thought it was really weird to nurse toddlers! There is an episode of Sex and the City where Miranda says that, “If you’re old enough to ask for it…” line and I would watch and share in her disgust. My goal was to nurse for a year. I remember around 18 months, realizing that I was nursing a tot, and being very happy with it. And then I blinked and now I’m nursing a kid who’s potty trained and speaks in full sentences!

    Thanks for this post. You have a big following and hopefully influence some people for the better, whether they end up being breastfeeders or breastfeeding supporters. :)

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  • Beth

    Great post, Emily. Old granny like me used to also think it was not right to nurse past maybe 1. But now? I have totally changed my mind. I think it’s absolutely wonderful and think only positive can come from it. I have seen how calm Ryan will become when nursing and how strong the bond is between you two. I am amazed at how long you have been able to do this. I think it is truly an act of love and selflessness.

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  • Mindy Wyatt

    THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! My son is only 15 months old and I STILL get flack from family, friends and co-workers! Mind your own business people! There was no alarm that went off on his 1 year birthday that said NO MORE BOOB! I have shared this on my facebook page, maybe if people are more educated they will see that this is best for baby not whatever society thinks.

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  • I’m still nursing my 2.5 yr old as well as my 4 mo old. I don’t say much about nursing her older one to family these days either. I’ve heard enough misinformation, but most are supportive. Good for you mama :)

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  • I love the graphic!

    My 13.5 month old is still nursing. But only 2 times a day. It sure makes me sad, but I think I’m not making enough for her. So, we’ll keep at morning and night until she doesn’t want it anymore..and then I’ll cry.

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  • Very well said!!! I feel the same way! I want my little guy to nurse until he is ready to be an independent little guy. I would not trade all the cuddle time for anything in the world!

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  • I gotta say that you’re my idol, ’cause my goal is to breastfeed my future children till they fill ready to move on. :) In my opinion, breastfeeding is such an important bond between mother and child and it goes by so quickly.

    xx

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  • Thanks for sharing your story. I appreciate that you talk about what is right for you and debunk the “myths” but also don’t criticize people who don’t extended breast feed. Every mom must find what is right for them and you clearly found what is right for you :)

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  • Love your post! It’s so nice to see someone write the words that go through my head so often. I, too, don’t understand that “just put it in a cup” argument. It really makes no sense. What would be the point of a cup of breastmilk at 2am? I have to remember that those people have never done it, so they don’t understand, and I guess it’s our job to gently educate.

    Above all, Its a relief to hear another mother say that she doesn’t talk much about nursing her toddler. I will admit I feel something akin to embarrassment sometimes. The lack of support can be so suppressive sometimes, even for the most vocal BF supporters. Thanks so much for sharing your feelings on this, and for spreading support to moms like me who need it.

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  • I really wish I could have breastfed (I’m in the ~2% of the population that physiologically cannot, as mammary glands are modified sweat glands, and those are affected by the disorder I have). I applaud you for breastfeeding and for posting this. You may get some flack for it (not from me) but you’ve just helped countless women, and that my dear, is beautiful.

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  • I cannot tell you how much I love this post! I was so scared that I would be one of the 2% because my entire family was unable to breastfeed. I’m the first and ONLY one on my mom’s side that has ever breastfed. I can tell they get a little uncomfortable with me even nursing M as a baby.. However I just go into a separate room – whereas around my hubby’s family they love to see her nurse and all of them have nursed their babies until about 3. I plan to go as LONG as M wants. I won’t stop her and I will definitely cry when she wants to stop on her own. I love the bonding and I love everything about our time together. I co-sleep and she just nurses whenever she wants. It’s one of the MOST beautiful things I have ever experienced. She’s 8 months now and I am hoping we go up until 4.. at some point I want to actually start pumping and giving her that milk – I refuse to give her cows milk and we all have nut allergies so that may not be an option. HECK YES to extended – full term nursing!

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  • I love this post. I wish there was more support out there. I’m only at 9 months right now (EBFing) and I am already getting people (even family) asking when I will wean him. All of my kids weaned around a year, but this time I do not think that is going to happen… and I am worrying about what they will all say when that time comes. I with this was more accepted. By the way, I love your photos. It’s so so sweet to see both of them at the same time, it’s just the sweetest thing. Good for you!

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  • Andrea@MommyPR

    Love this post and your pictures are so precious!! Good for you for doing what’s right for your family. I have EBF all 3 of my children and I always get the “you’re still BFing” question all the time. Both boys self-weaned at around 15 months and as for my daughter we will just wait and see. Hold your head high Momma. You are giving your kids exactly what they need!

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  • Good for you!!! I totally applaud and support this for sure. I have nursed all 4 of my children. My daughter sounds like she was a lot like yours, as she just wanted to drink the milk and move along. She weaned herself at 15 months.
    My sons are more of my booby babies. :) I’ve nursed them 27 months, 25.5 months, and now I have an 11 month old that’s addicted, too. :)
    My oldest 3 kids all weaned themselves when I was about 3-4 months pregnant with my next one. They never took back to it after my milk came back. (I always dried up completely around the start of my 2nd trimester.)
    Although I’ve never tandem-nursed, I think it’s great! What a special, precious bond you have with your sweet kiddos. :) Good for you for doing what you want and need to do for your family.

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  • Wow just amazing. I am trying to wean Mason at 8 months now haha. My daughter I stopped at 9 months mostly out of convenience to myself. Keep it up! :)

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  • I love this post. And your pictures are gorgeous!!

    I was like you, when I was pregnant I was pretty set in the idea that nursing on day 366 was we-eird. Then I got there and realized it was no different than nursing on day 365 – duh!!

    So we kept on and second baby came and before I knew it second baby was crawling and they were both still nursing. I wanted to let my oldest wean naturally, but I just couldn’t handle two wiggle-monsters in my lap any more, so I initiated the weaning. We made it a special day and when he jumped up from his last nursing session, my husband and I both burst into tears!

    It’s a beautiful relationship to have and thank you so much for coming out.

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  • I think people need to keep their mouths shut when it comes to extended nursing. That is a choice made by mom and child and is very personal. Nursing is also such an amazing bonding experience. It’s too bad that society makes us feel embarrassed of something that is natural. Personally, I don’t think that I could nurse that long just because I’m incredibly selfish and want my body back. It’s totally a bad reason, but we made it 13 months with my second before I weaned which I was proud of. I love your graphic you made and all the benefits of extended nursing. WTG!! :)

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  • I love this post, it makes me wish that I was still nursing Mason but so many different things made that not an option at the time. I feel very sad about the way our nursing relationship ended and wish that I could take it back an I think he does too. I’m pretty sure if I offered Mason the opportunity to breastfeed again he would.

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  • Great post! My sister breastfed her son for a while too.

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  • courtney b

    i stop after 3 weeks because its such a pain! especially when only one side works!

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  • B

    I nursed Ava for nearly 2.5 years, and though I caught some flack from my childless friends for it, it was the best thing for us. She had a dairy allergy which made her unable to consume milk and she hated substitutes, so it was great that she wanted to nurse for so long. Of all the things I miss about babyhood, I miss nursing. It was such a lovely comforting time for us, and it made me feel so calm when I had postpartum depression.

    In short, GOOD FOR YOU!

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  • Tammy S

    Great post. I think the most important thing to think about is what works for your family! Don’t let others tell you what to do. My sister inlaw nursed my niece until she was almost four. She didn’t give a hoot what anyone thought. It worked for her and her daughter, that is all that really matters. not to mention that my niece is one of the healthiest kids you will ever meet.

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