Mothering my nursing 3.5-year-old

“I can’t stop crying,” Talitha wailed. There was a look of panic on her face. She had literally lost control of her big emotions. She was pleading with me to help her, to restore the peace.

We’d had a trying afternoon. Ophelia has been ill for the past couple of days and, well, now, I guess Talitha wasn’t feeling too hot either.

Without going into detail, it was one of those sessions where the sentiment “They are not giving me a hard time; they are having a hard time” would not have gone amiss.

Really without going into detail, I was impatient, disrespectful and unkind in the way that I parented them through this unsettled time. It was an afternoon where I needed to get a grip but the grip was not fully got until they’d gone to sleep.

The moment she said “I can’t stop crying”, I regretted that I hadn’t seen it sooner, that she was not testing me. She needed me.

Instinctively, I offered her “milky”, suggesting that it might help her stop crying. I couldn’t have known back when she was Ophelia’s age that, at 3.5-years-old, breastfeeding would still be the most natural comfort to offer her.

I half expected her to turn me down, though, because more often than not, it isn’t the solution she chooses these days. Some days she doesn’t breastfeed at all. Others, she’s insistent on that one nursing in the morning, even if it is only for seconds.

She even stopped for the two whole weeks we were in Trinidad. It was as if from the moment we left home she just forgot about it. I thought that was it. The journey was done. I began to compose her weaning story in my head as a way of making sense of this sudden end.

Breastfeeding my 3.5-year-old-2

She asked the day we got back, though. I’m sure I could have brought things to a gentle close by telling her we didn’t do that anymore and distracting her, but in that moment, I had no concrete reason to say, “No more”, and, actually, I still don’t.

Breastfeeding is mostly a non-issue. Sometimes I find it uncomfortable but, more than not, it’s such a natural part of our lives, small and big at the same time.

As I say, she doesn’t nurse very often. And the word “nurse” feels more appropriate now than “feed” as it is sometimes so short, a quick checking-in.

If it’s longer, it’s usually because something is going on, like it was yesterday. I took her into my bed and because Laurence wasn’t home yet, I latched them both on. I don’t often breastfeed them in tandem because I usually find it uncomfortable but it was surprisingly fine that time.

I make a point of really focusing on Talitha when she nurses now because I know we will soon close this chapter of our lives. With two of them there, I locked into my heart the image of them holding hands across my lap.

I sometimes wonder what it would have been like to breastfeed Talitha to weaning as a single child; whether the changes that came with her little sister would have come anyway.

I can’t think of either of them in isolation, though. They are so much a part of each other, so much a part of me. Never is this clearer than when I am breastfeeding them.

Realising she was drifting off to sleep, Talitha unlatched and turned over on her pillow, scooting backwards to make sure she was touching me.

Ophelia unlatched too – and tried to grab her sister’s hair!

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  • This is lovely, made me all emotional. I can remember that day when we met up on Gloucester road, Fran was there too and we were speaking about breastfeeding and how you weren’t sure how long it would be possible for. It’s amazing how well it’s all worked out, can’t believe that was nearly four years ago!! x

  • Oh I do love the way you write and I totally understand those testing days when you reflect back and realise one could of been more patient and it’s lovely to hear that you could comfort her in that way – Mr A still asks for “mummy tea” although we stopped it just past 2.5yrs mainly because he had a major halt in his weight and was not really eating food but I do wonder what will happen when the next one comes along.

    Laura x
    Laura recently posted..Growing up – Our Home

  • Love this Adele. One of my greatest regrets is weaning Cherry so soon – at nine months. At the time I thought myself silly for even questioning what I was doing and completely ignored the part of me that felt it was too soon. I wanted another baby and surely her need for breastmilk had been more than fulfilled? Furthermore I felt a sibling a greater gift to her than ‘a few more months’ of breastfeeding – I had one year in my head as the absolute maximum.

    Now I feel differently. On the days when I feel disconnection I wonder if it’s down to what an unattached baby my toddler used to be. I feel raw need from her and there is guilt and shame. Needless to say, I’m still breastfeeding her younger sister at nearly 15 months.

    I did however find myself tandem nursing last week. Cherry has expressed interest in breastfeeding on and off during Violet’s lifetime, and recently took the plunge and latched on. It was short-lived and she’s shown no interest since. In that moment I felt a glimpse of what life could have been like – but of course it couldn’t, because without weaning Cherry, there would be no Violet.

    Those days are over for she and I now. I wish they weren’t.
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    • Cathy, there is so much in this comment! I must admit I’ve found it easier to bond with Ophelia. Not that I love Talitha any less but we just had a gentler start the second time around with a lovely homebirth, breastfeeding taking off easily and me knowing more about how I wanted to parent. It’s probably easy for us to keep comparing but the reality is that we do the best we can for our children at the time and we can’t second guess that. There are so many gifts you are giving both Cherry and Violet.

  • Great post. I think you’ve done amazingly getting to 3.5, and I love that Talitha calls the shots with regards to breastfeeding. I’m so interested in the concept of self-weaning. We took a half-arsed approach really, I left her to it, and then when we went on holiday (same as you!) she refused it a few days in a row, so I took the plunge and decided that was that. She seemed ok with it, but it wasn’t really self-weaning, though she didn’t ask for it until a couple of weeks later. I was ready to stop, but do sometimes miss it. I loved breastfeeding for so long, and definitely would again with another x
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  • Dear all, how happy I would have been to have had this kind of support in being a new mum. My daughter, bless her, survived my parenting skills, or lack of them, and has now blossomed into a beautiful young lady of almost 21 years of age.

    After reading all of the comments, this thread put me in mind of something that happened with my daughter. It changed our lives for the better and we’ve never looked back since. If nothing else, I hope me little tale will inspire you to follow your instinct and the wishes of your child.

    My daughter had a dummy from when she was about 6 weeks old. When she reached the age of around 2 years, we succeeded in the weaning from the dummy. I followed what I believed to be, all of the best advice from everywhere and anywhere I could find it.

    Some 4 or maybe evn5 years later, my daughter had gone into her bedroom to look for a certain teddy. When she didn’t appear after about 5/6 minutes, I went to help her look. I found my poor little chic sitting on the edge of herbed and crying her heart out. I wondered what on earth could be so bad as to elicit these great, heart wrenching sobs.

    Upon asking her what the matter was,she replied and said that she had a terrible secret and she couldn’t hide it from anymore. It was making her lie and would I please not be cross with. (This from a child who has never even heard me raise my voice).Anyway, I was shocked and horrified and desperate to know what this secret was whilst reassuring my little girl that, no matter what, she was not to blame and of course she wouldn’t be in any trouble.

    Well, this is what she told me and it broke my heart at the time but a valuable lesson was learned.

    She told me in a quiet little whisper of an old dummy she had found tucked away in a little bag that lurked in the bottom of her dressing up box. Even though she knew that it was something that she didn’t need anymore and that she wanted to be a big girl now she longed for its comfort. So, secretly, she had been taking it from it’s hiding place and having, in her words, a”lovely little suck.”

    I fell to earth, grounded by my little girl. Gone were all of the peer pressure comments and competitiveness over giving up the dummy. Ll of the books and articles I’d read on the subject paled into insignificance. Gone in one almighty blow was the smugness I had about how text book perfect my daughters life had been so far.

    IT WAS ALL B——S.

    I’d done something to make my daughter feel ashamed, something that that made her believe that she was lying and being sneaky. I felt like I had robbed her of her innocence and had paid heed to everything and everyone except the most important person of all. I felt that so ehow I’d stolen her right to have a happy and content childhood.

    Well, lesson learned in the hardest way imaginable. My child wasn’t smoking or drinking alcohol, in fact she was doing nothing wrong at all. All of these thoughts hit me like a tidal wave. From that moment to this, I have always tried to listen and take into account, my daughters feelings and views.

    Listen and pay attention to your child above all others. And as the great quote tells us, “And this too, shall pass”. And I can assure that it does. How many 13 year olds don’t hang out with their friends because they’re cuddled up with their mums in bed. Or how many adults have you seen, walking around whilst sucking a dummy?

    Mind you, ending on a lighter note. The daughter, now almost 21, recently told me of her plans to have her hands tattood. I told her of my, not positive at all, feelings on this.A At her age though she can do as she sees fit to her body, all I can do is advise and step back. But here’s the sting:-

    The tattoos she is going to have on her hands depict something very significant to her. She intents to have the words ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ written neatly down the outside of her hands, starting just below her little finger. This is all my doing apparently as I have always told her about the importance of good manners and how they shape who you are and also your path through life. The tattoos are to remind her of this. I’m just wondering if I’d be having this dilemma had I brought her up o be disrespectful and ill mannered haha.

    Good job she is so loved….

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