Most people would not think that breastfeeding a crying baby is spoiling the baby. They would agree that the baby has needs to be met and that a parent should tend to them as they arise.
So why do the rules change so drastically when babies grow into toddlers?
I have heard a great deal of paranoia from parents surrounding being manipulated by toddlers. First of all, this is a gross misunderstanding of manipulation. Manipulation is a survival technique developed over time by those who are not getting their needs met. This is not our crying toddlers. They are nothing but a smidgen removed from babyhood and have many of the same needs. They get tired and overwhelmed as much as babies. They find breastfeeding to be as comforting and reassuring as babies. The same way we feel about a friend listening to our problems, a hug from our partner or a warm cup of tea.
Sure, toddlers are ready to start learning boundaries around breastfeeding if you want to create those. I still breastfeed a 5.5-year-old and 2.5-year-old because of boundaries. Without them I would be emotionally and physically pushed beyond my limits and would not want to continue these breastfeeding relationships.
However, never feel that you are giving in or spoiling your child because you think nursing them would help them (and you!) through a situation. A few months ago I was leaving Target and my 2.5-year-old, Exley, was beyond tired. He only wanted to be in the carrier nursing. In order to leave I needed to put my coat on because it’s winter in Chicago and my nipples would freeze and break off. I tried to unlatch him several times, but he became so upset that he would scream and fling his body around. He was tired and overstimulated from shopping.
I needed to help him through this.
Not make this a teaching moment where he needs to “do as I say.” Overwhelmed and tired, he is not capable of learning this.
I bent over, stood him up and kept him latched on while I put on our coats. Maybe that’s not your thing and that’s fine. It was bold nursing in public move that not everyone is down with. But you get my point. This was not a time for me to tell Exley that we are working on boundaries and he needs to let go because I told him to let go and he’s taking advantage of me and he’s just manipulating me to get more boobie. If I was also overwhelmed and about to lose my shit then maybe, but I wasn’t. I was ready to help him and get us the hell out of that store. And I did it in my own way as to create as few waves for myself and him as possible. The only thing he was going to learn in that moment is if I am going to help him when he’s struggling.
It’s a popular thought in our culture that when a baby turns 1 year old they no longer have “baby” needs and parents can better spend their time teaching them independent living skills. I feel this is a most tragic perception of toddlerhood and young childhood. I don’t believe those needs of the newborn baby change for many years and we can better nurture our young for as long as they will let us. Because soon enough they will be shutting their bedroom doors wanting total privacy from us. And how they handle those new experiences away from us depends a lot on how much they feel they can rely on us when they need us.
So don’t feel about breastfeeding whenever or wherever you feel you need to. No matter who is making you feel bad. It’s not their child, it’s not their situation and they can better help you by holding your bag than criticizing you. Breastfeeding is valuable parenting tool and you should whip it out when needed! You know deep down you are doing what is right for your child. That’s your power as a mother.