There is a perfect amount of time to breastfeed. In order to be a good mother, you must breastfeed for exactly one year. If you breastfeed for 11 months, you haven't really tried. You're wasting "liquid gold!" All those precious nutrients and antibodies shouldn't go to waste! If you do it for more than a year… Well, you must be some freaky granola mom who's too attached to her kid and won't let them grow up.
When I had my daughter, I set out to do all things perfectly, including breastfeeding. Naturally, I set my sights on the one-year mark and told myself I would do what it took to make it to my goal, even if I hated it. Everything must be sacrificed at the altar of motherhood.
As soon as the little wrinkly smushed-nosed thing they said was my daughter popped out, I asked, "Should I try to feed her?" The nurses nodded encouragingly. Not expecting much, I put her on my chest and she immediately started eating. I was surprised. It felt easy, and natural and fine. She was humming along, munching away, and I figured I'd be able to make it to one year no problem.
But there was a problem.
As the one-year mark started approaching, I started panicking. Breastfeeding had become a parenting crutch of mine. I used it to feed my daughter, sure. But I also used it to comfort her, to calm her, to make her feel at ease. I began wondering how I would ever even be able to parent her without breastfeeding. People assumed I was ready to wrap things up. They began asking me what method I was using to wean her. When I stumbled through a response they followed up with demanding to know how much longer I was going to be doing this.
Her birthday came, and with it the judgmental side-eye from other people. Honestly, I didn't blame them. I always thought people that breastfed past a year were… kind of creepy. Until I did it myself. I thought that babies magically become kids when they crossed that 12-month threshold. But much to my surprise, when I looked down at my 12 months and one day old child, she still looked like a baby to me. Like most things in parenthood, this imaginary rule turned out to be just that–imaginary.
So I allowed myself to keep feeding my kid.
One of the things people always said to me was, "Isn't it weird now that she can ask for it?" I understand the question. It does seem unsettling to hear a toddler ask to breastfeed. But what I learned is that they've always been "asking for it." When newborns cry, they're asking for it. When a 10 month old uses the ASL sign for "milk," they're asking for it. My year-old baby didn't just start asking for it when she started talking. She'd been asking since the second she took her first breath, the delivery just changed a little.
I gave myself until she turned two. When she turns two, then I'll stop, I told myself. But somehow the clock striking midnight on her second birthday didn't magically transform her into a self-sufficient big kid either. I sheepishly avoided the now constant questions about when I was finally going to stop breastfeeding her and just leaned into it. I was now one of those weird moms breastfeeding a fully functional toddler who spoke in full sentences and had her own opinion on what she'd like to be for Halloween. The truth was, I liked breastfeeding her. I liked that we had a connection no one else in this world had, and I couldn't find a downside to it.
All in all, I ended up breastfeeding her until the week before she turned two and a half. We had gotten it down to just a morning snuggle feed, and most people were under the assumption I had stopped ages ago, since we only did it at home. I explained to her that we were going to be stopping, and as a nearly two and a half year old, she understood. She shrugged and said that was fine with her. There was no tearful scene, no sobbing. She only ever asked to do it again a handful of times, and I'm pretty sure that was just to see how I would respond. This is how I know we stopped at the right time. We were both done and ready to move on.
What I learned from our breastfeeding journey (which was more like an extended expedition where someone loses the map) didn't really have anything at all to do with breastfeeding. What truly stuck with me is that in this thing called parenting, we all have to do what's right for our own family. People are going to judge you regardless of what you do. There is no such thing as perfection. But the feeling I get from doing what I believe is best for my own daughter comes pretty close.