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Nursing 3 1/2 year old and Tandem Nursing
By Anne Smith, IBCLC
Q. My daughter is 3 1/2 and still enjoys nursing. She had stopped at my request when she was about 26 months because I was pregnant with my son, now 13 months. When my son was around 7 months old, my daughter started showing interest in nursing again. I figured that she was feeling left out because my son was able to nurse. I let my daughter, and I was comfortable tandem nursing for awhile. She nursed about twice a week at bedtime.
Now she is demanding to nurse at every bed time. I'm not comfortable with it anymore but I am trying to be patient and understanding. I love to cuddle her and read books while holding her and tucking her in, but she always wants to nurse and I'm tired! My son still nurses for most of his nutrition and wakes 2-3 times a night, so maybe I'm just feeling touched out.
On one hand I think my daughter is pushing the envelope to see how long we'll continue our nursing relationship, but on the other hand I think it's the most reliable sense of comfort she knows and she really wants to continue. It is very important to me that she doesn't feel rejected and then resentful of my son. But, if it's no longer enjoyable to me I feel that I have the right to say "no".
A. I can totally relate to what you are going through. My first three babies all weaned themselves by the time they were a year old, and I wasn't ready for any of them to stop nursing that early. I really wanted to continue nursing my toddlers, but they all lost interest in nursing around the time they started eating lots of solids and became mobile (around eight or nine months). With my fourth child, it was a whole different story. She loved to nurse, and since she didn't develop any attachments to thumbs or security blankets (unlike her older siblings), she used the breast for a pacifier as well as a food source.
When she was two and still nursing up a storm both day and night, I became pregnant with her sister Brea. My milk dried up almost immediately after I became pregnant, but she didn't care if she was getting anything when she nursed or not. She continued to nurse all during the pregnancy, and it got to the point where I would grit my teeth and let her nurse on my dry breast for five minutes at bedtime, but I was not enjoying it and was really ready for her to wean. She continued to nurse after the new baby came, but she was limited to nursing for just a few minutes at bedtime, and she accepted that. I continued to let her nurse in spite of my mixed feelings because it was clearly still very important to her, even though I was feeling very "touched out" at the time with trying to mother a baby who nursed day and night as well as four older children.
I remember one time when she was three and had asked to nurse at some point during the day and I told her no, she had to wait until bedtime. She didn't argue, but a few minutes later she came up to me and said "Mommy, I know I can't nurse right now, but it is okay if I just touch your Milkyside?" (That was her nickname for my breasts - in fact, I have a license plate that says MLKYSIDE and I know people who pass me on the highway are wondering what the heck it means). When she said that, I just melted. I decided that if nursing was really that important to her, then I could wait until she was ready to give it up on her own, in spite of my mixed feelings. She gently laid her little head on my breast and patted it for a minute, and then she was fine until her five minute bedtime nursing.
She finally stopped nursing completely when she was four. She is a teenager now, but still has fond memories of nursing. I am so glad that I didn't force the issue with her, and I have fond memories, too. Babies really do grow up way too fast, and while you worry now about whether your little one will ever sleep through the night or stop nursing, all too soon you'll be worrying about watching her get in the car with a teenaged boy and driving away.
Your body does belong to you, and you always have the right to say no, and you certainly shouldn't feel guilty about it.
On the other hand, this time of intense need and attachment doesn't last forever, and all little ones do wean eventually. If you think about the 18 years that children spend at home as a big pie chart, then the piece of the pie that represents the time they spend nursing is really a small piece, even if they nurse for several years.
When to wean is a very personal decision, and only you can decide what is right for you and your little girl. There are no 'experts' who can advise you on this one. You just have to follow your heart.
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