Tuesday, March 6, 2012

What it's really like to breastfeed a toddler

Yup, I admit it.  My baby boy is 16 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 Ashlynn until she was 30 months old.  Yup.  2 1/2.  She was almost fully potty-trained by the time she was weaned.

I nursed Max through two surgeries and until I was nearly halfway through Ian's pregnancy. He was 18 months old when he weaned.

(I'm also admitting to recycling most of this post... Having two boys almost exactly 2 years apart feels like having the same baby twice. I've been chuckling lately at some of the absurdities that come from toddler breastfeeding, and remembered this post!)

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.  When 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: kellymom.com 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 my boys...) 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, at least in my world.

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, and 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 kids.

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 to make up for it, 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 our church's nursery.  I was supposed to be 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 quickly became 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. Ian always wants to needs to demands to nurse sometime very soon after meals and the minute I get done teaching in the afternoons.  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.  My boys are very susceptible to stomach bugs, and I always worry about dehydration. But luckily, breastmilk starts to be absorbed in the intestines in as little as five minutes, which means even if my boys keep throwing up, there's a good possibility that there getting at some nutrition. Plus, I know that even if his diet in a normal day consists solely of club crackers and mac and cheese that the breastmilk he gets will make up the difference.

So I know I'm not the only one out there breastfeeding past the age of one. What are your thoughts and experiences with toddlers and breastfeeding? 


  1. Good for you! Keep going. My longest was passed 2 as well and I loved it. I do not regret it at all. 4 kids--like 60 months of breast feeding. I actually wish it would have gone longer.

  2. I never thought I'd breastfeed beyond a year, but I nursed Bria for 16 months, Chloe for 22, and then Sophia weaned herself at 10 months and I was devastated. She never did care much about the comfort part of nursing, and so it was no surprise. :)

    It was kind of funny how Chloe would tell me "Ah nus" (I want to nurse) and then sit up and say "Uh Side" when she was finished with the first side.

  3. Tell me about it!! Though, I have been spared the nursing while standing up/upside down shenanigans.

    I remember not being sure about breastfeeding when I was pregnant but as I educated myself, I knew I would try...I thought 3 months was a good goal..then I hit 3 months and I was all "we'll see if we can do 6 months!"...Now, we're at 25 months and I can't imagine parenting such a little person without it.

    Thx for posting this:)

  4. (Catching up on all of your posts...I had no idea I'd been away so long!)

    So, you know me. I nursed my daughter to nearly 3.5 years, and my son's 32 months on Monday and still going strong. I have mixed feelings sometimes about nursing them so long-term (in our culture, at least...my social circle when my daughter weaned was more the 5-7 years crew, and I felt a little guilty that we's stopped so "soon." It's all relative, I guess). But each day I wake up and my son doesn't seem all that different from the day prior. So I keep following his lead, and we keep nursing. I see signs that he's moving away from nursing, but I try not to think much about the duration in months (or years) and more about the time that we get to share together.


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