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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nonmember avatar Free

I am having such a challenging time feeding my toddler (almost 2) but I do it cos I believe it is normal and best. it would help so much for people to see that and support women to do so.

Keren Nicole Jackson

My daughter is 17-months-old and still nursing. She starting practicing with a sippy cup (water) at 5 months and was fully weaned from the bottle by 1-year. She is in daycare, so she was supplemented a little with formula and does drink cow and soy milk during the day. I nurse her in the morning and evening. On the weekends, I nurse pretty much on demand. My daughter is extremely confident and well developed. She is walking, beginning to talk, can feed herself, and tries to dress herself, among other things. I completely agree that weaning her while she is going through other major changes would have made them far more difficult. It IS a great reset button. Once she can express herself verbally, I think weaning will be far less traumatic. I know babies who were weaned at one year who are doing just fine, but my daughter is healthy and happy, and I don't plan to wean her before 2-years-old. At that point, I'll revisit the issue.

Sherrie Evartt

my son turned two 2 days ago. He is still a BOOBIE baby..giggle He likes his he says bees instead of boo"bees". I plan on nursing him till he stops..:) no end in site. I'm a stay at home mom and love it. It isn't hard at all!!

vance... vances_mom

I'm nursing a toddler :-) Harper is 15m/o. She will be allowed to self wean.

nonmember avatar Hannah

Nursing my 14 month old is a lot easier than nursing him as a newborn: he nurses 5 or 6 times a day instead of 12, for ~5 minutes a session instead of 40. Other advantages: I rarely have to wash sippy cups, he's never been sick (not a guarantee, but it helps), and I can get him to sleep even in strange situations by nursing.

nonmember avatar Julinda

Great article except I'm wondering why jellyphish is only going to nurse until her daughter is two. What if she wants to go longer?

I nursed both my kids for a long time by American standards - one 3.5 years and the other longer than that. I don't see any downside to it other than dealing with other people's opinions, but if you present yourself positively and confidently, you won't get a lot of negative comments.

ToriB... ToriBabe1221

My son weaned a 38 months!!

After reading this I'm SO GLAD I let him self wean.

I have hypodontia, which is viewed as a risk factor for ovarian cancer... and my mom has RA. Anything I can "selfishly" do to reduce my own risk is awesome!

I also have horrid allergies and my son appears to have NONE! =)

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