Breastfeeding Toddlers


toddler playing dress-up

16-month-old Isis

Photo by jellyphish

It's often called extended breastfeeding, but jellyphish, who plans to continue nursing her almost toddler daughter, 16-month-old Isis, until she's 2, prefers the term full-term breastfeeding. Here's why:

"It's not unnatural for a child to nurse past one year. There's no certain age when breast milk suddenly becomes invaluable and children take on the nutritional needs similar to a calf, so the rationale behind full-term nursing is simply that it's healthy. It's good for the child's physical, emotional, and mental health. In fact, the worldwide average age for a child to self-wean is something like 3 or 4 years."

For you soon-to-be toddler mamas considering keeping up breastfeeding a while longer, here's more of my chat with jellyphish, owner of the Breastfeeding Toddlers/Preschoolers group:

How is nursing a toddler different from nursing an infant?

As Isis grows she becomes more curious and more exploitative of my body and hers, and it's very common for children to perform gymnastics while nursing. That can get a little annoying at times. But nursing in and of itself isn't really any more of a challenge now than when she was an infant -- the challenges are just different.

Why do you do it -- what are the benefits?

There are so many!, and has a lot of info about that, but here's some of what they say: Mother's milk is a great source of much of the nutrition a growing child needs; nursing tots are sick less often, have fewer allergies, and are well-adjusted socially; for women, full-term nursing helps to protect against ovarian, endometrial and breast cancers, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

It's also made Isis' transitional stages much easier on all of us. Honestly, I couldn't imagine what it'd be like to try to wean her while she is teething, or going through a tough growth spurt, or getting frustrated trying to learn something new. I really believe she's much happier and more confident now than if I had tried to wean her.

How has full-term breastfeeding helped Isis specifically?

Full-term nursing does not impede a child's independence at all, but actually helps cultivate it. I've seen the way she behaves compared with other children who have been weaned. She's more adventurous, whereas I've noticed weaned children her age start getting very clingy and even apprehensive. She has that extra bit of confidence knowing she can always come to me and nurse anytime she wants to.

What does your family say about it?

I have sisters with children Isis' age who both believe in weaning at age 1. So far, my family has been relatively tolerant because they know it's not their place to tell me to wean Isis. But I have had a couple conversations in which they've told me they don't understand why I'm still nursing and that they think two years is too long.

Are there any drawbacks?

Not really. It's common for a nursing mom to feel "touched-out" from time to time, meaning that she's tired of nursing, or feels like her baby loves her only for her breasts, but those periods are relatively short.

A good way to deal with these feelings is finding some me time. Instances of feeling touched-out are also overshadowed by the immense sense of satisfaction that comes from the extra bonding and connection of nursing, as well.

What about biting?! I know many moms who quit after the first chomp.

A child who is properly latched and nursing can not cause pain with his teeth. So a toddler who is biting is a toddler who is not nursing, and it's time to end the session.  A quick and firm, "Ouch!  Don't bite!" followed by tucking the breast away quickly gets the message across that it's not okay to bite Mommy.

Isis responded immediately to this method and hasn't bitten me in months. (This isn't the same way to deal with an infant who bites, because an infant depends more on breast milk for nutrition and is less likely to understand what's going on.)
Keep in mind, though, that the child might be biting because he's teething. If that's the case, it's important to find him something else to teeth on to take care of his pain.

Is extended nursing extra tough on your body in other ways?

I don't really notice it because it's not any different from nursing an infant. I still have to eat for two, but I've been doing that since her conception so it's nothing new. It also helps to remember that breastfeeding is what breasts are for! Nursing is nothing our bodies aren't able to handle. 

How do you keep up milk production, especially when Isis doesn't nurse as frequently as a newborn? Many women just dry up.

Water, water, water! Breast milk is mostly water, and there's a noticeable difference in my supply on days when I drink more. That and continuing to nurse on demand are the best things a mom can do.

Other foods that help the supply are oats and Mother's Milk Tea. Probably the biggest downfall is over-supplementing with formula. Obviously, it's sometimes necessary, and there's nothing wrong with that, but the less she supplements the better. It doesn't have to be all or nothing, meaning that a mom can mix formula with breast milk, or nurse a couple times a day and bottle feed the rest of the time; some breast milk is better than none.

It's also common for a mother to assume she's not producing enough when she really is. Milk supply constantly adjusts to what baby needs. But a woman does not have to feel engorged or even full to be producing enough, and that the amount a woman can pump is not an adequate indication of how much milk she's actually producing.

To learn more and talk to other moms who are nursing their older children, check out the private groups Breastfeeding Toddlers/Preschoolers, La Leche League CafeMom, which has LLL leaders on site to help, a group specifically for Pregnant and Tandem Breastfeeders, as well as the Breastfeeding Group. 

Are you breastfeeding your toddler? Is it hard? How long do you plan to keep it up?

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Ooftacat Ooftacat

Fantastic interview, JP.  You should be very proud!  You gave wonderful resources, and have shown that the studies, research and information is all supportive not only of breastfeeding, but breastfeeding full-term.  You're a wonderful mom and role model for so many.  Keep up the great job!

(And yes, I'm still nursing my 3 year old!).


Bears... BearsMommy

Newmom - how on earth can you say that we have issues ourselves because we nurse our toddlers?  Do you think we are putting our needs before our child's?  Because I'll tell  you, that is not the case at all!  It's not the easiest thing in the world to drop everything to nurse a toddler who needs you right then.  Do you think we somehow "get off on it?" Nothing could be farther from the truth!  Society has sexualized breasts.  They were made for nursing our young first and foremost.  It doesn't interfere in my relationships with my husband or anyone else, it's not harming anyone, and is in fact benefitting all of my family.  Not only does it help keep my son healthy, but fills the gaps in his diet where he won't eat certain foods, it helps us to bond, and it helps my husband and son to bond, too.  It's reducing my risk of cancer dramatically, and my son's risk of diabetes, two things that run rampant through my family.  It certainly won't harm my son any.  I'm not in any rush for him to grow up, and he can nurse until he's ready to wean, which will be when his development is such that he is ready to move on to other things.

alygryl alygryl

My granddaughter is almost 2 years old and she was weaned from breastfeeding at the age of 8months old. I think toddlers should not continue to be breastfed. My granddaughter has learned how to use a sippycup when she was 8 months old. She was even weaned from a bottle at 7 months.  

grandmaof1235 Dec. 17, 2008 at 2:16 PM


My daughter is 16 months old has been drinking from a sippie cup since she was 6 months, from a straw since she was 8 months.  My dd also started walking at 9 months.  I still nurse her at night and on demand through out the day if she wants to.  She is healthy and advanced for her age.  I feel that nursing her this long and until she weans is the best thing that I have ever done and I wished I would have done this with my other two kids.  I listen to my mom on what to do with my boys and I decided with this one I would do what I wanted not what makes everyone else happy.

hillmom hillmom

It is so exciting to see this. I'm currently nursing my 19 month old. I cannot imagine what life would be like if I had followed the advice of so many and weaned at one. BF has gotten is through an emergency hip surgery (Home from the Hospital) cutting 6 teeth at once, the flu, and every day toddler struggles. Nursing is SO much more than just nutrition!

hillmom hillmom

1977NewMomaccording to current studies toddles that are allowed to self wean have high self esteems, higher IQ (with in 5-8 points), and better jaw development among other tings. As for  the moms, what is wrong about us continuing to meet out childs physical and emotional needs. Pleas stop perpetuating horrible myths and do some research (making sure to check your sources) before you type things like that.

jeng1980 jeng1980

Awesome.  I'm in the group with jellyphish.  I have a 3 year old nursling as well as my 3 month old.  It's awesome, just awesome.

jeng1980 jeng1980

By the way, my 3 year old drank from a sippy cup at 9 months old.  ALthough she did not want solids until she was around 10 months and never ate a full meal at the table until 18 months old.  She got her first tooth at 10 months so there are reasons that children don't wean when we think they should sometimes.  It was not my decision to go full-term breastfeeding with her but she made that decision and I complied.  I realized when she got her very first tooth at 10 months that there was a reason she needed to nurse as long as she has.

jayce... jaycee1124

My 18 month old still nurses many times a day. I will allow her to self wean and she's showing no signs of that being anytime soon. I'm glad, I want to be sure that she meets the WHO minimum of 2 years, and then as long after that as she wants (as recommended by both the WHO and the AAP).

heath... heatherama

i for one thing it's pretty disgusting to take your opinion on nursing toddlers and attempt to turn it into fact.

Toddl... ToddlerBrain82

This is a great article!! I am also nursing my 2 1/2 year old son, and it's so wonderful to hear from all these other moms who are doing the same! The list of benefits from full-term nursing, for both Sebastian and myself, is very long. We both have decreased risks of many potentially fatal diseases such as certain kinds of cancer; we have a very close bond and are extremely connected to one another, and yet he is a very independent little boy who does many things all by himself; his immune system is fantastic! And the list just goes on and on. And, he is very advanced for a 2 1/2 year old. (Actually he will be 2 1/2 on December 29.) I have people tell me every day that they've never seen a child his age do the kinds of things he's doing. And I am not saying that to toot my own horn or to brag. As a matter of fact I feel very uncomfortable saying that in public because it could be interpreted as bragging. But I feel like his development is another indicator that full-term nursing has countless advantages.

Thank you very much for a great article about this subject, and for writing about full-term nursing in a way that portrays that it is NORMAL and HEALTHY.

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