Heather Ponsano is in no rush to stop breastfeeding her toddler. When 2 ½-year-old Annabella feels frustrated, tired or overwhelmed, nursing for just a few minutes while cuddling in her mom's arms soothes her and makes her happy.
Heather Ponsano is in no rush to stop breastfeeding her toddler. When 2 ½-year-old Annabella feels frustrated, tired or overwhelmed, nursing for just a few minutes while cuddling in her mom's arms soothes her and makes her happy. "She's very verbal, so she'll say 'all done' and just walk away," said Ponsano, 39, of Gahanna. "She takes this big sigh, (as if saying) 'I just feel so much better.' " Ponsano has nursed all six of her children into toddlerhood. The oldest is now 18. She plans to let Annabella, her youngest, wean on her own. Annabella nurses several times a day - before her mom leaves for work, when she returns home, and usually two or three more times before bed. She also nurses about three times during the night, which is made easier by co-sleeping, Ponsano said. "It probably seems like a lot to other people, but, even if she wasn't nursing, she would require my time and attention often at her age," Ponsano said. "It's amazing how nursing a toddler helps them feel centered again." Breastfeeding beyond infancy offers immunological and nutritional benefits, too. Human milk contains live antibodies and changes over time to meet children's needs, said Whitney Mirvis, lead lactation-education specialist at Riverside Methodist Hospital. Toddlers who nurse get "a high-fat, high-cholesterol milk that's very good for them," Mirvis said, adding there's no reason to quit until both mom and child are ready. In recent years, she has observed more and more women nursing beyond their child's first birthday, but most do so quietly amid social pressure to wean sooner. Ponsano said she's comfortable nursing her daughter just about anywhere. Her husband, Matthew, and the women she's befriended through La Leche League, a support group for breastfeeding mothers, champion her long-term commitment. If Annabella wants to nurse while away from home, she asks her mom for "na-na," their code word. "I am discreet," Ponsano said," but I think meeting her needs is more important than what others think." At what age should children stop breastfeeding? TIME magazine raised that question, and some eyebrows, when it recently featured a young mother nursing her 3-year-old son on its cover. The photo and headline "Are You Mom Enough?" accompanied an article on what has been dubbed "attachment parenting." Our sources weighed in on the ensuing debate: "It's a mom choice and a baby choice. If the child isn't really interested in continuing (breastfeeding), they don't. Every child is different." - Whitney Mirvis, lead lactation-education specialist at Riverside Methodist Hospital "I just kind of found (the cover photo) offensive because it took something that I think is a really positive relationship and made it seem cheap. It took any warm fuzzies and positive thoughts away. … I just saw this as a way to pit women against each other, and I don't like that." - Heather Ponsano, local mother of six