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Here's what it's like to breastfeed a three-year-old who can walk, talk - and tell you when he's done

“My son self weaned shortly after his third birthday,” writes Chrissie Russell. “I thought I’d share a few things I learned along the way.”

Image: Shutterstock

This article was updated on August 2, 2019.

WHEN I STARTED breastfeeding my firstborn, I wasn’t sure we’d last the week. But after a rocky start we got into our stride.

People would ask how long I intended to feed for and I’d always tell them it was a case of seeing how things went. I never dreamed I’d still be breastfeeding until my son self-weaned shortly after his third birthday.

Now I’m feeding a 14 month old, and we’re in the same boat. So with a few of years under my boobing belt – and in honour of World Breastfeeding Week from August 1 to 7 – I thought I’d share a few things I’ve learned about feeding a child past their first birthday.

Things are a little different when your breastfeeding baby becomes a walking, talking toddler…

1. They play favourites

As babies my sons were happy with what they got, or at least they couldn’t do much about it if they weren’t. But my toddlers ALWAYS have a preferred boob. Maybe the milk is tastier on one side? My two are fans for the right one over the left one, and they’ll make a move themselves if needed.

2. At times I’ve felt like a cow with udders

Having a toddler who refuses to be held and insists on standing to nurse does make me feel distinctly bovine. Moo-ove away from the boob please.

3. Standing is one thing, gymnastics is another

There is a special development stage that doesn’t seem to crop up in any of the parenting books: the Baby Yoga While Breastfeeding stage. I’ve had my guys try and balance on one leg while feeding and do various interpretations of  downward dog while latched on. It does not make for discreet feeding.

4. Having them ask for milk is actually quite handy

‘If they can ask for it, they’re too old for it’ is a common line. Firstly, the HSE recommends breastfeeding up to 2 years and beyond where possible (you can see those guidelines here).  And secondly, I find that a bit of articulation is useful. I can remember wondering ‘What do you want?’ as baby wailed and I ran through a repertoire of nappy change/boob/winding. Having a tot that comes over, points to my chest and shouts ‘buuuuh!’ really avoids any of that confusion.

shutterstock_1155326203 Source: Shutterstock

5. Unless they ask for you to ‘feed’ one of their toys too

At some point your toddler will want to share his favourite snack with a pal and you WILL find yourself pretending to nurse a soft toy. I’ve had a toy koala, Woody from Toy story and a small train held up for milkies.

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6. Toddlers like to get very hands-on (literally)

My tot has a real fondness for slipping his hand down my top at any time and in any place, just to check his sources of milk are still there.

7. Teeth are (mostly) okay, tbh

Yes, gums have been replaced by baby teeth, but there’s not much to be fearful about. Every so often my 14-month-old has a tentative nibble ‘just to see’ what might happen (much as he does with lumps of soil, people’s shoes, and so on) but by and large he knows better than to bite the boob that feeds him.

8. People are generally okay too

I fretted far more about feeding in public now with an older child than with a younger one. I still fret, in fact. But I have never had a bad experience. Yes, I have heard of other mums having ignorant run-ins with some folk – but I hope that my experience shows it’s not always the case. People are not automatically going to be rude if you feed an older baby in public.

9. And older or not, he’ll still reap the benefits

‘He doesn’t need that. He’s just using you for comfort.’ Bah humbug. Plus, if my 14-month-old still wants to feed, then his opinion is the only one that matters to me right now. My eldest self-weaned when he was ready and I’m sure his little brother will too.

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