I Am Still Not a Human Pacifier- Comfort Nursing After Two

Dear Daughter,

You turned two this past April. Now it’s June. You are twenty six months and counting. We nursed past the minimum recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. We nursed past the minimum recommendation of the World Health Organization. There are no more minimums to pass. We’re running out past our goals, past those finish lines. You nurse still, and it seems you will for quite some time yet to come.

When you were three weeks old I wrote you a letter about comfort nursing, about not feeling like a human pacifier.

There is a school of thought that looks down on the idea of mothers being pacifiers instead of the use of plastic pacifiers. There is another school of thought that looks down on the idea of pacifiers at all- human or plastic. I don’t like those schools. I like the one that says it’s okay to find human contact comforting. That comfort is free. That emotions are real. That we are strong enough to deal with them, but that comfort helps make them more manageable. That no, we don’t need comfort. We’re strong enough to deal with a multitude of things all on our own. We’re strong enough to be separated from our tribe, our family, and strong enough to deal with the stress that happens when that occurs. But.. Even though we are strong enough, why? Is it necessary to live out our days being this strong if someone is willing and happy to help, to be our tribe, to snuggle close and be a source of comfort?

You still comfort nurse. It’s not the only type of comfort that you have. We are big on physical contact in this family. We’re big on hugs and snuggles and wrestling. On read-alouds and carrying each of you sometimes even when you’re big enough to walk. Not because you’re unable to walk. But because it’s a form of closeness when you’re feeling small and overwhelmed. Sometimes you want to nurse. Sometimes you want a hug. Sometimes you want to sit across from me and tell me as much of the story of what happened as you have words for, waving your hands about for emphasis, and gladly taking any new words that I have to offer for your experience.

Honestly, you’re comfort nursing less and less. You fall asleep with your head on my shoulder and my hand tangled up in your hair as I rub your scalp. You trace my collarbone with your fingers and watch the ceiling fan as it spins above. Sometimes you pull your head back to my elbow, look up at me, and tell me about something you just remembered. And I listen and smile and respond, then remind you that the sun is setting and it’s the end of the day, and that it’s time to snuggle down to sleep. You whisper “yes” and nod your head, happy with the comfort of the familiar.

I feel no need to wean you from this, as you are weaning yourself. Gradually. Gradually weaning yourself. I could say “Okay, you’re able to take other things that means that you’re done.” and I could push you away from this particular thing. There wouldn’t be anything wrong with doing that. We’ve made the minimum, we all have limits and boundaries that we set as needed.

When you are upset you come running for hugs, for kisses, for conversation, for closeness, for nursing. You do not ask for ice cream, a toy, television, or distraction. You look for a safe place to feel. You’re the one to know when it’s time to move past that type of comfort on to other types of comforting things. I’m not waiting on a minimum anymore. You’re two. Now we’re just waiting on you. Happily.

<3 Mama

Note: I know that this is a touchy subject for some moms. Nursing aversion is VERY real and can make comfort nursing into a particular type of hell. Some moms had the goal of two and were not able to make it for whatever combination of reasons. Love to you mamas, no judgement. Sometimes our lives don’t line up with our wishes and desires and best intentions. I find the joy where I can, because there are enough of those things that I wished for that never came to be. That sadness is like quicksand. Try not to be sucked in. <3

  19 comments for “I Am Still Not a Human Pacifier- Comfort Nursing After Two

  1. Ann
    June 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    Very much needed this read tonight! It is still night here in Japan. My toddler is only 17 months and is nursing all night. This pattern has gone on for the past couple weeks making me wonder – “Am I becoming a human pacifier?” Thanks for sharing your kind words and encouragement.

  2. Tina
    June 2, 2014 at 3:21 pm

    My son’s pediatrician pushed me to wean him before he was two. He scared me by saying my nursing him was causing him not to grow enough, even though he was eating solid food too. I really regret that I listened, and I can tell my son still needs the comfort, even though he turned two last October. When he falls asleep he likes to rest his hand under my shirt in between my breasts. It’s very sweet, and soothes him to sleep.

  3. Kristina
    June 2, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    This brought tears to my eyes. My sweet girl is 2.5 and just finished weaning herself. I’m 26 weeks pregnant so I understand why she did but I do miss it. This post made me realize hiw much I miss it. We still snuggle to sleep at night and nap time.

    • Nicole
      January 10, 2015 at 6:54 am

      Hi Kristina, I just wanted to share my experience with you… My son turned 3 10 days after my daughter was born. He had weaned himself down to *maybe* once a week. When the colostrum came he said, “I don’t like it.” And I told him that was ok. When the milk came in, he was thrilled and is back to nursing 3 or 4 times a day and jumps for joy when I say he can have both sides. All that to say, if you continue to be available to your son, he may pick back up. He may not, but it is a possibility he will :) I was sad he was weaning but I was ok with it because he was doing it on his own (and because it was painful to nurse for me to be quite honest). I just didn’t offer to him and said yes whenever he asked. :) now I have to be a bit more restrictive, limiting him so I can nurse his sister, but I love that we still have this relationship and that he has his home base to come to. I feel it has really helped him in this transition.

  4. Justin
    June 2, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    I am told often don’t hold him don’t cary him make him walk make him cry on his own I hold my son till my back hurts my arms grow tired give kiss and hugs no matter the time ore place life is short time is fleeting every one has an opinion well so do I love till you die laf till it hurts put God first in all you do your child can be there one day gon the next

    • Nicole
      January 10, 2015 at 6:56 am

      Amen!

  5. Veronika
    June 3, 2014 at 1:56 am

    Hi Sarah,
    I wanted to ask for a bit of advice. My little boy is 10 weeks, he was born healthy but quite small, only 2,6kg. I have exclusively breastfed him from the beginning but have always worried I don’t have enough milk because I never see it coming out even if I squeeze the breast or pump. Last night was the first night I went out for dinner and left him with the grandma. I was a nervous reck because until now he was refusing a bottle and we haven’t practiced much because I could never express much. So I’ve decided we will try giving him 60ml of formula because I only managed to express 20ml. In the end he happily took it because he was so sleepy. This morning I saw what a real wet nappy looks like, his breastfeeding nappies are never this full and heavy. Now I’m wondering if he has been getting enough this whole time. Do you think wetness of nappies varies from breast or formula? (He has been putting weight steadily but still remains at the bottom of chart). Also he does get really angry while nursing kicking me with his legs and arms. What do you think?

    • sarah
      June 4, 2014 at 12:59 pm

      Veronika,

      If you suddenly drink a gallon of water one day instead of the recommended half gallon, and drink it in 16 ounce portions instead of 8oz glasses. Gulp it down quickly instead of slowly. You’ll see a lot more urine output. It doesn’t mean that a half gallon isn’t enough, it just means that you drank a lot of liquid quickly and your body is expelling what it doesn’t need. So a diaper being “heavy” doesn’t mean that your baby’s normal wet diapers aren’t heavy enough. Breastmilk from the tap flows more slowly than breastmilk or formula in a bottle. The body has more of an opportunity to digest and absorb what is in it than it does when it consumes 2-4 ounces of milk in a bottle that flows much faster than the breast ever does.

      A “wet diaper” in a breastfed baby is about 3 tablespoons of liquid. If you’re uncertain what this would feel like grab a diaper and head to the kitchen to measure this out and feel what a wet should feel like. Some babies make a larger number of damp diapers, some babies make a smaller number of extremely wet diapers. It varies. What you’re looking for is about 6 wet diapers per 24 hours. A heavier diaper will count as two.

      Pumping.. Many women don’t let down to the pump and the average amount that a woman will pump is about a half ounce to three ounces from both breasts combined (15-89ml) This means that the 20ml that you are able to express is well within the normal amount. Personally I tend to be closer to the 15ml amount for pumping. I have exclusively breastfed all three of my children for the first six months of their life and have gone on to breastfeed each of them for well over a year. I have also donated milk because that half ounce I can pump? It adds up. My kids don’t do bottles. So the “just in case” stash that I build over time ends up being a just in case for a baby other than mine.

      Behavior while nursing.. Again, doesn’t mean anything in terms of supply. Some babies get really upset with the letdown speed of mom’s breasts. So they cry. This signals to mom’s body that baby is hungry. It signals to her breasts to increase supply and let down. It’s actually a good thing in terms of supply, and during growth spurts most babies act like a variety of very small very feral angry animals. At six weeks I compared my daughter to an angry squirrel. Later on she was an angry badger.

      Is your child getting what they need if they are making the right number of wet diapers, meeting the 4-8 ounce per week (on average not measured weekly) weight gain, and nursing on demand? Probably.

      Low weight gain, fussiness and anger, etc. can also be a sign of an issue. How do you know? You check to see if other symptoms of that problem are present. Low weight gain can be caused by a tongue or lip tie, for example. There are tongue ties that are not commonly known. They are called “posterior” ties or type 3/4 ties. These might be missed by a pediatrician, but they can cause a lot of trouble with breastfeeding. My middle child had a tongue tie that caused his weight gain to be low even though he made a very large number of wet diapers every day and was eating close to the upper range of average in terms of ounces of breastmilk every day. Having his tongue tie clipped resolved his issues.

      Other babies may have a sensitivity to something in mom’s diet. Dairy and soy are the most common things. A baby who has a sensitivity will frequently have a target-like rash around their anus and will have unusual poops that might be green and frothy, have streaks of blood, or mucus.

      If you can answer the questions below I might be able to provide you with some more information:
      Do you feel that there might be something else happening with your baby, or are you just worried about supply? How does your baby behave after feeding? Does your baby have any quiet alert times during the day? Are you feeding on demand? Do you have any history of hormonal imbalance? Are you on any form of hormonal birth control? Do you regularly eat foods that contain spices such as sage? Do you drink mint tea? There are certain herbs, medications and birth control that can negatively influence mom’s supply. Are your breasts unusually elongated? Did you go through a period of nipple trauma at the beginning of your breastfeeding relationship? Does your baby ever click while nursing? Do you nurse when baby cries with hunger or do you nurse at the first sign of hunger? Do you postpone feedings at all to try and stay on a schedule?

      • Veronika
        June 4, 2014 at 4:02 pm

        Hi Sarah,
        I don’t think there’s anything else wrong with the baby, I have found that recently he hasn’t been giving much feeding cues, although perhaps that’s because I offer him the breast so much he doesn’t have the time.
        Some times after feeding he seems very satisfied and happy, but other times he gets angry and cries and even when I offer him the scond breast he acts the same.
        Quiet alert time yes absolutely, feeding on demand, no hormonal issues that I’m aware of.
        No birth control, staying clear of spicy food and no mint tea. Breasts are ok shape and I had almost no nipple trauma, he latched quite well from the beginning or so I was told at the hospital. I do sometimes hear clicking sounds yes. I feed all the time at first sign of hunger if not even before. And no feeding schedule in place.
        Thanks for reassurance, I’m going to weight him next week and hopefully he hasn’t slid off the chart and keeps ganging.

        • sarah
          June 5, 2014 at 12:10 pm

          You sound like you’re doing well. When he clicks unlatch him and relatch him. Good luck at the weight check!

      • Veronika
        June 4, 2014 at 4:19 pm

        P.S. I’ve just done the 3 table spoons experiment and he definitely makes at least 6 nappies like this if not a lot more actually.
        If your child was having plentiful intake of the milk how did a tongue tie cause low weight gain? Was it because he couldn’t get the creamier milk towards the end? I do find that my boy always gets angry after about 10 minutes of feeding, never from the beginning and never at night.

        • sarah
          June 5, 2014 at 12:09 pm

          Veronika, I’m not sure what it was. I don’t know if it was because he wasn’t signalling to the breast about his needs, or what. I pumped during that time period and my milk was 1/3rd or more cream, so it was pretty high fat. I know that he had symptoms of reflux that disappeared as soon as his tongue tie was clipped. I never did get much of an answer on what was happening there.

          It sounds like your boy is impatient with a second letdown. You can try the 15 second switch trick (switch sides every time he fusses- this encourages letdown to happen more quickly). Does he burp or have trapped wind?

      • Veronika
        June 5, 2014 at 4:25 am

        I’ve completely forgot to mention that he has problems with his stool, there was an episode when he was about 4 weeks when he had no bowel movement for 12 days. He’s been since prescribed sennakot every other day and now poops once evert two days only.

        • sarah
          June 5, 2014 at 12:07 pm

          Veronika, some breastfed babies go for a couple of weeks without pooping. Once they have passed their meconium this isn’t generally something that needs to be worried about.

    • Bernadette Burton
      June 21, 2014 at 6:40 pm

      I went through this too. For a time I though my little on e wasn’t getting enough just with the exclusive breastfeeding because she was nursing all the time and thrashing around while nursing and I could never tell how much was in the disposable diapers because they’re so darn absorbent. Hang in there. These fears will pass and as long as he is gaining at a good rate it may take him some time to catch up. My little one was only 6lbs, 1oz and she really pudged out around the 4th or 5th month. What you able to express may well be much less than what your little one is able to get. They are far more adept at getting the milk out than a pump or by hand.

  6. Liesal
    June 4, 2014 at 2:00 am

    Another beautiful post. This is exactly what I needed to hear. My son just turned two too, and he still comfort nurses and when he wakes up and to sleep. I’m also 16 weeks pregnant and having some crazy nipple pain. Somedays I wonder if the pain is all worth it. Thank you for reminding me that it is. We made it to our goal of two years, and I told him he can do whatever he wants now. I do hope to be able to continue nursing though. He doesn’t seem to mind dry nursing, and I would love to be able to tandem nurse my babies.

  7. Jen
    June 4, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    Thanks for this beautiful post. Two nights ago my 18 month old son unexpectedly slept through the night and didn’t ask to nurse in the morning, so I just went with it. Last night, he made up for lost time and nursed alllll night long (his usual). One day of not nursing was enough to remind me how close to the end we are and to enjoy these last few weeks or months of nursing, because I will miss it when he decides he is done.

  8. Joanne Corazza
    June 5, 2014 at 1:43 am

    my 5 1/2 yr old daughter still comfort nurses. so many people are uncomfortable with the fact that she still wants to nurse…but i feel that nursing is one of the most beautiful and natural things a mother can share with her child…and as long as my daughter needs this form of closeness… i don’t mind, i cherish this time together!

  9. Rene P.
    January 21, 2015 at 3:31 pm

    Just wanted to suggest tummy massage (plenty of instructional videos online) to help with encouraging bowl movements and any painful gasses.

    Also wanted to say to check for acid reflux, or baby had it, doesn’t mean they always throw up/spit up. It just meant that for her, when milk (she was exclusively BF and BMILK from bottle) hour her tummy, it churnd up painful acid that burned her throat. I cleared out milk/casein from my diet in case of any sensitivities and it also helped. But try feeding baby as upright as possible (yes is a little awkward for momma) then also take a pause mid feed to burp, then continue. Try having baby stay upright as much as possible, even when resting. Good luck!

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