Lesson 67: There’s no magic switch at 1-year-old

I always assumed I would stop breastfeeding J when he reached 12 months. But oddly enough, on his first birthday, no magic switch flipped that all of a sudden made him not want to nurse. No switch made my milk dry up, no switch made me not want to nurse him anymore. On his first birthday, my milk didn’t suddenly become less nutritious for him.

It’s true that he didn’t need my milk anymore by the time he was 1. But if we want to be completely honest, he never needed it. There was always a substitute available that I could have given him instead. But just like I chose to give my infant breastmilk instead of formula, I also chose to give my toddler breastmilk instead of cow’s milk (though he gets plenty of that too).

I stopped pumping at work, and I also stopped prompting him to nurse; but whenever he asked to nurse, I allowed him to do so. By the time he was 16-months-old, he was nursing three times a day. At 16-months, I distracted him after his nap (his typical mid-day nursing session) and easily weaned him to nursing only twice a day. At 17-months, we went on vacation, making it easy enough to distract him from his morning nursing session, so that he was nursing only once per day.

It’s important to note that I weaned him down to one nursing session a day not because he passed the magical age of 1 year, but because I had chosen to no longer pump and I was preparing him to return to daycare at the end of the summer, since I would be returning to work. I also have to point out that it was a very easy transition for him. He never even seemed to notice, so I never had any doubt that we were simply following the natural progression of weaning–however long that may take.

The truth is, when my baby turned 1-year-old, and I realized that neither of us wanted to stop nursing, I was completely okay with that, even if I knew others might raise their eyebrows. I had been only a little surprised that several people expressed their bewilderment when I continued to nurse J even past 6 months. Some people asked about it out of simple curiosity. They were hesitant and respectful when they asked–they just wanted to know, and I was totally okay with that.

But others provoked much eye-rolling. “Doesn’t he bite?” “Isn’t he old enough for solid food?” and even “When are you going to stop this nursing stuff?”

Aside from the fact that my child is not a vampire (okay, yes, in fact he did bite me for the first time when he was 8 months old–and while that wasn’t pleasant, he quickly learned that biting mama meant the milk was all gone for the moment), yes he could eat solid food but I still preferred for him to get the majority of his calories from breastmilk when he was less than 12 months old, and it’s none of your effing business–why is it that others care so much about how long I nurse my child?

J turned 2-years-old a little over a week ago. I thought for sure I would wean him completely at this age. A few days after his birthday, I sat rocking him right before bed and I looked down at him as he nursed and thought, “Okay, this is it. This is the last time I will nurse him.” I cried, knowing it was a major milestone for us–bittersweet. For 2 nights, J and I fought through bedtime. He cried, I cried. We were both miserable. And then I started wondering, if I was convinced that a magic switch didn’t exist at the age of 1, why was I trying to force such a switch at 2?

I had to be honest with myself and admit that I was trying to wean him because I didn’t want people to think it was weird for me to nurse my toddler. And I know people do think that–I was one of those people. But after some self-examination I came to the conclusion that the worry of what others thought was absolutely not a good enough reason to wean my two-year-old. I am his mother. Though it certainly doesn’t provide him with the same benefits that it did when he was younger, I can provide milk for my child that gives nutrition (it continues to provide immunities and vitamins), comfort, and security. He and I decide when it’s time to stop nursing. The only other person who might have any say in it would be my husband, and since he’s fully supportive, I haven’t had to think about what I might do if he wasn’t on board.

I would love for J to self-wean, but I know that may not happen. I know that there may come a time when I’m ready to be finished with nursing and he is not.  I don’t know how the end will happen, but what I do know is this: When the time does come, I will be completely at peace either because he will self-wean, or because I’ll no longer desire to nurse and so I’ll know it’s time to guide him into weaning. I won’t wean him when I’m so full of doubt that I’m doing the right thing. If I have to question it as much as I did, it wasn’t right. I’m not saying there won’t be tears, but I am saying there won’t be guilt.

I’m not allowing some arbitrary cut-off date to determine when I will stop breastfeeding my child, and I wish every mother could nurse (or not nurse!) her child with a happy heart. Guilt has no place in the nursing relationship.

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