Several months ago, I wrote about some of the questions I get about breastfeeding through pregnancy. I know many people are curious about what it is like to have an older nursling, so once again, I am going to share some of our experiences. Obviously, every nursing relationship is unique, but here are our answers to some of the questions:
How old are your nurslings?
I am currently nursing an almost five-year-old, a two and a half year old and a six month old. :)
Did you always plan to nurse a long time?
I originally planned to breastfeed for 6 months. Maybe a year if all went well. Then, after my daughter was born, I learned a lot more about breastfeeding and how amazing milk is. I read the recommendations for a minimum of two years. Then I read on some message boards about child-led weaning. I didn't know anyone who had nursed that long, and it seemed rather bizarre. Yet each day I was learning to trust my daughter and my body more. Before long, I was committed to child-led weaning.
So, um, nursing three kids? How does that work?
Pretty well, most of the time. I've been nursing at least two since 2006, so we are used to it. My children get an early lesson in sharing this way. :) I've written more about it in other posts--check the tandem nursing label--but it isn't like nursing triplets. The older kids are capable of waiting if needed and don't nurse as much.
How often do they nurse? For how long? Can you do anything besides sitting on the couch and nursing all day?
Some days. :D The five year old nurses for a couple of minutes, usually once a day. However, some times he goes several days without nursing. As he gets closer to weaning, those times will probably increase. The two year old nurses around five minutes at a time a few times during the day and a few times at night. The baby nurses for close to ten minutes every few hours still, since she is exclusively breastfed. It does mean a lot of time is spent nursing, but it is a calm, quiet time for the older ones. We certainly don't confine ourselves to the house all day! My boobs and my babies just go wherever I do. :)
Do you nurse in public?
Yes. The older two rarely ask to nurse in public, and if they do there is usually a good reason. The baby nurses whenever and wherever she wants.
Do you get negative reactions?
Not so far. I think it doesn't even occur to most people that they might be nursing--they just see a kidlet cuddled up in my lap.
Doesn't it hurt? I mean, they have a full set of teeth!
Actually, a nursling's tongue always covers the bottom teeth, so those aren't an issue. As long as they latch well, it isn't uncomfortable unless I am pregnant or dry-nursing. They are very considerate and make sure that their teeth aren't rubbing or making me uncomfortable.
What else do they eat? Doesn't a child need more than milk? In fact, I've heard that there isn't any nutritional value at all after 6 months/1 year/whatever date.
We introduce solids around a year, and they eat everything (aside from some food allergies) and as much/as often as most kids their age. The only possible difference is that they are very good at regulating themselves and recognizing their own hunger/fullness cues, because those are always honored. As for nutritional value, they still get a significant amount, both in nutrients, calories, healthy fats and antibodies. Check out www.kellymom.com for more info.
It doesn't weird you out? I can't even imagine nursing my one year old, let alone a four year old!
I can't, either. :) The thing is, they are always just a few hours older than the last time they nursed.
Is this all about you? Is it inappropriate? I've read some stuff by Freud...
Yeah, his stuff is pretty strange. Much weirder than nursing a five year old! I will actually be happy for them to wean when they are ready. As it is, at this point, we pretty much practice "Don't offer, don't refuse," so most of the time they request to nurse. There is nothing sexual or inappropriate at all.
Will they remember nursing? How do you feel about that?
I don't know. My oldest weaned a few months after turning four. She says she doesn't really remember it. It has been a happy, love-filled part of our lives, so I will be glad if they do remember.
What about your son? How do think it will affect his sexuality?
I think he will know to respect other people's bodies, and see women's bodies as amazing in their ability to bear and nurture children. Other than that, and general health, I don't think it will affect it at all. I have heard some nonsense about it making him gay, and some that think it will make him obsessed with breasts. Absurd stuff--as if all straight men were bottlefed and do not like breasts. There is actually a pretty interesting chapter on this in Ann Sinnott's book, Breastfeeding Older Children. Also, in many cultures, boys nurse longer than girls because they are more fragile, health-wise.
Doesn't it make them babyish or cause social problems or inhibit independence?
Every study done has found the opposite--that it seems to benefit them socially, and help foster independence. I believe that needs that are met go away. It is when we don't fulfill needs that issues are more likely to arise.
What are some of the differences with an older nursling?
Nursing all of their toys. I have breastfed chess pieces, action figures and an assortment of stuffed animals and dolls, although I have not nursed Johnny Depp.. Finding cookie crumbs and other food particles in my bra. I have had to remind them a couple of times to finish swallowing any snacks and wipe their mouths before drinking leche.
Obviously, you don't buy into the whole "if they are old enough to ask for it they are old enough to wean" thing. Do they talk about breastfeeding a lot?
Sometimes. They ask for leche, of course. Really, the only difference there is that they use words instead of body language--babies "ask for it", too! They occasionally comment on the flavor, especially during pregnancy. Sometimes they tell me how delicious it is. :)
What kind of limits do you set?
Many friends who nurse beyond infancy have limits about nursing only at set times or places. Many nightwean, or nurse only to a count of 25 and so on. I haven't found it necessary for us. When pregnant, I get really uncomfortable, and then I might ask them to wait or to stop after a few seconds/minutes. Otherwise, I just follow their lead. They have never been twiddlers, and have always had good nursing manners.
What do you enjoy about nursing children?
Their happiness when nursing. The hilarity of nursing all their toys. Hearing them tell me that it tastes better than melted ice cream. Having a healthy, easy, free way to meet nutritional and emotional needs.
Are you going to make them wean?
I believe that it is a need that they will outgrow when they are ready. If at any point it seemed like there might be another need that should be addressed, developmentally or any way, we would pay attention to that. However, they are healthily independent, loving, happy kids. I trust them to stop on their own. I am just grateful that I have been able to give them the gift of mami milk.