Happy Birthday, Happy Nurseling

Nursing past the age of one

My toddler walks, climbs, can run faster than me and has eight teeth. She feeds herself with a spoon whenever she is hungry and runs to me for milk whenever she is thirsty.

Yes, milk. Breastmilk. My daughter still nurses and consumes the only milk in the world that is perfectly produced especially for her.

I use the aforementioned phrase "still nurses" out of habit because I hear it so often now. The day before my daughter's first birthday, she was considered a breastfed baby. The next day, the mess from her first birthday cake was still strewn all over the kitchen floor and I hear, "She's still nursing? Wow!"

Many Americans seem to be under the impression that once a baby has teeth, begins to walk or has celebrated the big O-N-E, that they have outgrown their need to nurse. Why should there be such a short time limit on the beautiful phase in a child's life that includes contentment and superior nutritional benefits? Is a bottle-fed child expected to give up his bottle as soon as toddler characteristics appear? No, he is not. Therefore, breastfed children should not be expected to wean while they are still young enough to enjoy the optimal bonding experience associated with nursing.

I do see a new trend in regards to nursing past the first year. In the American Academy of Pediatrics press release dated December 1, 1997, breastfeeding is recognized as the preferred source of feeding for almost all babies for at least the first year of life. In the past, the AAP recommended breastfeeding for at least six months. It is nice to see that the academy has increased its recommendation on the time span of the breastfeeding cycle.

Research conducted by Katherine Dettwyler, Ph.d., of the Department of Anthropology at Texas A and M University concludes that the natural weaning age starts at 2.5 years. Dr. Dettwyler's findings also confirm that some children will reach their natural weaning age a few years later. In other words, toddlers who are allowed to continue nursing are simply doing what comes naturally to them.

La Leche League International, an organization for breastfeeding mothers, strongly supports extended nursing and child-led weaning. As an active member of LLL, I find comfort in the companionship of fellow members who also enjoy seeing their toddlers climb on their laps with an indication that they want to cuddle and nurse.

I personally recommend involvement in this organization for all breastfeeding mothers. Most areas offer monthly meetings for members as well as non-members. What a wonderful setting to meet other mothers who have a common interest.

Nursing a toddler has proven to be a wonderful experience for me. I can't help but laugh out loud when my daughter leaves her toys and happily runs over to me for a quick refreshment. She also likes to look under my blouse, with a giggle of anticipation--a designated giggle for that purpose only. I am not looking forward to the day when my daughter is weaned and the experiences of today are only a cheerful memory.

A year from now, my daughter will turn two years old, and she will probably be "still nursing." I will proudly be surpassing the AAP's recommendations and also allowing my daughter to do what comes naturally. The birthday cake will be chocolate, and my toddler will wash it down with mothers' milk.

Sharon Waldrop is a stay-at-home mother of four children, married to a Deputy Sheriff. They live on a mountain. She is an active member of La Leche League and Moms Club, a PTA volunteer and Sunday school teacher.