When I set out to breastfeed my daughter, I had no concept of what it meant to breastfeed a toddler. My concept of breastfeeding only involved a baby, who couldn't crawl, couldn't talk, and couldn't chew food. I even once told a breastfeeding mom, "When they can ask for it, they are too old for it." How uninformed and judgemental was I? From birth babies are looking and asking for the breast. It took me a while to let go of watching the clock and instead, tune in to the ways baby was communicating with me in those early months.
In the first two weeks we were dealing with weight loss beyond the normal range of 10%, high billirubin levels, attempting formula which my baby threw-up, and doctors threatening to put her on an IV because of dehydration concerns. I remember crying after one of the doctor’s visits, and asking my husband why I couldn’t even feed my own baby. My husband immediately hired a lactation consultant to help us because we were determined to make it work. And what a life line she became. She helped me get better at helping my baby to latch, with different positions to nurse, and she brought a scale so we could do a before and after weigh to confirm how much milk baby was consuming at a feed. She supported us through the transition poop, she helped me through scabbed nipples and blocked ducts.
After more than 2 months of me walking around the house without a top on because of my scabs and weekly weigh-ins with the paediatrician, we were cruising along with breastfeeding. Baby was finally on the weight gain curve. I was nursing on demand, co-sleeping to deal with the multiple nightly wakings for milk, pumping while at work, nursing in public (with a cover), baby wearing, and reading everything I could on breastfeeding. I was hooked on the benefits of breast milk; not just from a physical standpoint but also from an emotional standpoint.
As the months passed, new challenges and milestones appeared - teething, introducing solids, the 6 month marker, the 1 year marker. One by one, my friends had weaned their babies and I was the only one left still breastfeeding. I went online to find out about weaning and for support. I found lots of moms who followed baby-led-weaning, extended breastfeeding, and tandem breastfeeding. I found lots of support for allowing the child to self-wean. And as my baby grew older, she started asking for it, verbally (she called them nai nai, in Mandarin Chinese) and physically (she figured out how to unclip my nursing bra). But the thought of refusing her the breast when she needed it, pained me. She nursed to sleep for every nap and every night sleep; when she was thirsty; when she was hungry; on every airplane ride to help with her ears popping; when she was overwhelmed with excitement and noise; when she got hurt; when she was sad and when she just needed to be with mommy. And I loved sharing that special bond with her. We went through biting, nursing gymnastics, twiddling, massaging with both hands to help the let-down come faster, sticking her hand down my shirt or pulling my shirt down to help herself, learning how to nurse using a carrier while walking around in public, nursing without a cover because she pulled it off...and more.
After she turned 2, I started thinking about weaning…again. We had reached the WHO recommended minimum age for breastfeeding. I only knew 2 people who had nursed past that age. The negative reactions started getting bolder from family, friends, and strangers. But my strongest advocate was still my partner. He had learned about all of the benefits of nursing. He knew how hard it was at the beginning for me to gain confidence with nursing. We both were committed to attachment parenting. And attached we were.
My little girl turned 3. Slowly, I noticed self weaning happening. Naps stopped, so that was one less nursing session during the day. She was willing for my partner to put her to bed, so on those days she didn't nurse to sleep anymore. She stopped asking to nurse in public, only after we had come home. Night time nursing sessions would get shorter. She was more tolerant of shorter nursing sessions when I limited the amount of time at the breast, and she stopped falling asleep while on the breast. She put herself to sleep on the floor next to our bed one night so, we got her a separate mattress next to ours. More and more, she would move herself to her bed to fall sleep after nursing.
And now we are at age 4. The day she turned 4, she decided she was a big girl, and big girls don't nurse. She went to bed 2 nights in a row without asking to nurse. I remember thinking if her last nursing session would be the morning of her 4th birthday. I kept waiting, probably more like hoping, that she will want to nurse again once in a while. It seemed like such an abrupt end to our journey. I wasn't quite ready for it yet. I remember tearing up thinking about the end. And then she asked for nai nai again, but now it was every 2 or 3 days. Then, one day I discovered I was pregnant. The day we told her, she weaned herself. She said she was saving all of the nai nai for her baby brother. Every few days she would repeat that mantra and put herself to sleep without nursing.
So we are at what seems like the end of our breastfeeding journey at 4 years and 2 months old. I say that because she has asked to nurse once or twice since then. But she says she can wait until after her baby brother is born and they can have nai nai together.