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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Moomie Moomie

I'm not currently nursing a toddler, but I have. My older two were 18 months and 2 years when they weaned. I also plan to nursee this baby until he weans, hopefully 2 or older.

Jellyphish gave great answers to your "interview", I hope that more moms will see the benefits to full term nursing.

catho... catholicmamamia

I am currently nursing not one, but two toddlers..and am nine months pregnant! Not only is breastfeeding a toddler not hard, but rather it makes life easier and happier for both toddler and mom! Full-term nursing is not the "alternative" parenting practice it is made out to be. Rather, it is the natural progression of gestation and lactation. Our children are born incomplete in brain development, digestion, and immunologically. Breastfeeding until our children outgrow the need not only meets their emotional needs, but also meets their physiological need to finish the growth of these systems. Full-term breastfeeding is both scientifically and naturally-based!

Join us in: and 
for information and support of breastfeeding, full-term breastfeeding, and child led weaning!

Misan... MisanthropKitty

My son just turned one and I plan to continue nursing him until he self-weans though 2 years is my ultimate goal.

grand... grandmaof1235

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.  

EvaLee EvaLee

Great interview!

sapient sapient

Jellphish has it right! I am still nursing my 19 month old, and though it can get frustrating and/or annoying at times, I can't imagine not doing it. It has helped us through colds, teething, growth spurts, etc etc. Plus, it is such a wonderful 'reset' button when things just get too overwhelming for him. A little quiet time with mommy often ends tantrums and lets him get back to himself for a few more hours of play.

Great article! Love it.

Raini... RainingHeart

I nursed my ds until he was just about 3.  After he got big, I kept the nursing of him at home, but we still did it.  Finally, I just ran out!

ivans... ivansmom07

Great interview!  Like sapient, I'm also currently nursing my 20 month old son.  I had planned to nurse only until he was one.  Once I learned how beneficial it was to continue, we just kept going!  It's an amazing experience.

Bears... BearsMommy

I'm also still nursing a toddler, he's 2.5 now.  I wouldn't wean for the world!  It makes things much easier on everyone to have that source of nutrition, comfort, and bonding.  To grandmaof1235, my son has never had issues using a sippy cup, and was using one before he was a year.  Nursing a toddler doesn't interfere with other developmental milestones, and can help.  Great interview and answers, jellyphish!

moira... moirasmom

*waves* I'm still nursing my 22 month old. My plan is to allow her to self wean. Extended  nursing and co-sleeping have helped my daughter become the strong, healthy, independent and amazing child she is today.

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