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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Ameli... Amelias_Mommy

I'm still nursing my 24 month old.  She loves to nurse and gets so excited when she asks for Mommies milk. 

NooYawka NooYawka

OK, this topic has gone on long enough without the quintessential commentary on, er. older child BFing, so I will oblige. No need to thank me:

Click here

nonmember avatar twins27122007

I am breastfeeding 1 y/o twins and wish to continue for as long as possible. One of them has 1 or 2 sucks then bites - definately milk there and still bites even after telling her no and putting down for 5-10 mins. She won't sleep without the feeds so have resorted to cows milk for her but would prefer to breastfeed her. Not sure what to do now as she is not getting any breastmilk due to the immediate biting - and it is hard and she smiles when I remove her and say no.
Surely some of you must have been through similar?
Please help

nonmember avatar jocelyn

I too, like bearsmommy am breastfeeding my 25 month old. I have noticed how she barely got sick in 2 years and recooperates so quickly compared to my other daughters which I did not breastfeed. To Grandma1235, my toddler never had problems with sippy cup eaither, she got it quickly before 1.She is also quickest talker and is potty trained at her 2nd birthday ., I can see a difference.It helps development and keeps them healthy, no frequent doctor visits, no bad nights with fevers. I am so glad I'm still doing it

miriamz miriamz

My 3 1/2 year old still nurses now and then and neither one of us has any issues.

NSeni NSeni

I personally find it highly disturbing to breastfeed to breastfeed a child after 2 years of age. I think it's just immorally wrong.

Phils... PhilsBabyMama

I'm still breastfeeding my 2 year old.  By the way, he's been drinking from sippy cups for over a year now. ; )  I am especially thankful that I could nurse him through the Swine Flu.  He wouldn't eat anything else, but being able to nurse him kept him nourished and from becoming dehydrated (which would have landed him the hospital)

Breastfeeding past 2 is "immorally wrong?"  First, I think you mean "morally" and second you think the majority of mothers in the world are wrong?  The worldwide average age of weaning is 4 years old.   

From an anthropological standpoint the natural age of weaning is much older than that. (Here is an article with more information on that: )

The World Health Organization recommends nursing for at LEAST 2 years and then after that as long as is mutually desired by mom and baby.  Here is an article (with studies sited) that explains the benefits of breastfeeding a toddler: and here is another great article:

I suggest those who question breastfeeding toddlers take some time to educate themselves.

Tauna... Tauna1208

"immorally wrong" - hmmm...a double negative that must mean it's correct to breastfeed past the age of 2.

My son is 3.5 and still nursing on occasion.  I don't have issues - I just prefer to meet my child's needs until he's ready to move on on his own.  Bf'g is good for his health, my health, and helps to build our trust and bond.  There's nothing sexual about nursing - nothing deviant or dirty.  Only a disturbed mind would think such things.  Continued nursing hasn't slowed down his development in the slightest, only enhanced his confidence and security.  He's expressive, empathic with others, and very independent.  He eats a good diet, but has no need for cow's milk like so many Americans seem to take for granted as being a necessity.

imaft... imaftmummy

My 18th month boy is still nursing and I agree with the comment above me from moirasmom, "Extended  nursing and co-sleeping have helped my daughter become the strong, healthy, independent and amazing child she is today"

Same for my case! :)

tyrel... tyrelsmom

Love this!!!

I just passed the one year mark with my daughter, she'll be 13 months on Friday.  We'll see how long she goes.  Hey, if full term breastfeeding was good enough for Jesus, it's good for my baby, too ;)    (In that time and place, it was standard to nurse until at least 3 years.)

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