5 Toddler Breastfeeding Myths That Drive Me Insane!

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toddler breastfeedingDespite the fact that the World Health Organization, multiple Surgeon Generals, UNICEF, La Leche League, and just about any doctor worth their salt recommends breastfeeding at least until the age of 2 and beyond, many people find it strange when a mom is breastfeeding a toddler.

In an effort to lessen the weirdness of it for some people, I took a look at some of the more popular myths about breastfeeding toddlers. I'll debunk those myths, explaining the reality, in hopes of clearing up confusion and stopping the spread of misinformation.

Myth #1. "There's no benefit to nursing after 1."

As a lovely friend of mine once put it, this is like claiming that spinach loses nutritional benefit once you're, say, 15 years old. Something that is healthy and nutrient-rich never stops being good for you.

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In the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breast milk provides:

  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements

-- Dewey 2001

We know that the majority of brain growth is done in the first three years of life, and that fat is one of the things that the brain needs to grow. Human milk fat is the thing the baby's body is designed to use best, so it's the optimum food for brain growth in the formative years. Considering there are toddler formulas shows that even the formula market knows that toddlers still need that extra composition of milk fats and other vitamins and minerals past the first birthday (and toddler formulas are designed to go from 12 months to 36 -- until that third birthday).

Myth #2. "You should stop breastfeeding when the kid can ask for it."

This one is just silly. Parents think babies babbling "baba" is asking for a bottle and eventually do train the child to say that as a request for a bottle, but nothing is seen as wrong with that. Many children who are taught basic sign language start signing "milk" or "nurse" around 8 months old -- obviously too early to wean. And of course, this is just plain illogical -- if your child asked for broccoli, would you tell them they were cut off? They learn to ask because it's a common part of their day. Punishing them by cutting off the thing they've learned to ask for makes no sense in any logical universe.

Myth #3. "Nursing past X months/years is just for mom's personal enjoyment."

Oh yes, moms of toddlers just force them to the breast, pry open their mouths, and say, "NURSE! Please, kick me in the face! Try to stand on your head! Pull my hair and try to dance! It's so much fun!" Okay, I'm being insanely sarcastic here. Toddlers, frankly, can be a major pain in the ass to nurse. They don't want to stay still, they get easily distracted, and they run off a mere minute after screaming to nurse. They like to pick on mom the whole time by seeing what "Nursing Acrobatics" they can accomplish because they don't like being still. Nursing a toddler is something moms do for themselves, sure. Because it reduces mom's risk of cancers, and also is better than Pedialyte when the kiddo is sick. And, yes, the bonding and cuddles are sweet and unbeatable, but moms are nursing toddlers mainly for the same reasons they nursed them months sooner -- they're still biologically designed to be breastfed and it's healthiest for them as well.

Myth #4. "You cut out bottles and formula at 1, so breastfeeding needs to go too."

You know how I said toddler formulas existed with the recommendation being to use until the third birthday? Yeah. That's because it's not the formula or milk-nutrition you're weaning a child from at their first birthday -- it's the bottle. Bottles function completely differently in the human mouth than a flesh nipple.

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While mom's nipples actually work to develop the child's mouth, tongue, and jaw in a beneficial way, an artificial nipple actually requires sucking done in a different way that is actually damaging to the palate, teeth, and mouth formation in general. You're weaning from the silicone nipple -- not the liquid that's in it.

Myth #5. "They need solids/there's no need for breast milk when they eat real food."

Do you drink a glass of water with your dinner? Breastfeeding toddlers eat "real" food too, and nurse the same way formula-fed babies eat food and get a bottle. Over the second year, the ratio of solids to breast milk start shifting away from breast milk. It's intended to be a process, not a sudden event.

What do you think of nursing a toddler? What's the weirdest myth you've ever heard?

 

Images via © iStock.com/santiphotois ; Judith Cera

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kaylaird kaylaird

I won't be breastfeeding for personal reasons, but I'm all for moms who do breastfeed. However, I have to admit that toddlers nursing does make me a little uncomfortable. I'm not an expert, so I can't say what's right or wrong, and I definitely won't say what's right or wrong. But can you imagine having pictures of yourself nursing at 3 and 4 years old when you're a teenager, and your friends or boyfriends/girlfriends seeing those pictures?


Maybe I'm just ultra conservative. And I'm not saying it's right or wrong. That's just my viewpoint on the matter. What works for me may not work for everyone else, and what works for everyone else may not work for me.

Mrs.Salz Mrs.Salz

I'm not totally comfortable with the idea of nursing a toddler, but I don't know anyone who has ever done it either.  I'm just starting to like breastfeeding my 9 day old and plan to continue until he's at least 18 months, and see what things are like at that time.  I anticipate being a lot more comfortable with the idea of nursing a toddler as my baby gets bigger.

bwill626 bwill626

Well said, kaylaird. I feel the same way - I am all for breastfeeding, but I can't help but feel a little "creeped out" by older kids nursing. However, it's just my personal feeling - I am certainly not going to impose my viewpoint on anyone else, and every mom is free to do what she thinks is best for her child. Just my opinion...

Carol... Caroline2010

i see nothing wrong with it at all! if my dd could latch right i would of nursed until she self weaned! but im Exclusively pumping so now i get to decide when to stop giving her breast milk!! she just turned one and monday and we are still going strong!! im planning on going until she is 2! oh and her doc thinks im crazy and i should switch to toddler formula!! WAT PART OF BREAST FEEDING DONT U UNDERSTAND!!!!! grr!

miche... micheledo

Never thought I would be comfortable nursing a toddler.  My first born was the size of a 4 year old when he was 2 years!  Wouldn't that shock people.


Anyway . . . I am currently breastfeeding baby 3 and 4.  They are 29 months and 15 months old.  I'm a little nervous about the 'baby.'  He takes after the firstborn and if I nurse until he is 3 - it will ONLY be in private lest people think I have a 6 year old still nursing! :D

Rene Moodley

I nursed my son until he was 8 months old. some may feel that 8 months is "obviously too early to ween" but according to the WHO "Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond"... after 6 months it becomes less important, developmentally, to breastfeed, but of course you can carry it out and it is healthy to do so. But slamming parents who decide not to take this route is unnecessary. There is no age that is "obviously too early to ween".

Brade... BradenIsMySon

What she means by "to early to wean"...is that You CANNOT and SHOULD NOT give a child that young cow milk. sigh.


 


Kudos to you Christie. Thanks you for at least trying to debunk the myths and bring society around to a more natural human way of thinking. I am all for child led weaning and eating. To me, giving a human kid cow breast milk is weird. Human milk stright from the tap just seems perfect.

Chern... Chernanas

I'm currently nursing a three year old.  Your Myth number 3 had me laughing.  Yes, it's so enjoyable having your children dance, climb and talk while trying to nurse.  Is it worth it, you bet!  The previous comments show their ignorance. I'm a former LLL Leader, my BF is an IBCLC.  I've read dozens of books in lactation, yes the nerdy ones, about child development and their brains. I've attended countless conferences.    I take parenting seriously and being an AP parent and someone that would like my child to avoid having the variety of health related issues that I currently enjoy can't see any reason not to nurse  other than the fact that it may make others uncomfortable and they are naive.  Too bad, not like BF, don't do it. (nope, I work full time too :-)  Thanks for the blog!

bsawy... bsawyer84

Don't you drink cow's milk? You eat cow's meat...should we eat human flesh instead because it has all the essential nutrients a human needs?

Pamela Riemenschneider

i never, ever thought I would nurse a toddler and was creeped out about it, too.  But here I am with a 2.5 year old who nurses happily as often as I'll let him. 


Once you get past a year (and I would never wean before a year) the idea of 18 moths isn't so hard to imagine.  At 18 months 2 years isn't so hard.  At 2 years...well...if you're like me you're ready to be done but your little one might not...


It's an amazing tool to have in that mommy arsenal.  My son is rarely sick, but when he is, it's so nice to have that easily digested comfort food right there.  Pedialyte?  No way, man.  I make my own. 

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