I have been wanting to write a post dedicated to the nursing relationship that I had with Iris since, well, ever since she stopped nursing just after her third birthday. I wasn't sure what to say, and honestly, I still don't, but I am ready to give it a go.
There have only been two decisions in my time as a mama that I am 100% sure that I was absolutely making the best decision about. One was giving birth to Eloise at home and the other one was letting Iris wean when she was ready to. Sure, I had moments when I thought "ahhh! This sucks, I don't want to do this anymore!" but I still knew it was the absolute best thing to do, even if I didn't feel like doing it all of the time.
I am eternally grateful to the universe for blessing me with a beautiful, low-stress, complication-free nursing relationship with Iris. She nursed shortly after birth and with a few visits from the lactation consultant and a brief fling with a nipple shield, we had the nursing thing down pat. In the three years I nursed Iris I never had mastitis or any other nursing-related issues. I have learned that my experience is actually fairly rare, which made me even more grateful for what I have gone through.
I went back to work part-time when Iris was eight weeks old and began pumping enough milk for her to eat while I was away from her. I continued to pump for her every single time I worked until she was a year old. Her first birthday was such a monumental moment for me in that regard, I was so excited to have made it a full year pumping for her and I certainly never wanted to see a pump again for the rest of my life! She had also made it a full year without any formula, a goal I was thrilled to have reached. We moved her on to whole cow's milk at a year, but she still nursed when she wanted to. It wasn't until she was well over a year that I started nudging her towards night weaning, as well. My personal belief is that children should be allowed to night nurse as much as they need to until they are at least 18 months old, which was what we did. Around 18 months I started gently transitioning her to no night nursings.
When Iris was 18 months old I also became pregnant with Eloise. This proved to be a really trying time for me in our nursing relationship. I often felt like crap, my boobs hurt, I just didn't feel like nursing alot of the time. I knew it was important to keep up with, however, and so I did. During this time I realized I needed to start putting some regulations on our nursing sessions. Iris is an incredibly strong-willed girl and had taken to screaming at the top of her lugs if I didn't nurse her immediately whenever and wherever she wanted to. She was old enough to understand that nursing happens certain times of day while we were at home and that it wasn't polite to scream at me. We began nursing upon waking, before nap time, after nap time and before bed. Of course, if it was truly necessary, we would nurse other times of day.
Iris's second birthday came and went and we were still nursing. At this point I didn't really know anyone else in real life who nursed a child that long and it had turned in to something very private for us. I didn't really talk to anyone about it and only found a group of mamas in a similar situation online through message boards. As expected, Iris nursed the day her sister was born and continued to nurse practically the whole first year of her sister's life. I found tandem nursing to be both a blessing and a curse. I was glad that Iris knew I would still have enough milk to share with her, and thus help prevent her feeling like her sister was taking me over, but at the same time, I was stretched thin and occasionally found nursing two children exhausting. During this year we slowly cut down the nursings to just one a day, before bedtime.
We continued tandem nursing until July of this year when Iris just stopped asking to nurse before bed while we were on our vacation in Wisconsin. I did the "don't ask/don't refuse" method and it worked really well. After she hadn't nursed for a few weeks, however, she did ask to nurse again. I distracted her and that worked out well, it turned out all she wanted to do was buy some time before going to bed.
I wouldn't trade the last three years of nursing Iris for the world. I am proud of the accomplishment, I am proud that I've done the very best thing for her health (and mine!) and I'm proud of the attachment it has created for us. I hope that my nursing relationship with Eloise follows a similar path, I would be a very lucky mama, indeed.
I truly hope that our story might connect with a mama who is considering nursing past infancy, child-led weaning , nursing during pregnancy or tandem nursing to know that it really can be done and is an amazingly beautiful and mutually beneficial relationship. I am more than happy to field any questions on this subject if anyone needs any more information.