Why Nurse a 4 Year Old?

May 29th, 2012 by Dionna | 22 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Compassionate Advocacy, Feed with Love and Respect, Just for Fun/Miscellaneous, My Family, natural parenting

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Welcome to the Carnival of Tandem Nursing

This post was written for inclusion in the Carnival of Tandem Nursing hosted by Mommying My Way. Our participants have shared their personal stories of the highs the lows and information on what to expect if tandeming is in your future. Please read to the end of each post to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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I am tandem nursing my 6 month old and 4.5 year old. It’s not something that I envisioned when I started my breastfeeding journey, nor is it something I particularly like.1

One of the questions I keep getting when I discuss the Time cover with people is, “but why breastfeed a four year old? What are the benefits?” My answer can be as simple as this:

It is natural.

Because it is meaningful to him.

And that is enough for me. Breastfeeding is a small part of our loving relationship – it is as natural to us as cuddling or snuggling.

I trust that he will wean when he is ready, and I’m giving him gentle nudges in that direction by limiting the times he nurses, by not offering, and by using other ways to comfort him.

It is healthy.

But in addition to the fact that nursing is meaningful to him, it helps to know that if he were to get sick, he is still receiving antibodies from my breastmilk. Antibodies in breastmilk are actually environment-specific, so drinking breastmilk from a mother in close proximity can help boost an ill person’s immunity. There is even evidence that this can work in extreme cases of illness – such as with chemo or organ transplant patients and even cancer patients.2

It is normal.

Finally, I continue to nurse my son because that’s what humans have done for thousands of years and what humans do in most of the world even today.3 In fact, the median age of weaning throughout the world today is between the ages of three and five years.4

So yes, I tandem nurse a newborn and a preschooler. I don’t do it for me, I do it for my children – it’s what works for us.

Do you tandem nurse and/or nurse your children past infancy?

Why do you continue to nurse your little one into toddlerhood and beyond?

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  • My Tandem Nursing Journey: Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy is sharing her tandem nursing journey so far…
  • Built for Two: No matter how much you read and plan, things may not always go as you expect. A few things that Jennifer at True Confessions of a Real Mommy wished she knew when she was planning to tandem feed her toddler and newborn.
  • Tandem Nursing – Magic Cure?: Jorje of Momma Jorje had high expectations of tandem nursing easing her toddler daughter’s transition from being the baby to being a big sister.
  • Mutually Desirable – Navigating a Tandem Nursing Experience: Amy Willa at www.amywilla.com talks about limit setting and meditations that help her navigate an intense tandem nursing experience.
  • My Adventure in Tandem Nursing: Alicia at Lactation Narration tells her story of nursing her daughter through pregnancy and then tandem nursing.
  • 4 months in: the good/hard: Becca at Exile Fertility writes about the joys and struggles of having two nurslings 17 months apart.
  • Tandem Nursing: One at a Time: When tandem nursing resulted in a nursing aversion, Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children looked for ways to meet everyone’s needs.
  • Why Nurse a 4 Year Old?: One of the questions Dionna at Code Name: Mama keeps getting is, “but why breastfeed a four year old? What are the benefits?” Today she answers that question.
  • My Hurt Feelings: Shannon at The Artful Mama shares how her first son reacted to nursing after the birth of his brother and the gift she received the last time he nursed.
  • Carnival of Tandem Nursing: A Letter To Myself 7 Years Ago: Dulce de leche shares the advice and reassurance that she would have given to herself if she could go back in time.
  • Nursing Both My Babies: Cassie at There’s a Pickle in my Lifeshares her experience with nursing and transitioning into tandem nursing. She also gives tips for struggles.
  • Our Tandem Nursing Journey: Kim at Life-is-Learning describes her journey into tandem nursing and why it is important to her.
  • Based on her own experience, Lauren at Hobo Mama dishes about the benefits and downsides to nursing multiple children.

  1. Many mamas who have nursed during pregnancy or tandem nursed a newborn and an older nursling understand the term “nursing aversion” quite intimately.
  2. From 58 Medicinal, Cosmetic, and Other Alternative Uses for Breastmilk.
  3. Breastfeeding: Biocultural Perspectives at Chapter 2, by Patricia Stuart-Macadam & Katherine A. Dettwyler, available in part as a Google Book.
  4. Check out Breastfeeding Beyond a Year and the studies cited therein (along with the reference to physicians recommending extended breastfeeding), A Natural Age of Weaning by Kathryn Dettwyler, Natural Weaning by Norma Jane Bumgarner, and ChildInfo.org.

22 Responses to:
"Why Nurse a 4 Year Old?"

  1. I think I could’ve written this.

  2. Amy Willa   Amy_willa

    Like Susan, I could have written this word for word.

    I, like you, continue to nurse my preschooler while nursing my infant/little toddler. Why? Because it’s normal, and it’s meaningful to her. I set limits and nudge her gently in the direction of weaning, in order to make sure that everyone’s needs in the family are met and balanced. . .

    but I, like you, won’t force my child to wean just like another mom might not steal and throw away a favorite lovey of their child’s. . . or just one day stop hugging their child.

  3. Momma Jorje   MommaJorje

    Why do I do it? Pretty much the exact same reasons you mentioned… only my little is only 2½. :-)

  4. Kerri

    I nursed my 4 1/2 year old until he weaned himself at about 22 months. I had hoped he would nurse until at least 2, but contrary to popular belief, you can’t force a child to nurse. When my 10 month old was born he was curious about nursing ; I let him try, but he couldn’t figure out how to latch. I showed him the Time cover and his immediate reaction was that nursing was for babies. I reminded him that he wasn’t too old if it was something he wanted. He again tried to latch, but was smiling and couldn’t. I tru

  5. Kerri

    I had a lengthy reply typed and lost it. I nursed my now 4 1/2 year old until 22 months when he refused whenever I offered. Cut to July 2011 when his brother was born. He was curious about nursing and I let him try. After the Time cover he was curious again. Again I let him try. He has lost that skill, but it made him happy that I let him try. I again plan on nursing until my little one chooses to stop. We plan on TTC when he is 2; if he is still nursing, then tandem nursing here we come.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I love that you let him try, even though he’d been weaned for awhile. I’d love to hear about others’ experiences with that!

  6. Rachael   RachaelNevins

    My 3.5-yo more or less self-weaned while I was pregnant, and I suspected that he would ask for milk again once his brother was born — which he did. Three months later, he still does ask for milk, though very, very occasionally and only for a few seconds at a time. I continue to nurse him because I believe that he is asking for milk as a way of checking in to see that I’m still there for him. Yes, kiddo, I am.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Exactly. As I laid down last night, Kieran (who was already asleep) started whimpering. I pulled him over to me and he automatically latched on for a few seconds. That has not happened in . . . a year? But it was obviously a need.

  7. I tandem nursed my son from 2.5 when my daughter was born until he was 4.5, when he weaned “by contract.” (That is, we agreed that was when he would stop. Left entirely to his own devices he’d quite possibly still be nursing now, at six. But I felt four and a half was a good ending point for us.)

    Why did I do it? Because there wasn’t a good time before then. I never intended to tandem nurse, but these things just creep up on us sometimes.

  8. I love this. That’s why I kept nursing through pregnancy, because it was so meaningful to my son.

    Thanks for all of your posts and participating in the Time magazine article, it was awesome.

  9. Erin OK   OK_Erin

    My son just turned two, and honestly, I wish he would nurse less. I’ve begun some gentle nudging. But I also am thrilled that I can offer him the emotional support, the immune support, the nutritional support, the pure comfort when he needs it. And, I guess given that most people say the twos are so terrible, I shouldn’t be surprised that he needs it alot. I’d LIKE to stop by his third birthday, but will not be forcing it if he’s not ready.

  10. Hi Dionna!

    “Because it is meaningful to him” I love love love this statement. Everytime I nurse my boy, I will tell myself, he has been nursing from me since day 1, of course this means a lot to him, who am I to cut it off just like that?

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      A friend and I were discussing this question during the Time interviews, and she helped me come up with that simple statement. It’s so true.

  11. Charity

    Good post! Those were basically all the reasons I had planned to nurse each of my children till at least two. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.

    I nursed my 4-year-old daughter till she was 15 months and abruptly started refusing the breast. Nothing I could do would coax her back on.

    I nursed my 21-month-old son till 17 months. I got pregnant with my third child when he was 15 months and my milk dried up shortly after that. By the time this baby is born, I suspect he will have forgotten how to latch.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      Kieran forgot how to latch, but he did dry nurse through my pregnancy. You never know! Congratulations on your pregnancy mama!

  12. Such a gorgeous picture … I’m just starting to get weaning questions from people about my (rather large) almost two year old who nurses more frequently than my 4 month old. I feel like we have quite awhile left in our nursing relationship. Love your simple responses …

  13. I love this! I get the same question, and your answers sum it up perfectly! You are full of awesome. And BTW, you and your kidlets are all so lovely. <3

  14. Love this post and the comments are also all so meaningful. It has really encouraged me to remember that if I end up nursing through a pregnancy and then go on to tandem nurse, I don’t need to be afraid or anxious about it if I’m doing something my children need.

  15. Mary Anderson

    I just googled “Tandem nursing a 4.5 and 2.5 year old” because that is what I am doing and I wanted to see what I found. My 4.5 year old daughter is the one I wish would stop. My 2.5 year old son still seems like a baby and I am OK with him nursing. But like most of you, I know there are benefits for my older child and those outweigh my desire for her to stop altogether. I am working on weaning her slowly by limiting it. I already had a huge victory by ceasing all nighttime nursing but that was when she was 3.5yo, resulting in her sleeping totally independently for the first time in her life. That was amazing but here we are, a year later, still going strong during the day. Our current battle is that she stop waking me up at the crack of dawn to nurse and stop trying to nurse during the day while I am working. I’m confused how to make her wean totally without making her younger brother wean but it’s not the end of the world and I love the comments here.

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