I know he is only three and a half. He’s still such a little kid. Next to me, he doesn’t look so little, being more than half my height and all. It’s like that 2012 TIME magazine cover, you know, when Jamie Lynne Grumet nursed her three-year-old, balanced with his feet flat on a chair, and everyone thought he must’ve been graduating elementary school.
MaiTai is an old soul, this kid. But he’s still just a kid, or transitioning to what most people imagine when they think of a school-age child (he’s not quite there yet), and only four years ago he was a floating fetus.
For whatever reason, child-led weaning is controversial in our society (the superstitions surrounding it are unfounded, of course). Many a mother is pressured with interrogation into why her child is “still” breastfeeding, “when are you going to stop this,” declarations of “at his age he shouldn’t be so dependent” and the classic “I’m all for breastfeeding BUT…”
At a wedding one year ago, MaiTai was 2.5 years old and I hadn’t yet encountered a situation when I needed to make him wait to nurse. Some of the messages/comments on the post I wrote about our experience nursing there said he should’ve been able to wait “at his age.”
Really? Are two-year-olds really all that great at waiting for anything? In any case, sure, he could’ve waited long enough for us to relocate to a dungeon or wherever they deemed more appropriate — but there was no reason for me to say “not here, not now,” therefore it didn’t even cross my mind.
There was no good lesson in making my child wait for something he felt he needed — in a moment when I was perfectly able and willing to give it to him — just to prove to overly-interested others that he can hold his shit together.
In this story of a mother and child forced to quit nursing to appease family, the author writes: “Those who had demanded that she wean her toddler didn’t even know what that breastfeeding relationship was; they didn’t know what they were asking; they were ignorant, and didn’t even know what they didn’t know.”
That said… Now that I’m tandem nursing MaiTai and his baby brother Julep, we do often find ourselves in situations in which MaiTai has to wait to nurse.
(Scroll to the bottom of this post for ideas about how to set boundaries).
At three months old, Julep nurses a lot. It’s been tricky and tough juggling both of their needs along with my own.
Julep doesn’t know a thing about breastfeeding boundaries. He nurses on demand.
What it looks like for us: I try my best not to hold out for ‘demand’ — you know, the cues we’re all taught, the clenched fists and rooting mouth like a guppy fish and the ‘hangry’ cry. I keep him close to my chest most of the day so he can graze at his leisure without first needing to secure my say-so about it. I know he’s likely to want a quick snack often rather than several square meals alone, just like any child or adult would. (Such is the grazing nature of human consumption).
As for MaiTai, after Julep was born I truly thought we were done with our special breastfeeding journey. A week later I was proved wrong, oh so wrong.
Back when I thought MaiTai was nearly wrapping up his nursing era, I kept track of the sessions on a calendar so I’d know for sure when exactly was The Last Time. I hated the idea of not knowing, because this memory would hold a special place in my heart. (Or it should, right? Maybe with child-led weaning there’s a reason why we usually don’t remember precisely how the journey ends. I abandoned my calendar note-taking when he made it clear he wasn’t weaning any time soon).
For a month, every Monday like clockwork, MaiTai wanted to nurse (a circadian rhythm in tune with the work week?). Usually on a pile of pillows that he set up as his “Pillow Shop.”
He didn’t seem to think he was allowed to nurse with Julep, so he always seized the opportunity on the rare occasion I was hands-free of his baby brother (a Monday afternoon phenomenon, apparently).
Then one day, he found the bravery to ask for nanoo while Julep was nursing. Soon after the simultaneous nursing sessions began, we needed to set some boundaries.
About two and a half months postpartum, I got a cold, which MaiTai caught too. He’s rarely sick so he was in a pitiful kind of way.
He asked (begged) to nurse multiple times a day, relinquishing his Mondays-only ritual. His nose and throat hurt so bad he didn’t even want to drink water or take any treatments for his symptoms.
He said, “Only nanoo makes me feel better.” He said it was like blueberry pie and strawberry pie and apple pie and banana pie and dates with cinnamon (not pie).
If this was the best way I could keep him hydrated without forcing him to glug water while struggling to breathe, I was on board.
Then he skipped a day of nursing (which had been signaling to my breasts to make more milk), so I was engorged. The next morning I awoke to a plugged duct all pink and angry-looking and an hour away from surefire mastitis symptoms.
Julep was cluster-feeding those days too, so none of us saw much of anything but the couch for a week and I had the time to notice something. I saw that now, MaiTai has found himself in a position of being neither here nor there; no longer a baby, though clearly not yet an adult like TDD and me.
It’s like during this week of illness he remembered how much he needed breastfeeding — for the adjustment to life with a new baby, for comfort when he feels bad, and for grieving his own babyhood long gone.
I like connecting with MaiTai in this familiar way, but I don’t like hating how it feels. I don’t like having to frequently put one of my children first when it comes to nursing, and that either one of them has to wait or I might go crazy.
I need limits with my older child to keep nursing aversion at bay and to decrease the amount of time I spend all-touched-out. Some nursing dyads don’t need limits.
Others may need to introduce certain types of boundaries if they’re going the mother-led weaning route, wanting to increase fertility to expand the brood, maybe they have a medical condition that sometimes makes breastfeeding a painful affair, they could be uncomfortable breastfeeding outside the home, or any number of unique situations.
Nursing aversion (breastfeeding agitation) worsens when my pair of kids nurse together. I only feel it on the side where MaiTai is nursing; on the entire side of my body where Julep is nursing, all my cells are calm and collected. Split right down the center. I’d be fascinated by this sensation if it weren’t so irritating.
On MaiTai’s side, the aversion is not immediately present, but usually creeps up slowly over the next few minutes and soon has me squirming and furrow-browed in a panic that this might be the time I finally yell “Get OFF me!” and spend the rest of the day crying about my failure as a mother.
So you see, to avoid this (and for reasons of practicality) I limit the frequency of situations in which both children are nursed together.
It’s hard to talk about aversion, isn’t it? I’ve dealt with it for a long time so I get how it works. But it’s still confusing to many, so they sweep it into a corner and hope no one notices something is ‘wrong’ with them.
Some mothers are afraid others will say “it’s nature’s way of telling you it’s time to stop” or “if it feels that bad, your kid is clearly too old to nurse.”
They fear others’ judgments, that the creepy-crawly feelings they get while nursing will be attributed to perversion instead of hormones gone rogue.
They fear it means they’re bad mothers for doing this breastfeeding thing so poorly, or they experience anxiety that maybe the others are right… maybe this has gone on too long.
They fear the part of themselves that agrees — the part that wishes this breastfeeding thing was all over and that she and her child could move on because it can be too intense, too demanding sometimes.
A few limit-setting things that have worked for us:
I know, to a nursling, hardly a thing is an acceptable stand-in for mama’s breast milk, but hear me out.
MaiTai has been asking to nurse first thing in the morning, saying he’s thirsty for nanoo. Sometimes I’m simply too exhausted because I’ve just finished nursing Julep for what seemed like all night, but I’m able to lure MaiTai’s lips to a cup of almond milk or water instead of the breast. This only works if he wants nanoo for hydration alone, however, which is rare.
Sometimes he’s just bored and nanoo is the first thing that comes to his mind. If I feel too drained, I suggest another low-key activity (read a book, get dressed, chalk the driveway). Often he forgets about nursing entirely and it takes hours for him to circle back around to his original request.
If MaiTai catches me at a bad time, I don’t outright tell him “no” when he asks to nurse. I don’t want to hurt his feelings or make him feel like he’s doing something wrong by asking. It works well to nurse Julep on demand as usual, and MaiTai on a “don’t offer, don’t refuse” basis.
I can say “Let’s take your bath first,” or “How about lunch now, then we can nanoo after,” or “When Julep is done nursing, then we can nurse, okay?” or “Sounds good for later, but not now because Julep is crying and I need to help him.”
When I first tried to stall MaiTai, he said he needed it, and the look in his eyes was pleading in a way that told me he really did need it.
If I really can’t drop everything to nurse him because I’m preparing a cloth diaper, holding Julep, or what have you, I talk to him about Superheroes to temporarily keep his mind off nursing.
Sometimes he changes the subject back to nursing (“Mommy, I really really really like nanoo. You have really really good nanoo”) but alas, he’s distracted nonetheless.
4). Time limits.
MaiTai responds to this very well. If I feel like I need a time limit for whatever reason, I tell him so.
“Sure, we can nurse, how about for five minutes?” / “When my phone alarm goes off, let’s stop and go downstairs.” / “You keep track, tell me when the timer reaches five minutes” (kids love to practice counting).
It’s a win-win because he knows his needs are still important to me, and I escape potential aversion.
5). Location boundaries.
We went to the ATT store recently to get a new phone. MaiTai asked to nurse and I had to stave him off because I was in the final processes of the purchase and Julep was bound to meltdown at any minute.
It was the first time he’d asked to nurse in public (besides the car, which isn’t exactly public) since around his third birthday, I think.
I told him we’d nurse when I was done buying the phone as we were mere minutes from closing the deal. He must’ve been overtired because boy, was he upset. He made it clear he did not want to wait.
I didn’t want this to become a power struggle, but I wanted him to know I needed my bodily autonomy to be respected. I told him we couldn’t nurse here, but we could nurse in the car afterward where it was quieter and we wouldn’t have to sit on those trendy little hard-backed store chairs. Thankfully he found solace in making bunny ears out of my shoelaces while I finished up with the transaction.
I can nurse tiny Julep while standing up, doing a jig, on trendy yet uncomfortable chairs, however and wherever. But nowadays MaiTai is too big for me to “nurse ‘n go” or breastfeed on funny chairs not meant to seat an adult +1, so abundance of space is key and therefore, sometimes location boundaries are ideal.
6). Communicate needs.
Thankfully, MaiTai doesn’t mind adjusting our arrangement to make things easier for me. He’s old enough to ask to breastfeed AND old enough to know the benefit of keeping his breastfeeding mama happy!
I can’t stand when he sings, hums, or tries to talk while nursing. I found it adorable when he was two, but now unfortunately these wonderful little childish endearments usually trigger aversion.
If I’m uncomfortable with his slack latch, the way his head is turned, or his feet playfully (read: annoyingly) stretched up to reach my face, I tell him so.
“I’m sorry but we can’t keep nursing if you kick me.” (“But I’m tickling you,” he says). “I don’t want feet in my face right now so if you do that we have to stop.”
He always picks nursing. Simple as that.
Also, I wouldn’t tolerate him pulling down my shirt or grabbing me; he knows he needs to first ask me if it’s okay to nurse.
Sometimes MaiTai tells TDD he wants to nurse, so TDD says “Does Mommy say it’s a good time?” MaiTai finds me and asks, so sweetly, “Mommy, is it a good time to nurse, please?”
It is a good time, little one. ♡♡