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Bad Parent: Getting Something Off My Chest

It’s two in the morning and I’m on the toilet. This would be a mundane experience if it weren’t for the toddler standing beside me nursing.

My son is seventeen months old and still breastfeeds. I intended it that way. After reading oodles of attachment parenting literature, I decided that letting my child self-wean on his own time was best. What I didn’t anticipate was how totally freaky and unnerving the whole experience would be.

Believe it or not, letting him suckle while I’m on the john pre-dawn is the path of least resistance. What would happen if he didn’t tag along? He would sit up in bed and scream for his “Na Nas,” formerly known as my breasts, until they returned.

They are his breasts now. He strokes them lovingly through my shirt and cups them with his palms. He blows raspberries on them and giggles. He nurses in a toddler variation of Downward Facing Dog while simultaneously thumbing the pages of Goodnight Moon. He slaps my chest with both hands and shouts, “Na Na! Na Na!” when I’m trying to discuss the finer points of a leaky faucet with the plumber. I am the body attached to his breasts.

When he displays his more theatrical nursing techniques in public or around people other than my husband, I find myself sheepish and embarrassed. I worry that someone will find this whole situation repulsive: a slapping, grunting, gulping little man waddling along beside me, clamped to my nipples.

I gave Bumgarner’s advice a try. Here’s how it went: During a recent family visit with my husband’s relatives, his uncle asked, “So, does he drink his milk?” I paused for a moment. I could be truthful and say that no, we haven’t introduced cow’s milk, or I could just lie. But then my son solved the problem for me. He ran up to me, buried his face in my chest and shouted “Na Na!” as he yanked up my blouse.

“He’s not really into cow’s milk,” I said, watching him latch on. He nursed for exactly fifteen seconds, long enough to make it evident that, yes, this twenty-three-pound child still nurses, but too briefly to get any nutritional benefit (or bonding benefit, for that matter) from the experience.

So why am I still going through all this?

The World Health Organization recommends nursing for the first two years. And Dr. Sears advocates letting children self wean. Extended nursing is nutritionally and emotionally beneficial for young children, they say. I wholeheartedly believe that. My son strokes my cheek and stops periodically to sigh in pleasure. When he’s sick, it is often the only thing that makes him feel better. I can offer him this part of myself to stave off a tantrum, or comfort him when he’s hurt. It has benefits for me, too. When he curls up in my lap, I melt. I get to have my baby be a baby for just a little bit longer.

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