• Wed, Mar 6 2013

My 5-Year-Old Daughter Is Still Breastfeeding And I Don’t Know How To Stop

breastfeeding childMayim Bialik‘s 4-year-old finally weaned himself.

I’m jealous.

Because my daughter just turned five, and she’s still going strong.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m just doing this for myself. You thought that about Mayim too. And that mom on the cover of TIME. But if you think giving a preschooler access to my boobs is something I do for myself, well, you’ve obviously never done it.

And why should it be about me? Our culture is perfectly comfortable with child-led achievement of other milestones (potty training? walking?), so what makes breastfeeding different? Why is it a good idea to let a child decide when she wants to quit diapers but totally inappropriate to let her decide when to quit the boob?

I’ll be honest: I’d love to let my daughter decide when to stop. But at this point, I’d also be happy to take the lead myself.

I just can’t figure out how.

It’s not that I can’t tell her no. I do all the time (she doesn’t have ice cream for breakfast, and she doesn’t watch TV all day, although she begs to do both). It’s certainly not that I’m clinging to her babyhood (I’ve got a younger baby who is also breastfeeding). It doesn’t help me lose weight (quite the opposite), and I don’t particularly enjoy it.

And I know she doesn’t really need it anymore.

It’s just that she still thinks she needs it. And like any other step toward independence, I’m not sure she’ll really thrive without it until she decides for herself that she’s ready.

She always enjoyed breastfeeding more than the average baby. As a newborn, she latched on within minutes and barely unlatched for a year. At her first birthday, when many of her peers were weaning, she was cutting back to once every two or three hours. Back then, nursing a toddler didn’t faze me. Most of the time I liked it. It was a powerful parenting tool. I could stop a tantrum mid-scream, end a fight instantly, or put her to bed in seconds, all with the magical power of mama milk.

But by the time she turned two, I was getting tired. She still nursed at least every three hours, more on some days. She could go without it — she went to preschool two days a week and managed just fine — but if I was around, she wanted my boobs.

So I added limits. I established a “nursing chair” and told her that was the only place we would nurse. Instead of grabbing my shirt and whining, she learned to climb in the chair and ask politely, “May I have mama milk now?” We stopped nursing in public, and I began to hope that maybe, soon, she’d be ready to stop.

You can reach this post's author, Lisa C. Baker, on twitter.
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  • CRS

    I just wanted to say that you have some serious guts to put this out there for all the Mommy world to judge! I thought it was a beautiful and heartfelt piece of writing, and it’s obvious how much you love and care for your daughter.

    I am curious, since this article appears to have been published about five months ago – what happened? Did you wean? Did your daughter self-wean? Did you decide to just carry on nursing? If you weaned, how did you do it and how did it go?

    All the best to you.

    • Lisa Baker

      Yes, she weaned! Actually, I should write a follow-up post telling how. Maybe I’ll suggest that to Koa. :)

  • Brandy

    Lisa, I’m so, so sorry you’ve been so horribly attacked for sharing this. I think it’s terrible that so many mothers out there feel like if you share something, then that gives them full license to judge you and tell you how to parent. These same women probably hate it when someone tells THEM how to handle their children, and yet they have no problem with going on someone’s blog or article and telling them how to care for their children. I hope you see my comment below asking to dialogue. I am in this same situation right now- so similar that my partner thought I had written this! lol- and I really wish I had someone with whom I could speak. Is there some private way I could give you my email address or my Facebook information? Thank you for taking the time to read this, thank you for taking the time to write this, and thank you most of all for your bravery in writing this. I’m sorry you are having to deal with such a cruel, intrusive backlash.

  • Kate Hastings

    Not only am I nursing my almost six year old daughter but her four year old brother and we DO nurse in public occasionally. My oldest has almost weened herself and I tell her no more often than not.. Not because I’m embarassed or I feel guilty about it but because her latch has changed and sometimes it really hurts.

    I can honestly say in my heart of hearts that I truly don’t give a rats ass what anyone else thinks about it and have, in fact, ended a couple friendships because they pushed their warped “sexualized” feelings on me regarding it.

    To say that it’s just comfort tells me that we as a society are not educated nearly enough on the benefits of breast milk. The composition if it doesn’t just magically change to water once your baby turns one. It’s still one of the most nutritious things they’ll take into their bodies.. Even if they’re almost six.

    As for the woman from Australia with the little boy? That’s doesn’t seem like what a normal extended breastfeeding relationship looks like but then again maybe all of the judgement and pressure coming from all directions has made both of them behave a bit strangely.. Who knows but extreme examples like that do not speak for the majority of EBF families.

  • Elizabeth Aspen

    You can’t “figure out how”? How about just not whipping the girls out? Saying ‘no’ and meaning it? She’s a kid, she’ll get the hint. Sorry, but this kind of thing just seems so incestuously weird.

  • Amanda

    I loved your post Lisa, thanks for your honesty and your ambiguity – I SO get you. I remember being totally weirded out by a TV programme in the UK about extended breastfeeding years ago – and now I am one. My daughter, four, is adamant she doesn’t want to stop bedtime booby and I relate to pretty much everything you say. I have the same internal dialogue going on – sometimes I want my body back, other times I love the closeness but then worry I am doing it for me. Sometimes I think the only reason I wish she’d self-wean is because of what society thinks, other times I worry that the (many LOUD) nay-sayers are right and I’m pandering to her and not being boundaried. Although I have no problem placing firm boundaries in any other area….I guess until I feel the need it just isn’t going to happen.

    These days I don’t mention that we are still at it and only a couple of close friends know – one is completely supportive, the other recently said she now thinks it’s dysfunctional. It sure doesn’t feel that way. Mostly it feels completely natural and right us, for this particular mother and child. I worry about when / how it will stop but then remember worrying about those other self-directed milestones which all happened quite naturally. I also draw comfort from the statistics world-wide. It’s our society which makes us feel this is wrong and unnatural and up to us to stand firm in our mothering and do what feels right for us and our child.

    I also have no doubt it has contributed to her mega-immune system – my daughter is NEVER sick. I recently read a paper about the immuno-benefits of breastfeeding. Breast milk not only gives your child immunity from every pathogen you’ve ever been exposed to but if your child contacts a pathogen you haven’t encountered then immuno-messages are drawn into your breast ducts via your child’s saliva and within eight hours you’ve maufactured breast milk with immunity to that pathogen. I’m sure I’ve got the terminology a bit wrong here but hope you get the point…..breast milk is an AWESOME health drink!

    So once again thanks for sharing and stand firm in YOUR parenting decisions.

  • Modern Woman

    wow you’re retarded. just stop breastfeeding. simple. My son weaned himself at 18 months… I’m guessing you’re a stay at home mom with nothing better to do but pop babies, talk about babies, think about babies. Get over it.

  • L

    I totally understand how you feel. my son is 4 and still nurses once a day. I used sticker charts and two trips to chuck e cheese to help him reach the goal of 3 time a day, then just two times- morning and bedtime. He showed me he was ready to drop the night time so I encouraged that and when he asked to nurse then after a week I explained that he was big enough to go without it at night and he got a special “big boy” present (small lego thing). This was within the last month. we stillhave a few rough bed times but more and more he goes to sleep within twostories or Psalms- and the best part is he wants Daddy to do bed time now! I plan to let him have the morning time as long as he needs- weeks, months, or years. I needed that boundary of one time a day for my own sanity- esp with a nursing 1 year old. I did push that much weaning but didn’t force it.

  • Jessica Goodman

    I am still breastfeeding my 3 and a half year old son still going very strong my older son now 8 was breastfed till he was 5 so I am proud to be still breastfeeding my younger son I am 27 weeks pregnant with my third baby another boy and I plan to breastfeed my youngest son whos 3.5 years and my newborn until he is ready to stop and experts say breastfeeding is normal from birth to 7 years

  • elpiz

    Hi Lisa, I can completely relate with you! I’m still bfding my more than 4 yrs and a half little girl and she absolutely doesn’t want to quit. I’ve done most of the things you have told but nothing seems to work. The truth is that I don’t really want to quit too. Sometime I’d like to, but most of the time I still enjoy this precious connection we have. I feel that letting her still have boobs is part of being a mom. And letting her being a kid and growing at her own pace. She we’ll know when she’s ready.

    And, by the way, even if some of the people I know don’t agree with extended bfding, they all agree in saying that my little girl is one of the happiest baby they’ve ever seen. She’s always smiling and in a good mood and I do have received tons of compliments related to her behaviour. And I’m sure this is also thanks to my boobs!

  • Ashley

    I breastfed my son for ~12 months. I understand the attachment that comes with it. The first time I told my son no for breast milk, I cried. However, I knew it was the right thing to do. About 4 months after that, I stopped his use of bottles, and shortly after, a pacifier. If you see a 5 year old walking around, drinking out of a bottle, or sucking a pacifier, what would you think? Well, yeah, its a way of soothing. Yeah, it’s a form of a cup. Yeah, they may be drinking healthy things out of it, BUT IT IS WRONG. A 5 year old with a bottle is just as bad as a 5 year old with a boob. I don’t condemn extended breast feeding. I condemn the idea of not making your children move on to their NEXT stage in development. Although you would allow a 2 year old to bathe with a four year old, would you allow a 12 year old to bathe with a 14 year old? NO, or at least I SURE HOPE NOT. Because there comes a time when YOU the MOTHER, have to put a stop to things like this, and allow your child to develop properly!!! EVEN IF IT HURTS YOU OR THEM. This is why children are meant to be weaned sooner. Once they will be able to remember it, it IS wrong. NOT because they associate breasts wrongly or sexually, but because you may be traumatizing your child, by taking away something that they have known so long for comfort!
    If you continue this way, what is the cutoff age? 8? 10? 13? The longer you wait, the harder it will be. I think it’s time to put your foot down mama.

  • Marie

    Ok a woman should have her child at age 2 at the latest. Medically you can breast feed for 5 years before you milk will stop producing. Next time she asks for mama milk give her regular milk.

  • Mia

    She might stop in a year or so when the rooting reflex naturally diminishes. I wouldn’t worry about it she is getting beautiful health benefits from it. Why do you think they sell pediasure sidekicks for 5-8 year olds. Corporations and everyone who looks it up knows everyone should be breastfed until about 6 years old sometimes longer. Our society makes it hard to go with nature you child is normal and you should not be embarrassed for doing what is best for her, she isn’t. Science is on your side do more research and you will be fine with it.

  • Michele

    Hi Lisa – I have a similar situation with my 4.5 yr old daughter. How did she finally stop?

  • Jay

    All of you people are f**cking retarded. You all sound like sheeple, I’ll breastfeed my baby until she’s good a goddamn ready to stop. And did you village idiots know that your child’s immune system is fully matured around 5 years, so that’s a perfect tie to stop. What the fuck is with mothers today, it’s disgusting how breasts are treated. There not sex toys for your dumbass husband, there for FEEDING. selfish, stupid, ignorant people need to STOP reproducing, go get your tubes tied please! For the lovely woman who wrote this article, I thank you. Thank you for putting your child first, there needs to be WAY more people out there like you. Please don’t even listen to these morons.

  • 1soonerlover

    Lisa, you should never be ashamed to keep breastfeeding your 5 year old daughter; your breastmilk is the most nutritional food that she can ever get PLUS your breastmilk has so many nutritional benefits I can’t name them all!! KEEP BREASTFEEDING YOUR 5 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER!!

  • Ali

    Hi Lisa, what a great article, I could have written it myself about my almost 4 year old son and I. All the negative comments are so depressing, I will stop reading them now :(…I did see a bit further down that your daughter has weaned now, can I ask how it came about? Nursing seems to still be such a strong need for my son and I always thought I would wait until he self-weaned but not sure if he ever will!! Lol…I have 5 as the magical number in my head of when I will gently tell him it is time to wean. (I am also feeding his 21 month old little bro at the moment). I actually googled ‘extended nursing’ because I have just spent hours on facebook arguing with strangers who were posting extremely nasty comments in response to a woman’s article about breastfeeding her 4 year old. I can’t understand where all the hate comes from, it has really gooten me down! xx

  • Mrs_Moha

    I’m so over breast feeding my just-turned-two-year-old. I’ve tried cutting back, cutting out night feedings, distractions, etc. In the middle of the night I’ve woken up to him nursing from me… So much for cutting out night feedings! He crawls into my bed and lifts up my shirt and if I don’t wake up he just goes for it! Two nights ago he threw a two hour tantrum between the hours of 1-3am over me not letting him nurse. My husband tried to calm him down (after many failed non-breastfeeding attempts), but when he finally did calm down he was wide awake trying to climb under my shirt for another hour. If he didn’t share a room with his sister we would have tried to deal with it in his room, but someone in the house ought to be well rested.

    Lisa, what helped you wean? I’m at my wits end!!! I start a new job tomorrow which means 4 bedtimes away from him a week, but now I’m afraid he’s going to wake up in the middle of the night ISO boobs anyway.
    *frazzled*

    My daughter cut down to twice a day at 18 months and fully weaned while I was pregnant with my son at 20 months. I see no end in sight for the boy :(