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Dear Care and Feeding: My 6-Year-Old Suddenly Wants to Breastfeed Again. Should I Let Her?

Care and Feeding

Should I let her?

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Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I currently still breastfeed my 25-month-old toddler—we were slowly weaning before the pandemic, but now that we’re almost always in our small city apartment, he reverted and happily nurses whenever he wishes. In general, I’ve almost always been happy to breastfeed on demand. Breastfeeding has always been simple and easy for me, and both of my kids enjoyed it.

We had weaned our oldest, an almost 6-year-old, back when she was a year old. But now she wants to breastfeed! This comes up almost every day. She’s surprised me by latching several times (as in snuck up and jumped my free breast while I’m feeding the toddler) and when I gently have conversations about why she would want to breastfeed, she just gets so relaxed and a dreamy look comes over her eyes, and she says “Oh, it’s just so soft and the milk is so warm and yummy.”

I’m completely perplexed! I never pictured having a child this old even be INTERESTED in breastfeeding, let alone be able to articulate her reasoning so clearly. And she really seems so hurt when I try to explain that she’s a big girl now and has so many other great things to eat. She’s definitely sad about it. Honestly, I make plenty of milk to indulge her occasionally. But I’m completely freaked out about how this may affect her. I mean, which is worse: breastfeeding a 6-year-old and having her realize how odd that is when she’s older or denying a 6-year-old for perhaps no good reason and having her feel rejected and left out.

My husband and I have tried explaining that big girls get to do so many cool things a 25-month-old can’t and gone that route … unsuccessfully. We also tried indulging her with extra attention and hugs and kisses and cuddles, but she just really wants to breastfeed. We’ve also given her tons of actual milk (warm too) but it just isn’t what she’s looking for. If you know of a great way to deny a 6-year-old a working boob that doesn’t crush them emotionally during the already stressful situation of a pandemic, or if you think there’s even a chance that breastfeeding a kid that old won’t create other problems, please let me know!

— My Big Kid Wants To Nurse Again

Dear MBKWTNA,

My very first, very minor, very light-hearted suggestion is to just call your 2-year-old a 2-year-old, because it’s easier than saying “25/6/7/8 months old” and this way you can stop doing the mental math and no one will make fun of you behind your back. Once they hit 2, you get to just count in half years and full years and it’s great.

Do not back down and breastfeed your 6-year-old. You have said no, you have explained why, there is literally no reason to start again. It’s always a problem to teach your kid that if they just keep working you, you’ll give in and say “yes” to something you have very clearly said “no” to. Kids her age want lots of things they can’t have.

If she wants more time, more physical affection, more cuddles, go for it. She saw you go back to nursing your toddler because times are stressful and probably thinks it’s unfair, but it’s not going to scar her for life. Just hold the line. She’s a big girl and she gets to do big girl things and that’s great, she is too big to breastfeed. I don’t have a precise This Is When You Stop Breastfeeding guideline for other people’s children, but I do think 6 is too old, and, more importantly, you said no and you should stick to it.

Pay lots of good attention to her, and stop responding beyond “honey, we already explained that the answer is no” and this will clear up in due course.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a high school student in a district that has offered an option for in-person learning and an option for online learning/homeschooling. My family has chosen to attend school in person for several reasons.

However, everything I read (including this column) says that in-person learning is dangerous and everyone should be online, and hearing/reading this has made me feel guilty about my family’s decision. My parents are both teachers who will be required to show up for in-person work, so I would be in charge of overseeing/teaching my 3 younger siblings (one of whom has special needs), not to mention my own schoolwork. Online school just isn’t feasible. How do I get over the guilt I feel every time someone says/I read that returning to school isn’t safe?

— Can’t Do It Online

Dear CDIO,

You’re a teenager. None of this is your fault. Don’t take on guilt for a massive societal issue; you are doing what you have to do and that is all there is to it. Wash your hands, wear your mask, do your best, and get your education.

There are always going to be situations where it’s not possible to follow best practices, yours is one of them. Of course you can’t magically supervise three siblings and also succeed at remote learning!

It’s very easy for me to say “I demand you not feel guilty about this,” and I genuinely think you should not feel guilty, but it’s not a magic wand and you can feel your feelings and that’s just fine. I think you’re doing the right thing and you should focus on harm reduction around distancing and on your learning and just do your best.

Wishing you and your family health and peace over the coming months.

· Want more advice from Nicole? Join her every Tuesday at 11 a.m. EDT for Care and Feeding on Facebook Live.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My family of 4 has been sharing a room, out of necessity, since my oldest (6) was born (we also have an 18-month-old). Our roommate is moving out so, beginning next month, we will have an additional 2 rooms to move into. I suggested to my oldest that maybe the room could become his new bedroom, and he has absolutely no interest in it. He suffers from generalized anxiety disorder with some issues around attachment and does not like to be alone, ever. So my husband and I were thinking of moving the family bedroom upstairs and using the “new” room as an office/workspace while turning our old bedroom into a playroom for the kids.

When filling my sister in on the situation, she was adamant about him having his own room “even if it takes months for him to be comfortable there, he needs his own room.” According to her, it’s “weird” that we share a room and since we will soon have the space, there’s no excuse.

Is it strange for a family to share a room? We all sleep in our own beds. She claims that if we continue this trend, we will end up having a teenager sharing a room with us (which I see as highly unlikely, kids change a lot and by the time we get to teenage years, he will very much want his own room). I’m worried about pushing him to sleep in his own room if he doesn’t feel ready with his anxiety and attachment issues. I don’t feel like 6 is an inappropriate age to room share with, especially since he wants to.

While I’m not opposed to pushing him to do things outside his comfort zone when they are for his benefit, I’m unsure if this falls into this category.

— Room-Sharing Mama

Dear RSM,

First of all, separate your decision from your sister’s opinion. It’s easy to either do something because someone else thinks you should OR dig in and NOT do something because now you have your back up. This is your family, pretend she’s never said a word on the subject.

If your son has generalized anxiety disorder, my first port of call would be his mental health care provider (or pediatrician). Ask their opinion! When kids have mental health issues, sometimes we focus on the days and not the years, because it’s easier to accommodate than create a stressful situation. Sometimes that’s the right decision, and sometimes it isn’t. This may be the right time to slowly help your 6-year-old build resilience and transition to his own room.
Or the professionals who diagnosed him and from whom you are ideally getting resources and support may feel that everything going on in the world makes it worth waiting a bit.

Whatever you do, make it an informed and conscious choice, not “well, he wants to keep staying in our room and we don’t want to make him more anxious.” Tapping in a third party who actually has training and experience in anxiety in children will give you more data.

I hope that you get the answer you need, and can manage the situation accordingly.

Should Parents Count Calories for Their Kids?

Dan Kois, Jamilah Lemieux, and Elizabeth Newcamp host this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have really bad misophonia. My husband has a mild case, and is very understanding of how badly it affects me. My only real trigger is very loud eating/gum chewing/mouth sounds. And of course, our 6-year-old is an obnoxiously loud eater. Doesn’t close his mouth when he chews, speaks with his mouth full, slurps like a vacuum cleaner, the works. We correct it as much as possible, not just because of my issues, but because it’s just generally good manners. But it doesn’t get through to him. He will close his mouth for the rest of that bite, then start all over again.

I know he’s still young, but we can’t just let it go. I’m at a loss at how to deal with it though—obviously, we can’t take his food away from him. So what are good ways to correct this, and make sure he follows through?

— Madness At Mealtimes

Dear MAM,

For you, I turn once again to my best friend, noise-cancelling headphones. Just while you’re working on table manners. I can’t really tell if your son is just a normal, sloppy 6-year-old or if he’s eating tomatoes like Denethor, the Steward of Gondor (if the latter, ask him where he was when the Westfold fell).

I suggest having a friend who has kids and DOESN’T have misophonia over to share a meal to tell you. Regardless, kids often eat like monsters, and your job is to parent them through it and out the other side. You just have to keep at it, every time. “Close your mouth when you chew. Don’t slurp. Finish chewing and then tell us what you wanted to tell us.” Everyone has to do this. It feels a million times worse to you because of the misophonia, but not even the infamously cultured French kids start out with exquisite table manners.

You just have to keep doing it.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

My husband, our three young children, and I recently went on a vacation with my in-laws. We provided the accommodations. My mother-in-law tries to act more like our children’s mother than a grandmother. She loves her grandchildren, but she is very interfering, judgmental, and disrespectful to me and my husband. On this recent visit she brought a children’s book for our 5-year-old daughter that was missing the last two pages. The book was about a girl who visits her grandmother for the summer every year; my MIL wrote an ending with my daughter that said the girl’s parents died and she got to live with her grandmother forever. It was written like a happy ending! When we confronted her (away from the children) that it was inappropriate, she blamed our 5-year-old saying it was all her idea. I am so upset I can’t even look at this woman; and now she is suggesting we get together again next month to go camping. What should we do?

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