Remember the early days of nursing? Trying to get your tiny baby latched on, then worrying if he or she was getting enough calories and if you were making enough milk? Wondering if your baby would ever sleep longer than two hours in a row?
For many moms, this period of early confusion soon gives way to a smoother, more comfortable pattern of breastfeeding. You sensed when it was time to nurse: your breasts felt fuller, your baby began to stir and slept longer periods.
Now, as your baby is approaching his or her first birthday, you might be wondering if it’s time to fully stop breastfeeding. After all, your pediatrician likely recommended breastfeeding for the first year, and many moms don’t even make it that long.
But moms who are still actively breastfeeding by this age often report powerful positive reactions to nursing their toddlers. It has a calming effect; sometimes nursing seems like the only thing that can calm a tired and frustrated baby. Why would you give up this superpower just because your baby is turning one?
The quick answer is that you don’t have to. Extended breastfeeding passed the first birthday can be a wonderful and sometimes challenging adventure. Why don’t more people do it?
Well, a few reasons may come to mind:
“They have teeth!”
“They can talk and walk!”
“They eat solid food!”
While nursing into toddlerhood may not be the cultural norm in the United States, it is biologically normal and widely practiced throughout the world. Many moms who nurse past the first year did not plan to, but found they just moved into it.
What are some advantages of nursing an older baby?
- Nourishment. The nutrients in the milk of a mother nursing past 12 months has higher concentrations of many nutrients, including protein, vitamin A, and most other vitamins. Your milk at this stage is designed to meet the nutritional needs of your toddler, who is eating solid foods by now.
- Tame a tantrum. Ask any parent with a toddler how often their baby gets frustrated as he or she tries to walk, talk, communicate, and negotiate social situations, and don’t be surprised to hear about a dozen tantrums a day. Scooping a baby up into your arms and latching him on nips those fits in the bud!
- Ease the pain of teething. Teething is very uncomfortable for babies. Not only are teeth erupting under the gums, but babies tend to get stuffy while teething and may not want to eat. Nursing offers pain relief and hydrates your baby. When a baby is nursing, his or her teeth are resting on the breast — they do not bite to get milk. A baby may bite out of curiosity or experimentation but will not get milk, so unlatch a biter.
- Strengthen the immune system. Your milk continues to protect your baby as he or she grows. Your milk has an abundance of antibodies. Many moms have had the experience of being surrounded with sick friends, sick family members, or even being sick themselves, but their nursing toddler does not get sick.
Parents of nursing toddlers need support because many people can be critical or curious. There are ways to handle the questions and comments. It can be helpful to join forces with other nursing moms. Having some pre-scripted comebacks in your arsenal can help.
Another advantage of nursing older babies is the glee on their sweet faces when they nurse. You get feedback in a different way. They express pure joy and love. And toddlers are still babies!
Hear a doctor’s opinion and advice for extended breastfeeding with Dr. Jen Lincoln.
Reviewed by Sara Connolly, March 2020