The End of Extended Breastfeeding

by Martha on October 10, 2012

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A nursing 3-year-old doesn't look much different than an infant

In the attachment world, we hear a lot about the importance of breastfeeding. And lots of women breastfeed for an extended period of time.

In our culture, more than a year is considered extended breastfeeding. So that’s what we call it.

I just considered it breastfeeding. I was nursed until I was 3. My mother was a La Leche League leader when I was child, so I grew up understanding the importance of breast milk and hearing the “breast is best” message all my life.

What I never heard was that extended breastfeeding is hard.

Lest you get the wrong idea, I don’t regret doing it. I nursed my daughter for four years. She weaned in May on her fourth birthday. To be honest, it was my idea. I have no doubt in my mind that if it had been up to her, she would still be nursing at least once a day still.

But I was done. And for all intents and purposes, so was she. She just needed a little tiny bit of encouragement and I needed to set the boundary.

Here is a slightly edited version of the post I wrote right after we weaned. I feel it is an important one to share. Because even though I always knew I would breastfeed my child long before she was even born; and even though I never had any supply issues or trouble with latching, there were things about it that were hard. It was hard on my back. Hard on my breasts. And hard on my psyche. And it was totally worth it.

Here is the post written in May of 2012:

We are done. Finally. After four years, exactly four years. My daughter is done nursing.

We made a deal a few months ago that on her fourth birthday she would be done nursing.

It still trips me out that we nursed this long. Even for me, a kid who was nursed for at least three years, the idea of nursing a child for four years seems long to me.

Most of my attachment parenting mama friends weaned in between 2 and 3 or a little longer. But even in my circle of mama friends who nurse their babes way, way longer than the average American nursing mom, I am still an anomaly.

And, in case someone takes it the wrong way, I’m not bragging. It’s the opposite. It feels weird to think that I actually nursed my child this long, even though women around the world do it all the time and many cultures don’t think anything of it.

The truth is, I didn’t love nursing. When my daughter reached 18 months, I remember having thoughts of weaning. I was tired. But I knew that it couldn’t be done without lots of drama. I couldn’t traumatize her. This was one of those instances where some advice from another mom friend echoed in my head that said something to the effect of, “I have to remember who the adult is in this relationship.”

So the adult part of my brain pushed aside the cranky, selfish teenager and said, “You know she is not ready to wean.”

So we plugged away.

I fought it. I reveled in it. I loved it. There were moments when it was the only way I could make it through the day with sanity. And there were moments when I hated it because if I had to sit down one more time while I was in the middle of something else, I was going to scream. But then there were the moments when I was so happy that all I had to do was pop my boob out and five minutes later, heavenly sleep had descended upon my child.

And in the end, I was finally resigned to the idea that I was going to be a mom who nursed her kid way longer than most people. And I’m okay with it. I have a long, cozy relationship with being the odd woman out. It’s all good.

But we’re done. And I don’t really know what to say about it except that we’re done.

For the first week, there was a tiny part of me that whispered, “Keep going. You can do it. She’ll quit eventually on her own.”

That’s what I really wanted. But when she was an infant, which seems so very long ago, I imagined that would be sometime around the age of 2 or 3.

As time went on, I began to imagine that it would be around 3.

That birthday came and went without any signs of letting up. But for my own sanity, I had to set some limits.

She’s told me how much she loves mama milk. It tastes like ice cream, like strawberries. It’s so good, and right before she weaned, she’d been saying she wanted to nurse “forever and ever.” But she also wants to marry one of her female friends (which would be totally fine with me) and sleep at her school on the playground at night after everyone has gone home. She has no real concept of “forever and ever.”

It’s been almost two weeks since we nursed. She asked me last night if she could nurse and even begged a little. I stood firm. And for the first time since we began nursing, it felt like a solid boundary and not an arbitrary no. She didn’t like it, but she also didn’t get overly upset. It was almost like she was testing me.

So, it’s done. We are finally weaned. I don’t feel super emotional. I don’t think I’m hormonal. I’ve always heard of women who get super weepy and sad when they wean their kids. That didn’t happen to me.

I needed to just let Annika nurse as long as she really needed it. We made it. I made it. And in looking back, I’m super proud of myself for just letting it be for so long.

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Martha (8 Posts)

Martha is an attached work-at-home mom in Austin, Tx. She blogs at http://www.momsoap.com.


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

michaela bitner October 11, 2012 at 8:25 am

I swear, the last half of your article sounds like my life/future life. Nov. 5th is my daughters 4th birthday and I’ve been ready for a long time to call it quits…I’ve tried to wean a couple of times in the last few months, only for her to get a boo boo or something and give in. She wants to keep nursing so bad so I’ve felt too guilty the whole time but i’ve been telling her all along that her 4th birthday is it. I’ve been struggling with the decision the whole time because she should be able to self wean but thank you! for the truth ha!!!

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Martha October 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm

You can do it! Set the time frame and then stick with it. She will be fine. :)

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Lara K October 11, 2012 at 9:50 am

You are an amazing mom. I feel like I might have to help our nursing come to an end, too. I don’t want to – and hope I won’t have to – but I suspect it will take some gentle pressure from me. We’re coming up on 3 and show no signs of slowing down. Mimis are her very favorite thing! It’s an honor and a joy, but also a LOT of pressure and responsibility, too. I’ll be ready to help her wean, gently, sometime between 3 and 4 (maybe closer to 4, but we’ll see).

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 10:39 am

Thanks Lara! What helped was to set a date. I found that dropping hints only caused anxiety. I let her have a say in the matter, and then we stuck to a plan. Good luck!

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lori October 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

i just did this exact same thing with my daughter – she turned 4 a few weeks ago and that was the day we weaned. we had talked about it for months prior and she seems almost proud now that she doesn’t “need mama’s milk anymore!” so unexpected, since she was such an avid nurser. and it’s all good for me too because i’m nursing her 1yo brother so i don’t miss it :)
anyway, good for you, mama!

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm

Good for you too! Feels good, right?

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Beatrix Quills October 11, 2012 at 1:48 pm

THANK YOU! I’ve been nursing 16 months so far, and I’m feeling all of these things. My little girl is a really booby toddler, so although I am trying to concieve, it looks like I’ll be nursing, pregnant, then nursing a toddler and a newborn. Can I do it? Yes I can! Thanks for giving me some inspiration, because it’s hard being the odd-woman-out all the time.

Beatrix xoxo

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 7:53 pm

Yes, you can do it! 16-18 months is a tough time. You can power through!

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Jaime October 11, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Really appreciate this post. My son is 18 months old and still nurses at night, which is getting old. I wouldn’t otherwise be concerned about extended nursing if it weren’t for that, and if it weren’t for the fact that I want to get pregnant again soon and I’m not sure if I want to (or if I will even be able to) do tandem nursing.

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm

I night weaned around that age. I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy. Didn’t really take until about age 2. And yes, night nursing starts to get really old around that age. But you’re really close to a good age for ending it.

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Aravinda October 11, 2012 at 9:01 pm

It is always very precious to share one’s nursing and weaning story. I am sure each mother’s story will be of help to other women who share some of her feelings about nursing. So I would like to begin by congratulating and appreciating the author for sharing her story.

I am not questioning any mother’s decision to nurse or wean but I wonder why the author felt the need to attribute a motive to her daughter’s request to nurse after the date set by her mother. Why say that the child was “testing” her? She simply wanted to nurse. As a reader, it seemed to me that the mother tried to justify her denial by somehow finding fault with the request.

As a mother you may set a rule according to your need but why then say that it was according to her need?

Though we might not always give our children what they need, we can still acknowledge and honour their needs. Children are resourceful and will find alternate ways to meet their needs.

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Interesting point of view. Thanks for your thoughts. I didn’t see any fault with her request/test. I simply meant that it seemed like she was checking to see if I would go back on the limit that we set together. Yes, I ultimately made the limit, but she was in on the conversation. For the record, I don’t perceive limit testing as a negative character flaw. It was just written as an observation.

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Martha October 11, 2012 at 9:56 pm

More thoughts on this, you know, I do think that children test their parents. I don’t think it must be considered to be that testing limits means contrariness or looking for conflict. But when a parent says no, children will whine and beg and argue to try and get their way. It’s human nature. And it’s also a sign of intelligence and trust. Why not allow yourself to see that, and feel proud of yourself for giving them a solid boundary to lean up against? I struggle with setting good boundaries and this was one I felt proud of because I felt secure that I’d made a choice that was healthy in our relationship. Motherhood is filled with indecisiveness and insecurity. When you make a solid decision, that feels good and healthy, there’s nothing wrong with claiming it.

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Janie November 24, 2012 at 7:21 am

I love love this response!!! It is exactly what I have been thinking/feeling for years now. I am still bfing my daughter who turned 3 in July. I have tried dont ask dont refuse.. doesnt seem to be working but I know I am still very emotional about her nursing. I had a lot of trouble getting pregnant and wasnt even sure I was ever going to have the chance to be a momma at all so there is alot invested in her nursing. Plus she totally loves it. However, at this point I will be 42 soon and I want to try to have another baby.. cant do it if she’s still nursing so weaning is necessary. Anyway.. I just wanted to comment on this whole paragraph b/c it is so on point with how many mothers feel. Beautiful!! Thank you!!

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Debbie October 11, 2012 at 9:35 pm

I also weaned my son recently (1.5 months ago) at age 4 years, 4 weeks old. I was only nursed 3 months as a baby and the age of weaning for my child became an ever moving target to eventually being child led (although running out and encouragement from me mattered a lot). But like you, I have had none of those sad mommy tears, and I believe its because I know in my heart that we were both ready, and the course was complete. I feel so proud that we made it; a peaceful, quiet pride. I’ve only told one friend, because everyone assumed I was long past the nursing years. I wanted to shout it from the rooftops so that everyone could share in my joy – joy that he was ready, joy that we are done, joy that I was able to supply this need.

Thank you for sharing YOUR story. :) I never would have made it in AParenting without the online “community”.

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Martha October 14, 2012 at 7:18 pm

It is a pretty peaceful and quiet journey for sure. Most people just assume its been done a long time ago!

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Cameron October 12, 2012 at 9:07 pm

It’s wonderful to hear from you Martha. I enjoy reading other weaning stories. Why strikes me about them is that everyone has their own individual limits & personal boundaries. As well as every child is unique and might be ready at different times. With my daughter I had fight tooth & nail to keep our breastfeeding relationship past 2 because my husband thought it would hinder her developing independence. However, right around the time she turned 3 he began to be very supportive of her continuing nursing and saw how beneficial it was for her. I never night weaned her, however if I was especially tired I would say “nummies are tired…just a little bit”. Then during the day I started saying “I need a break from nummies right now.” She has slowly but surely come to understand that Mommy has needs too. It’s such beautiful way for our children to learn about others needs. She gets it. She is now 3 1/2 yrs old and still has nummies in the morning when she wakes up, at night, & a time or two during the day. I’m weighing all kinds of things that are going on in her life trying to decided when I’ll start the conversation with her about weaning. And I keep coming to the realization that for her and the fluctuation we have in life right now (husband in law school) I’ve keep deciding to wait it out. I began loving her nursing more when my husband started supporting me in it. Not say it’s been a bed of roses because wow it’s been tough here and there. However, I’m so grateful for it and grateful for having found AP friends that encourage & support me.

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Martha October 14, 2012 at 7:21 pm

My ex wanted me to wean much sooner than I did, as well. But funnily, I noticed around age 3 that he seemed more supportive too! I never really mentioned it to anyone. But it’s funny that you brought it up. Maybe it takes that long for some men to notice the wonderful long term benefits.

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Cameron October 14, 2012 at 7:42 pm

That’s wild! Yes, it much just take that long for some people to open up to the idea of it and the idea that it’s so beneficial. It was the same story with positive discipline.

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Erin W. October 14, 2012 at 1:04 am

My daughter Kairi is 3.5 years old and still nursing. I had originally set her third birthday as our wean date, but she just wasn’t *quite* ready. From what I’ve read, it seems like most nursing mothers cut out night nursings first, but that’s the last thing we have left. She only nurses at night and sometimes will go a night or two without.

I’m so proud of myself and my daughter to have made it this far, and I feel like Kairi’s fourth birthday will be an appropriate goal for weaning. It feels like we’re in the final stretch and it’s so bittersweet, knowing what a relief it will be to not have to nurse anymore, but also knowing that as Kairi is the last child I will ever have, I’m also coming up on the last time I will ever nurse.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. I often feel like the odd woman out, like you said. I don’t think any of my friends have ever nursed their children so far into toddler-hood (is almost four still a toddler?) and I certainly know that no one in my family has. My mother surely doesn’t approve, and thankfully has given up on making comments or asking questions about it. But I know I’ve done right by my daughter and I feel so accomplished in making it so far. It’s nice reading about other moms who have done the same.

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Martha October 14, 2012 at 7:25 pm

A friend of mine commented to me not that long ago that perhaps I viewed my daughter as a toddler for so long was because she nursed for so long. I think she was right. But you know, I think letting children extend childhood for as long as we can let them is a good thing. Children grow up way too fast these days.

Good for you for allowing yourself and your daughter to keep your relationship without letting others’ comments interfere!

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Mama October 24, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Could you more specifically describe how you talked to your daughter about it? I really need help with this. My son will be 4 in December and I am more than ready to wean. He still night nurses tons and even sometimes during the day. Thanks in advance!

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Martha October 25, 2012 at 9:13 am

Hey there mama. I slowly cut out various nursings. We started with right before bed, because I knew that would be the hardest. Then we night weaned around age 2. When we finally got to the point of total weaning, I had already been telling her that some day she wouldn’t nurse anymore. Whenever she would nurse, I’d say, “you know that nursing is something that you’ll stop someday” or something like that. I usually tried to be gentle about it, although, I’ll share with you that I had my share of aggravated tones with the talks, as well.

We’d have discussions about how she would tell me that she wanted to “nurse forever and ever!” Then I’d get silly with her, saying like, are you going to nurse when you’re 10??” Or whatever. Then we’d talk about how most of her friends didn’t nurse anymore. I’d also remind her that babies really *need* to nurse and we’d talk about all the wonderful things she gets to eat that babies don’t get to eat, like ice cream and pizza, etc. (whatever her favorite food of the moment happened to be).

I don’t remember exactly how I phrased the final ending of it, but I basically told her that I thought she was old enough to stop nursing and that I wondered if we could set a date. I think it might have been her idea for it to be her birthday. But I also believe that I put that idea in her head. Something like, “hey, when you turn 4, how about if we had our final nursing on that day and then you won’t need to nurse anymore.”

Basically we discussed it many, many times before we finally made a decision to quit and then set a date.

Like I said in my post, she did ask a few times after we were done, but it was only a few times and there was very little drama surrounding it.

Good luck mama!

You know, I had a lot of guilt and angst over thinking about ending her nursing. I really wanted it to be something she just quit on her own. I’d heard so many stories of kids how just sort of “forgot” and I was hoping that would happen with us. But it didn’t. And I equated it with a child who struggles with learning to walk or eat. Parents don’t just sit around and wait for them to do it, they encourage and they help them move toward it even though it might be more difficult. So, it’s the same with the end of nursing.

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Becky December 29, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I guess I’m even more extreme. My son didn’t wean till he was 5 years and 9 months old! I remember knowing it was the last time we nursed, sitting at the computer and checking my email as he fell asleep in my lap. About 9 months earlier I thought we were getting close to weaning so we had a party with a boob cake and invited a few friends that knew we were still nursing. I guess he needed a little more time, it was my son’s decision to stop and it was a little sad too since I thought he was going to be an only child. But I had a baby girl last year and she is still nursing at 20 months and for as long as she wants. Yeah, it’s really hard on me at night when she wants to nurse and cries. I just get so tired that I need to make sure to slow down and nap more myself when my husband is around to help out. I just love the health benefits and my kids are athletes so I like the news about breastfed kids having stronger muscles than everyone else! There was a blog about Michael Phelp’s mom pumping milk for him currently so he could win all those gold medals!! It’s somewhere on the internet that she still pumps for him. Haha!

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Kay January 7, 2013 at 5:37 pm

thank you thank you thank you. those words “I don’t love it” made me feel soooo much better. I recently made a post about why I still breastfeed my 2.5 year old, after yet another comment from a friend, family member, stranger along the lines of “come on.. he’ll be three soon” so I wrote the post and shared it to facebook explaining that my son’s have medical problems and the younger (longer breastfed one) has less problems then his older brother with the same condition. My husband was extended breastfed as were all 5 of his siblings… his mom was a lll leader too. So I figured I would get at least some encouragement from that corner, but no one replied, not a single of how many hundreds of family members. Then I realized maybe I had been too honest. I had written that I really don’t like breastfeeding, never have, I do it because it’s what’s best for my son. So I was just looking to see if that was really so bad. Is it horrible that I don’t like to breastfeed and only do it for my child? Your post made me feel much better to know I’m not alone feeling this way.

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Martha January 8, 2013 at 3:45 pm

I think that moms do a lot of things simply for the good of their children. Recently, breastfeeding has become overly romanticized. I don’t think it makes us strange to admit we don’t like it.

I definitely had plenty of tender moments while breastfeeding, those I loved! But the act itself, eh.

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Kay January 8, 2013 at 5:03 pm

I agree with you on that, there have been a few- this is sweet moments… but that has not been the norm for me by any means. Sometimes it’s nice or convenient (instant booboo cry stopping rocks) but mostly it’s just a “this is what I know I should be doing for him thing”. I really did appreciate finding this post to read. Just wanted to thank you again for sharing this, it really, really was nice to see someone else talk about extended breastfeeding the same way as I feel about it.

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Isabella February 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm

It is so amazing to hear the support and not any negative comments. I love this website. My daughter is 25 months and we’re going strong :)

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Jada June 19, 2013 at 11:31 pm

Thank you so much for this post. My son is only 5 months old, but I have recently been thinking a lot about how long I’m going to breastfeed him for. When he was born, he had a tongue tie that was mild enough that no one in the hospital caught it, but bad enough that he was unable to latch properly. I was eventually the one who figured it out (3 weekks later) and we got it fixed, but during that time, I nearly gave up on breatfeeding. It was so painful, I couldn’t even pump or hand-express because it hurt so badly. But I did it anyways, now my son is a champion nurser and is 22 lbs at 5 months. I love breastfeeding so much. The knowledge that I can provide for my son exactly what he wants and needs, the fact that I can make him stop crying in an instant, the cuddling and the closeness; I don’t ever want to give it up. Even the though of weaning makes me sad lol. I know one day it will have to end, but for now, my little boy can nurse as long and as often as he needs, I’m just here to enjoy it :)

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sarah July 19, 2013 at 9:49 am

I have just ended breastfeeding my son who is now 2 years and 8 months. It was very emotional for me, far harder than I thought but after the first 2 nights, his tears subsided and we have now 8 days later replaced ‘baa’ with “can i sleep wrapped in your arms mummy?!”
i am so proud of every day i have breastfeed him. It was incredibly fulfilling for us both and I would still be breastfeeding now if it weren’t for my struggle to become pregnant again.
I wish I had seen this website earlier as it had been so difficult making this decision… a lot of guilt. Gosh we mums can be so hard on ourselves:)

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Sarah T August 12, 2014 at 4:33 pm

I was wondering- did breastfeeding a toddler wear you out?
My little boy is only 22 months and I feel awful.
Tired all the time, grouchy, rundown. I feel like he’s sucking the life out of me. My iron and vit d are good. I don’t want to wean him
otherwise, but I just feel like I’m on the brink of exhaustion! Has anyone else experienced this?

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Martha August 22, 2014 at 10:57 am

Yes, Sarah, nursing a toddler did wear me out. I don’t remember now when or how I did it, but at some point (I think when she was 3, maybe) I started limiting nursing to only certain times of day.

I also highly recommend that you give yourself extra self care during this time. In hindsight, I really wish that I made more time for good exercise during this time. I also wish I had gotten more massages/acupuncture/chiro care.

Taking care of your own body is extremely important when you are nursing at any age, but nursing a toddler does require a lot of self care in order to maintain a healthy body.

Two and a half years later, I’m still nursing a sore neck and back from four years of nursing.

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Aravinda August 13, 2014 at 9:47 am

22 months is exactly when mine ramped up her inuring big time! It is a time of growth spurts in every direction – physical, intellectual and emotional. I feel you and I encourage you to give yourself extra TLC for breastfeeding through this vital time. I am so glad I did.

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