Breastfeeding a toddler: why do I feel the need to hide?

Motherhood by Franca Franchi

I didn’t think twice about breastfeeding my babies in public. It was easy, natural and never caused any raised eyebrows. Yet, breastfeeding a toddler seems to be a totally different matter.

Today my kids and I got caught out without a key and had to wait outside for a few hours for my husband to come home. It was time for Little Monkey’s nap and she is a very reluctant sleeper, especially when she is outside. I tried the pram and a cuddle first, then eventually had to resort to a breastfeed, or she’d get no nap and go crazy at night.

While I had no hesitation doing what I thought was the right thing for my child, I felt very uneasy about it. I kept on scanning the street for passers-by and preparing come-back comments. Because breastfeeding a toddler always attracts attention. Everyone has something to say about it, from ‘You are spoiling her’ to ‘Good on you for keeping it up.’

The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond. In addition to the health benefits breastfeeding makes my life so much easier. It provides instant comfort to an over-tired toddler. It distracts her when my attention is needed elsewhere. It makes wounds (physical and emotional) heal faster. And on a more vain note, I’d love to keep my B-sized boobs for as long as possible before I have to return to my non-breastfeeding almost-A size. I am doing the best for me and my family and I will not let society pressure me into weaning my daughter earlier than we are ready. Then why do I feel the need to hide?

I am not comfortable with neither of the above comments or anything in between. If you see a mother giving her toddler a sandwich you wouldn’t start criticising or complementing her on the great job she is doing, would you? Breastfeeding is just as normal. If you would like to support a breastfeeding mother of a toddler, treat breastfeeding as a normal parenting activity. Smile and say nothing. Or say something similar to what you would say if the toddler was eating a sandwich. Or share your own experience with kids’ meals.

This is the kind of reaction that would make my day… and that I’ve never gotten so far. What is your experience?

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  1. says

    I don’t use parents’ rooms to feed Tricky (unless he’s getting a nappy change at the same time) and even though he’s still little I start thinking of comments and come-backs to make in case anyone says anything.

    I don’t know what I’ll be like when he gets bigger, because I have no intention of early weaning.

    • says

      I felt exactly the same. I breastfeed Charlie for a little over two years. I was fine when he was a baby, never covered up feed anywhere, anytime. Yet, once he hit walking and talking, I got the same feeling. I have no idea where it come from or why it came, I had already been feeding for over a year and was extremely comfortable doing so before this happened.

      Now I am back breastfeeding a babe, and once again, I feed anywhere anytime without even a second thought at covering up.

      Wouldn’t it be nice, for people to talking about breastfeeding as you have mentioned. I have numerous little gripes about the things that people say to me, which could make a blog post in its self.

  2. says

    The most “public” I got with breastfeeding my twins was when we were doing a First Aid Course for Kids at a Community Centre one Sunday morning. It was a 4 hour course so it was going to overlap during a feed…So there we were…twin stroller, huge nappy bag and awkward sized breast feeding for twins pillow…sitting at the back.

    I tried to be discreet. But then, I thought : “What the hell…”
    Then I noticed a whole lot of other mothers whose babies who were due for a feed start breastfeeding too !

    Still, feeding twins got me a lot of attention…Some nice smiles, some “Oh My God, I don’t know how you do it” gazes…

  3. says

    Thanks for linking up for this weeks blog hop! :)

    Most people aren’t used to seeing toddlers nurse. But it is completely natural and normal!

  4. says

    Wow. The things I have seen other people do on their front steps, and a mother has to worry about what someone will say if someone sees her breastfeeding her child on hers. I am happy your experience was positive and that you are able to be such a well-spoken, positive advocate for extended breastfeeding! I found your blog via the Breastfeeding Blog Hop! Thanks again!

  5. says

    Thanks so much for linking up to this week’s BFing Blog Hop and sharing your story. I think it’s sad that people feel it’s ok to make negative comments like that. You’re awesome for doing what you feel is best for your child and ignoring the rest!

  6. says

    Hi! I’m a new follower from the blog hop. My post is also about nursing a toddler in public. It’s such a different thing than nursing an infant! In public, I’m nervous about being confronted, and when I pump at work, I often get asked “Are you still doing that?!” Um, yes, I don’t plan to stop feeding my child. I suppose I should switch to cow’s milk that I have to pay for? In the middle of cold and flu season, no less? I just don’t get it. I’ve even been told flat out that it’s disgusting, that I’M disgusting. Am I offended? Yes. But it gives me a good way to weed out the people I don’t want to bother with. 😉

    I totally understand your feelings of being self-conscious while nursing your toddler. But just visualize the army of other moms (including me! :) ) you have standing behind you when you do it! You’re not alone!

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing – My daughter is only 3mo, but I already get comments about still BFing. I pump at work and other mothers keep remarking that they gave it up when they returned to work because it was a bother to do so. Thanks for being an example for me!
    Taleah recently posted..Something Good 3-18

  8. says

    This is so true, people do respond differently to me breastfeeding my baby now she is walking and talking. It doesn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t disturb her. There is nothing worse than when she stops feeding and swings around to look, taking half my nipple with her and leaving a spray of milk run down my side.
    themotherexperiment recently posted..Wheres Karlee

  9. Holly says

    Oddly, I never thought to be uncomfortable nursing my 17 month old until I read posts like these and realized he *is* a toddler and that society says I shouldn’t nurse him anymore lol… NOW I am self conscious and worry about people saying things.. thanks…. lol.. just kidding… :) But I was good until I read a few posts a few weeks ago and got all self conscious.. working on going back to not caring/not realizing he is a big boy! He’s still MY BABY DARN IT :) LOL

  10. Traci M says

    Having had both negative, I have been asked to stop nursing my ~ 3 week old baby in a jumpy jump place because it was for ‘kids’ UGH. And positive comments, to nursing my toddler in a sling walking out of an amusement park, ‘good job mama, what a lucky toddler’. The positive was good, the negative was AWFUL, and it was with second baby I was prepared, barely exposing anything, and had a group of people with me that were breastfeeding positive! I try hard to give a positive comment when I see any mama nursing her baby, toddler or child. Because I think she is awesome, and really how many times in motherhood are we told, ‘good job’. Even if it were a culturally normal activity, I still would do it.

  11. Tubbah says

    I don’t know what it is, but people seem to think that their opionions count. I had family nagging and whinging about my choice to breast feed my NEWBORN. Every time they’d cry and not settle, they’d say it’s because they’re breastfed. My cousin has only just weened her daughter (self weened not mum’s choice) and bub is 19 months. At 6 months family were in her face about when was she going to ween her, she’s breast feeding for too long. It makes me so angry, I just wish people would butt out and mind there own business. I can’t even pick a name for this baby thats due in Sept, because every name we pick, family have to whinge about it. It’s so frustrating. Sorry just had to get that all out lol. Ohh and the same goes for cloth nappies, my choice to use MCN’s is looked down upon too. Thanks for this post it’s just what I needed to remind me how I raise my children is my decision :) :)

  12. says

    I’m a committed breastfeeder and have only ever had support and encouragement from my family and workplace (lucky me!) which meant my daughter was BF til 16 months, and my little fellow is going strong at 3 months. I did begin to feel a bit more self conscious about it as my daughter got older, and people did ask me more frequently “are you still BFing her?”. But I’ve always answered honestly and tried not to hear surprise or criticism in their voice, so I can talk about it as if it’s the most natural thing in the world – which it is!

    It just so happens that a large part of my paid work aims to increase the duration of BFing. There’s loads of research that shows women need supportive partners, family, work places and communities to persist. So I don’t have an issue with supportive comments. It reminds me there is a community of people out there who feel the same way I do – that BF is normal, natural and the best thing for my babies.

  13. says

    I don’t have kids, but several of my dear friends breastfed their kids through the toddler years. My friends were able to enjoy their kids, and happy kids were fun to be around for the rest of us. Today those kids are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted.
    Renee Ann recently posted..Two ways to live your life

  14. says

    Good post. My daughter is only 8 months old but I already had my first comment “how old is your baby? Oh!!? I thought she was much smaller because I saw you nursing her earlier”. I was feeding her in the sunshine on the verandah of our cabin in a tourist park. I don’t usually think twice about BF in public (altho I am in no way a militant BF advocate & I am relatively discreet) and nor do I plan to think twice for the foreseeable, but that comment, innocuous as it was, got me thinking – I guess already at 8 months it really is a little unusual to breastfeed a baby in this country, as the stats suggest. I plan to go as long as possible, as long as my daughter wants to. I’ll be happy if we make a year, I’d be sad if she stopped before then, tbh I don’t know how I feel if she still hasn’t stopped and she’s 2, then 3, but I’d like to think we’ll still be going strong and comfortable with it. I like to read about women like yourself who have continued. I think there are probably a lot of you about, just it’s not talked about. Good on ya!
    Pam recently posted..From the road

  15. says

    Little E is 13 months and we’re down to just an evening snuggle and feed, except when something bad happens during the day and she needs the comfort. I’m dreading this happening in public, not that I’ve ever had any comments from randoms about b/f, and I used to feed her in public a lot.

  16. says

    Just found your post through the blog hop! Thank you for sharing your story–it will be an inspiration if I don’t dry up before Lil Man is ready to wean.

  17. says

    I breastfed my first until he was almost 2. He self-weaned because I was pregnant and had nothing left for him to drink. PLus he was never very boob oriented. My 1 year old is another story. I think she’ll breastfeed for much, much longer. I remember feeling left out and weird the first time around as soon as my son turned 1 and I was the only one still breastfeeding in my mother’s group. Now my daughter turned 1 and I am already getting looks and comments from people about weaning. And so the world turns… luckily this time I feel so much more comfortable, natural and confident with my decision (our) to continue as long as it feels right.

    Great posts on BF. Thanks for sharing.

    xo m.

  18. says

    I feel awkward sometimes, depending on the company I’m around. For instance, in laws that I know don’t really approve or think I’m a weird hippie. In public, honestly, my daughter makes it more embarrassing to refuse breastfeeding. She will throw a giant tantrum. So I’m pretty used to doing it in public and do it pretty often. My daughter is a huge lactivist… Lol. I’ve never had anyone comment in the nearly 3 years we’ve been doing it, either. =) I do mentally prepare come-backs sometimes if I feel someone is staring… I wish it was considered normal and common to breastfeed a toddler in public!! Well, at least we have done our part to normalize it lol.

  19. Lee Alford says

    But just visualize the army of other moms (including me! There’s loads of research that shows women need supportive partners, family, work places and communities to persist. I’m dreading this happening in public, not that I’ve ever had any comments from randoms about b/f, and I used to feed her in public a lot.
    Lee Alford recently posted..Gout Tips

  20. says

    At an ABA meeting about 15 months ago, I found myself at 7 months pregnant feeding a 2 year old on one side and a 12 month old on the other.

    You get a bit blase about these things in ABA meetings but I did call a halt to things after noticing the bemused looks of other Mums in the park!

  21. Janet Ferrell says

    And positive comments, to nursing my toddler in a sling walking out of an amusement park, ‘good job mama, what a lucky toddler’. I breastfeed Charlie for a little over two years.
    Janet Ferrell recently posted..Best Realtors in Murrieta CA

  22. says

    I don’t have kids, but several of my dear friends breastfed their kids through the toddler years. My friends were able to enjoy their kids, and happy kids were fun to be around for the rest of us. Today those kids are happy, healthy, and well-adjusted.

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