Why Nursing a Toddler Isn’t Selfish

It’s a comment I see anytime the debate on full-term nursing is brought up: That mom is just being selfish.

Full-term nursing shouldn’t be a debate—the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both agree that nursing until 12 months is a minimum recommendation. By 12 months of age, most babies are now toddlers.

There’s no magical age at which breast milk quits having nutritional benefits. It has the same amazing nutritional content all along. As babies grow, it is replaced by solid foods more easily. But it’s the baby that changes, not the milk.

Here are a few things you need to know about nursing toddlers:

  1. It’s uncomfortable. When you nurse an infant, you are meeting their needs and all you have to do is sit there and relax. You can even take a nap if you want! Toddlers pinch, they scratch, they turn their heads and look around. They stand up, they sit down. They’re on, they’re off. Sometimes they bite, both intentionally and not. There is nothing fun about this for mom. No one likes being treated like a bounce house.
  2. They grow up gradually. You don’t come home from the hospital with a 25-pound toddler and start nursing. You bring home a tiny baby that becomes this 25-pound toddler. You make little adjustments to your nursing relationship all along the way to make it work for you both. You still know what they look like when they are sleeping, how they act when they’re tired, and when they need you. To outsiders, your baby might seem big, but when you see those eyelids flutter as they nurse off to sleep, it takes you back to your first nights as their new mom.
  3. You can’t make them do it. Nursing requires engagement by both parties. Latching is not an easy task, which is why so many moms and newborns struggle with getting it right at first. So to say that someone is “making” their child continue to nurse is just absurd. Just like you can’t physically make your child chew and swallow a food they don’t like, you can’t make a child nurse. The power to do so or not is theirs and theirs alone.
  4. They really do need it. (Really.) You hear people say that once a baby has teeth or can eat solid food, they don’t need to nurse. The benefits of nursing go well beyond food, even though breast milk is always nutritionally beneficial. Nursing helps babies and toddlers transition, it provides them comfort, and it helps them calm down when their developing emotions are more than they can handle.
  5. It’s a sacrifice but we do it anyway. Moms who nurse toddlers are sacrificing their personal space, their sleep, their comfort, and at times their dignity. When you see a mom nursing a toddler on a bench at the mall, in the waiting room of a doctor’s office, on a plane or bus, rest assured that she is trying her best to enjoy these last fleeting moments. It’s not easy. It’s not about flaunting anything or showing off. We are just caring for our toddler, who not very long ago, used to be a tiny baby.

People might misunderstand the things they hear nursing moms say, like “I will be so sad when she’s done nursing,” or “I don’t want him to wean yet!” or simply, “She’s growing up too fast!” But just like any other stage of life, we find the good, the blissful, even, in things we once found difficult.

Nursing is so hard. You won’t find a mom anywhere who hasn’t groaned, “Already?” at a crying baby in the midst of a growth spurt. But just like any other life stage, you find a way to get through it, and even find parts you love, and when it’s over, it’s bittersweet, even when it was the hardest thing you ever did.

Erin Burt is a freelance writer and mom of three who struggled to nurse her oldest and is enjoying every last session with her youngest. She lives in Queensbury, New York.

 

Tags: AAP, Breastfeeding, full term breastfeeding, full term nursing, mommy wars, nursing, selfish, toddler, WHO

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