Let me clear a few things before you say “did she really just say that?” Breastfeeding is an extremely personal decision. What you feel is the best choice for you and your child is way more important than trying to keep up with the social norm or in this case, going against the social norm. While we all should know that “breast is best”, there are LOTS of times when it just doesn’t work out, and that’s okay. I am not here to push you into extended breastfeeding, nor judge you if you chose not to. I am simply here to provide support, facts, humor and encouragement in your nursing journey.
Breastfeeding Toddler: aka Boobie Monster
I remember the last time I nursed Bumblebee, my breastfeeding toddler. It wasn’t as magical as I had hoped. In fact, it was rushed. My husband was getting the boys ready for their trip to San Diego. I had to stay behind because I couldn’t miss work. We had already been in the process of weaning and I wanted “our last time” to be perfect before they left. It would be four days before I would see him again. I brought Bumblebee into bed with me about 9pm. We lay there, just beginning to nurse when my husband came in from packing the car and said they were leaving. It had been about 3 minutes, maybe. Then after lots of hugs and “I love yous” they left. That was the end of my nursing journey. He never nursed again.
I didn’t get my beautiful “last time nursing” story that I had wanted but I knew that once they came back from their trip, I didn’t want to nurse anymore.
I nursed Bumblebee for 2 years and 2 months. As a working mom, I was thrilled to reach my initial goal of 1 year. As I debated on weaning multiple times, I decided to keep on boobin’ on every time. Maybe it was my stubbornness or m love for challenges. Or, it could have been that I didn’t want to be “talked into” buying those toddler formulas because I was cheap. Weaning was always on the back of my mind but I kept nursing. Nursing my toddler wasn’t something I’ve done before and wasn’t something that was socially accepted, so I’ve found. It’s full of comedy, drive-by nursing, twiddling, social stigma, and much more. I’m going to talk about what it’s REALLY like to nurse your breastfeeding toddler in hopes to provide some facts about nursing a toddler, comedic relief, and inspiration to keep going. Because mama, it really is the best for our babies.
Debunking some common myths of the breastfeeding toddler
First of all, let’s get some things straight. Lots of people claim that once your baby turns a year, your breastmilk isn’t as nutritious anymore. What?! No! There are so many rumors and ways that people stretch some facts to make their own point match their views. It’s ridiculous. You don’t need negativity like that, mama. Just keep on boobin’ on.
Your breastmilk loses it’s nutritional value after a year of breastfeeding: FALSE
It’s not like your breastmilk automatically changes the day after your kid’s 1st birthday to no longer be nutritious for your child. In fact, your breastmilk continues to pack quite a power punch of essential nutrients and vitamins for your toddler. Sometimes our meals at home weren’t the most nutritious, or my toddler wouldn’t eat all of his food, or times when we were so busy that we would skip meals. Knowing that breastfeeding my toddler was helping by filling in nutritional gaps, I knew it was best. Here is a chart of what’s in breastmilk after that first year:
By breastfeeding your toddler, you are fostering a dependent child: FALSE
Since I nursed my child past 2 years, I thought about this a lot when people would tell me to stop. It was the most easiest to believe. Am I raising a dependent kid? Is he going to have a hard time adjusting when it’s time for daycare or school? And the answer is NO. I know it can be challenging and a lot of work nursing a toddler but don’t let the worry of raising a dependent child steer you away from breastfeeding. I worried about this because my son needed the breast to sleep but I neglected the fact that he went to sleep with Dad while I was gone at work and with other family members when I wasn’t there. When I stopped nursing, I noticed how independent he really was. It’s not the breastfeeding making your child dependent on you, mama.
Your toddler is too old to be nursing: FALSE
First, take a look at the nutritional benefits listed above. Breastfeeding in addition to feeding your toddler regular meals helps to fill in those nutritional gaps, especially when you have a picky eater. You can ignore all those companies pushing that your toddler needs “toddler formula” to grow. Second, as stated above, breastfeeding into toddlerhood and allowing the child to gradually wean fosters independence. It’s a great achievement when he no longer needs or wants to be comforted by the breast. Celebrate that independence mama, and you’ll see just how independent he is. In the moment, you may not think so but you will see. Third, he’s not too old. In many other countries, children are breastfed until 3-4 years as the norm. Currently WHO states that “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.”
If you are interested in reading about more myths: click here
Benefits of the breastfeeding toddler that convinced me to keep going
It provides natural immunity
This was a huge one for me. My oldest son, Optimus, would get frequent colds. I was able to breastfeed him for 3 months. It seemed he was ALWAYS sick. In the time that I breastfed my youngest, Bumblebee, he had only gotten a cold once or twice in his first year and once or twice in his second year of life. Each time, it didn’t last long and he recovered quickly. I really give all the credit to breastfeeding. In fact, I was even able to give my oldest breastmilk in a cup and it helped shorten his duration of illness too! Breastmilk is full of antibodies, those antibodies are developed when your toddler’s saliva is absorbed through the nipple. It stimulates the mother’s body to produce antibodies specifically to fight off any illness they may be in contact with. How cool is that?
They soothe much quicker with nursing
In many countries, breasts are viewed as a food source and soother for children. In the U.S., breasts are sexualized through advertising and social media. It makes it difficult for the public to accept that a walking, talking toddler can be nursed/soothed with the breast. Soothing my son when he fell or when he was overwhelmed with emotions made it easier to calm him quickly. I worked the night shift. I would come home, watch my kids all day, then return to work that night so nursing was a savior to my sanity when a tantrum broke out or when he needed to be calmed. A lot of people say that doing this will not let him self soothe and make him dependent but I didn’t notice a difference after I stopped nursing him. In fact, he’s more independent in some ways than his brother. For example, I dropped him off at daycare last week and there were no tears when I left. Compare this to his brother who cried and cried for months at every drop off when we tried “school” at the same age.
It’s healthy for mom too
Breastfeeding is not only good for your toddler but it’s good for you too. Many benefits include quiet time, longer bonding with your child, weight loss, and lowers your risk for disease. According to this study published in 2002, “the longer women breast feed, the more they are protected against breast cancer.” If you could take extra precaution to help reduce your risk of cancer, would you take it?
For Your Enjoyment
All the negative comments I received when nursing my toddler
“He’s too old to be breastfeeding still”
“Don’t you have to stop when he has teeth?”
“It’s sexual abuse, something is wrong with you.”
“When are you going to stop?”
“Aren’t you creating a dependent child?”
“If he can ask for it, then he needs to stop”
How to deal with it: I’m sure you’ll come across one of these statements in your breastfeeding journey. I’m a very passive person so I tend to brush or laugh it off. All of the people saying these things have never breastfed a toddler anyway. You can also take the opportunity to educate them. Talk about all the benefits of continued nursing and maybe they’ll be more open about it.
Oh the Fun You will Have with your Breastfeeding Toddler
Nursing a toddler is different than nursing a baby in those first few months. It’s full of movement, tugging, pulling, legs flying, and much more. In the moment, it’s enough to develop an aversion and just want to quit. But other times, those quiet times, when they look into your eyes while nursing or say “thank you mama”, is enough to keep going.
Yes, you read that right, GYM-NURS-tics, or acrobat nursing. Talk to breastfeeding toddler moms. You’ll find that this term is very common. I’ve put together some pretty funny captured moments of gymnurstics. I’m sure you find them funny and entertaining.
Foot to the Face
How to deal with it: Set limits on uncomfortable positions. Or snap and picture and enjoy the random positions that your toddler will entertain you with.
There you have it, mama. I hope that you can take away some good information, some humor, and encouragement in your decision to continue extended nursing. And remember, if it doesn’t work out, it’s really okay. Now that I’ve officially weaned, I look back in awe of everything that Bumblebee and I have accomplished together. If you are interested in how I figured out how to wean him, take a look at this post.