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Breastfeeding My 2 Year Old – Happy Birthday Penny

Tomorrow my baby girl will turn 2.  Have you ever wondered what it’s like to breastfeed a 2 year old?  Let me tell you a little bit about mine.

She talks. A lot. Most 2 year olds are starting to grasp words and maybe even some sentences. Not only can she name every single character on Peppa Pig but she regularly spins a web of fantasy to her dad when he asks what we did that day. Dad – “What did you do today?”  Miss 2 – “We went to the park (yes).  There were swings (correct) and a slide (yep) and a see-saw (I don’t think so).  We saw a chicken (no we didn’t) and it said BWARK BWARK BWARK (uh…)”.

She verbally tells me when she wants to be breastfed.  I raised her brother to ask for “milk” and that’s all he ever asked for – milk. His sister’s brain works differently. She looks beyond what I have taught her, and at the words other people use. And sometimes she invents her own variations. She sometimes asks for milk. Then she’ll ask for milkies. Sometimes it’s milky-milky-yum-yums. If I don’t respond to her request quickly enough, she’ll start issuing demands – “I want a boob!”. Boobies, boo-boos, milky-boobs and milky-fountain. She has also, literally, said to me “Can I please have a breastfeed mummy?”

When she’s done, she’s been known to tell me to “put the milk away” and “close up that milk now”.

She doesn’t usually “self soothe”. She does, occasionally, crash out in the pram, car, lounge or in daddy’s lap by accident, but that’s obviously not the same as chucking her into bed on her own, walking out and expecting her to sleep. I have very low expectations when it comes to sleep, and I have been rewarded with very relaxed bedtimes. She still sleeps with me fulltime, although sometimes she’ll sleep for up to an hour on her own through the day, and probably 3 hours during the night (so I don’t have to go to bed at the same time as her).

I think she sleeps through the night, but I’m not entirely sure. As we sleep together, her night-time feeds are a minimal disturbance to my rest and I am not always fully aware that she’s suckling. I have learned to focus on the quality of sleep, and whether we are happy, rather than how many hours in a row we’re getting.

She doesn’t have a routine for sleep.  Sometimes she stays up very late, long after her big brother has gone to bed.  She revels in the undivided attention she gets from her daddy and I.

She eats food. She doesn’t drink any other kinds of milk, although she does drink water and sometimes juice. I have never followed any set rules about whether to give milk or food first. As far as I can tell, there’s no need – we eat food at breakfast, lunch and dinner, with snacks in between. And she has milk when that’s what she wants. She doesn’t eat as much as some other kids, but she is growing beautifully so I’m not worried about that.  She’s always fed herself, we never did pureed food and sometimes she uses cutlery.  Sometimes she gets her own fruit from the fruit bowl.

She’s never had expressed milk or formula and she doesn’t have a dummy.  I have never had any problems going out without her – I leave her with people who she and I trust, and she gets along just fine.  I haven’t left her overnight before, but that’s just my style of parenting.  I certainly haven’t avoided leaving her overnight because she’s breastfed.

I don’t know how many times she breastfeeds per day, because I don’t count. But if I had to guesstimate, I’d say it’s somewhere between five and five hundred, depending on the day, what we’re doing, where we are and how she’s feeling. If we have a quiet day at home after a busy week, she’ll feed all day.  I wouldn’t say she’s fed on demand, or that she’s self weaning, because there are times when I actively discourage her from breastfeeding.  I am mindful that sometimes she really wants to breastfeed, and sometimes she actually needs to breastfeed, and I am comfortable enough in my own parenting skills to differentiate and sometimes say no.

I have talked openly before about my apprehension for life after breastfeeding, but when I look my little girl, it makes me immensely proud to think that breastfeeding helped shape the small person she has become.

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What Will Happen When I Stop Breastfeeding?

The other day my husband told me cheerfully that I won’t know myself when I stop breastfeeding. My first thought was to laugh and tell him that won’t be for a long time. But tonight as I lay down with Mr Almost-5 so he could breastfeed to sleep, he wasn’t interested.  After a quick suckle, he had a big drink from his water bottle, said goodnight and rolled away from me to go to sleep.

As I type this, Miss Almost-2 breastfed to sleep around 2 hours ago and I haven’t heard a peep from her since then. It seems like not long ago when I couldn’t even get my boob out of her mouth without her waking up.

What if the end is closer than I thought?

My kids are growing up

Before I had kids, I thought breastfeeding was just a way that we fed our babies, but it’s practically become a way of life for me!  I live and breathe breastfeeding every day. I’m active across breastfeeding support groups, I run a breastfeeding account on Instagram, I blog about breastfeeding, I’m studying a Certificate IV in Breastfeeding Education (Community) and I’m active in my local Australian Breastfeeding Association group. My inbox is literally full of messages about breastfeeding – admins and moderators about Breastfeeders in Australia, nominations for the Pumping It Forward Project and members of Breastfeeders in Australia asking for anonymous question posts or to be pointed in the right direction to find information.

I have friendships with people that I would never have known, had I not fallen into this rabbit hole of breastfeeding.

Will I still care? Will I still feel as passionate about breastfeeding when I’m no longer a breastfeeder? Will I still want to finish my training and continue volunteering with the Australian Breastfeeding Association? Will I find a new interest that will elbow breastfeeding advocacy out of the way?

What will happen to my body? Will I gain a hundred kilos without breastfeeding burning all of my calories? Will my boobs shrink or sag? Will the dark circles under my eyes disappear with all of the extra sleep I get?

Will my daughter want to sleep in her own bed soon? Will my husband want to move back into our bedroom? Will we actually have sex in our bed again, instead of everywhere else we’ve been doing it for the past almost-5 years?

I can’t imagine it. I can’t imagine my daughter not asking for “milks” a hundred times a day. I can’t imagine my son not waking me up in the morning for his milk before breakfast. I can’t imaging wearing high-necked tops or bras with underwires.

I’m not even sure I want to. It’s so hard to imagine letting go of something that’s been such a huge part of my motherhood journey.  Generally I enjoy watching my kids grow, change and learn. I have celebrated all of their milestones with happiness. My son loves preschool and I couldn’t be more proud – my kids loving school is hugely important to me. Neither of us shed any tears on his first day.  But weaning is the first pending milestone I have dreaded.

He loves preschool and is sad when he can’t go

If another mum told me she felt this way, I would tell her she’d done a wonderful job in giving her kids the very best start possible, and that she deserves to feel proud.  I would tell her that although breastfeeding is very important, it’s but one of many aspects of parenting, and I would assure her that her children will continue to need her for a very long time.

Hopefully when the time comes I will have someone to tel me that, because right now I’m a little fearful that I won’t remember it myself.