Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Sam Milam, Portland, Oregon, USA
Here I am shaking in my boots to share my story of full-term breastfeeding my son, until he was done. The Internet can be both a wonderful place for support and a terrible place of judgment for breastfeeding mothers.
If we don’t share our stories, the ignorance that leads some people to believe full-term breastfeeding is outrageous or damaging persists. If we hide behind closed doors, afraid of judgment, what will change? So here is my story.
I breastfed my son until he was five-and-a-half years old
I have tandem nursed my son and daughter for two of those five years, and my daughter is still breastfeeding.
Before my son was born I honestly hadn’t known a single person who had breastfed successfully. Fortunately, we got the hang of it right away.
When we reached a year, I would look into my little baby’s eyes while he nursed happily, while he needed me, and I knew that forcing him to stop breastfeeding would be traumatic for both of us. Nursing was his nourishment, comfort, and sleep-inducing magical potion. I couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t do it.
I told my husband we would stop at 18 months; that was “acceptable.” Eighteen months rolled around. By then, I had researched and learned for myself the benefits of breastfeeding, of healthy attachment, of respecting my child. I decided that we would nurse until he was done. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for two years and beyond; I know “beyond” may bring about some side glances and whispering behind hands (or blatant disgust out in the open), but that’s the recommendation.
You don’t hear much about mothers breastfeeding for this long because women purposely keep that information hidden for fear of judgment, for fear of rejection, for fear of being shamed and humiliated. We mothers are doing the best we can and to hear accusations that we are traumatizing our children, or even abusing them, or nursing for our own satisfaction, is disheartening, not just for ourselves but for all humanity.
We continued nursing all the way, past two, three, four years. As we approached five, nursing aversion kicked up a bit. My 18-month-old was nursing constantly. I was drained (quite literally), so I set some gentle limits for my older child. We would only nurse in the morning and at night. Slowly over time that turned into just at night, since he would wake up in the morning before I did. Over the next couple of months, nursing became sporadic at night. Then it stopped. We didn’t nurse for weeks. Life was demanding and it was one less demand on me. I found other ways to connect with my son and we still had lots of cuddles.
At five and a half years, on the night before my daughter’s second birthday—he hadn’t nursed in a month—he was having a really hard time. Overwhelmed in the chaos, with bags to pack for a camping trip and all sorts of other things to complete. We were alone, I was rocking him, when he asked if he could nurse. I hesitated for a moment, but I could see the little baby in his eyes. This little five-year-old was much closer to an infant than a teenager and he sought his original comfort. I said yes. I nursed him for a few seconds and could tell that he was having trouble getting any milk. He tried for a minute, and wasn’t successful. He looked up at me and said, “I can’t get the milk out. Thank you for your nursies. I love you mama.” It hit me right then that this was the last moment he would ever breastfeed again.
Our nursing relationship had come to a close
As I looked at him, I could barely remember what he was like as a little baby, as a two-year-old, or even a three-year-old. I could remember specific memories, but all that had passed was as if that had been a different person in a different life. He was five and a half now. He looked like a big kid. Now intelligent, curious, fast, and artistic, he was growing up and there was no way to stop it. I sat and hoped that these past five and a half years were special to him; they were all he had experienced so far. I hoped that they were special even though neither of us remembered the details. I worry that in five years’ time I won’t remember what he was like at five. That I won’t remember that last nursing session or the thousands that preceded it.
I want time to stand still sometimes so I can remember every detail of a moment. The best I can do is be more present, be more mindful of our time together, choose connection over busyness, choose play instead of work, choose to stop what I’m doing when he says he wants to sit on my lap. Growing up isn’t a tragedy; it is the point, but knowing that fact doesn’t make these endings and new beginnings any less bittersweet. I love him. I love that I found a support group, followed my heart, and let him lead.
As vulnerable as I feel right now, I offer you my story because I want you to find support and courage too. I want you to know you are not alone, not an outcast, not on the fringes. I am just one of many mamas.
Our stories connect us, the more we share them the more understanding we will find in the world and the stronger we are.
I breastfed my son until he was five-and-a-half years old and it was beautiful. It was natural. It was authentic. It was normal.