Why nurse a toddler?
Before having children, you probably never gave much thought to nursing a baby, especially beyond the first year. Then you had a baby and perhaps your breastfeeding relationship was wonderful from the beginning, or perhaps you overcame many struggles to get where you are. But now, you and your baby are enjoying the special bond that nursing offers, not just with nutrition but also with mothering. You aren’t ready to wean and your baby is still going strong, so now you find yourself contemplating nursing a toddler.
Does breast milk continue to provide health benefits?
While the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months are an established fact, breast milk continues to have a beneficial impact throughout the toddler years. The World Health Organization recommends all children be breastfed until age two or beyond. In fact, there are always nutritional benefits to breast milk, no matter how old your child.
Breast milk is a living substance with unique properties and antibodies that are made specifically for the bacteria and germs your child is fighting every single day. As your growing baby becomes more mobile she is confronted with an increasing number of germs from other children and the environment. Your breast milk will create antibodies to help your child fight these invaders. As long as you are breastfeeding, your milk provides immunities that will keep your toddler from getting sick as often, and not being as sick when a bug hits. Breast milk offers health benefits that extend throughout a person’s entire life and the longer a woman breastfeeds the more benefits her body receives as well.
Toddler nursing can help with mothering
There are other reasons to continue nursing your toddler besides just health benefits. You have probably found it to be a gentle and compassionate way of mothering. When your toddler falls, or another child takes her toy, or she is tired, or you are traveling, or there are extra stimulants and your child just needs to wind down. . . nursing is a wonderful way to help your child relax, get away, and spend quality time with you.
And it can be a much-needed respite in your day to have an occasional excuse to sit down and relax for a few minutes. It can allow you, perhaps remind you even, to soak in your growing toddler and enjoy these fleeting moments that go by so quickly in the busyness of taking care of all the day-to-day things that must be done.
What are the negatives?
On the other hand, you may begin to resent how much time it takes, or wish your child would fall asleep more readily on her own. This is a common concern of mothers, but, despite what the “sleep experts” say, your toddler still needs you (whether she is fed with a bottle or breast). These years will pass all too quickly and she will no longer want this quality time with you every day. With the advent of so much technology, many moms find it easier than ever before to multi-task by using their iPhone, iPad, etc. to catch up on emails, news, or just to make lists, going through what needs to be done and prioritizing. Alternatively, you can make nursing a time when you “turn off the world around” by either reading a book or taking a little nap yourself while breastfeeding.
What about public breastfeeding?
There seems to be a social stigma attached to nursing a toddler. Many moms who have already weaned their baby, or perhaps didn’t nurse in the first place, cannot understand why you would still nurse your toddler. It takes grace to respond in some of these situations, and you may want to consider your answer before someone asks why you “haven’t weaned yet.” Quite simply, it is a personal decision and if both you and your baby are happy with your relationship there really is no need to stop. . . especially due to pressure of others!
To get around this, some mothers decide to only nurse their toddler in the privacy of their home. Others choose to try to make toddler nursing more visible by purposely, and respectfully, nursing their toddlers when they are out and about as well. There is no right or wrong. What is important is that you do what’s best for you and your baby. If that is nursing in the toddler years, then don’t let others discourage you!
Getting involved with a breastfeeding support group is a great way to meet other like-minded moms who can support and encourage one another in their breastfeeding journeys.
How do I wean a toddler?
When the time does come for weaning, there are several options. First, you could wait and allow your toddler to self-wean. This typically occurs between 2 ½ – 7 years of age. If you would like to wean your child before she self-weans you can do so gradually or abruptly. Doing so over a period of a few weeks allows your baby to settle in more readily to the transition. And, since your child is now a toddler you have the added advantage of being able to talk with her and prepare her gradually. If you must do so abruptly, make sure to take care of yourself so you don’t end up with engorgement, plugged ducts, or mastitis.