What It’s Like to Nurse a Child

This coming month marks the one year anniversary of my older son’s weaning.  I am quite used to the idea of him being weaned, and when I look at his long body, his strong, capable hands, and the new, sharper angles of his jaw, I simply can’t imagine him nursing.  Oh, but for many years, he was the boy who would never wean!  He loved to nurse, from babyhood to toddlerhood.  He always seemed to nurse more than other babies, other toddlers.  He loved the ritual of it.  He was (and is) a very smart, strong willed boy, and would not take any substitutes for nursing, for many years.  I see now that all of this is just who he is.  When he loves something, he loves it with all his heart.  When he knows something, he knows it well.  It becomes etched into his brain.  It’s why he learned to read at three years old, and was reading novels by four.  It’s why he still stays up late into the night reading and reading and reading.  And it’s why he kept that nighttime nurse for so many, many months, until it ever so very very slowly died away.  By the end of his nursing, he was doing it once or twice a week, at night only, for literally twenty seconds at a time (I counted!).

Looking back, having done it, I can tell you this.  Nursing a child is not like nursing a baby, and is not like nursing a toddler.  It isn’t like the Time Magazine cover portrayed it.  It doesn’t happen often, it is not a source of nourishment (although the immunities of breastmilk stay constant throughout nursing).  It is a moment of connection, it is one last shred of babyhood to be reckoned with.  It happens mostly at night or in the early hours of the morning (though some do it once during the daytime).  It happens at home, not in public.  And it feels, to both mom and child…normal.  It’s not a major part of life anymore.  You forget to do it sometimes (that’s partly how it ends).  It doesn’t feel relentless, like breastfeeding a baby can sometimes feel, or demanding, like breastfeeding a young toddler can sometimes feel.  At the end, for most of us, these short, seldom nursings are bittersweet.

And when it’s over, that’s it really.  There is some discussion.  Or the discussion is sparse.  There isn’t much of a hormone shift for mom because it all happened so very slowly.  The child is done.  The child is proud.

Nursing a child is not for everyone.  But it happens more than you realize.  You just don’t see it because it happens in private, in the dark.  And it has happened for much of the course of human history (this is my favorite article about natural weaning), and will continue to happen.  If you’ve made it past two years of nursing, if you’re not sure when to stop, if you’re not sure when your kid will ever give it up, know that he will.  Know that it is part of the human spirit to seek independence.  Know that there is no damage you can do by following your child’s lead when it comes to nursing.  Know that you are not alone.

benreading

My older son, reading when he’s supposed to be sleeping.

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3 thoughts on “What It’s Like to Nurse a Child

  1. The link to your favorite natural weaning article doesn’t seem to take me to the right place. I’d love to read it and be encouraged. Could you verify it again please?

    Thank you for these wonderful words.

    • Hi Hayley! The link was working fine the other day. I’m not sure why it isn’t working now, but all the articles on her site seem to be down. It’s Kathy Dettwyler’s site — she’s an anthropologist and has done great work on the biological/anthropological roots of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, etc. I hope she fixes her site soon. Here is another link to that article: http://www.whale.to/a/dettwyler.html. I hope it works for you!

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