Breastfeeding My Preschooler

I knew I would try to breastfeed my daughter, Defne, when I was pregnant with her, but I had no idea that this adventure would continue so long.

I first read about child-led weaning when Defne was a few months old. It just felt like the most natural thing to do, so here we are at 4 years 9 months old, still breastfeeding. The thought of breastfeeding a toddler turns many people off, let alone a preschooler. However, it is known that human babies naturally wean themselves between 2-7 years old.

When I started this journey, the only extended breastfeeders I knew were some fellow bloggers and some mothers that I knew from online forums. I was lucky enough to have a smooth start and the first year passed in the blink of an eye. When my daughter turned two, I expected her to slowly decrease her breastfeeding. However, she was breastfeeding as much as a newborn. She was very attached to me. Sometimes she would hide behind me in play groups. She never wanted me out of sight and would never go a meter away from me and enjoy playing with other children.

At times I felt overwhelmed. Sometimes nothing but breastfeeding would calm her. Even Daddy was useless, he was afraid he was no different than a stranger. There have been times I questioned whether or not I was doing the right thing. I couldn’t have possibly continued without the presence of my online community.

When my daughter was 2.5 years old, I fell pregnant with our second baby. My daughter was still an avid nurser but I was ready to tandem feed both kids. During my pregnancy she changed – a lot! She became a more independent child, happy to spend time with Daddy. She started to attend a nursery and settled in very quickly. My milk almost dried up at some point but she was still breastfeeding. My colostrum came in when I was about 4-5 months pregnant. We could see how that fatty milk turned her into a chubby girl!

When baby was born and I started to tandem feed them, it was lovely. I love how they hold hands, giggle and play. But tandem feeding is not all rosy; it has its difficulties. For me, breastfeeding my daughter in the morning is especially very difficult. The baby still breastfeeds during the night (especially a lot around 5-6 o’clock) and I literally feel drained. Yet, that morning feed is very important for her I don’t want to take it away from her. At this point, she breastfeeds about twice a day. In the morning and once in the afternoon, usually when she comes home from preschool.

Breast milk is a wonderful thing. Its composition changes according to your child’s age and needs. In this age and society, people tend to think that after 6 months breast milk is not capable of providing anything for the baby. However by the 20th month of lactation, levels of igG and igA (two immunoglobulins) are still as high as in the second week. Beyond 18 months, breast milk can provide as much as 31 percent of calories and 38 percent of all dietary protein.

Because we don’t see older children breastfeeding, it sounds/looks weird. I stopped breastfeeding in public when she was around 3. At that age, she was okay to wait until we got home. Our close friends and family circle knows that she is still breastfeeding. Some find it unnecessary, some find it strange maybe. A few times I was told I’d better wean her, especially during my pregnancy.

After the age of 3, she became more sociable and easy going, and I like to think that breastfeeding helped her. We still have lots of skin to skin contact which is great for her neurological development. Oh, and at the age of 4, she is a chatter box – speaking with everyone! If anyone tells you breastfeeding makes children dependent, simply don’t believe them! I have been told by her teachers time and again that she is very independent.

Breastfeeding a baby is beautiful and lovely but breastfeeding a toddler and preschooler is also very interesting because you can actually speak about breastfeeding with them.

Sometimes I ask her when she will wean and she says she will always breastfeed forever because my milk is so tasty! She says it tastes like chocolate! Sometimes she says she will wean at the age of five. I know that she is aware most children her age do not breastfeed, although she does. She doesn’t know anything about child-led weaning yet! And she doesn’t care what the rest of the world does! She will wean when she is ready developmentally. I feel very happy that we could make this possible.

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Isil is a Turkish mother living in England. She has a 4 year old daughter and an 18 month old son. She is passionate about natural childbirth, breastfeeding, babywearing, gentle discipline, green living, organic and local foods, sustainable living and informed health care decisions. When not blogging or breastfeeding, she can be found playing with playdough, crafting with her daughter or eating chocolate. Isil blogs at Smiling like Sunshine.

19 Responses to Breastfeeding My Preschooler

  1. violetsouffle  

    Love love love this! My girl is 3 and we also have stopped nursing in public most of the time. Sometimes I don’t mind it if she really needs it. It still makes me sad if she falls asleep without nursing those times. One thing I love is sharing stories and pics like this with her so she knows it’s normal. She saw the pic on this post& said “I want milkies!”

  2. Acacia Moore

    What a lovely mama you are! Sometimes I wish my oldest son could have nursed longer. At 4 1/2 y.o. he still loves to hold and cuddle with his “na-nas” especially when his younger brother is nursing. I think it would be a wonderful bonding experience for them both.

    I didn’t realize that breast milk has so much protein in it. That makes me feel really good because that is the only thing I worry about with my youngest, who still nurses for a majority of his calories. So thanks for that tid bit!

  3. Megan

    Do you have a link for the info on protein and calories. My son is going through chemo right now and still nursing at 34 months. The doctor thinks that breastmilk has no nutritional value at this point but is just comfort nursing and has even gone as far as to suggest that I wean him so he will eat normal food. Ya, like that’s gonna happen.

  4. Jessica

    Love love love this article!!! You are one loving mommy.

  5. Cass

    Loved reading this. So inspiring.

  6. Laurie

    What a great article! Rings so true with my situation! Thanks fore sharing it

  7. Mama Mo @ Attached at the Nip

    Thank you for writing about this. If we can’t or don’t see mothers nursing toddlers and preschoolers out in public at least we can see them in communities like this. I appreciate your informative post! I will be nursing my boys until they are done, and I’m hoping it’s not until well after three.

  8. Beth

    Thank you for this! I have a 25 month old nursling and he is at my breast 3 to 4 times during the day and every 2 to 3 hrs at night. I’m exhausted but I know that it won’t last forever and I will cherish every moment.

    You are a wonderful Mama <3

  9. Gaby@Tmuffin  

    This is a beautiful story and a beautiful photo. I wish we would see more older kids breastfeeding so we could get support from more than our online friends, but thank goodness for the internet!

    You really describe the ups and downs so well: your children bonding while tandem nursing but your husband feeling helpless at times. I love your daughter’s answers to when she will wean. Write that down. What a sweet story to tell her when she is older.

  10. Momma Jorje

    Thank you for sharing this success story! I BF my first 6 months and my second for 3½ years. I did get some pressure to wean her, but I followed her lead. (That was 10 years ago!)

    Now I’m nursing my 3rd (2yo) and am pregnant with the next / last baby. I so hope to tandem. My nurse is all but gone and nursing is very uncomfortable. I worry that she will not latch properly once the milk returns… but am hopeful. So thank you so much for sharing your beautiful success story!

  11. Isil  

    Thank you so much for your sweet comments.As I said, other mamas on the internet inspired me and I am so happy to pay it forward. Mamma Jorje,some nurslings continue nursing whatever the conditions are and some wean or cannot latch on. Nature will decide.Best of luck :)

  12. Amy McCarty

    Wow, this is beautiful! i love to hear about moms nursing older children. I am nursing my 22 month old and am told she is to old. I tell people WE (me and her) will breastfeeding as long as we need :) Thank you for this HUGE inspiration!

  13. tulay

    dear isil, i share all your enthusiasm and frustration! thank you for sharing it all with us.
    i still breastfeed my three year old son. some days (and nights) he wants to be breastfed almost all the time, some days a lot less. as mothers we are there to observe what they really need sensibly, not to be dictators of society.
    oh, by the way, me and my husband are not the most social people in the world but our son is a very confident, happy and communicative boy with incredible language skills. there is never too much of love.
    thanks again.

  14. Hannah

    My story is identical to yours, I still breastfeed my son at bedtime and he’s turning 5 in a few weeks and is at school now! He’s incredibly independent and settled into school easily despite never even going to pre-school and not knowing any of the other children well.

    Because I’m conscious of how other people would react I’ve asked him to only talk about breastfeeding within our family. I just say that other people wouldn’t understand. I wish I could be more open but sadly in the rural community where we live people thing I’m slightly odd for feeding my 2 year-old, never mind him!

    I understand it seems strange in the social context to most people but it feels perfectly normal to us both in the context of our relationship. It really is a short cut to connection for us. After the night-time feed he often tells me things that are upsetting him or his secret wishes and stories he didn’t tell me during the day. So, I am happy to keep feeding until he’s had enough of it :)

  15. Kimberly

    Thank you all so so very much for your posts – I am actually on-line on Canadian Thanksgiving searching for mom’s who still nurse their Preschoolers. I love nursing – he loves nursing, it is a great relationship. Two -three times a day (morning very important, sometimes in the afternoon, and then at night. When others have comments about his nursing it hurts him so much…he hears his greatgrandma, grandma, aunt, etc…make really unkind comments and he hears the conversations about WHEN HE should stop nursing and it upsets him and hurts me and makes us both feel on the defensive. I thought that he would wean on his own at a year, then two and then three….he’s now 3 1/2 yrs and does not want to stop and I don’t blame him – it is so relaxing for him and so healthy. Thank you for helping me to feel normal when so many people are putting so much presure on the both of us to stop…HOW much time in the past 3yrs have been spent wondering how to wean and when to wean because of other peoples uneducated opinions….I wish I could take away every conversation I have ever had with him about stoping nursing and remove that stress, possibly fear from his life. The great news is that daddy really seriously approves and is 100% on our side which is a blessing! Thank you everyone and keep up the great work!

  16. Kimberly

    Ok, feeling much more positive now! I have spent more time justifying our continued nursing relationship than enjoying the experience. Thanks for letting me vent – we need more support for long term nursers!!!!! Especially nutritional facts.

  17. Andrea G  

    This is oh so familiar! I have been pregnant and/or breastfeeding nonstop for over 10 years (I have 4 kids). Currently I am breastfeeding my 2 year old and almost 5 year old. The preschooler only nurses at bedtime because my baby gets possessive and nursing the older child became awful as the baby would cry and pull her sister’s hair. I had to wean the older one down to nighttime only for *MY* sanity. This may sound selfish, but how is nursing productive when it is stressful to the 3 participants? Anyway, Hubby takes the baby at bedtime so Big Sister can get “Mimi time.” It is so much more peaceful and relaxing this way. Frankly, I often get frustrated with breastfeeding my preschooler because you NEVER hear of others who breastfeed their older child and when you do the older child is perceived as spoiled and demanding; neither are true for my sweet natured preschooler. I keep talking about weaning because of the social stigma. It makes her cry in a very weepy sort of way so I know she isn’t ready even though I am. Thank you for this. I will back off on the weaning talk and realize I am not alone in this rarely talked about adventure.

    • Kimberly

      You hit the nail on the head…you ‘keep talking about weaning because of the social stigma’. That is exactly it…it is the only reason I discuss it too! It is so unfair and so hurtful. And the ‘spoiled and demanding’ preception is absolutely true….the child is somehow bad, pocessive, the mom is trying to control the child, ahhhhhhh. Oh well – Keep up the good work – you do it for the good days! we are all rooting for you!

  18. Steve McPhail

    As a very strong supporter of extended breastfeeding; I honestly believe that you should continue breastfeeding your preschooler for as long as she feels the need to nurse. Besides, What better way to bond with your preschooler than through breastfeeding! If other people are giving you strange looks or making rude comments such as.. Are you still breastfeeding her? or Isn’t she a little too old to still be breastfeeding? Just kindly respond and say… I’m only giving her the very best nourishment in all the world… my breastmilk! Besides, she’s your daughter and you should have every right to continue breastfeeding her until she’s fully ready to be weaned from your breast. Happy extended breastfeeding!!

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