Breastfeeding: Toddler years

Royal is now 2 years and change he has been out playing with big brother Noble for 2 hours chasing iguanas, lizards, picking up sticks, eating hog plums and yes throwing rockstones. All dirty he comes running in the door & while I’m blogging he lifts up my shirt and takes a drink. Before I can flinch to say would you like some water he is gone. The days of sweetly staring into his big bright eyes while nursing have been replaced by a fidgety, easily distracted and quickly satisfied toddler. We are in the process of what I would like to believe is child lead weaning …Baba Art says no this is what your texts call extended breastfeeding. Yes Daddy is also a breastfeeding expert and advocate despite a lil twang of jealousy.

Child lead weaning is quite interesting it was my intention to practice this with Noble but nursing him while pregnant was extremely painful. So he was cut off cold turkey (@ 2yrs 4 months) with lots of hugs and bedtime with Baba Art. In 2 weeks Noble was at ease with cups, a sigg bottle and cuddles, he never looked back until Royal was born. He likes to snuggle up while Royal is nursing and ask him if he can have some then leave to read a book or do some grown 5-year-old task. When I deny Royal the breast there’s Noble, his negotiator “Come on Mama give him the milk it’s the best thing for him.” Yes Noble is also a breastfeeding expert and advocate despite a lil twang of jealousy.

Some days I feel we are almost there when Royal does not want breastmilk till bed time. Other days I seldom sit, constantly avoiding the opportunity for him to help himself  by distracting him from the breast with games, drinks & toys. Night nursing is what often wears me out. Royal wakes after about 4 hours of sleep to nurse. He will get out of bed & search the house for me in the dark and if he does not find me no one else can sleep through the cries. I understand that a child’s sleep patterns are ancient protection mechanisms. They wake every few hours to nurse & make sure their parent is near so no predator will eat them in the dark. They are also easily disoriented in the dark and unable to develop spatial relationships in order to ground themselves so, intuition leads them to Mama or Baba for a safe reference point. We also understand that most growth and neurological development take place during sleep. So I have made myself habitually available by cosleeping. Most times these night nursings are non nutritive and he quickly falls asleep. I have been awakened by Royal helping himself, as a result I sleep on my stomach in a feeble attempt at setting boundaries.  When I feel like this is it… I can not take another minute of this boy pulling on my breast I read my notes taken from a CEU with Dr. Nill’s Bergman.

Dr. Nills Bergman states breastfeeding till age 3 is required for maximum brain development. At this age breastfeeding is more about brain wiring than nutrition. According to Dr. Bergman brain development peaks establishing a life trajectory. The limbic system and the mid brain are fixed after the age of 3 years.

What a great justification for extended breastfeeding!  Add this to the fact that nursing is a cure all for many stress full scenarios. It provides stability through change. The early toddler years are a time of exponential growth & development. In a mere 3 years children go from total dependence to expressing their own identity through increased independence. Cognitive development during these years is optimized by the quantity of good experiences. Stress is detrimental to brain development. “High cortisol levels impair cell growth and disrupt formation of healthy neuron circuits…the brain is designed to be sculpted into its final configuration by the effects of early life experiences”

Parent imposed weaning can be a very stressful experience filled with fights and dramatic bouts of crying when a child is not ready to stop  nursing. They feel betrayed by the termination of the breastfeeding relationship and can be as dramatic as a scorned ex.  Henceforth, we’ve chosen toddler lead weaning till age 3, then it is cold turkey. In the meantime, we encourage him to try grown up things like drinking from a special cup.  Baba runs interference. We talk about nutrition and eating healthy foods. We discuss appropriate times to nurse and proper manners. Most often we negotiate: if you wait I’ll lie down with you at nap time; wouldn’t you prefer a banana or smoothie. Negotiations are successful during the day…in the middle of the night I have no bargaining power. So I practice abbreviated breastfeeding meditations and patience; to foster trust and commpassion as fundamental experiences in Royal’s life.  In perspective, breastfeeding for 3 years is a drop in the bucket of a lifetime.


4 comments on “Breastfeeding: Toddler years

  1. “thanks for sharing Charlene, it was nice to read after having spent a night with the three year old (who also got cut off “cold turkey” from breast feeding while I was pregnant with Bríghid) and the baby up and needing mommy, milk, and cuddles at 3:00am!”

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. Compliments to Nikki. A powerful informative website. I hope that many expectant mothers or childbearing mothers have an opportunity to get something from the information provided there. Again, many thanks for sharing.

  3. Reblogged this on Birthing Bliss and commented:

    Reposting in response to the Time Magazine cover of a Mother breastfeeding her toddler son. Royal weaned with very little help @ 2 years and 7 months. He also moved into his own bed. He was self motivated after I noticed his lack of interest I asked him about it. He sat in my lap and said remember when I used to drink milk from your breast like it was years ago then we drank some water and read a book.

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