I breastfed all four of my children.
The oldest who is now eleven was breastfed until he was seven months. Breastfeeding him was hard since he was my first child, and I gave up.
Both my next oldest son and oldest daughter self-weaned around a year. I didn’t encourage them to, it was their own natural timing and it worked well for us.
With my fourth child, I breastfed her for an extended time. I determined that I was going to let her nurse as long as she wanted to and we made it to two and a half years.
In my experience, breastfeeding older children is different from breastfeeding babies. There are a new set of challenges but also so many wonderful benefits.
I want to pass on this information to any mom looking to breastfeed an older child.
If you want to know how to breastfeed your toddler or if there are any downsides to breastfeeding beyond a year, this guide will answer your questions and equip you to be successful on your journey.
Breastfeeding Toddler Infograph
What Age is Considered Extended Breastfeeding?
Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for 6 months then adding solids while continuing to breastfeed until at least one year, extended breastfeeding can be thought of as nursing a child past one year.
This is the time many babies will start to eat more solid food and become less dependent on breast milk.
Many mothers believe that since their child can eat more solids, one year is a good time to wean their baby from breastfeeding.
How Long is too Long to Breastfeed an Older Child?
Breast milk provides a ton of vitamins and nutrition for babies and older children. No matter the age, a child can get some nutritional benefits from a mother’s breast milk.
If you’d prefer an age range, the American Academy of Family Physicians states that a natural weaning age for humans is between two and seven years.
Myths About Breastfeeding Older Children
There are so many myths surrounding breastfeeding a toddler or older child, and when people hear myths long enough, they tend to think they are true.
Let’s debunk some of the most common myths about breastfeeding past infancy:
Myth #1 Breastfeeding past twelve months is inappropriate
Not only is continuing to nurse your older child appropriate, it is encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics. They have stated many times that a mother should continue to breastfeed her child for as long as both the mother and child want to.
Myth #2 An older child with teeth will bite
While it is true that some breastfeeding moms get bitten once their baby starts to get teeth, generally by the time the child is considered to be extended breastfeeding, they understand not to bite.
Can it still happen?
Technically yes, but in my opinion, the probabilities get smaller the older the breastfeeding child is. This is definitely one thing a mom should not worry about.
Myth #3 Breastfeeding an older child will stunt their emotional maturity
Many toddlers do rely on their nursing sessions as a way to soothe them and for emotional support when they’re upset, but this only helps them, not harms them.
There is nothing negative about comforting someone who has been hurt or needs support and toddlers are no different. They should feel safe coming to a mother to receive soothing and comfort in many different forms, namely breastfeeding.
To put a negative connotation on breastfeeding a toddler for comfort or emotional support is ill-informed.
As any other child does, a breastfed toddler will learn to self-soothe and be well-adjusted when they are ready.
Myth #4 A breastfeeding toddler will become overly dependent on his mother
According to healthychildren.org, by providing the closeness, comfort and support that breastfeeding enables, a toddler has a greater sense of security and may be more likely to try new things independently because of it.
Myth #5 Mom is being selfish/can’t let go of her baby
Out of all the things to label as selfish, extended breastfeeding is not one of them.
If anything, a mother is being even more selfless by giving up her autonomy, time, comfort and body to continue to nurse and nourish her growing child.
Expecting a mother to “let go” of her toddler as if she only has a few months in the baby years to closely bond with her child before she needs to set him free is not a healthy outlook on parenting. Children continue to thrive off of their parent’s close love and attention as long as they receive it. There is no cutoff age of “letting go” and there are multiple ways to continue to nurture that bond, including breastfeeding as a child gets older.
Myth #6 Breastfeeding a toddler will ruin their teeth
As with any liquid that is not water, letting it sit in a child’s mouth for prolonged periods is breeding grounds for tooth decay. This is not a reason to stop breastfeeding a toddler any more than it is a reason to not breastfeed a baby.
Take proper care of your child’s teeth and this won’t be an issue.
Myth #7 There is no nutritional benefit to breastfeeding past six months or a year
A nursing mother’s milk goes through stages, from transitional milk to mature milk. Once it reaches the “mature milk” stage between the second and third weeks after giving birth, it is full of many important nutrients for her baby.
Breast milk continues to adapt to a baby’s needs, so when he is older and does not rely as much on milk for nutritional needs, his mother’s breast milk will adjust accordingly (source).
The American Academy of Pediatrics states, “The emotional and immunologic benefits of the nursing relationship continue throughout the period of lactation.”
Myth #8 A toddler needs cow’s milk
Breast milk remains a very nutritiously dense form of milk for a growing child.
If a toddler drinks 17 ounces of breast milk a day, he gets about 38 percent of his protein needs met (source).
In addition to supplying necessary vitamins and nutrients that cow milk doesn’t have, breast milk also continues to provide antibodies and immune support that cow milk can’t replicate.
Your nursing toddler is already getting the best milk he can get – mother’s milk! Breast milk has a higher fat content than whole cow’s milk (needed for baby’s brain growth), and all the nutrients of human milk are significantly more bioavailable than those of cow’s milk because it is species specific (not to mention all the components of mother’s milk that are not present in cow’s milk). -Kelly Bonyata, BS, IBCLC, kellymom.com
See an extensive list of immune factors found in human breast milk here.
Myth #9 Breastfeeding has to stop once a mother gets pregnant again
Mothers do not have stop breastfeeding their toddlers because they become pregnant.
A mother is still able to produce milk if there is still a demand for it throughout her pregnancy. The consistency may change due to her changing body, but breastfeeding can continue to be a source of nutrition and comfort to a toddler.
Several factors may cause a mother to stop breastfeeding once she becomes pregnant like breast tenderness, but this does not mean that she has to.
She should listen to her body and make the best decision for her family.
Is Extended Breastfeeding Right for You?
Now that you know the many benefits breastfeeding an older child brings, you may be wondering if it’s right for you.
While every mom should have the opportunity to breastfeed her older kids if she chooses, there are some physical, mental and emotional aspects to consider as well.
- Your Physical Health
If you are a physically healthy woman, then this shouldn’t keep you from continuing your breastfeeding journey into the toddler years if you choose to. However, if there are physical conditions that you struggle with, it might be difficult to continue.
If you have to take medicine or have an illness that affects your mobility, talk to your doctor about the affects it could have on your body and your child to determine if continuing to breastfeed is right for you.
- Your Mental Health
This is a very important component of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding facilitates an emotional bond to a child that is nothing short of amazing. But there are things that could disrupt that bond like hormones or outside medicinal influences.
Ask yourself if breastfeeding is still bringing you joy. It provides a lot of benefits to a growing child, but a mother’s mental health is just as important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
I thoroughly enjoyed breastfeeding my toddler, but there did come a point when I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. It became mentally exhausting so I made the decision to stop.
Don’t feel guilty if you have to stop nursing in order to take care of yourself. You need to be healthy-physically and mentally- in order to care for your child.
- Your Child’s Health
Your child’s health is one of the main reasons to continue nursing, but if you are consuming things that could be harmful to her health, it may be a good idea to stop breastfeeding.
Also consider that some children who may have special dietary needs or restrictions may not be able to continue to breastfeed and may need to get their nutrition from elsewhere. This won’t be the case with most children, but talk to your child’s pediatrician if you suspect nutritional deficiencies.
- Do You Want to Continue
This one is simple. Do you have the desire to continue to breastfeed? If not, that’s ok. Congratulate yourself for how far you’ve come and be at peace with your decision to stop. You’re still an awesome mom!
- Does Your Child Wan to Continue?
Just as moms can decide when they’re done, don’t be surprised if your older child wants to stop breastfeeding. Some kids just lose interest and decide they are done. That doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
Take your cue from your child if this happens and don’t try to force them to continue. Breastfeeding should be mutually agreed upon.
Extended Breastfeeding Problems
Moms who have been breastfeeding for any length of time have probably faced some sort of problems associated with it. Whether it’s from family disagreeing with the decision or problems with milk supply.
If you decide to continue long term breastfeeding, be prepared for even more issues. Most of them are easy to overcome so don’t let them deter you, but they are worth mentioning.
Breastfeeding Mom Fatigue
At some point you may get tired of breastfeeding and decide you want your body back. Maybe you have a long vacation coming up and you don’t want to bring the kids. Or maybe you’re ready to invest in some new lingerie that doesn’t require easy access for a toddler.
Whatever the case may be, mom breastfeeding fatigue is real and it may creep up. Be prepared to acknowledge those feelings and address them.
From firsthand experience, I can tell you that toddlers will do all kinds of flips and tricks while nursing. After all they’re young children full of energy and curiosity. It’s normal.
Most of the time it will probably be amusing, but there are times where it could be a problem like when you are trying to let them breastfeed while also doing something else with your hands like make a call or fold laundry. It could also be a problem if you are in public and they decide to start doing flips and scooting around while you’re trying to nurse discreetly.
Unpredictable Monthly Cycle
One of the many benefits of breastfeeding is how it can delay the return of your menstrual cycle. Some women don’t have a cycle until months after they have a baby if they are breastfeeding and some who breastfeed for a year or longer may even delay theirs for as long.
One thing to keep in mind is that your cycle could return even though you are nursing. And in my experience, the longer you nurse, the more likely it is to show back up. This is not a problem in and of itself, however the problem comes in because even though your cycle might return, it may be unpredictable since you are still nursing. So you may have a cycle and then skip a few months before it returns again. It can be annoying not being able to know when you’ll have a period.
Remember, breastfeeding is not a reliable form of birth control, especially when extended breastfeeding.
Toddler Breastfeeding Schedule
A breastfed toddler won’t be reliant on breast milk for most of her caloric and nutritional needs, so her nursing schedule will look different than that of a baby.
Here’s the schedule my toddler loosely followed when she was still breastfeeding. You can use it or adjust it to fit your lifestyle.
Talking to Family About Extended Breastfeeding
Having the support of family and friends is crucial when you’re breastfeeding. Many moms don’t make it past a few weeks or months of breastfeeding their babies if their family resists the idea. When you’re breastfeeding an older child, you’ll still want the support of your loved ones.
Since the idea of breastfeeding an older child might be new or foreign to them, here are some ways to talk to you your family about it.
Spouse – Your spouse may be uncomfortable with your older child continuing to nurse and may want you to stop. Explain to him the benefits of extended breastfeeding to your toddler and to yourself. It may also be helpful to let him know that nursing older children is not new and is practiced all over the world.
Extended Family – If your extended family doesn’t understand your decision, they may try to pressure you to stop. Explain the benefits of extended breastfeeding to them and how much you AND your child enjoy it. Be firm and let them know the decision is yours and it is not up for debate and that you’ll do what you know is best for you and your child.
Societal Judgement and Scrutiny
In addition to your family, you’ll also have to deal with society’s reaction to your decision. You can find a lot of support online from other mothers who are also nursing their toddlers, or social media can make you feel ashamed.
Stares from strangers can make you want to hide or deny your child a nursing session when in public.
People who show judgement are usually uneducated about the process and the benefits. They’ve never seen it before so they’re freaked out. Breastfeeding toddlers (openly) hasn’t been done this way on a large scale in our society so they’re uncomfortable with change.
Remember that none of it is your fault or your problem. Do what’s best for your family and try not to let it bother you.
You should also be aware of your rights to breastfeed in different states and locations. When out of the house some people may try to stop you and say that you can’t breastfeed in public, so it’s important to be informed about your right to breastfeed so you can feel confident in your decision.
Alternative Toddler Words for Breastfeeding
Once your child can talk it’s only natural that they’ll name one of their favorite sources of comfort, which can be funny…or embarrassing.
The good news is that you can pick a name that you won’t mind them saying in public so you won’t feel embarrassed when they ask to nurse. If it doesn’t bother you, pick a funny or adorable name or you can stick with something more practical.
Here are a few you could try:
- My Nursie
- Snack time
- My milk
- Milk-milk (my daughter’s favorite)
Personal Toddler Breastfeeding Stories
Interested in hearing stories from other moms who have breasted their toddlers?
Check out these inspiring and heartfelt stories below for some encouragement!
- Kara from Kara Carrero
- Katie from Clarks Condensed
- Maryea from Happy Healthy Mama
- Amanda from Seleni