Why I’m Struggling to Stop Breastfeeding My Toddler

aaand he’s sucking on my boob. Still.

I never planned to nurse for this long. Truly. When I made it to 15 months with my daughter, four years ago, I felt pretty pleased with our end date. She was down to one feed a day and my milk supply was dwindling so I made an executive decision. It made me sad and I worried that our bond would be broken, but she was ready to stop, and so was I. But with my son, it’s different.

This kid can’t get enough. Whether we’re on the couch, playing in the garden, or out at a restaurant, my son will walk over to me, sit in my lap, and assume the position. If I don’t immediately comply, he will help me by grabbing my hand and leading it up to the top of my shirt — like maybe I forgot where my own breasts are. And if you’re wondering: Yeah, it can be kind of embarrassing. He’s getting big. I always swore I wouldn’t breastfeed a child who could legitimately ask for it in words, and yet … “Mommy, booboo!” he shouts. Okay, so “booboo” isn’t exactly the Queen’s English, but the dude knows what he wants, and he knows how to get it.

Sometimes I tell him no. I am not HBO On-Demand. I don’t like to give in when we’re out in crowded places. And it’s not about displaying my sagging rack (well, not much), it’s more the fact that people look — they notice the 3-foot tall child in my arms — and then awkwardly avert their eyes when they realize what we’re doing. What seemed natural and acceptable and my human right when he was a baby, suddenly feels shameful. 

I’ve obviously verbalized my paranoia at home because, a few weeks ago, I took my kids out for pizza and when my son started having an epic meltdown, I quickly brought him into my lap to shut him up. To my relief, he stopped crying, but then my daughter said, “Mommy, not in public!” I. Was. Mortified. For both of us. At that point I felt obligated to stand my ground, so I nursed for another minute or two, but I couldn’t help wondering why my daughter got so miffed. Was it because she’s a total teenager (at age 5) and everything I do is lame? Did a school friend tell her breastfeeding in public is wrong? Or did I project my own mania onto her?

I suppose I could have used that moment as motivation to start wearing turtlenecks and let the well dry up … but … somehow, I just can’t. My daughter’s freak out was (thankfully) a one-off, and the fact is, I’m not ready to stop for several reasons. First of all, breastfeeding is really f*cking convenient. Your boobs are always there. I’ve lost my keys, my wallet, I’ve run out of the house with an un-charged cell phone, but I’ve never forgotten my boobs. They call breastmilk “liquid gold” for a reason, and mine can keep my son busy when I need to get a bit of work done, lull him when it’s time for bed, and comfort him better than anything else in the world (except maybe Daniel Tiger) when he’s upset.

And there’s another really, really good reason to keep breastfeeding. Aside from the glory of keeping another human being alive and giving them useful antibodies and (possibly) an IQ boost, what it really comes down to is the calories. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories a day, and that is a pretty solid argument to keep doing it. In fact, when you put it that way, I may nurse forever!

Just kidding, I will stop. Eventually. But stopping breastfeeding is going to be hard. The older my son gets, the more stubborn and demanding he becomes. It’s not that I feel powerless, per se, but taking care of two kids on little sleep has worn me down, and most of the time I don’t have the energy to deny him. Giving him the boob is just so damn easy, and it makes him so damn happy, and I want him to be happy. And when I look at him now, curled up in my arms and feeling safe and protected, I just can’t bring myself to take it away from him. You remember that fear I mentioned earlier? The one about breaking the bond between me and my daughter? Well, it wasn’t totally unjustified. I know she loves me, and obviously I love her more than anything … but I do think she stopped needing me as much when she stopped nursing. I’m not ready to be needed less by my son. Knowing that within a few days or weeks he will forget our bond makes me sad. It’ll be like living with a person with alzheimer’s, only — okay — not at all.

So I’ll try to get there. Maybe soon, maybe not. Maybe when he learns to say, “May I have some milk, please, Mommy?” Maybe then I’ll close up shop.

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Photo: Getty


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