Extended Breastfeeding: Why I Nurse My Three Year Old


I’ve got a secret, y’all. I’m still breastfeeding my 3.5 year old.

It’s okay . . . take a minute to collect yourselves. Get your smelling salts. If it makes you feel any better, three years ago I would have needed them, too.

I don’t advertise that my little man is still occasionally nursing, but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t planned AT ALL. In fact, it’s rather amusing considering that I’m a far cry from a crunchy mama. I’m cool with regular old Goldfish, fruit snacks that aren’t made from actual fruit, and the occasional Kool-Aid pouch. It never crossed my mind to make my own baby food. I wouldn’t have used cloth diapers if you paid me. I know . . . it’s pitiful. I’m working on it. (I’m not working on it.)

My nine year old wasn’t the best breastfeeder. We had lots of little issues that didn’t help — C-section, jaundice, going back to work, pumping makes me stabby — the usual. I decided to quit my job to stay home with him, but it was too late. He was used to the handy dandy bottle, and I was confident that the breast pump was the fruit of the devil.

Mom and Boy LaughingThen Came Little Brother

When I found out that son number two was on the way, I was PSYCHED to try breastfeeding again. I was absolutely certain things would be so much easier with my second child. I’m fairly certain that I got a smidgen more than what I wished for, good people. My little bear is a NURSING MACHINE. He refused all the bottles and pacifiers ever in the world. Yes, I bought them all. No, he didn’t care. He laughs in the face of your fancy breast shaped bottles, Amazon!  <<insert evil baby laugh>>


Nursing is on trend  . . . IF your baby fits neatly into the crook of your arm. Misconceptions abound when it comes to breastfeeding after those first few months. Many think there is no health benefit past the first year, which is solidly incorrect. I’ve built this little man an immune system of steel and continue to shield him for as long as he nurses. I’ve heard the complaint that breastfeeding an older child is selfish and that I’m forcing him to continue. RIGHT. I would buy him a pony and two Ninja Turtles if that would help him decide to stop. I still do this because HE wants to. I want a mimosa. My favorite untruth is that nursing becomes sexual once the child gets older.  I’m sorry . . . I cannot type the rest of this sentence because I am doubled over laughing and using my hands to wipe my eyes.

Here’s the thing about my secret: It’s completely okay. My baby boy nurses like it’s his job. Nursing is how he loves and likes to be loved by his mama. I have held my baby in my arms since he was a screaming newborn with the cord still attached. Each day simply bleeds into the next. At no point does a mother wake up and feel weird. People around you may feel weird. But MAMA does not. Isn’t that all that matters?

Baby-led Weaning

On his first birthday, he was still just a baby, and I never even thought about denying him. Then 18 months came and went. I wasn’t bothered in the least. I didn’t wake up one day and say, “Today, this is inappropriate. Yesterday was okay, but today you are too old.” Nothing about raising children is ever so black and white.

I opted to just go with baby-led weaning, meaning that I would let him nurse until he outgrew the need to do so. I wouldn’t put my own arbitrary end date on nursing and would simply let him make the call.  Granted, I was absolutely certain that would have been a long LONG time ago, but I digress.

Mom and Little Boy B&WIt was no big deal during the first two years. At two, I felt the first twinges of embarrassment. He’s big for his age, and I started to feel funny when I was forced to nurse him out and about. Nobody said anything, but the stares were beginning in earnest. At 2.5, I institued the rule that we could no longer nurse in public. Also, I kinda wanted my boobs back. At this point, he’s certain to be a rocket scientist, and I’ve elimated every female health threat known to humanity, right? I began working hard to keep him busy and “help him” with that whole baby-led-decision-thing. He’s now 3.5. NAILED IT.

He has only nursed once or twice a day for the last year and I feel like I should at least get SOME credit for that. Sort of. Ish.

Here and Now 

The bottom line? My little one hasn’t been ready to be done breastfeeding, and I don’t mind doing it. I love him with every facet of my soul, and I know him better than all the people. Extended nursing like this was NOT what I bargained for, but life happens, and it’s right with my soul. I know that it’s not exactly palatable to imagine a three-year-old nursing — but it doesn’t have to be. It belongs to us, and we are good.

It’s not easy to choose the route least popular in the face of motherhood today. To all the mamas forging your own paths, I’m sending hugs, high fives, and cookie dough to all of you! Soldier on!

I would love to hear about your own mommy secrets! What works for you that most people don’t do?


  1. Thank you thank you thank because you just wrote my story with my fourth child. First time not working and actually able to keep up with his nursing and now at here we are three years later! Had to nurse him at a museum recently so he would go to sleep and the rest of my sons could enjoy the day! Sorry mom nursing your little one, but I am going to squeeze into the “nursing” room. Otherwise it is only at home rule.

    • It’s SO awesome to hear from a fellow extended nurser! I’ve been in the same boat so many times in the last year with the nursing in public – it would have helped IMMENSELY if I could sit down somewhere and nurse him in order to extend our visit and keep away a meltdown! He’s not a big fan of the pool and big brother would stay for hours, so that would have been a great place to nurse him quietly to relax. But hanging out in public in a swimsuit these days is PLENTY of show for me. LOL!!!

  2. So great, Chalna! I never nursed quite that long but I did let mine decide when they were done. I was really sad when my last one (baby #6) quit at 19 months. I cried for a few days, for sure.

    • Thanks, Kristen!! Last year at this time, I might have been weepy. NOW, there’s a 99% chance that I’ll be throwing a party. And by “party”, I mean a weekend alone where I sleep and go to the bathroom by myself. 😉

  3. My little mommy secret is I love working! Yes, you read that correctly. I stayed home one year with each of my 3 children, and loved every minute. I captured special moments and will forever be grateful. However, I loved getting back to work. Stay at home mommy is hard, very hard!! Working makes me a better mom. I often ask myself, “Do my children feel any less loved? ” Nope, never. I’m proud of the example I’m setting for my children. I have my cake and eat it too!! Thanks for sharing.

    • I love it, Renee!!! That’s a PERFECT plan! There are SOOOO many right ways to do this whole mom thing! 🙂 There is a huge part of me that misses my career self, so I TOTALLY get this one.

  4. Chalna, I’ve got a bigger secret. I breastfed child number five until she was 5 years old. And she was sad to quit. (It WASN’T her decision).But I told her when baby number seven was born, I only had two breasts: one for new baby and the other for child number six. (Yes, you read that right.) But what most (almost everyone) doesn’t realize is that a 5 year old, 2 year old, or even a 1 year old is not nursing for nourishment; she is nursing for comfort and bonding. It may be his way to give you a good-night “kiss.” Or a sleep aid when she is ill. Or comfort when he is hurt. For my older nursers, it usually was one minute or less at bedtime prayers. And I treasured that short, but individual time with my child in my very busy life. Thanks for writing this Chalna. It brought back sweet memories.

    • Lynn, I absolutely love it and you are so welcome!!! Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this!!! You speak the truth; nursing past a year is all about comfort and soothing. The continued health benefits are just an extra reward, which is good considering that my boobs are completely ruined for all space and time now. LOLOL!!!

      And GIRL – you just GO ON with those seven kids! ROCK. STAR. I’d love to know when your last one stopped nursing! 🙂

  5. My son was a total comfort nurser and he nursed until 3.5 when I finally weaned him. By then he nursed for a few minutes in the morning and before bed but I had to go away for a weekend to be able to cut him off! Who knows how long he might have gone if I had left him to it, but I was just ready to be done. So awesome to read your story since it always felt like I was the Lone Ranger with my older nurser. It really is such a personal decision between you and your child!

    • THANK YOU, Camille!!! This is so helpful to hear!! My husband and I were just discussing the fact that a weekend away is going to be our approach, too. He’s also down to a couple of minutes in the morning and before bed and the heartbreak in his eyes when I tell him no just slays me! It’s our little thing and I can see that he just doesn’t grasp why we would ever end it. I can tell him no with EASE if he throws a tantrum, but telling him no when he’s sad and watching it hurt his feelings is PAINFUL! I think a weekend away might be just the ticket to break him of the automatic habit. I have no doubt that he will ask again once I’m home, but at least he will have experienced a few days without it and realize it’s no big deal. It might have to be a week away, though. I’m gunning for an island with an umbrella and great book that I actually read from start to finish. And boat drinks. ???


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