Mainstream mommas nurse toddlers too
If we base our beliefs about nursing moms on what the media tells us, then women who nurse toddlers come in two varieties: 1) Moms who co-sleep and baby wear and feed their children spinach smoothies made from their very own organic vegetable garden (or was that just my own stereotype?!) and 2) Moms with strangely enmeshed relationships with their children who nurse them into kindergarten and then show up in the school cafeteria so the kid can have a nip of milk. Nursing past infancy is "extreme parenting," something that only a certain kind of mother would do.
A mainstream mom
I consider myself a pretty middle of the road, mainstream kind of momma. I feed my kids organic apples and Oreo cookies. I spend lots of time reading to my boys and getting them outside to play, then I let them watch their hour a day of TV. I hug them and tell them I love them every single day, even while they drain my last ounce of patience some days. We don't spank, but we do send our boys to time-out and take away privileges.
My children slept in our room, but never in our bed, and when sleep exhaustion was getting the best of me I let them both cry it out. I work part-time, so I've got one foot in the professional world and one at home with my boys.
I don't consider myself an attachment parent or a detachment parent or any other kind of parent. Just a typical mom, doing her best, trying not to make a scene when my kids get a little crazy in public (the chances of which are always a 50/50). I'm also still nursing my youngest, who just reached 31 months.
Women who nurse todders
The truth is that moms who nurse toddlers come in all varieties.
Women who nurse toddlers are a lot like the two-toed sloth. There is no doubt we exist, but we're rarely seen in action. (Just for instance, I haven't nursed my son in public in almost a year, since we only nurse now at nap/bedtime, so no one would know I nurse him unless I mention it.) This lack of visibility makes it easy for the stereotypes and misconceptions to thrive.
Plus, boring ol' mainstream mommas nursing toddlers is so much less exciting than the hype. Who would have bought all those issues of TIME if the cover read "Average Mom Nurses Toddler — Nothing Extreme To See Here"? (Just to clarify, I am not suggesting that attachment parenting, which TIME focused on, is extreme — simply that the media gives us limited images of moms who nurse older children and labels it as extreme.)
I don't remember thinking about whether to nurse. For whatever reason it was just something I knew I would try. With both boys breastfeeding came easily and I had a job that made it very easy to pump at work and the people around me were supportive, so I never experienced any major pressure to stop. My oldest weaned at 14 months and I figured my second would do the same, but when a year rolled around neither of us was ready to stop just yet so we kept going. And going. And going. Here we are, another 17 months later!
A 'mutual decision'
I didn't expect to be nursing a toddler, but it is a decision I feel really good about. Bee is a healthy, happy, well-adjusted little boy and has shown no interest whatsoever in giving up the boob. (So those two things are not mutually exclusive!) I've been so happy to have this experience with my second and last child. I feel blessed to have had this experience. While I realize that the fact he's my last has played a role in my willingness to nurse him for so long, I also would not have continued nursing him if he had shown a readiness or desire to wean. Nursing to this point has been a "mutual decision" and a positive thing for both of us.
I'm proud of myself for continuing in spite of the stigma and negativity that exists, in spite of the occasional judgments that came my way. I'm proud of myself for getting comfortable enough to be vocal about the fact I do nurse my 2½-year-old.
Sometimes I drop it into conversation, in hopes that I can help change the stereotypes, one person at a time. Maybe the next time someone hears a hyped-up story about extended breastfeeding and how "extreme" it is, they'll think, Hmmm, Ellie breastfed Bee a long time and her family seemed a lot like ours.
On top of that, I hope that by being open and relaxed about it, I am sending the message that nursing a toddler (or preschooler) is not a source of shame or scandal. And if I end up being known as "that mom who nursed her kid so long," so be it!
Ellie C. is a central PA mom of two. This guest post is adapted from her blog Musing Momma.