Saturday, January 30, 2010

What it's Really Like to Breastfeed a Toddler

Yup, I admit it.  My baby boy is 15 months old.  Closer to a little boy than a baby, really.

And he's still breastfeeding.  Several times a day, in fact.  And several times a night, too.  (Yawn)

I nursed my daughter until she was 30 months old.  Yup.  2 1/2.  She was almost fully potty-trained by the time she was weaned. 

I didn't start out to be a long-term breastfeeder.  I knew with my first daughter that I wanted to breastfeed.  We got off to really rocky start, and we didn't find a good rhythm until she was well past six months old.  By the time she was a year old, I was pregnant again, and we continued nursing until I had very little milk left and she became disinterested.

When I had my second daughter, breastfeeding was so much easier.  When she hit a year, I didn't think anything of it.  She still seemed like such a baby to me- I couldn't imagine depriving her of something she obviously loved and still needed.  So we kept nursing.  She turned two, and we still liked it.  It was easy, it was a way to connect.  She peacefully weaned around the ripe old age of 2 1/2. 

There's a lot of good reasons to continue breastfeeding past the "normal" 4 months, 6 months, a year that are more typical in our society.  For example, did you know that in the second year (12-23 months), 448 mL of breastmilk provides:

29% of energy requirements
43% of protein requirements
36% of calcium requirements
75% of vitamin A requirements
76% of folate requirements
94% of vitamin B12 requirements
60% of vitamin C requirements.
(Source: Extended Breastfeeding Fact Sheet.)
There have been studies done that suggest the longer a mom breastfeeds, the more she reduces risk of getting cancers herself.  And of course, we're all familiar with the stats that say breastfed babies get sick less often (someone forgot to give that memo to Max...) have less allergies, etc. 
That's all fine and good.  But all the boring statistics don't give the real picture.  So, in an effort to normalize toddler nursing, (hey, a girl can dream, can't she?) here's a look at what it's really like to breastfeed a toddler. 
Nursing a toddler means learning about all kinds of different nursing positions.  Toddlers are resistant to the nice neat cradle hold of their infancy and are instead more determined to see if they can, in fact, nurse upside down.  (Just for the record, my daughter could.)  Other favorites include nursing while standing up, sitting up so they can watch tv and nurse at the same time, and laying flat while trying to s-t-r-e-t-c-h the nipple as far as it will possibly go.
Nursing a toddler means laughs.  Laughs as they learn to blow raspberries while nursing and spray milk everywhere.  Laughs as you tickle them while nursing and they try desperately to laugh and stay latched at the same time.  Laughs as they finish nursing, pop off, announce "all done!" to anyone within hearing distance and then say "bye," pat your breast, and wave to you as they toddle off to their next adventure.  Laughs as they pop off just as your milk lets down, and they feel the milk spraying all over them.  And lots and lots of laughs when he presses on your breast to make the milk spray again and again.
Nursing a toddler means that you can fix almost anything.  Tantrums, overtiredness, overstimulation, bonks on the head can all be healed miraculously with a little bit of cuddle up with mommy time.  I've even been know to cure a case of pink-eye or two with breastmilk.  Don't tell my daughters, they would think it was really gross.  But hey- it's cheaper and better for them than a round of anti-biotics!
Nursing a toddler means that there are some busy days where your toddler won't nurse at all because there's too much going on, and you go to bed wondering if he's started to wean himself.
And Nursing a toddler means that the next day, you'll probably nurse 57 times, and wonder if he'll ever wean. 
Nursing a toddler means nursing in some pretty crazy places.  When my daughter was two, she was going through some pretty crazy separation anxiety and refused to go to nursery.  Well, I was playing the piano in primary, and her dad was working on Sundays, so she used to come sit on my lap while I was playing the piano.  Of course, sitting on my lap wasn't anywhere near good enough, so I was forced to quickly become an expert at nursing and playing the piano at the same time.  The best part?  No one ever knew that's what we were doing.  We've nursed on airplanes, in sacrament meeting, at the Conference Center, in the grocery store, etc.  If we've been there, chances are, we've nursed there.
Nursing a toddler means that you may never get the shower to yourself again.  I had a little visitor pull back my shower curtain yesterday morning.  His face lit up and he immediately started signing "milk" over and over again. 
Nursing a toddler often means (at least in my life) nursing frequently at night too.  I think it's just as important that these busy little people get their needs met at night just as they do during the day.  Sure, I miss out on some sleep, but I do get the pleasure of seeing him stir and sign "milk" in his sleep as he's rolling over.   It's so stinkin' cute!
Nursing a toddler means built-in breaks in my day. Max always wants to needs to demands to nurse around 9:30am, just as we get home from taking the girlies to school.  It's such a nice way to sit or lay down, relax, and spend some quality time with the baby.  It also works well when there are yucky chores to be done: "Honey, you're going to have to do the dishes, the baby needs to nurse." 
Breastfeeding a toddler means very little worry about dehydration and less worry about adequate nutrition.  When Max had a stomach bug a few weeks ago, I was terrified of dehydration, until I read that breastmilk starts to be absorbed in the intestines in as little as five minutes, which means even if he did keep throwing up, at least he was getting something good.  Plus, I know that even if his diet in a day consists solely of club crackers and mac&cheese that the milk I'm giving him will make up the difference. 
And breastfeeding my toddler means having a way to comfort and nourish him after another lengthy and painful surgery, and that knowledge and ability is worth any amount of lost sleep.
What are your thoughts and experiences with toddlers and breastfeeding? 


  1. I nursed my last daughter until she was 21 months and I loved it. It was so much fun. I think it's sad that so many women choose to miss out on this. Nursing a toddler is a completely different experience from a baby and it can be so enjoyable.

  2. Love this post!

    My son is probably my most graphic example of why we ought to continue to nurse our babies even when they're big toddler babies.

    He contracted a parasite called cryptosporidium while we were visiting his great grandma. He was 18 months old at the time. We spent a week with him having projectile vomiting and severe diarrhea. He lost a third of his body weight. The ER doctor said that if he hadn't been breastfeeding he would have had to have been hospitalized because he would have rapidly been dehydrated.

    He went on to nurse until just before his third birthday.

    My oldest daughter nursed until she was nearly 3 1/2 and only quit because my milk supply disappeared toward the end of my pregnancy with her little sister.

    My youngest daughter is 22 months and some days I wish she'd nurse less, but then she'll catch a virus and will go a week eating nothing and only nursing and again I'm so grateful that she has that option.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and "outing" toddler nursing! :)

  3. For me, nursing a toddler is having her latch on when I wasn't expecting it. Oy! It's kind of crazy, thought my husband thinks it's hilarious.

  4. I nursed my first until 16 months, when she weaned herself.

    I nursed my second until 22 months, and then I had to wean her because of my own health issues. It wasn't pretty. She was not ready to give it up, but I am happy that I was able to nurse her for as long as I did.

    My third always had latching issues and a hard time sucking. (Speech therapy later, seems the issues are related.) Anyway, she did not enjoy breastfeeding, and I had to go to work after she was born so she got a bottle a few times a week. She always preferred it to me and was completely done just before a year old. I was sad. The end.

  5. Great post. I just weaned Connor at 4 years and am trying to night wean Deirdre at 2-1/2 years.

  6. I love this heart felt post!

    I nursed my oldest 13 months. She weaned around the time I figured out I was preggers w/twins. And although plenty of my mama friends nursed clear through their pregnancies, I just couldn't swing it.

    My twins nursed 22 months. They were troopers from the beginning. I have some fabulous tandem nursing shots, maybe someday I'll edit 'em and post 'em to my blog. In the end, I was trying to nearly force my twin girl (Mae) to nurse. She was just done. And her twin, Garrett, followed. I was sad & relieved at the same time.

    Our youngest nursed 20 months.

    In all, it was a beautiful time we spent together.

  7. This was a fascinating and very informative post! I realize it's over a year old, but I just wanted to drop in and say that I enjoyed reading about your breast-feeding experience. I'm 19, not married, and I don't have kids, and will not be married/have kids in the near future. I do work at Target though, a lot of times in the infant section. I see the breast pumps and they scare me because it sounds painful. My mom stopped at 6 weeks - 4 months depending on the kid, because she couldn't make enough milk. I feel like breast feeding is something that is sort of taboo in today's world and I'm glad you wrote about your overwhelmingly positive experience! :)


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