Nursing Past Infancy and Into Toddlerhood
After nursing for many months or even a year, you may feel a great
sense of pride and accomplishment at all you've given your baby through
breastfeeding, and rightly so! But now that your child isn't a little
baby anymore, what next?
The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends breastfeeding for at
least one year and then for as long as is mutually desirable by mother
and baby. The World Health Organization advises breastfeeding for at
least two years. And in most parts of the world, nursing a child who
is 4 years or older is not uncommon. Why, then, is nursing a child
past 6 months to one year many times still questioned and even frowned
upon? Are there actually benefits to nursing this long? Will allowing a
child to nurse into toddlerhood cause him to be too dependent?
Health Benefits for Your Child
Health Benefits for You
- Many of the health benefits that your milk provided to your child
in infancy continue to be present for as long as you breastfeed. This
is also true for the health benefits afforded to you through nursing.
It is a myth that after a certain time period, the health benefits of
breastfeeding end! They continue for as long as you breastfeed and are
more significant the longer you breastfeed. See "Advantages of Breastfeeding" for a complete list of these benefits.
- Breastfeeding for at least one year has been associated
with better oral development due to the unique sucking action required
with nursing at the breast. There is also evidence that extended
breastfeeding results in earlier reading in boys and fewer speech
- Breastfeeding toddlers enjoy better
health . The immunological benefits of human milk have been found to
remain high throughout the first and second years. Toddlers who are
nursed have fewer incidence and duration of illness and are less likely
to require medical care than their non-breastfeeding peers.
- Human milk is readily digested and an accepted source of
nourishment for a sick child. Even when other foods may not be
tolerated , such as with a stomach virus, a nursing child can go back
to complete breastfeeding if necessary, thus allowing him to continue
to receive adequate fluids and nutrients. Many times a nursing child
will refuse all other food and drink when ill but can still be
persuaded to breastfeed.
- Human milk provides a natural "cushion" for the child
with food allergies or who is slow to take well to solids until his
system is mature and ready enough to accept other foods.
- The natural child-spacing effect of breastfeeding may continue
throughout the baby's second year. Although breastfeeding alone is not
a reliable means of birth control, when it is exclusive in the
beginning and gradually followed with the introduction of solids, there
may be some suppression of fertility for a longer period of time.
- Hormones present with breastfeeding continue to help
relax the mother, perhaps making daily life with a busy, curious
toddler more enjoyable and less stressful.
Emotional Benefits for Both of You
- Breastfeeding allows the mother an easy way to provide comfort
when a toddler is ill, upset, tired, or hurt, perhaps making this
aspect of mothering a little easier.
- The closeness of nursing enhances the child's
relationship with his mother and provides a sense of stability during a
time of rapid growth and development.
- Breastfeeding guarantees physical closeness when life
becomes hectic for mother and child. This can be especially important
for a mother with older children or a mother who works outside the home.
- Only once a baby enters toddlerhood can he truly express
his sheer delight in nursing by the way he grins, nods, chuckles, or
sighs in anticipation of being at his mother's breast. Moments like
these are impressed upon a mother's memory forever!
Mothers of breastfeeding toddlers often state "having to defend
self" as one of the greatest challenges of extended nursing. If you're
a mom already breastfeeding a child past one year of age or a mom
breastfeeding a younger baby, but thinking about extended nursing, take
heart in knowing that there are others out there like you and that what
you are doing with and for your child is valuable and worthwhile!
Following is a list of resources you may find helpful and supportive as
you nurse your toddler:
- "Mothering Your Nursing Toddler"by Norma Baumgarner
- "The Nursing Mother's Guide to Weaning" by Kathleen Huggins and Linda Ziedrich
- La Leche League - a mother-to-mother support group that
supports and encourages breastfeeding, including extended nursing. To
find a group in your area, call 1-800-LA-LECHE or visit their web site
by clicking here.
Written by Becky Flora, BSed, IBCLC
Last revision: July 13, 2000
Source: La Leche League's, "The Breastfeeding Answer Book" (1997) by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC and Julie Stock, BA, IBCLC
More info at other sites:
Benefits of Extended Nursing
Nursing Beyond One Year
FAQ on Advantages of Breastfeeding A Toddler
Toddler Tips: Still Nursing
Toddler Tips: Criticism from Relatives
"When my 3-and-a-half-year-old gets upset, he wants to nurse. Is this a problem and is he too old to be breastfed?" Read Dr. William Sears's answer to this mother.
"How can I get my family to support my decision to nurse past one year?" Another commentary from Dr. Sears