While I was breastfeeding 22-month-old Talitha to sleep last night, she lifted my other breast and offered it to me. Without unlatching, her expressive brows said: “Mummy, you have some.” Of course, I was – shall we say – less than keen. I explained to her that this was something she didn’t have to share.
She has a real thing at the moment about making sure “Talitha has one and mummy has one” of anything she’s enjoying. So, while it was killing that she wanted me to have a suckle of my own nipple, I realised that it meant she must love her “mummy milk”. She loves it enough that she thinks I should have in on it too. It got me thinking of the other ways she shows how pleasurable a thing she thinks this is.
She’s forever asking me to breastfeed stuffed animals, her dolly, babies in books, the cats (I, obviously, don’t honour the last request). When I recommend she breastfeed them herself (again, not the cats), mainly because I don’t have the childlike imagination not to feel silly holding a wooden crab to my breast, she lifts her shirt, positions whatever the object of affection is and beams at me with pride.
Of course, now that she can speak, this adds a whole new dimension to the experience. When she’s finished her wake up feed, she pulls my top down to cover my breasts, blowing kisses and saying, “Bye bye, milky” in much the same way that she would say, “Bye bye, Daddy.” At times, she even pops off mid feed to smile up at me and say “Yummy!” or “Nice!”
She can’t say the word “antibodies”. She doesn’t know what her growing brain needs. She doesn’t measure her breastfeeds against her solid food intake. Even if she did understand that myriad of health benefits of us continuing to breastfeed into toddlerhood, she’d probably just shrug.
As she gets older, more people ask me how old she is and how long I think we’ll continue for. It’s never asked with hostility. Usually people are just curious – they’ve not seen a toddler breastfeed before. I could say, “The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding to two and beyond” and that’s all well and good but, realistically, I’m not walking around wondering what guidelines need to be followed and what boxes need to be ticked.
Breastfeeding involves science but it’s an art too. In art, there is room for more abstract experiences. There is room for love. That’s hugely why we continue, because there’s no reason to stop when this is something we both love. Next time I’m asked when I think we’ll stop, it’s probably enough to just shrug and say, “When we’re ready.” Trust Talitha to make that her moment to start poking my breasts and saying “Milk, milk, milky!” We’re still working on the nursing manners.