Reader, I used to have nice breasts. Spherical, optimistic and perched right up underneath my chin. I used to buy bras in normal human shops and not have to construct them myself out of industrial-strength whalebone, parachute fabric and steel wire. I could go without bras, even, and not worry about my breasts trailing on the floor behind me, like toilet paper stuck on my shoe.
But then two things happened. I stopped smoking and took up competitive biscuit-eating instead, and my cup sizes started creeping up. Later, I became pregnant and my breasts unhitched themselves from under my chin and took themselves down a peg or two. Today, after two babies, my breasts are slightly deflated, punctured-looking versions of their former selves, and my cleavage is a deeper valley.
However, they have done very well in one department: namely, feeding and providing comfort to two children beyond babyhood. My older son breastfed until he was two-and-a-half (he’s now three months shy of four) and I combine-feed his 15-month-old younger brother.
As a veteran milk monitor of almost four years, I thought I would share the highs and lows of breastfeeding a toddler (although I still think of my younger son as “the baby”, even though he walks and has eschewed the notion of “first words” in favour of staging bravura performances of the Baby Shark song). So here they are.
Good: Breastfeeding creates lovely little bonding moments
I don’t know about your toddlers, but my kids just want to get into stuff. Don’t get me wrong, they are sweet, funny boys and don’t go out of their way to be naughty. However, from the moment either one could move under his own volition, all they wanted to do was to climb on, dance with, caper around, put their fingers inside, crawl underneath or dismantle things they absolutely should not be messing with.
So, when the little one actively stops doing this and crawls into my lap for a feed, it creates this beautiful little moment of peaceful symbiosis. Our breathing will slow and start to synchronise. He will curl up and gaze at me, and we will bask in each other’s warmth. We are, for a moment, a mother-baby dyad once more. Then he’ll finish, remember that there are yet buttons on the dishwasher that he has not pressed today and toddle off to investigate – fed, happy and secure.
Bad: Kids are handsy at this age
When my older son breastfed as a toddler, my friend Rachel and I coined the term “boob radio” to describe the way breastfeeding toddlers can violently twiddle your opposite nipple, as though they are trying to tune a stubborn short-wave radio. With my second son, however, I have upgraded the term to “boob, hair, glasses and nose radio”, for obvious (and quite annoying) reasons.
Not everyone wants to, or can, breastfeed. And even I used to be guilty of thinking that breastfeeding a baby past a few months was ‘wrong’
Good: It’s a doddle to get him to sleep
His bedtime routine with me is this: put him in the carrier, breastfeed and transfer him to bed once he’s asleep. Couldn’t be simpler.
Bad: Because it’s a doddle, I have no plan B
Until recently, any baby bedtime not conducted by me would be a festival of screaming. From my husband, shouting, “Why don’t I have breasts?” From the baby, screaming like the ghost of a murdered woman, because my husband didn’t have breasts. And my older son, screaming because he just wanted to go to bed and everyone was making too much noise.
In the last few months, though, my youngest has reconciled himself to this fact and is happy for my husband to conduct bedtimes, breast-free, so long as he can spend a little time crawling on his older brother’s face during the reading of the bedtime story.
Good: The antibodies in my breastmilk come in handy
I’m always astounded by how breastmilk changes to meet babies’ needs (changes in the baby’s saliva tells the mother’s body how to adapt the components in the milk, which sounds like science fiction). And now that my older son is in preschool, our house is constantly awash with whatever germs those adorable tykes spend all day wiping over each other’s faces, so this immune response is very welcome indeed.
Bad: Breastfeeding an older baby attracts negative comment
I mean, I get it. Not everyone wants to, or can, breastfeed. And even I used to be guilty of thinking that breastfeeding a baby past a few months was “wrong” (without really questioning why I thought that). Now I’m a parent, though, I’m aware of the benefits and feeding my son as long as he wants it seems like the most natural thing in the world. I recently even left a Facebook mums’ group because everyone was horrified by a mum who continued to feed her nine-year-old and I was like, “Meh, it isn’t for me, but maybe she has her reasons.”
But that doesn’t mean I’m immune to the stares and tuts I get when my kid wants to chow down in public. However…
Good: People are sometimes so busy doling out negative comments about breastfeeding older children that they forget to berate me for co-sleeping
Ever the silver lining.